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?”