19 Kong Fu Tzu/ Confucius

Selections from the Analects

By Tom@HK [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

A little background on the mysterious man that most of us think of as the goofy source of all those pithy statements like, “Confucius says…very first doctor of dermatology had to start from scratch”.  But in fact Buddhism, Daoism and Confucian teachings have been the Big Three in China and Eastern Asia. There are writings attributed to the followers of Confucius called the Analects, which are said to be his teachings. Key in Confucian teaching are the The Five Constant Relationships, which outline how one should act in society, emphasizing the relationships  between  parent  and  child,  husband and wife, elder sibling and junior sibling, elder friend and junior friend, and ruler and subject.

An excellent Ted Ed lesson, if you would like a little more context for Confucius, his life and his teachings, can be found at:

Who was Confucius?


Here you can watch a short video, read a bit more scholarship regarding Confucius, and find additional links to other resources.

The definitions of terms at the end of this chapter are especially useful–these are key terms found in Confucius’ teaching.  Check them out!



Book I


1.6  The Master said: A young man should be filial within his home and respectful of elders when outside, should be careful and trustworthy, broadly caring of people at large, and should cleave to those who are ren. If he has energy left over, he may study the refinements of culture (wen).

1.7  Zixia said: If a person treats worthy people as worthy and so alters his expression, exerts all his effort when serving his parents, exhausts himself when serving his lord, and is trustworthy in keeping his word when in the company of friends, though others may say he is not yet learned, I would call him learned.

1.8  The Master said: If a junzi is not serious he will not be held in awe. If you study you will not be crude. Take loyalty and trustworthiness as the pivot and have no friends who are not like yourself in this. If you err, do not be afraid to correct yourself.

1.16  The Master said: Do not be concerned that no one recognizes your merits. Be concerned that you may not recognize others’.


Book II   KongZi, at Confucius Temple

2.1  The Master said: When one rules by means of virtue it is like the North Star – it dwells in its place and the other stars pay
reverence to it.

2.3  The Master said: Guide them with policies and align them with punishments and the people will evade them and have no shame. Guide them with virtue and align them with li and the people will have a sense of shame and fulfill their roles.

2.4  The Master said: When I was fifteen I set my heart on learning. At thirty I took my stand. At forty I was without confusion. At
fifty I knew the command of Tian. At sixty I heard it with a compliant ear. At seventy I follow the desires of my heart and do not
overstep the bounds.

2.15  The Master said: If you study but don’t reflect you’ll be lost. If you reflect but don’t study you’ll get into trouble.

2.19  Duke Ai asked, “What should I do so that the people will obey?” Confucius replied, “Raise up the straight and set them above the crooked and the people will obey. Raise up the crooked and set them above the straight and the people will not obey.”

2.20  Ji Kangzi asked, “How would it be to use persuasion to make the people respectful and loyal?” The Master said, “If you approach them with solemnity they will be respectful; if you are filial and caring they will be loyal; if you raise up the good and instruct those who lack ability they will be persuaded.”


  Confucius the Scholar Confucius as scholar *Qing-dynastyBook V

5.12  Zigong said, “What I do not wish others to do to me, I do not wish to do to others.” The Master said, “Si, this is a level
you have not yet reached.”

5.14  When Zilu heard something new and had not yet learned to practice it, his only fear was that he would hear something else new.

5.27  The Master said, Enough! I have yet to see anyone who can recognize his own errors and bring charges against himself within.


Book VI

6.18  When plain substance prevails over patterned refinement, you have a bumpkin. When patterned refinement prevails over
substance, you have a clerk. When substance and pattern are in balance, only then do you have a junzi.

6.19  Men stay alive through straightforward conduct. When the crooked stay alive it is simply a matter of escaping through luck.

6.20  The Master said, Knowing it is not so good as loving it; loving it is not so good as taking joy in it.


Book XX   By By Chinese Artists (http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/15250) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

20.2  Zizhang asked Confucius, “What must a man be like before he may participate in governance?” Confucius said, “If he honors the five beautiful things and casts out the four evils, then he may participate in governance.” Zizhang said, “What are the five beautiful things?” The Master said, “The junzi is generous but not wasteful, a taskmaster of whom none complain, desirous but not greedy, dignified but not arrogant, awe-inspiring but not fearsome.” Zizhang said, “What do you mean by generous but not wasteful?” The Master said, “To reward people with that which benefits them, is that not to be generous but not wasteful? To pick a task that people can fulfill and set them to it, is that not to be a taskmaster of whom none complain? If one desires ren and obtains it, wherein is he greedy? If he never dares to be unmannerly, regardless of whether with many or a few, with the great or the small, is that not to be dignified but not arrogant? When the junzi sets his cap and robes right, and makes his gaze reverent, such that people stare up at him in awe, is this not, indeed, to be awe-inspiring and not fearsome?”

Zizhang said, “What are the four evils?” The Master said, “To execute people without having given them instruction is called cruelty; to inspect their work without warning is called oppressiveness; to demand timely completion while having been slow in
giving orders is called thievery; to dole out stingily what must be given is called clerkishness.”


