Confucius said, “I can talk with Yan Hui all day and not once does he question or contradict me. It’s like he’s stupid. But after he walks away and I see how he conducts himself, it’s clear that there’s nothing stupid about him!”
Confucius asked Zigong, “Who is a better man, you or Yan Hui?”
Zigong replied, “How could I compare myself to Yan Hui? He hears one point and understands ten. I hear one point and only understand two.”
Confucius said, “No, you’re not as good as Yan Hui. Neither one of us is as good as Yan Hui.”
Yan Hui and Zilu were with Confucius, and he asked them, “How about each of you tell me what you’d like to accomplish?”
Zilu replied, “I’d like to have wagons, horses, and fur coats to give to my friends, and not to get angry if they got damaged.”
Yan Hui replied, “I’d like not to be proud of my good points and not to brag about what I’ve done for other people.”
Zilu asked Confucius, “What would you like to accomplish?”
Confucius replied, “I’d like to comfort the elderly, have the trust of my friends, and nurture the young.”
Duke Ai asked Confucius which of his students loved to learn.
Confucius replied, “There was Yan Hui, he loved learning. He didn’t transfer his anger to the wrong person and he didn’t make the same mistake twice. But, he died young and nowadays there isn’t anyone who loved learning like he did. At least, I haven’t heard of anyone.”
Confucius said, “Yan Hui could set his heart on humaneness for three months at a time without a break. Everyone else only does it now and then.”
Confucius said, “What a worthy person Yan Hui was! He survived on a small bowl of rice and ladleful of water in a dingy back alley. Most people couldn’t have endured that kind of misery, but Yan Hui never let it spoil his joy. What a worthy person Yan Hui was!”
Confucius said to Yan Hui, “Acting when called upon to act and retiring when not needed. Only you and I are like this.”
Zilu asked, “If you were leading an army, who would you take as a lieutenant?”
Confucius replied, “Not the kind of person who likes to wrestle tigers or rush across a river on foot. Not someone who rushes headlong toward death without a second thought. I’d like someone who approaches the work with caution, someone who plans, and someone who sees the thing through to completion.”
With a deep sigh, Yan Hui said, “The more I look up at it, the higher it gets. The more I drill into it, the harder it gets. I catch a glimpse of it in front of me, and all of a sudden, it’s behind me.
“My teacher is skilled at leading me forward, one step at a time. He broadens me with culture and restrains me with ritual. I couldn’t quit, even if I wanted to, but it still towers over me. I want to get there, but I can’t find a route up.”
Confucius said, “If there was anyone who could listen to my teaching without slacking off, that was Yan Hui, wasn’t it?”
Confucius said about Yan Hui, “Such a shame. I saw him strive forward, but I never saw him stop.”
The virtuous were Yan Hui, Min Ziqian, Ran Boniu, and Zhonggong. The well-spoken were Zai Wo and Zigong. The skillful administrators were Ran Qiu and Zilu. Ziyou and Zixia excelled in scholarship.
Confucius said, “Yan Hui is no help to me. No matter what I say, he’s delighted.”
Ji Kangzi asked which of Confucius’ students loved learning.
Confucius replied, “Yan Hui did. Unfortunately, he was fated to die young, and now there is no one.”
When Yan Hui died, his father asked Confucius for his carriage, so that he could sell it and buy an outer coffin.
Confucius replied, “Whether they’re gifted or not, all sons are loved by their parents. When my own son died, we had an inner coffin, but not an outer coffin. Since my rank is right below the grand officers’, it wouldn’t be proper for me to walk on foot.”
When Yan Hui died, Confucius cried out, “Oh, Heaven is killing me! Heaven is killing me!”
When Yan Hui died, Confucius wept uncontrollably. His students said, “You’re going too far!”
Confucius replied, “Am I? If I can’t cry for this man, then who could I cry for?”
When Yan Hui died, the other students wanted to give him a lavish funeral. Confucius said, “It’s not proper.” The students gave Yan Hui a lavish funeral anyway.
Confucius said, “Yan Hui looked on me as a father, but in this matter I couldn’t look after him as a father should. This isn’t my fault, friends, but yours.”
Confucius said, “Yan Hui is nearly there—and he is almost always broke.
“Zigong is not wealthy by fate, but he’s gone into business, and his speculations are almost always right on target.”
When Confucius and his students were ambushed in Kuang, Yan Hui fell behind. Later, when they reunited, Confucius said, “I thought you had died!”
Yan Hui replied, “I wouldn’t dare get myself killed while you’re still alive.”
Yan Hui asked Confucius about humaneness.
Confucius replied, “Restrain the self and return to ritual. That’s humaneness. If for a full day you can restrain yourself and return to ritual, everyone under Heaven will move toward humaneness. Humaneness comes from oneself. How could it come from others?”
Yan Hui asked, “Can I ask for specific steps?”
Confucius said, “If it’s not according to ritual, don’t look at it. If it’s not according to ritual, don’t listen to it. If it’s not according to ritual, don’t say it. If it’s not according to ritual, don’t do it.”
Yan Hui said, “Even though I’m not that clever, I’ll apply myself to this.”
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.”