1.14

Confucius said, “A noble person isn’t motivated by the desire for a full belly or a comfortable house. A noble person gets things done and is careful with words, sticking close to those who know the Way, being improved by them. We could say that this is the kind of person who loves learning.”

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.”

6.18

Confucius said, “When raw material overwhelms refinement, you get a coarse rustic. When refinement overwhelms raw material, you get an officious scribe. Only when refinement and raw material are appropriately balanced and blended do you get a noble person.”

6.26

Zai Wo asked, “If you lie and tell a humane person that someone is stuck at the bottom of a well, would they jump into the well?”

Confucius replied, “Why would they? The noble person can be tricked into taking a look, but not into jumping in. They can be deceived, but not trapped.”

7.26

Confucius said, “I’ve never met a sage, but I’d be satisfied to meet a noble person. I’ve never met someone who was truly good, but I’d be satisfied to meet someone who was steadfast.

“I see a lot of people who have nothing pretending to be something, who are empty while pretending to have substance, pretending to have comfort in the midst of their difficulties. Just to be steadfast is hard enough.”

7.31

The Minister of Justice in Chen asked Confucius, “Did the Duke of Zhou know the rules of ritual?”

Confucius replied, “He did.”

After Confucius left, the minister bowed to his prince, Wuma Qi, and told him, “I have heard that a noble person is not biased, but maybe some are.

“The Duke of Zhou married a woman with the same clan, and justified it by saying that she came from ‘the Elder Family of Wu.’ If the Duke of Zhou knew the rules of ritual, then who doesn’t know them?”

Later, Wuma Qi told this to Confucius.

Confucius replied, “I’m a lucky man! When I make a mistake, other people always find out.”

7.34

Confucius said, “I can’t claim to be a sage or a noble person. But I keep on working at it without disappointment and I never get tired of teaching others.”

Gongxi Hua said, “It’s exactly these qualities that we students can’t imitate.”

8.6

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.”

9.6

A high minister asked Zigong, “Is your master really a sage? Then why does he have so many skills?”

Zigong replied, “It’s Heaven that made him a sage and allowed him to develop many skills besides.”

When he heard about this, Confucius said, “What does the high minister know about me? When I was a boy, my family was poor, so I had to learn many skills. Does a noble person need to have many skills? I don’t think so.”

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?”

12.4

Sima Niu asked Confucius about being a noble person.

Confucius replied, “The noble person has no anxiety or fear.”

Sima Niu replied, “No anxiety or fear? That’s all it takes to be a noble person?”

Confucius replied, “If you look within yourself and find nothing to be ashamed of, how could you have any anxiety or fear?”

12.5

Sima Niu was in distress. He said, “Everyone has brothers! I alone have none!”

Zixia said, “I have heard a proverb:

Life and death are up to fate,

Wealth and honors are up to Heaven.’

“Because the noble person behaves with reverence and tries to be free of error, is courteous to others and behaves with ritual correctness, all within the Four Seas are his brothers. How can a noble person worry about not having brothers?”

12.8

Ji Zicheng said, “Being a noble person just means having substance. What need is there for refinement?”

Zigong replied, “I’m shocked to hear you speak about a noble person this way! Even a team of fast horses couldn’t catch up to these misspoken words. A noble person’s substance isn’t different from refinement and refinement isn’t different from substance. If you strip the hair from the hide of a tiger or leopard, it looks the same as the hide of a dog or sheep.”

12.19

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.”

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.”

13.25

Confucius said, “A noble person is easy to serve but difficult to please. If you try to please them with behavior that isn’t consistent with the Way, they won’t be pleased. When employing others, the noble person respects others’ limitations.

“A small person, on the other hand, is difficult to serve but easy to please. If you try to please them with behavior that isn’t consistent with the Way, they will be pleased anyway. When employing others, the small person expects everyone to be good at everything.”

14.5

Nangong Kuo asked Confucius, “How is it that Yi was a master of archery and Ao could drive his enemy’s ships onto dry land, but neither died a natural death? Yet Yu and Hou Ji were farmers and ended up ruling the world?”

