Leadership Lessons from Confucius: measuring your success

Shusun Wushu said to the ministers at court: “Zigong is superior to Confucius.” Zifu Jingbo told this to Zigong. Zigong said: “Let us take the surrounding wall of a residence as a comparison. My wall is only shoulder-height; so, you can simply peer over it to see the beauty of the house inside. Our master’s wall would tower many yards higher; so, unless you are allowed through the gate, you cannot imagine the magnificence of the ancestral temple and the majesty of the other buildings. But since very few people have been allowed through the gate, it is not surprising that your colleague would make such a comment.”
叔孫武叔語大夫於朝曰:「子貢賢於仲尼。」子服景伯以告子貢。子貢曰:「譬之宮牆。賜之牆也及肩,窺見屋家之好;夫子之牆數仞,不得其門而入,不見宗廟之美,百官之富。得其門者或寡矣!夫子之云,不亦宜乎!」

How do you measure your success? Is it by how much money you have made, how much progress you have made in your career, and how high your social status is? Or is it by the impact you have had on your family, colleagues, and community?

Despite what others may tell you, there is no “right” answer to this question. All of us have different criteria.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 23 of Book 19 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 19 here.

(1) This is the first of three passages in which the follower Zigong eulogizes Confucius. Whether he actually uttered these rather hyperbolic descriptions of the sage is open to question, but there is no doubt that Zigong had a deep love and respect for Confucius. Indeed, such was devotion that he provided Confucius with financial support during his old age and lived for six years near his tomb following his death.

(2) Shusun Wushu and Zifu Jingbo were high officials in the state of Lu during Confucius’s lifetime. Zifu Jingbo appears in Book 14.37 of the Analects, in which he memorably claims that he still had enough power to splay the corpse of a rival.

(3) Shusun is not necessarily wrong in his assessment that Zigong was “superior” to Confucius. Before becoming a follower of the sage, Zigong had already established himself as a successful merchant and amassed a large fortune. He also became an accomplished official and statesman in his own right, assuming higher official posts in Wei and Lu than Confucius ever did. Although Confucius was quite well respected during his lifetime, it was not until well over 200 years after his death that he rose to prominence when the Han dynasty emperor Wu Di made his teachings the official state ideology.

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.