His life in politics and his adventures is not the image we have of Confucius.
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
“I have not seen one,” said he, “who loves virtue as he loves beauty.” To stay any longer under the protection of a court which could inflict such an indignity upon him was more than he could do, and he therefore once again struck southward toward Ch’in.
After his retirement from office it is probable that Confucius devoted himself afresh to imparting to his followers those doctrines and opinions which we shall consider later on. Even on the road to Ch’in we are told that he practiced ceremonies with his disciples beneath the shadow of a tree by the wayside in Sung. In the spirit of Laou-tsze, Hwuy T’uy, an officer in the neighborhood, was angered at his reported “proud air and many desires, his insinuating habit and wild will,” and attempted to prevent him entering the state. In this endeavor, however, he was unsuccessful, as were some more determined opponents, who two years later attacked him at Poo, when he was on his way to Wei. On this occasion he was seized, and though it is said that his followers struggled manfully with his captors, their efforts did not save him from having to give an oath that he would not continue his journey to Wei. But in spite of his oath, and in spite of the public slight which had previously been put upon him by the duke of Wei, an irresistible attraction drew him toward that state, and he had no sooner escaped from the clutches of his captors than he continued his journey.
This deliberate forfeiture of his word in one who had commanded them to “hold faithfulness and sincerity as first principles,” surprised his disciples; and Tsze-kung, who was generally the spokesman on such occasions, asked him whether it was right to violate the oath he had taken. But Confucius, who had learned expediency in adversity, replied, “It was an oath extracted by force. The spirits do not hear such.”
But to return to Confucius flying from his enemies in Sung. Finding his way barred by the action of Hwan T’uy, he proceeded westward and arrived at Ch’ing, the capital of the state of the same name. Thither it would appear his disciples had preceded him, and he arrived unattended at the eastern gate of the city. But his appearance was so striking that his followers were soon made aware of his presence. “There is a man,” said a townsman to Tsze-kung, “standing at the east gate with a forehead like Yaou, a neck like Kaou Yaou, his shoulders on a level with those of Tsze-ch’an, but wanting below the waist three inches of the height of Yu, and altogether having the forsaken appearance of a stray dog.” Recognizing his master in this description, Tsze-kung hastened to meet him, and repeated to him the words of his informant. Confucius was much amused, and said: “The personal appearance is a small matter; but to say I was like a stray dog–capital! capital!”
The ruling powers in Ch’ing, however, showed no disposition to employ even a man possessing such marked characteristics, and before long he removed to Ch’in, where he remained a year. From Ch’in he once more turned his face toward Wei, and it was while he was on this journey that he was detained at Poo, as mentioned above. Between Confucius and the duke of Wei there evidently existed a personal liking, if not friendship. The duke was always glad to see him and ready to converse with him; but Confucius’s unbounded admiration for those whose bones, as Laou-tsze said, were mouldered to dust, and especially for the founders of the Chow dynasty, made it impossible for the duke to place him in any position of importance. At the same time Confucius seems always to have hoped that he would be able to gain the duke over to his views; and thus it came about that the Sage was constantly attracted to the court of Duke Ling, and as often compelled to exile himself from it.
On this particular occasion, as at all other times, the duke received him gladly, but their conversations, which had principally turned on the act of peaceful government, were now directed to warlike affairs. The duke was contemplating an attack on Poo, the inhabitants of which, under the leadership of Hwan T’uy, who had arrested Confucius, had rebelled against him. At first Confucius was quite disposed to support the duke in his intended hostilities; but a representation from the duke that the probable support of other states would make the expedition one of considerable danger, converted Confucius to the opinion evidently entertained by the duke, that it would be best to leave Hwan T’uy in possession of his ill-gotten territory. Confucius’s latest advice was then to this effect, and the duke acted upon it.
The duke was now becoming an old man, and with advancing age came a disposition to leave the task of governing to others, and to weary of Confucius’ high-flown lectures. He ceased “to use” Confucius, as the Chinese historians say, and the Sage was therefore indignant, and ready to accept any offer which might come from any quarter. While in this humor he received an invitation from Pih Hih, an officer of the state of Tsin who was holding the town of Chung-mow against his chief, to visit him, and he was inclined to go. It is impossible to study this portion of Confucius’ career without feeling that a great change had come over his conduct. There was no longer that lofty love of truth and of virtue which had distinguished the commencement of his official life. Adversity, instead of stiffening his back, had made him pliable. He who had formerly refused to receive money he had not earned, was now willing to take pay in return for no other services than the presentation of courtier-like advice on occasions when Duke Ling desired to have his opinion in support of his own; and in defiance of his oft-repeated denunciation of rebels, he was now ready to go over to the court of a rebel chief, in the hope possibly of being able through his means “to establish,” as he said on another occasion, “an Eastern Chow.”