The Sayings of Confucius

by Confucius

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Book VIII - Good Form

1. The Master said, T'ai-po[72] may be said to have carried nobility furthest. Thrice he refused all below heaven. Men were at a loss how to praise him.

2. The Master said, Without good form attentions grow into fussiness, heed becomes fearfulness, daring becomes unruliness, frankness becomes rudeness. When gentlemen are true to kinsfolk, love will thrive among the people; if they do not forsake old friends, the people will not steal.

3. When Tseng-tzu lay sick he called his disciples and said, Uncover my feet, uncover my arms. The poem says,

As if a deep gulf Were yawning below, As crossing thin ice, Take heed how ye go. My little children, I have known how to keep myself unhurt until now and hereafter.[73]

4. When Tseng-tzu was sick Meng Ching[74] came to ask after him.

Tseng-tzu said, When a bird is dying his notes are [34]sad; when man is dying his words are good. Three branches of the Way are dear to a gentleman: To banish from his bearing violence and disdain; to sort his face to the truth, and to banish from his speech what is low or unseemly. The ritual of chalice and platter[75] has servitors to see to it.

5. Tseng-tzu said, When we can, to ask those that cannot; when we are more, to ask those that are less; having, to seem wanting; real, to seem shadow; when gainsaid, never answering back; I had a friend[76] once that could do thus.

6. Tseng-tzu said, A man to whom an orphan, a few feet high, or the fate of an hundred towns, may be entrusted, and whom no crisis can corrupt, is he not a gentleman, a gentleman indeed?

7. Tseng-tzu said, The knight had need be strong and bold; for his burden is heavy, the way is far. His burden is love, is it not a heavy one? No halt before death, is that not far?

8. The Master said, Poetry rouses us, we stand upon courtesy, music is our crown.

9. The Master said, The people may be made to follow, we cannot make them understand.

10. The Master said, Love of daring and hatred of poverty lead to crime; a man without love, if he is sorely harassed, turns to crime.

11. The Master said, All the comely gifts of the Duke of Chou,[77] coupled with pride and meanness, would not be worth a glance.


12. The Master said, A man to whom three years of learning have borne no fruit would be hard to find.

13. The Master said, A man of simple faith, who loves learning, who guards and betters his way unto death, will not enter a tottering kingdom, nor stay in a lawless land. When all below heaven follows the Way, he is seen; when it loses the Way, he is unseen. While his land keeps the Way, he is ashamed to be poor and lowly; but when his land has lost the Way, wealth and honours shame him.

14. The Master said, When out of place, discuss not policy.

15. The Master said, In the first days of the music-master Chih how the hubbub[78] of the Kuan-chü rose sea beyond sea! How it filled the ear!

16. The Master said, Of men that are zealous, but not straight; dull, but not simple; helpless, but not truthful, I will know nothing.

17. The Master said, Learn as though the time were short, like one that fears to lose.

18. The Master said, How wonderful were Shun[79] and Yü[79]! To have all below heaven was nothing to them!

19. The Master said, How great a lord was Yao[79]! Wonderful! Heaven alone is great; Yao alone was patterned on it. Vast, boundless! Men's words failed them. The wonder of the work done by him! The flame of his art and precepts!


20. Shun had five ministers, and there was order below heaven.

King Wu[80] said, I have ten uncommon ministers.

Confucius said, 'The dearth of talent,' is not that the truth? When Yü[81] followed T'ang[82] the times were rich in talent; yet there were but nine men in all, and one woman. In greatness of soul we may say that Chou[83] was highest: he had two-thirds of all below heaven and bent it to the service of Yin.

21. The Master said, I see no flaw in Yü. He ate and drank little, yet he was lavish in piety to the ghosts and spirits. His clothes were bad, but in his cap and gown he was fair indeed. His palace buildings were poor, yet he gave his whole strength to dykes and ditches. No kind of flaw can I see in Yü.


[72] T'ai-po was the eldest son of the King of Chou. The father wished his third son to succeed him, so that the throne might pass later to his grandson, afterwards known as King Wen. To enable this plan to be carried out T'ai-po and his second brother went into exile.

[73] The Chinese say: 'The body is born whole by the mother; it should be returned whole by the son.'

[74] Chief of the Meng clan, minister of Lu.

[75] For sacrifice.

[76] Probably Yen Yüan.

[77] See Book VII, § 5.

[78] The last part of the music, when all the instruments were played together.

[79] See Introduction.

[80] See Introduction.

[81] Shun.

[82] Yao.

[83] King Wen, Duke of Chou.


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