Analects of Confucius Book 6: awkward encounters

Confucius has more than his fair share of awkward encounters with his followers in Book 6 of the Analects. The most notable one is with Zilu of all people. In 6.28, he is extremely unhappy when he learns about the sage’s visit to Nanzi, the allegedly depraved and scheming consort of Duke Ling of Wei. Although Confucius protests that nothing untoward happened during the audience, Zilu is rightly incensed that at the very least his master has sullied his reputation by meeting with her.

The young follower Zai Yu, of rotten wood and dung wall fame, attempts to put Confucius on the spot in 6.26 when he asks if a good person should jump into a well if he hears that someone is lying at the bottom of it. Confucius manages to bat the question away with relative ease by explaining that while it’s possible that a leader can be enticed down the wrong path, he wouldn’t be gullible enough to fall into a trap. So much for Zai Yu’s cunning plan to bamboozle the sage with a trick question.

When Yuan Xian declines to take the salary of nine hundred measures of grain that comes with the post of steward that Confucius offers him in 6.5, he more than likely expects to be showered with praise from the sage for his hair-shirted fastidiousness. Instead, Confucius tells him to take the payment and give it to people in need if he doesn’t want it for himself.

Confucius also has sharp words in 6.13 with the worthy but uptight Zixia, admonishing him to be “a refined scholar, not a common pedant.” Judging by the reputation he subsequently gained for the autocratic nature of his teachings, it appears that Zixia couldn’t or wouldn’t follow this advice.

Confucius’s most harrowing encounter in the book is with the ailing Boniu (Ran Geng) in 6.10. Probably because Boniu is suffering from a contagious disease, Confucius is only able to hold his hand through the window as he laments, “He is dying. Such is fate, alas! That such a man should have an illness like this!”

I took this image at the Shanghai Confucius Temple.



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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.