Confucius said, “To govern an important state, take care of business, keep your word, and watch your spending. Care for the people and only employ them at the right times.”
Ziqin asked Zigong, “When our teacher arrives in another state, he always manages to learn about its government. Does he ask around about it, or do people just tell him?”
Zigong replied, “Our teacher gets information by being friendly, kind, humble, and not being pushy. He goes about this differently from other people.”
Confucius said, “If you lead with regulations and keep people in line with punishments, they’ll stay out of trouble, but they’ll have no sense of shame. If you lead by setting a good example, however, and keep people in line with ritual, they will develop their own sense of shame and lead themselves.”
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.”
Ji Kangzi asked, “How can I get the people to be respectful, loyal, and hard-working?”
Confucius replied, “If you lead the people with dignity, they’ll be respectful. If you’re filial and compassionate, they’ll be loyal. If you promote the skilled and train the unskilled, they’ll be hard-working.”
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?’”
Confucius said, “The Eastern and Northern tribes, even with kings, are not equal to the Chinese countries, even when we lack rulers.”
Duke Ding asked how a leader should employ ministers, and how ministers should serve their leader.
Confucius said, “The leader should employ ministers according to ritual. The ministers should serve their leader with dutifulness and loyalty.”
Confucius said, “To lack tolerance when holding high office, to lack respect but perform ritual, to attend a funeral but not mourn–how could I stand to look at someone like that?”
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?”
Confucius said, “Zhonggong could be given a ruler’s seat.”
Ji Kangzi asked whether Zilu was capable of serving in the government.
Confucius replied, “Zilu is determined. What problem would he have in handling government work?”
Jikang Zi then asked, “What about Zigong?”
Confucius said, “Zigong has a piercing intellect. What problem would he have in handling government work?”
Jikang Zi asked, “And how about Ran Qiu?”
Confucius replied, “Ran Qiu is has many talents. What problem would he have in handling government work?”
Ziyou became the governor of Wucheng.
Confucius asked, “Have you managed to find any good people there?”
Ziyou replied, “I have Tantai Mieming. He never takes shortcuts and he doesn’t show up in my office unless he has real business to discuss.”
Confucius said, “We can say that Tai Bo possessed the highest virtue. He declined the rule of the kingdom three times. Since no one knew he did this, he didn’t take any credit for it.”
Zengzi said, “A person who can be trusted to take care of an orphaned crown prince, take responsibility for a large territory, and who can handle a major crisis without being shaken up. Is this not a noble person? Certainly, this is a noble person.”
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.”
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.
Confucius said, “The first students to join me in learning about ritual and music were commoners. The noblemen joined in the learning later. If I were appointing officials, I would choose from among the former.”
Ji Ziran asked, “Could Zilu and Ran Qiu be called great ministers?”
Confucius replied, “Oh, I thought you were going to ask about something else. You want to know about Zilu and Ran Qiu?
“Great minister serves their ruler by means of the Way, and if they can’t, they’ll quit. Zilu and Ran Qiu are what we could call ordinary ‘team players.’”
Ji Zaran asked, “So they’ll always follow orders?”
Confucius replied, “No, not if they were ordered to kill their fathers or their rulers.”
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.”
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?”
Zigong asked Confucius about government.
Confucius replied, “Enough food, enough weapons, and the confidence of the people in their ruler.”
Zigong then asked, “But suppose you have to give up one of these three. Which would you give up first?
Confucius replied, “Weapons.”
Zigong said “And what if you had to give up one of the remaining two?”
Confucius replied, “Food. Death has been with us since ancient times, but if the people lose confidence in their ruler, the community cannot stand.”
Duke Jing of Qi asked Confucius about government.
Confucius replied, “Let the ruler be a ruler, minister be a minister, father be a father, son be a son.”
The Duke said, “Excellent! If indeed, if the ruler is not a ruler, the ministers not ministers, fathers not fathers and sons not sons, even if I had grain, how could I eat it?”
Zizhang asked about good governance.
Confucius replied, “Ponder over it untiringly and do your best to carry it out.”
Ji Kangzi asked Confucius about government.
Confucius replied, “To govern is to correct. If you lead the people with correctness, who would not be corrected?”
Ji Kangzi asked Confucius about government, “How about I kill those who have abandoned the Way to help out the good. How about that?”
Confucius replied, “As head of government, why would you need to kill? If you set your heart on virtue and humaneness, the people will follow suit. The noble person is like the wind and the people are like the grass. When the wind blows, the grass bends.”
