This was no time for Confucius to take office, and he devoted the leisure thus forced upon him to the compilation of the “Book of Odes” and the “Book of History.”
our selection from Confucianism and Taouism by Robert K. Douglas published in 1889. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. The selection is presented in twelve easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in Confucius.
Time: 551 BC – 479 BC
It was possibly in connection with this incident that Confucius drew the attention of his disciples to the metal statue of a man with a triple clasp upon his mouth, which stood in the ancestral temple at Lo. On the back of the statue were inscribed these words: “The ancients were guarded in their speech, and like them we should avoid loquacity. Many words invite many defeats. Avoid also engaging in many businesses, for many businesses create many difficulties.”
“Observe this, my children,” said he, pointing to the inscription. “These words are true, and commend themselves to our reason.”
Having gained all the information he desired in Chow, he returned to Loo, where pupils flocked to him until, we are told, he was surrounded by an admiring company of three thousand disciples. His stay in Loo was, however, of short duration, for the three principal clans of the state, those of Ke, Shuh, and Mang, after frequent contests between themselves, engaged in a war with the reigning duke, and overthrew his armies. Upon this the duke took refuge in the state of T’se, whither Confucius followed him. As he passed along the road he saw a woman weeping at a tomb, and having compassion on her, he sent his disciple Tsze-loo to ask her the cause of her grief. “You weep as if you had experienced sorrow upon sorrow,” said Tsze-loo. “I have,” said the woman, “my father-in-law was killed here by a tiger, and my husband also; and now my son has met the same fate.” “Why, then, do you not remove from the place?” asked Confucius. “Because here there is no oppressive government,” replied the woman. On hearing this answer, Confucius remarked to his disciples, “My children remember this, oppressive government is fiercer than a tiger.”
Possibly Confucius was attracted to T’se by a knowledge that the music of the emperor Shun was still preserved at the court. At all events, we are told that having heard a strain of the much-desired music on his way to the capital, he hurried on, and was so ravished with the airs he heard that for three months he never tasted flesh. “I did not think,” said he, “that music could reach such a pitch of excellence.”
Hearing of the arrival of the Sage, the duke of T’se–King, by name–sent for him, and after some conversation, being minded to act the part of a patron to so distinguished a visitor, offered to make him a present of the city of Lin-k’ew with its revenues. But this Confucius declined, remarking to his disciples, “A superior man will not receive rewards except for services done. I have given advice to the duke King, but he has not followed it as yet, and now he would endow me with this place. Very far is he from understanding me.” He still, however, discussed politics with the duke, and taught him that “There is good government when the prince is prince, and the minister is minister; when the father is father, and the son is son.” “Good,” said the duke; “if, indeed, the prince be not prince, the minister not minister, and the son not son, although I have my revenue, can I enjoy it?”
Though Duke King was by no means a satisfactory pupil, many of his instincts were good, and he once again expressed a desire to pension Confucius, that he might keep him at hand; but Gan Ying, the Prime Minister, dissuaded him from his purpose. “These scholars,” said the minister, “are impracticable, and cannot be imitated. They are haughty and conceited of their own views, so that they will not rest satisfied in inferior positions. They set a high value on all funeral ceremonies, give way to their grief, and will waste their property on great funerals, so that they would only be injurious to the common manners. This Kung Footsze has a thousand peculiarities. It would take ages to exhaust all he knows about the ceremonies of going up and going down. This is not the time to examine into his rules of propriety. If you wish to employ him to change the customs of T’se, you will not be making the people your primary consideration.” This reasoning had full weight with the duke, who the next time he was urged to follow the advice of Confucius, cut short the discussion by the remark, “I am too old to adopt his doctrines.”
Under these circumstances Confucius once more returned to Loo, only however to find that the condition of the state was still unchanged; disorder was rife; and the reins of government were in the hands of the head of the strongest party for the time being. This was no time for Confucius to take office, and he devoted the leisure thus forced upon him to the compilation of the “Book of Odes” and the “Book of History.”
But in process of time order was once more restored, and he then felt himself free to accept the post of magistrate of the town of Chung-too, which was offered him by the duke King.
He now had an opportunity of putting his principles of government to the test, and the result partly justified his expectations. He framed rules for the support of the living, and for the observation of rites for the dead; he arranged appropriate food for the old and the young; and he provided for the proper separation of men and women. And the results were, we are told, that, as in the time of King Alfred, a thing dropped on the road was not picked up; there was no fraudulent carving of vessels; coffins were made of the ordained thickness; graves were unmarked by mounds raised over them; and no two prices were charged in the markets. The duke, surprised at what he saw, asked the sage whether his rule of government could be applied to the whole state. “Certainly,” replied Confucius, “and not only to the state of Loo, but to the whole empire.” Forthwith, therefore, the duke made him Assistant-Superintendent of Works, and shortly afterwards appointed him Minister of Crime. Here, again, his success was complete. From the day of his appointment crime is said to have disappeared, and the penal laws remained a dead letter.