2.18

Zizhang asked about getting an official position.

Confucius said, “Listen as much as you can, put aside what’s doubtful, and speak cautiously about the rest. This will lead to few errors. Observe as much as you can, put aside what’s dangerous, and be careful in acting on the rest. This will lead to few regrets.

Few errors in speech and few regrets in action—that’s the key to earning an official position.”

2.21

Someone asked Confucius, “Why aren’t you involved in government?”

Confucius replied, “The Book of History says,

‘Filial! Just be filial!

And a friend to brothers, young and old.

This has influence on government.’

“Since this is taking part in government, why do I need to be ‘involved in government?’”

5.8

Meng Wubo asked Confucius whether Zilu was humane.

Confucius replied, “I don’t know.”

Meng Wubo asked again.

Confucius replied, “Zilu could oversee the collection of military taxes in a large state. But I don’t know if he is humane.”

Meng asked, “What about Ran Qiu?”

Confucius answered, “Ran Qiu could be the steward of a city of a thousand families or a clan with a hundred chariots, but I don’t know if he is humane.”

Meng asked, “What about Gongxi Hua?”

Confucius said, “If he was dressed properly with his sash and placed in the middle of the court, he could make conversation with the guests. But I don’t know if he is humane.”

5.16

Confucius said, “Zichan had four qualities of a noble person. He behaved with reverence. He was respectful when serving his superiors. He cared for the common people, and he was just in how he employed them.”

5.19

Zizhang asked, “The Chief Minister Ziwen was appointed three times, but never showed any signs of being pleased. He was fired three times, but never showed any signs of resentment. He would always brief his replacement fully on the prior government. What do you think of him?”

Confucius replied, “He was certainly dutiful.”

Zizhang asked, “But was he humane?”

Confucius replied, “I don’t know about that. What makes you think he was humane?”

Zizhang followed up, “When Cuizi assassinated the prince of Qi, Chen Wenzi, who had ten chariots, abandoned them and left the state.

“When he arrived at another state, he said, ‘The government here is just as bad as Cuizi’s.’ and so he left it.

Coming to another state he said, ‘Here, too, they’re just like Cuizi.’ and so he left. What do you think of him?”

Confucius replied, “He was certainly pure.”

Zizhang asked, “But was he humane?”

Confucius replied, “I don’t know about that. What makes you think he was humane?”

6.9

The Jisun Family asked Min Ziqian to serve as steward of their family fortress.

Min Ziqian replied to the messenger, “Do your best to decline the offer politely. If they ask again, I’ll exile myself to the north of the River Wen.”

8.13

Confucius said, “Be devoted and love learning. Stick to the Way until death. Don’t enter a state in peril and don’t stay in a state in chaos.

“When the Way prevails in the world, show yourself. When it does not, withdraw into seclusion.

“When the Way prevails in a state, it’s shameful to be poor and of low rank. When the Way doesn’t prevail in a state, it’s shameful to be rich and honored.”

8.20

Shun successfully governed the empire with five ministers.

King Wu said, “I have ten competent ministers.”

Confucius said, “Talent is hard to find, isn’t it? It really flourished in the time of Yao and Shun. As for King Wu, he really only has nine good men, as one of his ministers is a woman.

“When the Zhou already controlled two-thirds of the empire, they were able to continue serving the previous dynasty of Yin. We can call the virtue of Zhou the highest virtue.”

11.25

Zilu got Zigao appointed as Prefect of Bi.

Confucius said, “You’re harming someone’s son!

Zilu said, “There are people to govern there and altars to look after. Why should it be necessary to read books to be regarded as learned?

Confucius replied, “This is why I don’t like glib people.”

11.26

Zilu, Zeng Xi, Ran Qiu, and Gongxi Hua were sitting with Confucius, when said, “Although I am older than you, forget about it that for now. You are all always saying, ‘The word doesn’t recognize my talents.’ But suppose your talents were fully acknowledged. What would you do then?”

Zilu rushed to respond first, “In a state of a thousand war chariots, wedged between two much larger states, under siege by invading armies, drought, and famine. Put me in charge for three years, and I would bring the people courage and direction.”

