The Analects of Confucius Book 16 New English Translation

Richard Brown
6 min readApr 30, 2022

Read this new English translation of the Analects of Confucius Book 16 to learn more about the teachings of China’s most famous philosopher.

Chapter 1
The head of the Ji Family was preparing to attack Zhuanyu. Ran Qiu and Zilu went to see Confucius and said: “Ji Kangzi is going to intervene in Zhuanyu.”

Confucius said: “Ran Qiu! Is this not your fault? A long time ago, our ancient kings gave the lord of Zhuanyu the responsibility of offering sacrifices to Mount Dongmeng. Moreover, Zhuanyu lies in the heart of the borders of Lu and its lord is a minister of our state who looks after the altars of grain. Why on earth would you attack it?”

Ran Qiu said: “This is the wish of our master. The two of us oppose it.”

Confucius said: “Ran Qiu! Zhou Ren had a saying, ‘He who has strength stands firm; he who lacks strength withdraws.’ What sort of retainers are ones who cannot steady their master when he stumbles or stop him when he is about to fall? In any case, what you said is mistaken. If a tiger or rhinoceros escapes from its cage or if a tortoise shell or a jade amulet is broken in its casket, who is at fault?”

Ran Qiu said: “But Zhuanyu has strong defenses and is close to the Ji Family stronghold at Bi. If he does not take it today, in the future it is sure to become a threat to his children and grandchildren.”

Confucius said: “Ran Qiu! An exemplary person despises those who invent excuses for their actions instead of simply saying that they want to do them. I have heard it said that rulers of state or heads of noble families worry about the unfair distribution of wealth rather than poverty and social instability rather than a small population size. If wealth is distributed fairly, there will be no poverty. If there is harmony, there will be no lack of population. If there is stability, there will be no unrest. It is for this reason that if distant peoples are still not won over, you must cultivate your cultural refinement and excellence to attract them; and then, once they have come, you must make them feel secure. As his retainers, Ran Qiu and Zilu, you have failed to help your master to win over distant peoples and to prevent the state from falling apart because of divisions and unrest. Instead, you are plotting to wage war within the borders of the state itself! I am afraid that for the Ji Family, the real threat does not come from Zhuanyu, but lies within the walls of their own palace!”

Chapter 2
Confucius said, “When the way prevails in the world, ritual, music, and punitive military campaigns are initiated by the son of the heaven. When the way does not prevail in the world, ritual, music, and punitive military campaigns are initiated by the feudal lords. When they are initiated by the feudal lords, the lords are seldom able to maintain their power for ten generations. When they are initiated by ministers, the ministers are seldom able to maintain their power for five generations. When the household retainers of the ministers take control of the fate of the state, they are seldom able to maintain their power for three generations. When the way prevails in the world, governance does not lie in the hands of the ministers. When the way prevails in the world, the common people do not concern themselves with affairs of state.”

Chapter 3
Confucius said: “It is five generations since control of appointments fell out of the hands of the ducal house. It is four generations since government fell into the hands of the ministers. For this reason, the descendants of the Three Families will fall into obscurity.”

Chapter 4
Confucius said: “There are three kinds of friends who lift you up and three kinds of friends who drag you down. Friends who are upright, sincere, and learned lift you up. Friends who are devious, insincere, and superficial drag you down.”

Chapter 5
Confucius said: “There are three kinds of joy that lift you up and three kinds of joy that drag you down. Taking joy in honing your conduct and character through ritual and music, taking joy in delighting in the goodness of other people, and taking joy in having a wide circle of worthy friends — all these lift you up. Taking joy in arrogant boastfulness, taking joy in licentious wantonness, and taking joy in excessive indulgence — all these drag you down.”

Chapter 6
Confucius said, “When you are in the presence of an exemplary person, you risk making three mistakes. To speak before the appropriate time is called being rash; to fail to speak at the appropriate time is called being evasive; to speak without observing the expression on the person’s face is called being blind.”

Chapter 7
Confucius said: “There are three tendencies that exemplary people guard against. When they are young and their vital force is still unstable, they guard against lust. When they are in the prime of life and their vital force has reached its full strength, they guard against contentiousness. When they are old and their vital force has weakened, they guard against greed.”

Chapter 8
Confucius said: “There are three things that exemplary people stand in awe of. They are in awe of the will of heaven. They are in awe of great men. They are in awe of the words of the sages. Since petty people are ignorant of the will of heaven, they do not stand in awe of it. They have no respect for great men and treat the words of the sages with disdain.”

Chapter 9
Confucius said: “Those who are born with innate knowledge are the highest. Next are those who acquire knowledge through learning. After them are those who learn from the trials and tribulations of life. The lowest are the common people who go through the trials and tribulations of life without ever learning anything.”

Chapter 10
Confucius said: “Exemplary people focus their thoughts in nine ways: when looking they focus on seeing clearly; when listening they focus on hearing properly; in their facial expression, they focus on being friendly; in their demeanor, they focus on being deferential; in their speech, they focus on being sincere; in conducting their affairs, they focus on being respectful; when in doubt, they focus on asking questions; when consumed by anger, they focus on the negative consequences it may lead to; when faced with an opportunity for gain, they focus on doing the right thing.”

Chapter 11
Confucius said: “‘Seeing goodness and pursuing it as if you will never be able to achieve it; seeing badness and recoiling from it as if you have been scalded by boiling water’ — I have seen such people and I have heard such words. ‘Living in seclusion to pursue your aspirations; doing what is right to attain the way’ — I have heard such words, but I have never seen such people.”

Chapter 12
Duke Jing of Qi had a thousand war chariots. On the day of his death, the common people could find no virtue to praise him for. Boyi and Shuqi starved to death in the wilderness around Mount Shouyang. To this very day, the common people still praise them. Does this not prove my point?”

Chapter 13
Chen Gang asked Confucius’s son Boyu: “Has your father given you any special teaching?” Boyu replied: “No, he has not. Once, when he was standing on his own and I was hurrying across the courtyard, he asked me: ‘Have you studied the Book of Songs?’ I replied: ‘Not yet.’ He said: ‘If you do not study the Book of Songs, you won’t be able to speak.’ I retired and studied the Book of Songs. On another day, when he was again standing on his own and I was hurrying across the courtyard, he asked me: ‘Have you studied ritual?’ I replied: ‘Not yet.’ He said: ‘If you do not study ritual, you will not be able to take your place in society.’ I retired and studied ritual. These are the two lessons I received from him.” Chen Gang left delighted and said: “I asked one thing and learned three. I learned about the Book of Songs, I learned about ritual, and I learned how an exemplary person keeps their distance from their son.”

Chapter 14
The ruler of a state calls his wife ‘My Lady’. She calls herself ‘Your Little Maiden’. The people call her ‘The Lord’s Lady’, but when talking to people from other states, they call her ‘Our Little Lord’. People from other states also call her ‘The Lord’s Lady’.



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.