The Sayings of Confucius

by Confucius

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Chapter XIII - How Does One Rule?

1. Tzu-lu asked how to rule.

The Master said, Go before; work hard.

When asked to say more, he said, Never flag.

2. When he was steward of the Chi, Chung-kung asked how to rule.

The Master said, Let officers act first; overlook small faults, lift up brains and worth.

Chung-kung said, How shall I get to know brains and worth to lift them up?

Lift up those thou dost know, said the Master; and those thou dost not know, will other men pass by?

3. Tzu-lu said, The lord of Wei[125] waits for you, Sir, to govern. How shall ye begin?

Surely, said the Master, by putting names right.

Indeed, said Tzu-lu, that is far-fetched, Sir. Why put them right?

What a savage Yu[126] is! said the Master. A gentleman is tongue-tied when he does not understand. If names are not right, words do not fit. If words do not fit, affairs go wrong. If affairs go wrong, neither courtesy nor music thrive. If courtesy and music do not thrive, law and justice fail. And if law and justice fail them, the people can move neither hand nor foot. So a gentleman must be [62]ready to put names into speech and words into deed. A gentleman is nowise careless of his words.

4. Fan Ch'ih asked to be taught husbandry.

The Master said. An old husbandman knows more than I do.

He asked to be taught gardening.

The Master said. An old gardener knows more than I do.

After Fan Ch'ih had gone, the Master said, How small a man! If those above love courtesy, no one will dare to slight them; if they love right, no one will dare to disobey; if they love truth, no one will dare to hide the heart. Then, from the four corners of the earth, folk will gather with their children on their backs; and what need will there be for husbandry?

5. The Master said, Though a man have conned three hundred poems, if he stands helpless when put to govern, if he cannot answer for himself when he is sent to the four corners of the earth, many as they are, what have they done for him?

6. The Master said, The man of upright life is obeyed before he speaks; commands even go unheeded when the life is crooked.

7. The Master said, The governments of Lu and Wei are brothers.

8. Speaking of Ching, of the ducal house of Wei, the Master said, He was wise in his private life. When he had begun to save, he said, This seems enough. When he grew better off, he said, This seems[63] plenty. When he had grown rich, he said. This seems splendour.

9. When Jan Yu was driving him to Wei, the Master said. What numbers!

Jan Yu said, Since numbers are here, what next is needed?

Wealth, said the Master.

And what comes next after wealth?

Teaching, said the Master.

10. The Master said, If I were employed for a twelve-month, much could be done. In three years all would be ended.

11. The Master said, If good men were to govern a land for an hundred years, cruelty would be conquered and putting to death done away with. How true are these words!

12. The Master said, Even if a king were to govern, a lifetime would pass before love dawned!

13. The Master said, What is governing to a man that can rule himself? If he cannot rule himself, how shall he rule others?

14. As the disciple Jan[127] came back from court, the Master said to him. Why so late?

I had business of state, he answered.

Household business, said the Master. If it had been business of state, though I am out of office, I should have heard of it.

15. Duke Ting asked, Is there any one saying that can bless a kingdom?


Confucius answered, That is more than words can do. But men have a saying, To be lord is hard and to be minister is not easy. And if one knew how hard it is to be lord, might not this one saying almost bless a kingdom?

And is there any one saying that can wreck a kingdom?

That is more than words can do, Confucius answered. But men have a saying, My only delight in being lord is that no one withstands what I say. Now if what he says is good, and no one withstands him, is not that good too? But if it is not good, and no one withstands him, might not this one saying almost wreck a kingdom?

16. The Duke of She asked, What is kingcraft?

The Master answered, For those near us to be happy and those far off to come.

17. When he was governor of Chü-fu, Tzu-hsia asked how to rule.

The Master said, Be not eager for haste; look not for small gains. Nothing done in haste is thorough, and looking for small gains big things are left undone.

18. The Duke of She told Confucius, Among the upright men of my clan if the father steals a sheep his son bears witness.

Confucius answered, Our clan's uprightness is unlike that. The father screens his son and the son screens his father. There is uprightness in this.

19. Fan Ch'ih asked, What is love?

The Master said, To be humble at home, earnest[65] at work, and faithful to all. Even among wild tribes none of this must be dropped.

20. Tzu-kung asked, What is it that we call knighthood?

The Master said, To be called a knight, a man must be shamefast in all that he does, if he is sent to the four corners of the earth he must not disgrace his lord's commands.

May I ask who would come next?

He that his clansmen call a good son and his neighbours call modest.

And who would come next?

A man that clings to his word and sticks to his course, a flinty little fellow, would perhaps come next.

And how are the crown servants of to-day?

What! The weights and measures men! said the Master. Are they worth reckoning?

21. The Master said, As I cannot get men of the middle way I have to fall back on zealous and austere men. Zealous men push ahead and take things up, and there are things that austere men will not do.

22. The Master said, The men of the south have a saying, 'Unless he is stable a man will make neither a wizard nor a leech.' This is true. 'His instability of mind may disgrace him.'

The Master said, Neglect of the omens, that is all.

23. The Master said, Gentlemen unite, but are not the same. Small men are all the same, but each for himself.

24. Tzu-kung said, If the whole countryside loved a man, how would that be?[66]

It would not do, said the Master.

And how would it be, if the whole countryside hated him?

It would not do, said the Master. It would be better if all the good men of the countryside loved him and all the bad men hated him.

25. The Master said, A gentleman is easy to serve and hard to please. If we go from the Way to please him, he is not pleased; but his commands are measured to the man. A small man is hard to serve and easy to please. Though we go from the Way to please him, he is pleased; but he expects everything of his men.

26. The Master said, A gentleman is high-minded, not proud; the small man is proud, but not high-minded.

27. The Master said, Strength and courage, simplicity and modesty are akin to love.

28. Tzu-lu asked, When can a man be called a knight?

The Master said, To be earnest, encouraging and kind may be called knighthood: earnest and encouraging with his friends, and kind to his brothers.

29. The Master said, If a good man taught the people for seven years, they would be fit to bear arms too.

30. The Master said, To take untaught men to war is called throwing them away.


[125] See note to Book VII, § 14. Tzu-lu was his officer.

[126] Tzu-lu.

[127] Jan Yu. He was in the service of the Chi, not of the Duke of Lu.


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