Traditions go back a long way. How long? It's in our genes, one might say. Here I am going back about 2500 years, to Master Kung—"Confucius" to most of us in Western society.  4

Confucius was born into the upperclass and educated at schools for commoners where he was taught the Six Arts: rites (i.e. values, behaviour), music, archery, charioteering, calligraphy, and mathematics.  5

Rites, calligraphy and mathematics?

      School days, school days,
      Dear old Golden Rule days.
      Reading and 'riting and 'rithmetic,
      Taught to the tune of a hick'ry stick.



Confucius believed that the welfare of a country depends on the moral compass of its citizens; from the nation's leadership down. He believed that individuals could cultivate a sense of virtue through ren (humanity, goodness), and that the first step toward ren is devotion to one's parents and older siblings; duty and respect extended to include all elders, living or dead.  8

Confusian philosophy has come to us from a collection of sayings known as the Analects that are believed to have been compiled and written by Confucius' followers well after his death.* A compilation of 20 books, known as the Lun Yü, was first translated into English by James Legge* and published in 1861. A variety of scholarly interpretations have seen the light since.  9

The Analects show Confucius to be a realist. He taught that one's individual desires do not need to be suppressed, but that people should be educated to reconcile their desires with traditional propriety without going to extremes.

• Confucius said, "To attack extremes is harmful indeed." (Lun Yü 2-16)  9

Words translated from one language to another often do not have quite the same meaning, or feel, as the original. I found that even within a given language the meaning of a word shifts over time and that, vice-versa, some meanings may be expressed differently. Take, for examples, the shifts from "many people" to "multiple people," from "most people" to "the majority of people," from "fewer people" to "less people." Besides, languages expand as time goes by.

• By a river, Confucius said, "What has passed has passed, like this … day and night, not pausing." (Lun Yü 9-16)

The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus opined, "No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man." It's a small world; was, even then.  10

The connection between a word and its meaning can be quite fragile. This certainly is to be expected with translations from, say, Chinese to a western language. R. Emo avoided translating some Chinese characters into English because of their distinct meaning in the Analects. For those instances he provided descriptions instead. In fact, we find that Confucius himself needed to do so for his disciples. Prof. Emo also added extensive commentary. Eager beavers may find his scholarly version here.  11

Take the word junzi for starters. It is represented by two Chinese characters which combined translate to "true prince" or "son of a ruler," a meaning that has shifted to "an ideally ethical and capable person." But still, the junzi falls short of being a truly ideal person, a saint or sage, sheng

Ren, apparently the most important among them because of its strong ethical weight, puts "compassion," "constructive social leadership," "community before individual," "humanity," "rationality in thought, feelings, and action," these kind of qualities, all under one roof. Quoting Emo, "the term is so problematic that many Analects passages show disciples trying to pin Confucius down on its meaning (he escapes being pinned.)"


Dao, The Way, self-perfection, world transformation. I personally tend to compare it to "the scriptures" or any holy book.

Li. Among the six arts on Confucius's school curriculum is "rites," comprising rules of etiquette, code of conduct and moral obligation. They are the ritual institutions of the Chou Dynasty (1100–221 BCE). Quoting again, "the range of behavior subject to the broad category denoted by this term ranges from political protocol to court ceremony, religious rite to village festival, daily etiquette to disciplines of personal conduct when alone." All in the realm of good citizenship, I'd say.

Anthromorphism: God in the image of man.

Tian. Quoting: "carrying the basic meaning of 'sky,' Tian becomes a concept of supreme deity, often translated as 'Heaven,' sometimes possessing clear anthropomorphic features, sometimes appearing more a natural force."


Wen, pattern (or template), style, culture. Again quoting: "For Confucius 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 patterns of Chinese civilization had been initially inspired by the patterns of the Heavens (Tian) 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 Chinese symbol 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." This descrption brought to mind the second paragraph of Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness,"

      "The sea-reach of the Thames stretched before us like the beginning of an interminable waterway. In the offing the sea and the sky were welded together without a joint, and in the luminous space the tanned sails of the barges drifting up with the tide seemed to stand still in red clusters of canvas sharply peaked, with gleams of varnished sprits." etc.—feel free to read "sprits" as "spirits." Conrad wouldn't mind.  12

Yes, sorry. I am an old fogey and, yes, yes, I wander off too often. Now, back onto the track I should have stayed on, the track toward finding a better way to govern ourselves in a world under threats. The Analects, wisdom of the ages, may well make for a helpful lesson. Not only for Canadians; also for Americans; for people everywhere, really. Hope so, anyway.  13

"Nobel prizewinners have suggested that if mankind is to survive it must go back 25 centuries in time to tap the wisdom of Confucius." This suggestion was a high point at the First International Conference of Nobel Prizewinners held in 1988.* It's comforting to know that we are in good company.  14

* * *

The Confucius Publishing Company commisioned a simple translation that readers can easily understand and appreciate. It begins here. The quotations below are taken from this version, but with the word "gentleman" replaced by junzi, the word "benevolence" by ren, and so with few others words or expressions. It should not be hard for the reader to stay on track.

