The Wisdom of Confucius

Page 15 of 49

Fan Ch‘i, strolling with him over the ground below the place of the rain-dance, said to him, "I venture to ask how to raise the standard of virtue, how to reform dissolute habits, and how to discern what is illusory?"

"Ah! a good question indeed!" he exclaimed. "Well, is not putting duty first, and success second, a way of raising [Pg 67] the standard of virtue? And is not attacking the evil in one's self, and not the evil which is in others, a way of reforming dissolute habits? And as to illusions, is not one morning's fit of anger, causing a man to forget himself, and even involving in the consequences those who are near and dear to him—is not that an illusion?"

The same disciple asked him what was meant by "a right regard for one's fellow-creatures." He replied, "It is love to man."

Asked by him again what was meant by wisdom, he replied, "It is knowledge of man."

Fan Ch‘i did not quite grasp his meaning.

The Master went on to say, "Lift up the straight, set aside the crooked, so can you make the crooked straight."

Fan Ch‘i left him, and meeting with Tsz-hi he said, "I had an interview just now with the Master, and I asked him what wisdom was. In his answer he said, 'Lift up the straight, set aside the crooked, and so can you make the crooked straight.' What was his meaning?"

"Ah! words rich in meaning, those," said the other. "When Shun was emperor, and was selecting his men from among the multitude, he 'lifted up' Ku-yu; and men devoid of right feelings towards their kind went far away. And when T‘ang was emperor, and chose out his men from the crowd, he 'lifted up' I-yin—with the same result."

Tsz-kung was consulting him about a friend. "Speak to him frankly, and respectfully," said the Master, "and gently lead him on. If you do not succeed, then stop; do not submit yourself to indignity."

The learned Tsang observed, "In the society of books the 'superior man' collects his friends; in the society of his friends he is furthering good-will among men."


[29] From Confucius, it is generally thought.

[Pg 68]


Answers on the Art of Governing—Consistency

Tsz-lu was asking about government. "Lead the way in it," said the Master, "and work hard at it."

Requested to say more, he added, "And do not tire of it."

Chung-kung, on being made first minister to the Chief of the Ki family, consulted the Master about government, and to him he said, "Let the heads of offices be heads. Excuse small faults. Promote men of sagacity and talent."

"But," he asked, "how am I to know the sagacious and talented, before promoting them?"

"Promote those whom you do know," said the Master.

"As to those of whom you are uncertain, will others omit to notice them?"

Tsz-lu said to the Master, "As the prince of Wei, sir, has been waiting for you to act for him in his government, what is it your intention to take in hand first?"

"One thing of necessity," he answered—"the rectification of terms."

"That!" exclaimed Tsz-lu. "How far away you are, sir! Why such rectification?"

"What a rustic you are, Tsz-lu!" rejoined the Master. "A gentleman would be a little reserved and reticent in matters which he does not understand. If terms be incorrect, language will be incongruous; and if language be incongruous, deeds will be imperfect. So, again, when deeds are imperfect, propriety and harmony cannot prevail, and when this is the case laws relating to crime will fail in their aim; and if these last so fail, the people will not [Pg 69] know where to set hand or foot. Hence, a man of superior mind, certain first of his terms, is fitted to speak; and being certain of what he says can proceed upon it. In the language of such a person there is nothing heedlessly irregular—and that is the sum of the matter."

Fan Ch‘i requested that he might learn something of husbandry. "For that," said the Master, "I am not equal to an old husbandman." Might he then learn something of gardening? he asked. "I am not equal to an old gardener," was the reply.

"A man of little mind, that!" said the Master, when Fan Ch‘i had gone out. "Let a man who is set over the people love propriety, and they will not presume to be disrespectful. Let him be a lover of righteousness, and they will not presume to be aught but submissive. Let him love faithfulness and truth, and they will not presume not to lend him their hearty assistance. Ah, if all this only were so, the people from all sides would come to such a one, carrying their children on their backs. What need to turn his hand to husbandry?

"Though a man," said he, "could hum through the Odes—the three hundred—yet should show himself unskilled when given some administrative work to do for his country; though he might know much of that other lore, yet if, when sent on a mission to any quarter, he could answer no question personally and unaided, what after all is he good for?

"Let a leader," said he, "show rectitude in his own personal character, and even without directions from him things will go well. If he be not personally upright, his directions will not be complied with."

Once he made the remark, "The governments of Lu and of Wei are in brotherhood."

Of King, a son of the Duke of Wei, he observed that "he managed his household matters well. On his coming [Pg 70] into possession, he thought, 'What a strange conglomeration!'—Coming to possess a little more, it was, 'Strange, such a result!' And when he became wealthy, 'Strange, such elegance!'"

The Master was on a journey to Wei, and Yen Yu was driving him. "What multitudes of people!" he exclaimed. Yen Yu asked him, "Seeing they are so numerous, what more would you do for them?"

"Enrich them," replied the Master.

"And after enriching them, what more would you do for them?"

"Instruct them."

"Were any one of our princes to employ me," he said, "after a twelvemonth I might have made some tolerable progress; but give me three years, and my work should be done."

Again, "How true is that saying, 'Let good men have the management of a country for a century, and they would be adequate to cope with evil-doers, and thus do away with capital punishments.'"

Again, "Suppose the ruler to possess true kingly qualities, then surely after one generation there would be good-will among men."

Again, "Let a ruler but see to his own rectitude, and what trouble will he then have in the work before him? If he be unable to rectify himself, how is he to rectify others?"

Once when Yen Yu was leaving the Court, the Master accosted him. "Why so late?" he asked. "Busy with legislation," Yen replied. "The details of it," suggested the Master; "had it been legislation, I should have been there to hear it, even though I am not in office."

Duke Ting asked if there were one sentence which, if acted upon, might have the effect of making a country prosperous.

[Pg 71] Confucius answered, "A sentence could hardly be supposed to do so much as that. But there is a proverb people use which says, 'To play the prince is hard, to play the minister not easy.' Assuming that it is understood that 'to play the prince is hard,' would it not be probable that with that one sentence the country should be made to prosper?"

"Is there, then," he asked, "one sentence which, if acted upon, would have the effect of ruining a country?"

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