20.3  The Master said, If you do not know your destiny, you cannot be a junzi. If you don’t know li, you cannot take your stand. If you don’t interpret people’s words, you cannot interpret people



Junzi 君子 (True Prince)

This is a compound word composed of two written characters which separately means “ruler’s son.” The ancient character for “ruler” (jun) showed a hand grasping a writing brush with a mouth placed by the side, illustrating the modes by which a ruler issued orders (the word zi basically meant “child/son,” the written character being simply a picture of a child; it also served as an honorific suffix meaning “master” in names like Kongzi, that is, Confucius, or Master Kong). In pre-philosophical writings, the word junzi was used to refer to someone who was heir to a ruling position by virtue of his birth. Under the changing social conditions of the Warring States period, the concept of birthright was replaced by the notion of an “aristocracy of merit,” and in the Confucian school, the term junzi came to denote an “ethical aristocrat” rather than a future king. Because in this sense of the term, there is an underlying sense that “real” princeliness lies in moral accomplishments rather than the chance circumstances of family position, the term might be translated not as “prince,” but as True Prince. For Confucians, the hallmark of the junzi was his complete internalization of the virtue of ren and associated qualities, such as righteousness (yi) and full socialization through ritual skills. A parallel normative term, shi 士 (gentleman), is frequent in Confucian texts as a type of prefiguration of the junzi ideal in a man of aspiration. Originally probably denoting a man of good birth, in the Warring States era the term shi comes to denote a man whose character exemplifies the social accomplishments once associated with birth – a change of meaning paralleling the evolution of the term junzi.

Li 禮 (Ritual)

Commitment to ritual was the distinguishing characteristic of the Confucian School. By “ritual,” or li, the Confucians meant not only ceremonies of grand religious or social occasions, but also the institutions of Zhou Dynasty political culture and the norms of proper everyday conduct. Although accordance with ritual was, in some senses, a matter of knowing the codes of aristocratic behavior (and knowing them better than the debased
aristocrats of the later Zhou era), it was more importantly a manner of attaining full mastery of the style or pattern (wen) of civilized behavior. Confucians viewed these patterns as the essence of civilization itself. The great sages of the past had labored era after era to transform China from brutishness to refinement through the elaboration of these artistic forms of social interaction, and in the Confucian view, the epitome of human virtue was expressed only through these forms. Mastery of the outer forms was the path to inner sagehood. The ancient character for li shows a ceremonial vessel filled with sacrificial goods on the right, with an altar stand on the left.


Ren 仁 (Humanity; Goodness)

No term is more important in Confucianism than ren. Prior to the time of Confucius, the term Humanity does not seem to have been much used. In those pre-philosophical days, the word seems to have meant “manly,” an adjective of high praise in a warrior society. Confucius, however, changed the meaning of the term and gave it great ethical weight. He identified “manliness” (or, in non-sexist terms, the qualities associated with constructive social leadership) with the firm disposition to place the needs and feelings of others and of the community before one’s own. The written graph of this term is a simple one; it combines the form for “person” on the left with the number “two” on the right; a person of Humanity, or ren, is someone who is thoroughly relational in their thoughts, feelings, and actions. (The happily illustrative graphic etymology is, unfortunately, undercut by recently unearthed manuscript texts of the late fourth century BCE, which consistently render the term with the graph for “body” placed over the graph for “heart/mind”; this may, however, have been a local scribal tradition confined to the southerly region of Chu.) Confucians often pair this term with Righteousness, and it is very common for the two terms together to be used as a general expression for “morality.” Other schools also use the term ren, but they usually employ it either to criticize Confucians, or in a much reduced
sense, pointing simply to people who are well-meaning. The term is closely linked in Confucian discourse with the ideal of the junzi (Analects 4.5: If one takes ren away from a junzi, wherein is he worthy of the name?).



Tian 天 (Heaven)

Tian was the name of a deity of the Zhou people which stood at the top of a supernatural hierarchy of spirits (ghosts, nature spirits, powerful ancestral leaders, Tian). Tian also means “the sky,” and for that reason, it is well translated as “Heaven.” The early graph is an anthropomorphic image (a picture of a deity in terms of human attributes) that shows a human form with an enlarged head. Heaven was an important concept for the early Zhou people; Heaven was viewed as an all-powerful and all-good deity, who took a special interest in protecting the welfare of China. When the Zhou founders overthrew the Shang Dynasty in 1045, they defended their actions by claiming that they were merely receiving the “mandate” of Heaven, who had wished to replace debased Shang rule with a new era of virtue in China. All early philosophers use this term and seem to accept that there existed some high deity that influenced human events. The Mohist school was particularly strident on the importance of believing that Tian was powerfully concerned with human activity. They claimed that the Confucians did not believe Tian existed, although Confucian texts do speak of Tian reverently and with regularity. In fact, Confucian texts also seem to move towards identifying Tian less with a conscious deity and more with the unmotivated regularities of Nature. When Daoist texts speak of Heaven, it is often unclear whether they are referring to a deity, to Nature as a whole, or to their image of the Great Dao.


Wen 文 (pattern, style, culture)

The word wen denoted the opposite of brutishness in appearance and behavior. A person of “pattern” was a person who had adopted the many cultivated forms that characterized Chinese culture at its best, in contrast to the “barbaric” nomadic peoples who surrounded China. Confucians believed that the pat-terns of Chinese civilization had been initially inspired by the patterns of the Heavens and the seasons, and that they represented a Heaven-destined order that human beings needed to fabricate within the sphere of their own activity, so that they could join with Heaven and earth in the process of creation and order. The original character appears to have pictured a costumed dancer, and music, sound, and dance were essential emblems of the Confucian portrait of the civilized society. Such patterns were the basis of ritual li. For Daoists, pattern symbolized the fall of the human species from its origins in the natural Dao. The Dao de jing attacks pattern and culture through its two most striking metaphors for the Dao: the uncarved block of wood and the undyed piece of cloth.


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© 2003, 2012, 2015 Robert Eno

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