• Confucius said, "Exploring the old and deducing the new makes a teacher." (Lun Yü 2-11)  15

The United States, which prides itself on being on the forefront of democracy, has grown into a hotbed of anarchy. Right now (today is Nov. 23) Donald Trump still refuses to concede that he lost a re-election and followers threaten to kill election officials who sign off on him losing the vote counts. A major reason for him still having a widespread voter support is a lack of education and/or information. Or some other preoccupation; hard to figure out. The Analects speaks of "men who are below the average."

• Confucius said, "It is possible to speak of lofty subjects with men who are above the average. It is not possible to speak of lofty subjects with men who are below the average." (Lun Yü 6-19)

• Confucius said, "The three armies can be deprived of their commanding officer, but a common man cannot be deprived of his aspirations." (Lun Yü 9-25)

"The three armies" refers to the military forces of a large state.

• Confucius said, "The people may be made to follow, but not be made to know." (Lun Yü 8-9)

• Duke Ching of Ch'i asked Confucius about ruling.
   Confucius replied, "Let the lords be lords, the subjects be subjects, the fathers be fathers, the sons be sons."
   Duke Ching said, "How well said! If the lords were unlike lords, the subjects unlike subjects, the fathers unlike fathers, the sons unlike sons, then even if there were grain, would I be able to eat it?" (Lun Yü 12-11)

• Chi K'ang Tzǔ asked Confucius about ruling, "What would you say if those without the dao were to be killed for the sake of those with the dao?"
   Confucius replied, "Sir, when you rule, why resort to killing? When you wish for good, the people will be good. The virtues of the lord are as the wind, the virtues of the people are as the grass. The grass bends with the wind." (Lun Yü 12-19)

Chi K'ang Tzǔ is an official of the state of Lu.  16

Am I, by quoting from the Analects, suggesting taking away a franchise from "men who are below the average"? No way! Behold the fiddler on the roof! "Survival, through tradition and joyfulness, in a life full of uncertainty and imbalance," Wikipedia explains somewhere.

• Confucius said, "To relate and not to invent, to believe in and to be devoted to antiquity. Permit me to compare myself to Lao P'êng." (Lun Yü 7-1)

Lao P'êng was a legendary official of the Yin-Shand Dynasty (circa 1600–1100 BCE) who had great respect for antiquity.

• The people of Lu were about to reconstruct the treasury. Min Tzǔ Ch'ien said, "What do you say to keeping things as they are? Why must changes be made?"
   Confucius said, "This man speaks seldom, but what he says is always valid." (Lun Yü 11-13)

• Yu Tzǔ said, "It is seldom that a man of filial piety and brotherly love would be inclined to offend those above. There has not ben a man inclined to cause disorder wihout an inclination to offend those above. The junzi nourishes the roots. With the roots established, the dao grows. Are filial piety and brotherly love not the roots of ren?" (Lun Yü 1-2)

Filial piety is a Chinese traditional family concept of devotion, duty and respect which, according to the Lun Yü, is extended to include all elders, living or dead.  17

Glib tongues and images to match—in politics, in business, indeed just about everywhere one turns—corrode society. You know it, I know it. But even knowing it … . Advertising professionals have honed the misleading of people to a fine art. A trinket may be advertised at $49.95; a piece of furniture may be advertised at $3499. People smiling at a box of dishwater soap held at arm's length. Motherly instincts manipulated in diaper ads. Let's face it: advertising and political misdirection are pandemics in their own wrong.

• Confucius said, "His opinions are expressed with sincerity. Is he a junzi? Or is he merely dignified by appearance?" (Lun Yü 11-20)

• Confucius said, "Either the artfulnes in speech of Chu T'o or the beauty of Sung Ch'ao … in this day and age, it is difficult to be spared." (Lun Yü 6-14)

• Confucius said, "A ku that is no longer a ku! What a ku! What a ku!!" (Lun Yü 6-23)

The ku was a small drinking cup originally used in rituals. Its accepted size and shape had been altered to facilitate drinking and Confucius laments the predominance of drinking over rituals. Emo writes that this saying raised the issue of of language distortion to cover up unorthodox conduct. An implied meaning might be that a ruler who does not rule properly should not be called a "ruler," an idea covered by the doctrine of "the rectification of names."* ("Call a spade a spade.")  18

With global society teetering on the brink of complete disaster, the greater share of collective responsibility progressively goes to, roughly speaking, those with a higher social and scholarly standing, which, to begin with, brings me to the junzi. "Junzi" is often translated as "gentleman" or "superior man," but to be sure, junzi is not to be confused with sheng (saint or sage).

