Leadership Lessons from Confucius: exodus of top talent

Zhi, the music master, left for Qi. Gan, conductor for the second course, left for Chu. Liao, conductor for the third course, left for Cai. Que, conductor for the fourth course, left for Qin. Fangshu, the drummer, crossed the river. Wu, the hand drummer, crossed the Han River. Yang, the music master’s deputy, and Xiang, the stone chime player, went to live by the sea.
大師摯適齊,亞飯干適楚,三飯繚適蔡,四飯缺適秦;鼓方叔,入於河;播 武,入於漢;少師陽,擊磬襄,入於海。

It is not just the size of their compensation packages that keeps top talent in an organization. A strong and open culture that fosters respect, cooperation, creativity, and a clear sense of purpose is even more, important.

Once cracks appear in the fabric that ties the organization together, it will not be long before the exodus of top talent begins. As the drip turns into a flood, it will be very difficult to hold the organization together.


This article features a translation of Chapter 9 of Book 18 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 18 here.

(1) In all likelihood this chapter was added to the original text of the Analects at a later date. The musicians listed are believed to have worked at the court of Duke Ai, who was the ruler of the state of the Lu at the time of Confucius’s death. Like their counterparts during the fall of the Shang dynasty, they are said to have fled the court in despair at the decadence of their ruler. The collapse of music and ritual signifies the end of good government.

(2) By extension, perhaps, the departure of the musicians could be taken to symbolize the death of Confucius himself: without the wise guidance of the sage, how could Duke Ai possibly be expected to rule in the proper way?

(2) Zhi, the grand music master, appears in 8.15. Nothing is known about the other musicians mentioned in the passage.

I shot this image in a hillside temple on the Four Beasts near to Taipei.


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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.