Analects of Confucius Book 13: if a ruler were to employ me…
For all his doubts about the competence of his contemporaries to run a state, Confucius had no such reservations about his own ability to govern effectively. In 13.10, he roundly declares: “If a ruler were to employ me, I would have everything under control in one year and in three years the results would show.”
Confucius is believed to have made this comment while he was in the state of Wei looking to secure a position with the court after hastily departing from his home state of Lu in 497 BCE. One key reason for the sage’s rather confident appraisal of his own abilities must have been the success he enjoyed after being appointed chief magistrate of the small city of Zhongdu in 502 BCE and transforming it into a model of order and prosperity within a year. No doubt, he also included his stints as Minister of Works and Minister of Justice in the Lu government in the equation as well.
Since Confucius failed to secure a senior position in Wei or any other state for that matter, it is impossible to know whether he would have achieved his goal of having everything under control in a year and producing results in three. Given the complexity of the political situation that pertained in Wei, the sage certainly set quite an optimistic target for himself.
It is also impossible to know exactly what kind of results he expected to achieve in such a short timeframe. But judging by his comments in the following two chapters they cannot have been overly ambitious. In 13.11, he voices his agreement with the old saying that it would take a hundred years of rule by the most able people to overcome cruelty and eliminate killing. And in 13.12, he goes on to concede that “even with a true king, it would still take one generation for goodness to prevail.”