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.”
Confucius said, “Of all my students who shared my troubles with me in Chen and Cai, none have returned through my gate since.”
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.”
Confucius said, “How filial Min Ziqian was! No one disagreed with what his parents or his brothers said about him.”
Nan Rong frequently repeated the refrain of The White Jade Tablet. Confucius gave his older brother’s daughter to him in marriage.
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.”
Zilu asked Confucius about serving the spirits. Confucius replied, “If you can’t yet serve the living, how can you be able to serve the spirits?”
Zilu then said, “May I ask about death?”
Confucius replied, “You don’t yet understand life. What could you understand about death?”
When attending on Confucius, Min Ziqian was upright, Zilu was poised for action, and Ran You and Zigong were happy and at ease. Confucius was pleased, but said, “People like Zilu can’t die of old age.”
When the men of Lu were rebuilding the treasury building, Min Ziqian said, “Why don’t we just rebuild it in the old style? Why do we have to change it completely?”
Confucius said, “This man doesn’t say much, but when he does, he hits the mark.”
Confucius said, “Why do I hear Zilu playing his zither at my door?” After this, the other students began disrespecting Zilu.
Confucius corrected them, saying, “Zilu may not have entered the inner chambers, but he has ascended the stairs.”
Zigong asked Confucius, “Who is more worthy, Zhizhang or Zixia?”
Confucius replied, “Zhizhang overshoots the mark and Zixia undershoots it.”
Zigong said, “Then Zhizhang is superior.”
Confucius replied, “Overshooting the mark is just as bad as undershooting it.”
Even though the head of the Chi family was wealthier than the Duke of Zhou, Ran Qiu collected more taxes to make him even richer.
Confucius said, “He’s no follower of mine. My students, you have my permission to beat the drum and attack him if you want.”
Zigao was simple-minded. Zengzi was slow. Zizhang was given to excess. Zilu was reckless.
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.”
Zizhang asked Confucius about the Way of the good man.
Confucius replied, “They don’t follow in the footsteps of those who came before, but they also never enter the inner chambers.”
Confucius said, “A person’s words may seem sincere, but are they really noble people, or are they just dignified in their appearance?”
Zilu asked if it was a good idea to put a teaching into practice immediately after he first heard it.
Confucius replied, “While your father and older brother are still alive, how can you put teaching into practice immediately?”
When Ran You asked the same question, however, Confucius replied, “Oh yes, put it into practice right away.”
Gongxi Hua asked, “When Zilu asked you, you told him he shouldn’t be in such a hurry because his father and older brother are still alive. But when Ran You asked you the same thing, you told him to practice immediately. Can I ask why?”
Confucius said, “Ran You tends to hold back, so I push him forward. Zilu has the energy of two people, so I hold him back.”
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.”
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?”