Confucius smiled at him.

He then asked Ran Qiu, “How about you?”

Ran Qiu replied, “In a territory of sixty to seventy li, or maybe fifty to sixty li, put me in charge for three years, and the people would have their material needs met. As for ritual and music, that would have to be handled by a nobleman.”

Confucius then asked, “And what about you, Gongxi Hua?”

Gongxi Hua replied, “I can’t say that I can do this for sure, but I’d really like to try. In services at the Great Ancestral Hall or in audience with the ruler, I’d like to play the part of a minor assistant, dressed in ceremonial cap and gown.”

Confucius asked, “Zeng Xi, how about you?”

Zeng Xi, who had been playing the zither, set it down, the last chord still ringing out. He stood up.

“What I’d like to do,” Zeng Xi said, “is very different from these three.”

“No harm in that,” Confucius replied. “We’re all just sharing our personal aspirations.”

Zeng Xi said, “In the late spring, after the clothes have been made, I’d like to go with five or six companions and six or seven youngsters and take a swim in the Yi River. We’d enjoy the breeze at the Rain-Dance Altar, and then return home singing.”

Confucius sighed and said, “I am with Zeng Xi.”

The three others left, but Zeng Xi hung back and asked Confucius, “What did you think about what the other three said?”

Confucius replied, “They each just shared their own wishes.”

Zeng Xi asked, “Why did you smile at Zilu?”

Confucius said, “To govern a state requires ritual, and Zilu’s words showed no deference. That’s why I smiled.”

Zeng Xi then asked, “And Ran Qui, he was asking for a state, wasn’t he?”

Confucius said, “Of course. Have you ever seen a territory of sixty to seventy li, or fifty to sixty li, that wasn’t a state?”

Zeng Xi asked, “And Gongxi Hua, was he also talking about a state?”

Confucius replied, “Ceremonies in the Great Ancestral Hall and audiences with the ruler—what are these but affairs of state? And if Gongxi Hua was there playing a minor role, who would be playing the major role?”

12.2

Zhonggong asked Confucius about humaneness.

Confucius replied, “When you go out into the world, conduct yourself as if you’re receiving an honored guest. Employ the people as if you’re conducting a great ceremony. Don’t impose on others what you wouldn’t want for yourself. In this way, you won’t stir up resentment in public or in your own household.”

Zhonggong said, “Even though I’m not that clever, I’ll apply myself to this.”

13.2

Zhonggong, serving as prime minister to the head of the Chi family, asked Confucius about government.

Confucius replied, “Set a good example for your officers, pardon small offenses, and raise up worthy talents.”

Zhonggong asked, “How am I going to find these worthy talents to raise them up?”

Confucius replied, “Raise up those you know. As for those you don’t recognize, others will recognize them.”

13.3

Zilu asked, “If the ruler of Wei put you in charge of governing, what would be your top priority?”

Confucius replied, “The rectification of names. Without a doubt.”

Zilu said, “Oh, you’re way off! What’s so important about that?”

Confucius replied, “What a rube you are, Zilu. When a noble person doesn’t understand something, they keep their mouth shut.

“If names are not rectified, then words don’t align with reality. If words don’t align with reality, work can’t be accomplished. If work can’t be accomplished, ritual and music can’t be developed. If ritual and music can’t be developed, punishments won’t fit the crime. If punishments don’t fit the crime, people won’t even know where to put their hands and feet.

“The rectification of names allows the noble person to speak, and what a noble person says can be acted upon. For this reason, a noble person is never careless in speech.”

14.1

Xian asked about shameful conduct.

Confucius replied, “When the Way prevails in your state, take office. To take office when the Way does not prevail—that is shameful conduct.”

Xian then asked, “If a person is free of arrogance, self-importance, resentment and desire, can their conduct be called humane?”

Confucius replied, “It’s certainly difficult, but I don’t know if I’d call it humane.”

15.32

Confucius said, “A noble person makes plans for the sake of the Way, not for making a living. Till the fields and you still might go hungry. Study and you may make a career of it. A noble person worries about finding the Way, not about being poor.”