Zilu asked Confucius how to govern.
Confucius said, “Set a good example for the people and then encourage them.”
When Zilu asked for more explanation, Confucius replied, “Don’t let up.”
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.”
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.”
Confucius said, “If you can recite all three hundred poems from the Book of Odes, but you can’t put this knowledge to use when in office or when entrusted with affairs abroad, what good is knowing all these poems?”
Confucius said, “The governments of Lu and Wei are like an elder and younger brother.”
Ran Qiu drove the chariot for Confucius on a trip to Wei. When they arrived, Confucius said, “There are so many people here!”
Ran Qiu asked, “Once there are this many people, what should be done for them?”
Confucius replied, “Enrich them.”
“And after they’re rich,” asked Ran Qiu, “what next?”
Confucius replied, “Educate them.”
Confucius said, “If some ruler would employ me, things would be under control in a year. In three years, the job would be done.”
Confucius said, “They say, ‘If good men were to govern a state for a hundred years, cruelty would be wiped out and there would be no more killing.’
Confucius said, “Even if we had a true king, it would still take a generation for humaneness to prevail.”
Confucius said, “If you can correct yourself, what difficulty will you have with a government position? If you don’t know how to correct yourself, though, how can you hope to correct others?”
Ran Qiu returned from court and Confucius asked, “What kept you?”
Ran Qiu replied, “I was on official government business.”
Confucius said, “Private business, you mean. If you were on official government business, I would know about it, even though I’m not in office.”
The Governor of She asked about government.
Confucius said, “If you make those close to you happy, you will draw in those from afar.”
Zixia, who was serving as Governor of Jufu, asked Confucius about government.
Confucius answered, “Don’t rush things and don’t look for small wins. If you rush around, you’ll never reach your goal. If you go after small wins, you won’t be able to attend to more important matters.”
Zigong asked, “What sort of people are good enough to be considered a good government official?”
Confucius replied, “People who conduct themselves with a sense of shame, and who can be sent abroad on missions without disgracing the mission. Those are the sort of people who can be considered good government officials.”
Zigong then asked, “And who is one step below that?”
Confucius replied, “People whose families consider them filial and whose fellow villagers consider them respectful of elders.”
Zigong asked, “And one step below that?”
Confucius answered, “Someone who keeps their word and always follows through on their actions. They may be stubborn and small-minded, but they qualify as the next step down.”
Zigong asked, “And how about those serving in government today?”
Confucius replied, “Ugh. They’re little tools. They don’t even count.”
Zilu asked, “What must a person be like to deserve to serve in government?”
“People who are critical and demanding, but also kind, are worthy to serve in government,” Confucius replied. “Critical and demanding of friends, and kind toward brothers.”
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.”
Yan Hui asked about how to govern a state.
Confucius replied, “Follow the calendar of the Xia. Ride in the state carriage of the Yin. Wear the ceremonial cap of the Zhou. As for music, play the Shao and Wu. Abolish the tunes of the Zheng and keep slick talkers at a distance. The Zheng music is lewd and slick talkers are dangerous.”
Confucius said, “When the Way prevails in the world, it’s the Son of Heaven who orders the rituals, music, and military expeditions. When the Way does not prevail in the world, it’s the regional rulers who order the rituals, music, and military expeditions.
“Once the regional rulers take over these duties, it’s rare for them to hold onto their authority for more than ten generations. Once the ministers take on these duties, their authority rarely lasts for five generations. When the family stewards are in charge, their authority rarely lasts for more than three generations.
“When the Way prevails in the world, these government duties don’t fall to the ministers. When the Way prevails in the world, the common people don’t need to debate politics.”
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.”
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.”
Confucius went to Wucheng, where Ziyou was governor. While there, he heard stringed instruments played together with singing. Amused by this, he commented, “Why use an ox-cleaver to kill a chicken?”
Ziyou replied, “I can remember you saying, ‘The noble person who cultivates the Way loves everyone. The common people who cultivate the way are easy to govern.’”
Confucius said, “My friends, Ziyou is right. I was only joking.”
The Zhou had eight scholar officials—Boda and Bokuo, Zhongtu and Zhonghu, Shuye and Shuxia, and Jisui and Jiwa.
Zixia said, “If a person in office has energy to spare, they should devote it to learning. If a person dedicated to learning has energy to spare, they should take office.”
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.”