Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Analects, Books XVI-XVIII

Book XVI

Book XVI gives us longer, more complicated analects; it has also occasionally been noticed by commentators that some of it explicitly, and perhaps much of it implicitly, concerns the corruption of the family of Ji, as represented by the unreasonable and unjustified attack of Chi on the independent state of Zhuanyu. Confucius refuses to accept the excuse of Ran You that it is being done against his advice and insists that the action is a sign of internal weakness and bad advice (16.1). The next two analects seem to carry this theme forward.

We also get the lists of three, which seem to exist as a pedagogical tool for organizing important points. There are three kinds of beneficial friendship and three kinds of harmful friendship (16.4), three kinds of beneficial pleasure and three kinds of harmful pleasure (16.5), three mistakes made in attending on the noble (16.6), three things the noble guard against (16.7), three things the noble hold in awe (16.8), nine things to which the noble attend (16.10). We also get a ranking of knowers (16.9) and an interesting anecdote about Confucius's relationship with his son Boyu (16.13).


Book XVII, which seems to have a special concern with oppositions between appearance and reality, seems also to have clear links to the prior one. We begin again with the politics of the Ji family, since Yang Huo (17.1) was someone who usurped power from them and Gongshan Furao (17.4) was involved in a rebellion against them. We also get lists: the five practices relevant to ren (17.5), six hidden consequences (17.7), three weaknesses of antiquity and modernity (17.14), and hatreds (17.22). We also get a saying concerned with Confucius's relationship with is son (17.8).

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this book is the picture it gives of Master Kong, since we find him involved in some startling things. He is willing to work with a usurper (17.1), and to help rebels despite his shocked students arguing that it is against his principles (17.4; 17.6). He also gives a student advice to do as he deems best but then criticizes him when he leaves (17.19) and seems to be actively rude to another (17.20).


This book, unlike most of the others, has a very definite and very obvious theme: that of leaving. At 18.1, Master Kong praises those who fled the bad reign of Zhou. Liu Xia Hui, on the other hand, refuses to leave even when dismissed (18.2). When Duke Jing of Qi refuses to employ Master Kong, he leaves (18.3) and likewise leaves at the bad behavior of one of the family of Ji (18.4). Confucius hears the Madman of Chu singing a song about virtue and rushes out to find him, only to discover that the Madman has already left (18.5). Master Kong is criticized for not becoming a recluse (18.6) and a recluse is criticized for not participating in society (18.7). The end of the book is somewhat cryptic, but they carry forward the theme: 18.8 seems to look at motivations for retiring from the world, 18.9 seems to list examples of people who left for other places, 18.10 is about why the noble might not leave, and 18.11 seems to be a list of people who did not leave but stayed and participated.

Thus the book has to do with a standing problem: if your advice is not heeded, what is the proper course of action? Should you stay and keep trying, or should you leave? And the book's response seems to be that finding a solution to that is very complicated, and requires carefully considering a number of different issues.

to be continued

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