If we follow Zhu Xi's account of the structure of the work, the first eleven chapters consist of essential ideas laid down in Chapter I followed by ten chapters of quotations serving to illustrate and comment on this first set of ideas. Chapter XII picks up the thread of Chapter I again by providing an additional comment by Zisi on the nondeviation of the Way. The essential idea is that the Way pursued by the noble is by its nature extensive in scope but intensive in its regard for details. The Way is such that even ordinary people may have something of it, but it is also such that even sages do not fully grasp it. If we focus on its extent, nothing else can encompass it; if we focus on its intensive character, nothing else can be more precise than it.
The next eight chapters provide quotations to comment on and illustrate the ideas of Chapter XII. Correctly understanding the Way requires recognizing that all human beings have a sort of access to it because of their common human nature (13). Those who cultivate this nature properly and express it according to reciprocity (as expressed in the 'Silver Rule' of not doing to others what one would not have done to onself) are already, simply by that, close to the Way. The son who serves his father as he would expect his son to serve himself, the minister who serves his prince as he would expect his ministers to serve himself, the younger brother who serves his elder brother as he would expect his younger brothers to serve himself, the man who behaves to his friends as he would expect his friends to behave to himself -- these have achieved truly great things that even one such as Confucius would never ascribe to himself as possessing, as opposed to treating them as something to which to aspire and strive to achieve. (Note, incidentally, that while the principle of reciprocity is itself generally expressed in negative form, the 'Silver Rule', when combined with the primary relations of society, it quite clearly takes positive form.)
In addition, the noble restrain themselves in light of their station or place in society (14). Such men fit no matter where they find themselves. Petty people pin their hopes on luck; the noble seek to correct themselves and act well no matter what: "He does not murmur against heaven, nor grumble against men" (Legge tr.). The noble are archers: when archers miss the target, they think about what they did not do correctly.
The extremely obscure Chapter XV seems to suggest that the Way is gradual in the sense that one first begins to come to it by focusing on the nearest relations to head, and slowly extending oneself out from there. Chapter XVI, also obscure, seems to put forward spirits as examples of how to proceed: just as spirits are neither seen nor heard but affect all things, so the prince who governs according to the Way, acting out of sincerity (cheng, being true to one's proper nature), does not have to go to great lengths to make his authority manifest to the people, but people are affected by him even without directly seeing how. In a similar way, the mandate of Heaven is received not by grasping after it but by being virtuous (17); others are drawn to this and begin to act according to its pattern.
Chapters XVII, XVIII, IXX, and XX appeal to the examples of ancient kings for how the radiation discussed in the previous chapters works. One can see these chapters as building up incrementally, by adding richer expressions of the moral authority of the virtuous ruler, until we get in Chapter XX one of the most detailed discussions of this moral authority and how it radiates outward. The whole chapter could in itself be considered a definitive treatise on Confucian theory of government, since it depicts the ideal working of a truly moral government. Particularly as interpreted by Zhu Xi, it can be seen as depicting, using the ruler simply as an example, the power of cheng, usually translated as 'sincerity', the expression of the true and moral principles of human nature, the living of a life appropriate to a human being. It is around this concept of cheng that the next chapters of the work will coalesce.
to be continued...