• Confucius said, "For the junzi there are nine things of which he thinks:
   In seeing, he thinks of enlightenment,
   In listening, he thinks of clarity,
   In countenance, he thinks of gentleness,
   In facial expression, he thinks of courtesy,
   In speech, he thinks of loyalty,
   In serving, he thinks of respect,
   In doubt, he thinks of questioning,
   In anger, he thinks of difficulties,
   In considering acquisition, he thinks of righteousess." (Lun Yü 16-10)

• Confucius said, "With righteousness as his substance, the junzi acts in accordance with li, expressing himself with humility and is complete with trustworthiness. He is a junzi indeed!" (Lun Yü 15-17)

• Confucius said, "The junzi studies literature extensively, is tempered by li, and is unlikely to go astray." (Lun Yü 6-25)

• Confucius said, "When substance overshadows refinement, there is the coarse man. When refinement overshadows substance, there is rhe court historian. When substance equates refinement, there is the junzi." (Lun Yü 6-16)

• Confusius said, "Junzi's do not compete, except in archery. With both hands clasped, each greets the other in ascent. Having descended, they drink to each other. Their competition is gentlemanly." (Lun Yü 3-7)

"In ascent"; that is to the dais where the archers are gathering."

• Confucius said, "Anywhere under heaven for the junzi there is nothing absolutely positive, there is nothing absolutely negative. Righteousness is his measure. (Lun Yü 4-10)

• Confucius said, "Without steadfastness, the gentleman would not command respect, and his learning would not be sound. Advocating loyalty and trustworthiness, the junzi has no friend who is not his equal. He would not hesitate to correct his faults." (Lun Yü 1-8)

• Confucius said, "A junzi is ashamed if his words outshine his actions. (Lun Yü 14-29)  19

People not perceived as meeting the scholarly and ethical standards of a junzi are categorized as "petty men"— loosely, people with narrow ethical vision. Compare and contrast some of the many sayings the Analects have on offer:

• Confucius said, "The junzi is easy to serve but difficult to please. Please him not with dao and he is not pleased. And when he employs others, he evaluates abilities. The petty man is difficult to serve but easy to please. Please him not with dao and he is still pleased. And when he employs others, he looks to blame." (Lun Yü 13-25)

Tian forbid such a petty man presides over a country!

• Confucius said, "The junzi encompasses all and is not partial. The petty man is partial and does not encompass all. (Lun Yü 2-14)

• Confucius said, "The junzi understands righteousness, the petty man understands profit." (Lun Yü 4-16)

• Confucius said, "The junzi is free and bountiful.The petty man is bound and grieving." (Lun Yü 7-36)

• Confucius said, "The junzi helps others to accomplish good. He does not help others to accomplish vice. The petty man does the reverse." (Lun Yü 12-16)  20

The Master was motivated by "helping others to accomplish good." He was a professional private teacher who seems to have lived largely off the largess of his wealthier pupils.

• Confucius said, "To learn and to practise what is learned time and again is a pleasure, is it not? To have friends come from afar is happiness, is it not? To be unperturbed when not appreciated by others is junzi, is it not?" (Lun Yü 1-1)

"Friends from afar": disciples.

• Confucius said, "To gain knowledge quietly, to learn without losing interest, to instruct others relentlessly, indeed, what difficulty for me?" (Lun Yü 7-2)

• Confucius said, "Yu, I shall instruct you about knowledge. To acknowledge what is known as known, and what is not known as not known, that is knowledge." (Lun Yü 2-17)

• Confucius said, "Do I have wisdom? I have no wisdom. If a crude man asked me a question in all candor, I would tap its two extremes, doing my best." (Lun Yü 9-7)

• It was difficult to talk with people of Hu Hsing. The disciples were perplexed when a boy was received. Confucius said, "I am for his advancement, not for his regression. Is that too much? When a person cleanses himself in order to advance, be for his cleansing without vouching for his past." (Lun Yü 7-28)

The people of Hu Hsing were noted for being unreasonable.  21

Learning, in the Analects, should not be mistaken for formal schooling. However valuable formal education, Confucius perceived the continued pursuit of knowledge and wisdom throughout life as essential. Love of learning is one of the hallmark characteristics of the junzi.