Confucius didn’t answer at the time, but after Nangong Kuo left, he said, “Now there’s a noble person! There’s someone who values virtue!”

14.28

Confucius said, “The Way of a noble person has three points that I haven’t achieved: humaneness without anxiety, wisdom without doubts, and courage without fear.”

Zigong said, “You’ve just described yourself.”

14.42

Zilu asked Confucius how to be a noble person.

Confucius replied, “Cultivate yourself, to develop a respectful attentiveness.”

Zilu asked, “That’s it?”

Confucius answered, “Cultivate yourself so that you can bring comfort to others.”

Zilu again asked, “That’s all?”

Confucius replied, “Cultivate yourself so that you can bring comfort to the people. Even the sage kings Yao and Shun found this hard.”

15.2

In the state of Chen, they ran out of food, and the students became so exhausted they could no longer stand.

Resentfully, Zilu asked, “Must a noble person suffer through such a mess?”

Confucius replied, “Yes, a noble person may find themselves in circumstances like this, but it’s only the small person that can’t withstand it.”

15.18

Confucius said, “The noble person takes justice as their essential, carries it out in accordance with ritual, expresses it with modesty, and brings it to completion through trustworthiness. Now that’s a noble person!”

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.”

15.34

Confucius said, “The noble person’s ability can’t be seen in how they handle small matters, but they can be entrusted with great ones. A small person can’t be entrusted with great matters, but they can be entrusted with small ones.”

16.1

The Jisun family was about to attack Zhuanyu, so Ran Qiu and Zilu went to see Confucius, saying, “The Jisun family is getting ready to move against Zhuanyu.”

Confucius said, “Ran Qiu, isn’t this your fault? Since ancient times the former kings have maintained Zhuanyu as the site of the sacrifice at Dong Meng mountain. Also, it’s located within our own state, and is subject to our national altars to the soil and grain. Why attack it?”

Ran Qiu replied, “It’s our lord who wants to do this, not the two of us as ministers.”

Confucius said, “Ran Qiu, the historian Zhou Ren said, ‘The one who displays his power is the one who gets the position; those who are not capable give up.’

“What sort of an assistant can’t steady his master when he totters or hold him up when he falls?

“Also, what you are saying is wrong. Who’s to blame when a tiger or a rhino escapes from its cage, or when a tortoise shell or jade is smashed in its case?”

Ran Qiu said, “But Zhuanyu is well-fortified and is located right next to the Ji family stronghold. If they don’t take it now, it will be a menace to their descendants.”

Confucius replied, “Ran Qiu! A noble person despises those who make excuses instead of just coming right out and saying what they want!

“I’ve heard it said that the heads of states or hereditary families don’t worry about poverty, but worry about inequality of distribution. They don’t worry about having too few people, but worry about unrest. When there’s fairness in distribution of wealth, there won’t be poverty. When there’s harmony in society, there won’t be a lack of people. When people are content, there’s no threat of unrest.

“So if people at a distance aren’t open to your rule, improve your ways and cultivate virtue to attract them. Once you’ve attracted them, see to it that they enjoy peace.

“But now, with the two of you as ministers, your lord can’t attract people from a distance, his land is falling apart, and he can’t hold onto it—and now he wants to wage war on one of his own provinces!

“For Lord Jisun, the real danger isn’t coming from Zhuanyu, but lies within his own walls.”

16.7

Confucius said, “A noble person guards against three things. When young, and the blood is up, guard against lust. When mature, and energy is in full force, guard against rage. When old, and on the decline, guard against acquisitiveness.”

16.8

Confucius said, “A noble person stands in awe of three things: the will of Heaven, great people, and the words of the sages. The small person is clueless about the will of Heaven, despises the great, and mocks the words of the sages.”

16.10

Confucius said, “A noble person takes care to give attention to nine things. In seeing, to have clear vision. In hearing, to be keen. In expression, to be warm. In attitude, to be courteous. In speech, to be loyal. In service, to be reverent. In doubt, to ask questions. In anger, to think of the consequences. In gaining an advantage, to think of fairness.”

