The Sayings of Confucius

by Confucius

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Chapter XVII - Wisest and Stupidest Never Change

1. Yang Huo[151] wished to see Confucius. Confucius did not go to see him. He sent Confucius a sucking pig. Confucius chose a time when he was out, and went to thank him. They met on the road.

He said to Confucius, Come, let us speak together. To cherish a gem, and undo the kingdom, can that be called love?

It cannot, said Confucius.

To love office, and miss the hour again and again, can that be called wisdom?

It cannot, said Confucius.

The days and months go by; the years do not wait for us.

True, said Confucius; I must take office.

2. The Master said, Men are near to each other by nature; the lives they lead sunder them.

3. The Master said, Only the wisest and stupidest of men never change.

4. As the Master came to Wu-ch'eng[152] he heard sounds of lute and song.

Why use an ox-knife to kill a fowl? said the Master, with a pleased smile.

Tzu-yu answered, Master, once I heard you say, A gentleman that has learnt the Way loves men; small folk that have learnt the Way are easy to rule.


My two-three boys, said the Master, what Yen[153] says is true. I spake before in play.

5. Kung-shan Fu-jao[154] held Pi in rebellion. He called the Master, who wished to go.

Tzu-lu said in displeasure. This cannot be! why must ye go to Kung-shan?

The Master said, He calls me, and would that be all? Could I not make an Eastern Chou[155] of him that uses me?

6. Tzu-chang asked Confucius what is love.

Confucius said, Love is to mete out five things to all below heaven.

May I ask what they are?

Modesty and bounty, said Confucius, truth, earnestness and kindness. Modesty escapes insult: bounty wins the many; truth gains men's trust; earnestness brings success; and kindness is enough to make men work.

7. Pi Hsi called the Master, who wished to go.

Tzu-lu said, Master, I heard you say once, To men whose own life is evil, no gentleman will go. Pi Hsi holds Chung-mou in rebellion; how could ye go to him, Sir?

Yes, I said so, answered the Master. But is not a thing called hard that cannot be ground thin; white, if steeping will not turn it black? And am I a gourd? Can I hang without eating?


8. The Master said, Hast thou heard the six words, Yu,[156] and the six they sink into?

He answered. No.

Sit down, and I shall tell thee. The thirst for love, without love of learning, sinks into simpleness. Love of knowledge, without love of learning, sinks into vanity. Love of truth, without love of learning, sinks into cruelty. Love of straightness, without love of learning, sinks into rudeness. Love of daring, without love of learning, sinks into turbulence. Love of strength, without love of learning, sinks into oddity.

9. The Master said, My little children, why do ye not learn poetry? Poetry would ripen you; teach you insight, friendliness and forbearance; show you how to serve your father at home; and teach your lord abroad; and it would teach you the names of many birds and beasts, plants and trees.

10. The Master said to Po-yü,[157] Hast thou done the Chou-nan and Shao-nan?[158] He that has not done the Chou-nan and Shao-nan is like a man standing with his face to the wall.

11. The Master said, 'Courtesy, courtesy,' is the cry; but are jade and silk the whole of courtesy? 'Music, music,' is the cry; but are bells and drums the whole of music?

12. The Master said, Fierce looks and weakness within are like the small man, like the thief that breaks through or clambers over a wall.


13. The Master said, The plain townsman is the bane of mind.

14. The Master said, To tell unto the dust all that we hear upon the way is to lay waste the mind.

15. The Master said, How can we serve the king with a low fellow, who is itching to get what he wants and trembling to lose what he has? This trembling to lose what he has may lead him anywhere.

16. The Master said, Men of old had three failings, which have, perhaps, died out to-day. Ambitious men of old were not nice; now they are unprincipled. Stern men of old were hard; now they are quarrelsome. Ignorant men of old were straight; now they are false. That is all.

17. The Master said, Smooth words and fawning looks are seldom found with love.

18. The Master said, I hate the ousting of scarlet by purple. I hate the strains of Cheng, confounders of sweet music. I hate a sharp tongue, the ruin of kingdom and home.

19. The Master said, I wish no word were spoken!

Tzu-kung said, Sir, if ye said no word, what could your little children write?

The Master said, What are the words of Heaven? The four seasons pass, the hundred things bear life. What are the words of Heaven?

20. Ju Pei wished to see Confucius. Confucius pleaded sickness; but, as the messenger left his door, he took a lute and sang, so the messenger should hear.[90]

21. Tsai Wo[159] asked about mourning for three years. He thought that one was enough.

If for three years gentlemen forsake courtesy, courtesy must suffer. If for three years they forsake music, music must decay. The old grain passes, the new grain sprouts, the round of woods for the fire-drill is ended in one year.

The Master said, Feeding on rice, clad in brocade, couldst thou be at rest?

I could, he answered.

Then do what gives thee rest. But a gentleman, when he is mourning, has no taste for sweets and no ear for music; he cannot rest in his home. So he gives these up. Now, they give thee rest; then keep them.

After Tsai Wo had gone, the Master said, Yü's[160] want of love! At the age of three a child first leaves the arms of his father and mother, and mourning lasts for three years everywhere below heaven. But did Yü have for three years the love of his father and mother?

22. The Master said, It is hard indeed when a man eats his fill all day, and has nothing to task the mind! Could he not play at chequers? Even that were better.

23. Tzu-lu said, Do gentlemen honour daring?

They put right higher, said the Master. With daring and no sense of right gentlemen turn rebels and small men turn robbers.

24. Tzu-kung said, Do gentlemen hate too?


They do, said the Master. They hate the sounding of evil deeds; they hate men of low estate that slander those over them; they hate daring without courtesy; they hate men that are stout and fearless, but blind.

And Tz'u,[161] he said, dost thou hate too?

I hate those that take spying for wisdom, who take want of manners for courage, and take tale-telling for honesty.

25. The Master said, Only maids and serving-lads are hard to train. If we draw near to them, they get unruly; if we hold them off, they grow spiteful.

26. The Master said, When a man of forty is hated, he will be so to the end.


[151] The all-powerful, unscrupulous minister of the Chi.

[152] A very small town, of which the disciple Tzu-yu was governor.

[153] Tzu-yu.

[154] Steward of the Chi, and a confederate of Yang Huo.

[155] A kingdom in the east to match Chou in the west, the home of Kings Wen and Wu.

[156] Tzu-lu.

[157] His son.

[158] The first two books of The Book of Poetry.

[159] A disciple.

[160] Tsai Wo.

[161] Tzu-kung.


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