• Confucius said, "When three men walk together, there is always something I can learn. Choose to follow what is good in them and correct what is not good." (Lun Yü 7-21)

It is oneself who is to be corrected.

• Confucius said, "To learn together does not mean concurring in their pursuit of dao. To concur in the pursuit of dao does not mean establishing the same stand. To establish the same stand does not mean making the same value judgments. (Lun Yü 9-29)

• Tsai Yü napped during the day.
   Confucius said, "Rotten wood cannot be carved nor a wall of dried dung trowelled. How would I rebuke Yü?"
   Confucius said, "I used to take a man at his word and trusted he would act accordingly. But now I listen to his words and note his actions. The change is due to Yü." (Lun Yü 5-9)  22

Dao, The Way, is a process, a process of continually bettering oneself.

• Confucius said,
   "At fifteen, I aspired to learning.
   At thirty, I established my stand.
   At forty, I had no dilusions.
   At fifty, I knew my desiny.
   At sixty, I knew truth in all I heard.
   At seventy, I could follow the wishes of my heart without doing wrong." (Lun Yü 2-4)  23

There are seven times as many sayings in the Lun Yü; as shown in this essay, but what we have here ought to do. Yet to be addessed are ruling and the rulers. Considering that democracy as we know it is, putting it mildly, not in good health, we might do well to consider those carefully, thereby challenging:

• Confucius said, "All is lost! I have yet to see the man who can see his own faults and censure himself!" (Lun Yü 5-26)  24

The overriding message is that a ruler's sense of virtue is his primary prerequisite for leadership. It is not reasonable to expect to live and work in a civilized society if the rulers themselves do not live up to Confusius' expectations. Well, people are people are people, and the Master knew that very well. It isn't hard to read between the lines.

• Confucius said, "Lead through policies, discipline through punishments, and the people may be restrained but without a sense of shame. Lead through virtue, discipline through li, and there will be a sense of shame and conscientious improvements." (Lun Yü 2-3)

• Confucius said, "To rule with virtue is like the North Star in its place, around which all other stars revolve, in homage." (Lun Yü 2-1)

• Tzǔ Lu asked about ruling. Confucius said, "Work yourself before you work others."
   Tzǔ Lu enquired further. Confucius said, "Be relentless." (Lun Yü 13-1)

• Confucius said, "If he rights himself, what difficulty will he have in public office? If he is not able to right himself, how can he right others?" (Lun Yü 13-13)

• Confucius said, "In leading a state of a thousand chariots respect the office and be trustworthy; economise in the use of resources and love the people, and employ the people when it is timely." (Lun Yü 1-5)

"A state of a thousand chariots" means a large state.
Taking people away from such vital tasks as harvesting is an untimely thing to do.

• The Duke of Yeh asked about ruling. Confucius said, "Those who are near are pleased, those who are far away long to come." (Lun Yü 13-16)

• Tzǔ Lu said, "If the lord of Wei offered my Master public office, with what would my Master start?"
   Confucius said, "It would be protocol."
   Tzǔ Lu said, "If that is so, the Master is taking a roundabour route! Why protocol?"
   Confucius said, "Yu, how coarse you are. A junzi evades what he does not know. When protocol is not instituted correctly, what is said is not accepted; when what is said is not accepted, matters are not accomplished; when matters are not accomplished, rites and music do not thrive, punishments and penalties are not kept; when punishments and penalties are not kept, he people are bewildered. Thus with protocol instituted, a junzi may begin to speak and what is said may be enacted. What a junzi says is but earnest." (Lun Yü 13-3)

• Duke Ai asked, "What must be done for the support of the people?"
   Confucius replied, "Elevate the honest above the wrong doers, and there will be support from the people. Elevate the wrong-doers above the honest and there will not be support from the people." (Lun Yü 2-19)

Duke Ai is the duke of the state of Lu.

• Chi K'ang Tzǔ asked, "How may the people be instilled with respect, loyalty and encouragement?"
Confucius said, "Preside with dignity and there is respect, with filial piety and compassion and there is loyalty. Elevate the good and teach the incapable and there is encouragement." (Lun Yü 2-20)

Chi K'ang Tzǔ is an official in the state of Lu.

• Confucius asked Ch'i-Tiao K'ai to assume public office. The reply was, "I am not yet to be so entrusted,"
   Confucius was pleased. (Lun Yü 5-5)  25

Here Endeth the Lesson.  26


History of the Analects  *  fn1

James Legge (1815–1897) was a Scottish sinologist, missionary, and scholar, best known as an early and prolific translator of Classical Chinese texts into English.  *  fn2

History of the Analects.  * or fn3

First International Conference of Nobel Prizewinners.  *  fn3

Rectification of names  *  fn4

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