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.”


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!”


Confucius said, “When drafting official documents, Pi Chen wrote the first draft, Shi Shu reviewed and discussed it, Ziyu revised it, and Zichan would apply the finishing polish.”


Someone asked about Zichan.

Confucius replied, “He was generous.”

“And what about Zixi?”

Confucius replied, “That guy? Don’t even mention him.”

“And how about Guan Zhong?”

Confucius answered, “He was a man! He seized a territory of three hundred households in Pian from the Bo family. Although the head of the family was reduced to eating coarse rice for the rest of his life, he didn’t utter a single word of complaint against him.”


Zilu asked about becoming a complete person.

Confucius said, “The wisdom of Zang Wuzhong, the desirelessness of Meng Gongchuo, the courage of Zhuangzi of Bian, and the abilities of Ran Qiu, all refined through ritual and music.

But if you want to be a complete person today, why do you need all of that? If you see a chance for profit and think of right conduct, if you’re ready to give your life when facing danger, and if you can endure long hardships without forgetting your principles—then you, also, may be considered a complete person.”


Confucius asked Gong Mingjia about Gongshu Wen Zi, “Is it true that your master never spoke, laughed, or accepted anything?”

Gongming Jia replied, “That’s an exaggeration. He only spoke when it was appropriate, so people never got sick of his words. He laughed, but only when he was joyful, so people never got sick of his laughter. He only took when it was the right thing to do, so people never get tired of his taking.”

Confucius said, “Really? Is that so?!”


Zilu said, “When Huan Gong assassinated Gongzi Jiu, his tutor Zhao Hu chose to die with him, but Guan Zhong didn’t. He fell short of humaneness, didn’t he?”

Confucius replied, “When Huan Gong brought the nine rulers together in council, it wasn’t through military might, but through the influence of Guan Zhong. Such humaneness! Such humaneness!”


Zigong said, “Surely, Guan Zhong was not humane? After Duke Huan killed his Prince Jiu, not only did Guan Zhong not die along with him—he actually became Duke Huan’s prime minister!”

“With Guan Zhong as his Prime Minister, Duke Huan became leader of the nobles and brought order to the realm,” Confucius replied. “Down to this day, we still benefit from this. Without Guan Zhong, we’d be wearing our hair down and buttoning our clothes on the left side like barbarians.

“What should we expect? That he act out the petty virtues of a country rube and hang himself in some ditch, anonymously?”


Gongshu, The Refined One, had his family steward, Zhuan, promoted alongside him within the court.

When he heard about this, Confucius said, “Well, he certainly earned the title ‘The Refined One!’”


When Chen Chengzi assassinated Duke Chien, Confucius cleansed himself according to ritual and went to court. He reported to Duke Ai, saying, “Chen Chengzi has killed his ruler. I encourage you to punish him.”

Duke Ai replied, “Report this to the Three Families.”

Confucius said, “It’s only because I have an official rank that I felt duty-bound to make this report. And yet Duke Ai tells me to report it to the Three Families?”

Confucius then reported the matter to the Three Families, but they refused to do anything about it.

Confucius repeated, “It’s only because I have an official rank that I felt duty-bound to make this report.”


Qu Boyu sent a messenger to Confucius. Confucius sat with him and inquired, “What is Qu Boyu up to these days?”

“He’s trying to reduce his faults,” the messenger replied, “but he’s been unable to do so.”

After the messenger left, Confucius remarked, “Now there’s a messenger!”


Confucius said, “If you don’t have an official position, you shouldn’t make plans for that position.”

Zengzi commented, “The noble person doesn’t let their thoughts overstep their position.”


Someone asked, “What do you think of the saying, ‘Repay harm with virtue?’”

Confucius answered, “Then how would you repay virtue? Repay harm with justice. Repay virtue with virtue.”


Confucius sighed, “No one understands me.”

Zigong said, “What do you mean, no one understands you?”

“I don’t complain against Heaven or blame men,” Confucius replied, “I study what’s near at hand to understand what is higher. Only Heaven understands me.”


Confucius said, “A sage is someone who avoids office in this age. The next avoid a specific place. The next avoid certain attitudes. The next avoid certain words.”

Confucius said, “There have been seven that have done this.”


Zilu spent the night at the Stone Gate.

The gatekeeper asked, “Where are you from?”

Zilu replied, “From Confucius’ household.”

The gatekeeper said, “Oh, isn’t he the one who keeps trying the impossible?”


Confucius was playing the stone chimes in Wei.

A man carrying a basket walked by and commented, “He puts his heart into his playing.”

Then, after a while, he added, “So much urgency in that stubborn clanging! If no one appreciates him, that’s that!

“‘When it’s deep—wade through, clothes and all.

When it’s shallow—lift the hem of your robes and step across.’”

In response, Confucius said, “Of course! So decisive, and so easy, too!”


Zizhang said, “The Book of History says, ‘Gaozong stayed in the mourning shed for three years without speaking.’ Why did he do this?”

Confucius replied, “There’s no need to single out Gazong this way. All the ancients did this. After the ruler died, all of the officials took orders from the Prime Minister for three years.”


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.”


Yuan Rang was waiting for the Confucius, sprawled out.

Seeing this, Confucius said, “A youth who lacks deference and respect; to be a grown man with nothing to pass on; to be an old man who shirks death. That’s what I call a pest!”

He struck Yuan Rang across the shins with his stick.


A boy from the village of Que was working as a messenger.

Someone asked Confucius, “Is he making any progress?”

Confucius replied, “Well, I can see that he likes to sit with his elders and walk alongside them—but he’s not interested in making progress. He’s looking for a shortcut.”