Zigong asked about the character of a noble person.

Confucius said, “A noble person acts first and then lets their words follow their actions.”


Zizhang asked about getting an official position.

Confucius said, “Listen as much as you can, put aside what’s doubtful, and speak cautiously about the rest. This will lead to few errors. Observe as much as you can, put aside what’s dangerous, and be careful in acting on the rest. This will lead to few regrets.

Few errors in speech and few regrets in action—that’s the key to earning an official position.”


Someone said, “Zhonggong is humane, but he’s not eloquent.”

Confucius replied, “Why should he be ‘eloquent?’ People usually end up hating a smooth-talker. I don’t know if Zhonggong is humane, but why does he need to be eloquent?”


Zai Wo napped during the day.

Confucius said, “Rotten wood can’t be carved and mud walls can’t be plastered. As for Zai Wo, what’s the point of scolding him?

“I used to listen to what people said and trusted that their actions would follow. Nowadays, I listen to what people say and I watch what they do. I learned this from Zai Wo.”


Confucius said, “Clever words, a plastic smile, and superficial gestures of respect. Zuoqiu Ming considered this stuff to be shameful and so do I.

“Hiding your resentment and pretending to be someone’s friend. Zuoqiu Ming considered this to be shameful, too, and so do I.”


When Zengzi became ill, Meng Jingzi visited him.

Zengzi said, “When a bird is about to die, its song is melancholy. When a man is about to die, his words are excellent.

“There are three things a noble person should value in the Way. In conduct and bearing, avoiding violence and arrogance. In facial expression, welcoming trustworthiness. In words and tone of voice, avoiding coarseness and vulgarity. As to the sacrificial vessels, there are professionals to deal with those matters.”


When passing through the door of his ruler, he would draw himself in, as if the gate wasn’t large enough to accommodate him. He wouldn’t stand in the middle of the gate or step on the threshold. When he passed by the throne, his expression became serious, his steps, short and deliberate. His voice dropped to a whisper, as if he could barely get the words out.

When he lifted the hem of his robe to climb the steps, he again drew himself in, holding his breath as if he’d stopped breathing altogether. On leaving the ruler’s place, after he had gone back down the first step, his expression became relaxed. After reaching the bottom of the stairs, he’d glide back to his position like a bird and resume a reverent attitude.


When he climbed up into a carriage, Confucius would stand upright, holding the straps. Once inside, he didn’t gawk at this and that, talk rapidly, or point at things with his hands.


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.”


Sima Niu asked Confucius about humaneness.

Confucius replied, “The humane person is reluctant to speak.

Sima Niu replied, “That’s all humaneness is? Reluctance to speak?”

Confucius replied, “Carrying it out is so difficult, how can you not be reluctant to speak about it?”


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.”


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?!”


Confucius said, “There are three kinds of pleasure that will help you and three kinds of pleasure that will harm you. The enjoyment of cultivation in music and ritual, speaking well of others’ good points, and being surrounded by friends of good character—these will help you. The enjoyment of self-importance, loafing, and going overboard in feasting—these will harm you.”


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.”


Confucius said, “Little ones, why don’t you study the Odes? The Odes can give your spirit a kick in the pants and can give your mind keener eyes. They can help you adjust better in groups and make you more articulate when making a complaint. They teach you to serve your parents at home and your ruler abroad. They also make you familiar with the names of birds, animals, plants, and trees.”


Confucius said, “I don’t want to talk anymore.”

Zigong said, “If you don’t speak, what will we students pass along?”

Confucius replied, “Does Heaven speak? Yet the four seasons continue to turn and the creatures of the world are born. Does Heaven speak?”


As Jie Yu, the Madman of Chu, passed Confucius’ carriage, he sang,

Pheonix, Pheonix, virtue has declined!

The past is beyond repair, but the future still has a chance!

Enough, enough!

Danger for those in office!”

Confucius stepped down from his chariot, hoping to speak with Jie Yu, but he ran off and Confucius never got a chance to talk to him.


Those who withdrew from the world were Bo Yi and Shu Qi; Yu Zhong, Yi Yi, and Zhu Zhang; Liuxia Hui and Shao Lian.

Confucius said, “Never compromising, never accepting insult—that’s Bo Yi and Shu Qi. Liuxia Hui and Shao Lian compromised and suffered insults, but their words were morally sound and their actions always followed their plans—they managed that much.

“Yu Zhong and Yi Yi hid themselves away and gave up speech. They remained pure and were expedient in giving up the world.

“But I’m different from all these. I have no preconceived rules on what should and shouldn’t be done.”