16.13

Chen Kang asked Confucius’ son, Boyu, “Have you been taught anything special, anything different from what the rest of us students have been taught?”

Boyu replied, “No. One day my father was standing alone in the courtyard as I came rushing past. He asked me, ‘Have you learned the Odes?’

“I said, ‘Not yet.’

“He said, ‘If you don’t learn the Odes, you’ll have nothing to say.’ So I went off and studied the Odes.

“Another time, he was standing alone when I came rushing past and he asked me, ‘Have you learned the Rites?’

“I said, ‘Not yet.’

He said, ‘If you don’t learn the Rites, you won’t be able to take your place in society.’ So I went off and studied the Rites. These are the two teachings I’ve received.”

Chen Kang withdrew, and with delight, said, “I asked one thing and learned three! I learned about the Odes and the Rites, and I learned that a noble person keeps some distance from his son.”

17.7

Bi Xi called for Confucius, and Confucius was tempted to go.

Zilu said, “I remember you saying, ‘A noble person won’t associate with someone who is committing evil.’ Now Bi Xi is about to use his stronghold in Zhong Mou to start a rebellion. How can you even consider joining him?”

Confucius replied, “Yes, I did say that. But what resists grinding is truly strong and what resists black dye is truly white. Should I be like a bitter gourd, hanging on a string as decoration but not fit to eat?”

17.21

Zai Wo questioned Confucius about the traditional three-year mourning period.

“One year is already too long. If a noble person gives up ritual for three years, the ritual will decay. If a noble person gives up music for three years, then music will fall apart. In the course of a year, as the old crop is eaten up, new crops grow for harvest. Four types of firewood—one for each season—have been used for kindling. A full year of mourning is quite enough.”

Confucius asked, “Would you be comfortable eating white rice and wearing silk after a year?”

“I would,” replied Zai Wo.

Confucius said, “If you’d feel comfortable, go right ahead then. When a noble person mourns, fine foods are not sweet, music brings no joy, and luxurious clothes bring no comfort, even around the house. These things don’t bring pleasure, so the noble person doesn’t indulge in them. But if you’d feel comfortable doing these things, go right ahead.”

After Zai Wo left, Confucius said, “He lacks humaneness. Children do not leave their parents arms for three years after they’re born, so three years’ mourning is the custom throughout the world. Didn’t Zai Wo even have three years of love from his parents?”

18.10

The Duke of Zhou told his son, the Duke of Lu, “The noble person does not forget family. Nor does the noble person give ministers cause to complain that they’re not trusted. Nor does the noble person abandon old friends without great cause. Nor does the noble person expect any one person to be good at everything.”

19.3

Students of Zixia asked Zizhang about making friends. Zizhang asked, “What did Zixia teach you?”

“Zixia taught us, ‘Associate with the right kind of people and avoid the wrong kind.’”

Zizhang replied, “I was taught something else. I was taught that the noble person respects the worthy and tolerates the ordinary people. The noble person applauds the good and takes pity on those who have a hard time being good.

“If I’m worthy, who can I not tolerate? If I’m not worthy, people will surely avoid me, so on what grounds could I avoid them?”

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.”

19.12

Ziyou said, “Zixia’s students are well-trained when it comes to sweeping and mopping, answering the door, and saying hello and goodbye. But these are just details. When it comes to the fundamentals, though, they’re completely lost. How is this possible?”

When Zixia heard this, he said, “Ziyou is way off-base! When it comes to the Way of the noble person, how can a teacher know if someone is ready to understand from the start, or if they’ll get frustrated and lose interest?

“It’s like planting grass and trees. They have to be separated into categories and planted in the spots that suit them. How can he slander the Way of the noble person like that? After all, it’s only a sage that masters it from beginning to end.”

20.3

Confucius said, “If you don’t understand fate, you can’t be a noble person. If you don’t understand ritual, you can’t take your stand. If you don’t understand language, you won’t be able to assess others’ character.”