In his own neighborhood, Confucius was agreeable and modest, seeming to be at a loss for words. When he was in the ancestral temples or at court, however, he was eloquent, though always cautious.
When speaking at court with his juniors, he was relaxed and friendly. When speaking with his superiors, he was straightforward, but respectful. When in the presence of the ruler, he showed reverence, but was collected.
When the ruler summoned Confucius to welcome a guest, his face would be solemn and his pace brisk. When he bowed to those around him, extending his cupped hands to the right and to the left, his robes swayed, perfectly arrayed, front and back. Stepping forward with them, he glided like a bird.
When the guests had departed, he would report back to the ruler, “Our guest no longer looks back.”
When passing through the door of his ruler, he would draw himself in, as if the gate wasn’t large enough to accommodate him. He wouldn’t stand in the middle of the gate or step on the threshold. When he passed by the throne, his expression became serious, his steps, short and deliberate. His voice dropped to a whisper, as if he could barely get the words out.
When he lifted the hem of his robe to climb the steps, he again drew himself in, holding his breath as if he’d stopped breathing altogether. On leaving the ruler’s place, after he had gone back down the first step, his expression became relaxed. After reaching the bottom of the stairs, he’d glide back to his position like a bird and resume a reverent attitude.
When Confucius carried the jade tablet of his ruler, he drew himself in as if he couldn’t bear the weight. When he held it high, it was as if he was bowing to someone. When he held it low, it was as if he was offering it to someone. His expression was serious and concerned. His steps were short and controlled, as if his feet never left the ground.
During the presentation ritual, his expression was relaxed. In a private meeting, he was even more at ease.
The noble man didn’t use crimson or maroon for the trim on his robes and didn’t use red or purple for his casual clothes. In the heat of summer, he wore an unlined outer garment of fine or coarse hemp, but always covered it with a jacket before going out.
With a black upper garment, he’d wear a lambskin robe. With a white upper garment, he’d wear a fawn-skin robe. With a yellow upper garment, he’d wear a fox-fur robe.
His casual fur robe was long, but had a short right sleeve.
His sleeping garment was knee-length.
At home, he’d sit on thick fox and badger skins as a cushion.
Unless he was in mourning, he’d wear whatever he liked as an ornament on his sash.
With the exception of his ceremonial robes, the layers of his robes would all be cut and hemmed to different lengths.
He never wore black lambskin coats or hats when making condolence visits.
On the first day of the new year, he’d always show up at court dressed in his black ceremonial garb.
When Confucius fasted, he always wore a clean, plain linen robe. When he fasted, he always changed his diet and his usual seat at home.
Confucius did not demand that his rice be finely-polished or that his meat be finely cut. He didn’t eat rice that had gone sour, spoiled meat or fish, food with a bad color or odor, or food that was overcooked. He didn’t eat food that was not cooked properly, and he didn’t eat outside of mealtimes.
He wouldn’t eat food that was improperly seasoned or prepared with the wrong sauce. Even when there was a lot of meat, he wouldn’t eat more meat than rice.
He didn’t limit his wine, though he never got drunk. He didn’t drink store-bought wine or eat store-bought dried meats. He would leave ginger on the table for after the meal, but he didn’t overdo it.
After he assisted at a public sacrifice, he wouldn’t let his portion of the sacrificial meat sit overnight. When sacrificing at home, he wouldn’t let the meat sit for more than three days. If it did, he wouldn’t eat it.
Confucius didn’t speak while eating, or after he had lied down for the night.
Even if Confucius was just having a simple meal of coarse grains and vegetable broth, he’d always set some aside for sacrifice, and he did so with reverence.
Confucius wouldn’t sit down on a mat unless it was straight.
When drinking with the people in his village, he would leave only after the elderly left.
When the villagers performed the year-end ritual to drive away the spirits of disease and pestilence, Confucius would put on his full court regalia stand on the eastern steps.
When he asked about the well-being of a friend in another state, Confucius would bow twice before sending the messenger away.
Ji Kangzi sent Confucius some medicine as a present. He accepted it graciously, but told the messenger, “Since I don’t know anything about this medicine, I don’t dare take it.”
When his stables caught on fire, Confucius hurried back from court and asked, “Was anyone hurt?”
He did not ask about the horses.
When the ruler sent him a gift of cooked food, Confucius would always taste it right away, after straightening his mat. If the ruler sent uncooked meat, he would always cook it and offer some as a sacrifice. If the ruler presented him with a live animal, he would always raise it. When attending a meal with the ruler, after the ruler made the sacrifice, Confucius would eat first.
When Confucius was sick and his ruler came to visit him, he had himself laid out facing east, with his court robes draped over him, and his sash laid out across the bed.
When Confucius was in the Great Ancestral Temple, he’d ask questions about everything.
When a friend died and had no relatives to take care of the funeral, Confucius would say, “I’ll have the funeral in my home.”
When a friend would send him a gift—even something as lavish as a horse and carriage—he would not bow in acknowledgement unless it was sacrificial meat.
Confucius didn’t sleep stiffly, like a corpse. At home, he was casual and at ease.
When Confucius saw a person wearing clothes of mourning, even if it was someone he saw every day, his face would express grief. When he saw someone wearing a court cap or a blind person, even if it was someone he saw every day, he would become solemn.
If Confucius was riding in his carriage and he came across someone in mourning, or someone carrying official documents, he would bow down and grasp the crossbar.
If he was served a rare delicacy at a banquet, he would rise and express his appreciation.
He would also change his expression at the clap of thunder or a strong gust of wind.
When he climbed up into a carriage, Confucius would stand upright, holding the straps. Once inside, he didn’t gawk at this and that, talk rapidly, or point at things with his hands.
Startled by their arrival, a bird took off and circled several times before perching on a branch.
“‘The hen pheasant by the mountain ridge,
It knows the right moment!
It knows the right moment!’”
Zilu saluted the bird. It flapped its wings three times and flew away.