16.3

Confucius said, “It’s been five generations since the Lu government lost its authority to make appointments and set salaries. The ministers have been in charge for four generations now. That’s why the descendants of the Three Families are in decline.”

16.6

Confucius said, “There are three kinds of mistakes to avoid when serving a ruler. To speak out of turn is impetuous. To be silent when it is time to speak is secrecy. To speak without noticing the ruler’s expression is blindness.”

17.1

Yang Huo wanted to see Confucius, but Confucius didn’t want to see him. Yang Huo sent him a suckling pig as a present. Confucius chose to offer his thanks at a time when he knew Yang Huo wouldn’t be home. On his way back home, however, he met him in the street.

Yang Huo said, “Come here, I have something to tell you! Would you say that someone has humaneness if he clutches a great jewel to himself while his state is going to hell? I don’t think so! Would you call someone wise if he wants to take part in government but then lets every opportunity to do so slip through his fingers? I don’t think so! Days and months go by—time isn’t on our side!”

Confucius replied, “Alright, I’ll accept an office.”

17.5

Gongshan Furao was holding Bi as his base, and was about to start a rebellion. He asked Confucius to join him. Confucius was tempted.

Ziyou said, “We may be at the end of the line, but is that a good reason to join Gongshan?”

Confucius replied, “The man must’ve had some purpose in inviting me. If someone would employ me, I could establish a new Zhou dynasty in the East.”

18.2

The magistrate Liuxia Hui was fired three times.

People asked him, “Why don’t you go to another state?”

Liuxia Hui replied, “If I serve in a straight way, where can I go where the same thing won’t happen to me? If I wanted to go crooked, why would I bother to leave the land of my parents?”

18.3

Duke Jing of Qi invited Confucius to serve him and considered how to treat him.

“I can’t treat him the way the head of the Jisun family is treated in Lu. I’ll treat him as if his position is somewhere between the head of the Jisun family and the head of the Mengsun family.” Later, he added, “I’m too old. I can’t employ him.”

Hearing this, Confucius left.

19.10

Zixia said, “The noble person earns the trust of the people before putting them to work. Without that trust, they’ll feel ill-used.

“The noble person earns the trust of a ruler before remonstrating with him. Without that trust, the ruler will feel slandered.”

19.25

Chen Ziqin said to Zigong, “Surely you’re just being reverent towards your teacher. How could Confucius be more worthy than you?”

“With just a single word, a person can reveal their wisdom, or expose their ignorance,” Zigong replied, “that’s why you have to choose your words carefully.”

Zigong continued, “Confucius can’t be matched, just like you can’t climb the sky! If he’d been put in charge of a state or a ruling family, he would have fulfilled the saying,

He raised them up, and they stood on their own.

He set the direction, and they forged ahead.

He put them at ease, and they flocked to him.

He set them in motion, and they worked in harmony.’

“In life he was honored and in death he was mourned. How can he be equaled?”

20.2

Zizhang asked Confucius, “What qualifies a person to govern?”

Confucius replied, “If a person honors the five beautiful traits and eschews the four evils, they’re qualified to govern.”

Zizhang asked, “And what are the five beautiful traits?”

Confucius replied, “A noble person is generous, but not wasteful. A noble person works the people hard, but isn’t resented for it. A noble person has desires, but isn’t greedy. A noble person has authority, but isn’t arrogant. A noble person is dignified, but not fierce.”

Zizhang asked, “What do you mean by generous, but not wasteful?”

Confucius replied, “If you let people pursue what’s beneficial for them, isn’t that being generous, but not wasteful? If you put people to work on tasks they’re capable of, isn’t that working people hard, but not being resented for it? If what you desire is humaneness, what room does that desire leave for greed? A noble person is respectful when dealing with the great and the few, the high and the lowly—isn’t that having authority without arrogance? A noble person dresses correctly and has a serious expression—people look at the noble person with awe. Isn’t this being dignified, but not fierce?”

Zizhang asked, “And what are the four evils?”

Confucius replied, “To execute people without first giving them instruction is cruelty. To demand results without first setting expectations is tyranny. To expect timely results after being slow in giving instructions is thievery. To dole out something you must hand over and being stingy about it is bureaucratic pettiness.”