Analects of Confucius Book 8: by numbers
Book 8 of the Analects of Confucius features only one of the sage’s followers. Thanks no doubt to some editorial skullduggery from his own followers, who played in important role in compiling the Analects, the young pretender Zengzi is given five chapters to spout his wisdom. Even though, in first two at least, he is lying on his death bed, it’s hard to summon up any sympathy for him given the pretentiousness of his utterances.
The book isn’t exactly filled with contemporary figures either, featuring only two. Meng Jingzi, a member of the Meng clan, one of the notorious Three Families that ran the state of Lu, receives a rollicking from Zengzi in 8.4 for his tendency towards micromanagement in his one and only appearance in the Analects. Music Master Zhi fares much better in 8.15 when Confucius praises his “rich and beautiful music” to the skies.
Historical figures are featured more extensively. In the final five chapters, Confucius is effusive in his praise of three of China’s legendary sage kings, Shun, Yu, and Yao for the great majesty and virtue they displayed during their reigns. When he moves forward in time to the establishment of the Zhou dynasty, Confucius is similarly gushing about the “outstanding talents” of his personal hero, the Duke of Zhou, and the “supreme virtue” of the duke’s elder brother Tai Bo, who gave up the chance of becoming the ruler of the then minor kingdom of Zhou three times in favor his younger brother Jili.
In contrast to his praise for Jili’s elder brothers, Confucius chooses to criticize the very man who actually made his beloved Zhou dynasty possible by defeating the final ruler of the Shang dynasty in battle and uniting the bitterly divided empire as King Wu (Martial King) of Zhou. In 8.20, the sage rather snippily notes that while the sage king Shun required only five ministers to rule his domain, King Wu required ten — one of whom was (gasp) a woman.
Never mind that King Wu probably had a much larger and more complex task to accomplish than his mythical predecessor! Perhaps because he strongly opposed the use of force in overthrowing a legitimate ruler (no matter how depraved and corrupt he was), when it came to King Wu Confucius stubbornly refused to look at the big picture when evaluating his achievements.