One of the most intriguing questions about Confucius is how he managed not only to build a large base of followers (traditionally numbered at 77), but more importantly how he managed to sustain their loyalty over, in some cases, many decades.
While Confucius’s great charisma, learning, and connections with senior government figures and members of the nobility were no doubt instrumental in attracting many young people to go and study with him, that doesn’t explain why the likes of Zilu, Zigong, Ran Qiu, Yan Hui, and others stuck with him through the lean times, most notably during his 14 years of exile tramping from state to state in search of employment. In a couple of notorious incidents (see 11.2 and 11.23) they even went close to losing their lives because of the scrapes Confucius got them into, but still remained faithful to him.
One major reason, I suspect, is that Confucius put a huge amount of effort into forging close relationships with them as both a teacher and a friend. His relationship with Yan Hui is probably the most striking example, though the ones he had with Zilu, Ran Qiu, and Zigong were also exceptionally close despite the occasional flare-ups that occurred between them.
Book 11 of the Analects provides a vivid snapshot of the relationships between Confucius and his followers. In a few short passages it highlights some of the ups and downs of the times that Confucius spent with them and reveals what he saw as their strengths and weaknesses: whether or not they “hit the mark” in other words.
Given that the centerpiece of Book 11 is the death of Yan Hui and Confucius’s emotional reaction to it, I’ll begin with him in the next entry.
I took the top image at the Zhusi Academy in Qufu. Confucius is said to have taught his students here after returning to Lu from exile in in 483 BCE, as well as compiling the Book of Songs, Book of History, Book of Ritual, Book of Music, and Book of Changes.