Analects Book 20: lofty words and meaningful actions
It would be remiss of me not to mention that there are alternative accounts of the transitions from Yao to Shun and then Shun to Yu that suggest the transfer of power in deepest antiquity was nothing like as peaceful as suggested in the popular mythology. In their telling, Yao was overthrown by Shun and died alone in prison and Shun went on to suffer a similar fate when his successor Yu rebelled and sent him into exile so that he could put in place his plans to build a hereditary dynasty.
If this alternative narrative is true, then the earnest invocation of Yao to Shun in 20.1 to hold faithfully to the middle way and rule for the good of the common people should go down as one of the earliest recorded examples of what we call today fake news or (take your pick) disinformation/misinformation.
It would also put into question the validity of the virtuous ruler model that Confucius championed so ardently. If the only way for legendary icons like Shun and Yu to acquire power was through old-fashioned treachery and skullduggery, what chance did he have of persuading the ruling class of his day that they should focus on radiating their moral virtue rather than bumping off their opponents? No wonder so many of the leading political players that Confucius met nodded politely in agreement with the advice he gave them only to go on to do the exact opposite after he had left!
This is not to suggest that Confucius was in any way wrong to promote his virtuous ruler model, even if it was based on a story of dubious origins. Indeed, one of his most appealing character traits was his stubborn refusal to give up hectoring the ruling class of his time of their responsibility to govern their states according to the highest ethical standards.
It does, however, remind us that we need to mindful that loftiest words mean nothing at all if they are not transformed into meaningful actions — particularly when they come from someone who has stolen power rather than earned the right to exercise it.