Analects of Confucius Book 5: by numbers

Book 5 is a very different beast to the previous four books of the Analects. Rather than talk directly about the key values and principles of his teachings, Confucius focuses his attention on evaluating how well a dozen of his followers, four of his contemporaries, and eleven figures from the past live up to them.

Among his followers, Confucius only considers Yan Hui to be up to snuff. Indeed, in 5.9 Confucius admits that even he is not the equal of his protégé.

Zigong and Zilu undergo the strongest scrutiny in the book, with five and four appearances respectively. Despite his close relationships with them, the sage doesn’t hold back his criticism when he thinks they merit it. In 5.4, Confucius describes Zigong as a “vessel” (器/qì) and thus still has a long way to go before becoming a leader (君子/jūnzǐ). Although he has no concerns about Zilu’s bravery, Confucius questions whether he has the necessary materials or talent to accompany him on a voyage out to sea in 5.7.

With the exception of Yan Hui, who is mentioned twice, all the other followers who appear in Book 5 are only featured once. Indeed, for Zijian, Qidiao Kai, Shen Cheng, and Confucius’s son-in-law Gongye Chang, this is their one and only claim to fame in the Analects.

Book 5 features quite an array of contemporary and historical figures that Confucius is moved to pronounce on. Among the most famous of these are the brothers Boyi and Shuqi, who ended up starving to death because of their strict adherence to the principles of filial devotion; Zichan, who turned the state of Zheng into a major power with his reforms in the sixth century BCE; and Weisheng Gao, who is immortalized in the Zhuangzi for being swept to his death by a raging torrent after he refused to leave the spot where he had arranged a date with a maiden even though it was thrashing down with rain.



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Richard Brown

I live in Taiwan and am interested in exploring what ancient Chinese philosophy can tell us about technology and the rise of modern China.