The Sayings of Confucius

by Confucius

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Book VI - Be Stern to Oneself

1. The Master said, Yung[48] might fill the seat of a prince.

And might Tzu-sang Po-tzu? asked Chung-kung.

Yes, said the Master; but he is slack.

To be stern to himself, said Chung-kung, and slack in his claims on the people, might do; but to be slack himself and slack with others must surely be too slack.

The Master said, What Yung says is true.

2. Duke Ai asked which disciples loved learning.

Confucius answered, Yen Hui[49] loved learning. He did not carry over anger; he made no mistake twice. Alas! his mission was short, he died. Now that he is gone, I hear of no one that loves learning.

3. When Tzu-hua[50] was sent to Ch'i, the disciple Jan asked for grain for his mother.

The Master said, Give her six pecks.

He asked for more.

The Master said, Give her sixteen.

Jan gave her eight hundred.

The Master said, On his way to Ch'i, Ch'ih[51] was drawn by sleek horses and clad in light furs. I have heard that gentlemen help the needy, not that they swell riches.


When Yüan Ssu was made governor he was given nine hundred measures of grain, which he refused.

Not so, said the Master: why not take it and give it to thy neighbours and countryfolk?

4. The Master said of Chung-kung, If the calf of a brindled cow be red and horned, though men be shy to offer him, will the hills and streams reject him?

5. The Master said, For three months together Hui's[52] heart never sinned against love. The others may hold out for a day, or a month, but no more.

6. Chi K'ang[53] asked whether Chung-yu[54] was fit to govern.

The Master said, Yu[54] is firm; what would governing be to him?

And is Tz'u[55] fit to govern?

Tz'u is thorough; what would governing be to him?

And is Ch'iu[56] fit to govern?

Ch'in is clever; what would governing be to him?

7. The Chi sent to make Min Tzu-ch'ien[57] governor of Pi.

Min Tzu-ch'ien said, Make some good excuse for me. If he sends again I must be across the Wen.

8. When Po-niu[57] was ill the Master asked after him. Grasping his hand through the window, he said, He is going. It is the Bidding; but why this [24]man of such an illness? Why this man of such an illness?

9. The Master said. What a man was Hui![58] A bowl of rice, a gourd of water, in a low alley; man cannot bear such misery! Yet Hui never fell from mirth. What a man he was!

10. Jan Ch'iu[59] said, It is not that I take no pleasure in the Master's Way: I want strength.

The Master said, He that wants strength faints midway; but thou drawest a line.

11. The Master said to Tzu-hsia, Study to be a gentleman, not as the small man studies.

12. When Tzu-yu was governor of Wu-ch'eng, the Master said, Hast thou gotten any men?

He answered, I have Tan-t'ai Mieh-ming. He will not take a short cut when walking, and he has never come to my house except on business.

13. The Master said, Meng Chih-fan never brags. He was covering the rear in a rout; but on coming to the gate he whipped his horse and cried, Not courage kept me behind; my horse won't go!

14. The Master said, Unless we are glib as the reader T'o and fair as Chao of Sung, escape is hard in the times that be!

15. The Master said, Who can go out except by the door? Why is it no one keeps to the Way?

16. The Master said, Matter outweighing art begets roughness; art outweighing matter begets pedantry. Matter and art well blent make a gentleman.

17. The Master said, Man is born straight. If [25]he grows crooked and yet lives, he is lucky to escape.

18. The Master said, He that knows is below him that loves, and he that loves below him that delights therein.

19. The Master said, To men above the common we can talk of higher things; to men below the common we must not talk of higher things.

20. Fan Ch'ih[60] asked, What is wisdom?

The Master said, To foster right among the people; to honour ghosts and spirits, and yet keep aloof from them, may be called wisdom.

He asked, What is love?

The Master said, To rank the effort above the prize may be called love.

21. The Master said, Wisdom delights in water; love delights in hills. Wisdom is stirring; love is quiet. Wisdom is merry; love grows old.

22. The Master said, By one revolution Ch'i might grow to be Lu; by one revolution Lu might reach the Way.

23. The Master said, A drinking horn that is no horn! What a horn! What a drinking horn!

24. Tsai Wo[61] said, If a man of love were told that a man is in a well, would he go in after him?

The Master said, Why should he? A gentleman might be got to the well, but not trapped into it, He may be cheated, but not fooled.

25. The Master said, By breadth of reading and [26]the ties of courtesy, a gentleman is kept, too, from false paths.

26. The Master saw Nan-tzu.[62] Tzu-lu was displeased.

The Master took an oath, saying, If I have done wrong, may Heaven forsake me, may Heaven forsake me!

27. The Master said, The highest minds cleave to the Centre, the Common. They have long been rare among the people.

28. Tzu-kung said, To treat the people with bounty and help the many, how were that? Could it be called love?

The Master said, What has this to do with love? Must it not be holiness? Yao and Shun[63] still yearned for this. Seeking a foothold for self, love finds a foothold for others; seeking light for itself, it enlightens others too. To learn from the near at hand may be called the clue to love.


[48] The disciple Chung-kung.

[49] The disciple Yen Yüan.

[50] The disciple Kung-hsi Hua, or Kung-hsi Ch'ih.

[51] Kung-hei Ch'ih.

[52] Yen Yüan.

[53] The head of the Chi clan after Chi Huan.

[54] The disciple Tzu-lu.

[55] The disciple Tzu-kung.

[56] The disciple Jan Yu.

[57] A disciple.

[58] Yen Yüan.

[59] Jan Yu.

[60] A disciple.

[61] A disciple.

[62] The dissolute wife of Duke Ling of Wei.

[63] Two emperors of the golden age.


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