Courage was recognized by Confucius as being one of the great virtues, and about this period we have related two instances in which he showed that he possessed both moral and physical courage to a high degree.
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
Courage was recognized by Confucius as being one of the great virtues, and about this period we have related two instances in which he showed that he possessed both moral and physical courage to a high degree. The chief of the Ke family, being virtual possessor of the state, when the body of the exiled Duke Chaou was brought from T’se for interment, directed that it should be buried apart from the graves of his ancestors. On Confucius becoming aware of his decision, he ordered a trench to be dug round the burying-ground which should enclose the new tomb. “Thus to censure a prince and signalize his faults is not according to etiquette,” said he to Ke. “I have caused the grave to be included in the cemetery, and I have done so to hide your disloyalty.” And his action was allowed to pass unchallenged.
The other instance referred to was on the occasion, a few years later, of an interview between the dukes of Loo and T’se, at which Confucius was present as master of ceremonies. At his instigation, an altar was raised at the place of meeting, which was mounted by three steps, and on this the dukes ascended, and having pledged one another proceeded to discuss a treaty of alliance. But treachery was intended on the part of the duke of T’se, and at a given signal a band of savages advanced with beat of drum to carry off the duke of Loo. Some such stratagem had been considered probable by Confucius, and the instant the danger became imminent he rushed to the altar and led away the duke. After much disorder, in which Confucius took a firm and prominent part, a treaty was concluded, and even some land on the south of the river Wan, which had been taken by T’se, was by the exertions of the Sage restored to Loo. On this recovered territory the people of Loo, in memory of the circumstance, built a city and called it, “The City of Confession.”
But to return to Confucius as the Minister of Crime.
Though eminently successful, the results obtained under his system were not quite such as his followers have represented them to have been. No doubt crime diminished under his rule, but it was by no means abolished. In fact, his biographers mention a case which must have been peculiarly shocking to him. A father brought an accusation against his son, in the expectation, probably, of gaining his suit with ease before a judge who laid such stress on the virtues of filial piety. But to his surprise, and that of the on-lookers, Confucius cast both father and son into prison, and to the remonstrances of the head of the Ke clan answered, “Am I to punish for a breach of filial piety one who has never been taught to be filially minded? Is not he who neglects to teach his son his duties, equally guilty with the son who fails in them? Crime is not inherent in human nature, and therefore the father in the family, and the government in the state, are responsible for the crimes committed against filial piety and the public laws. If a king is careless about publishing laws, and then peremptorily punishes in accordance with the strict letter of them, he acts the part of a swindler; if he collect the taxes arbitrarily without giving warning, he is guilty of oppression; and if he puts the people to death without having instructed them, he commits a cruelty.”
On all these points Confucius frequently insisted, and strove both by precept and example to impart the spirit they reflected on all around him. In the presence of his prince we are told that his manner, though self-possessed, displayed respectful uneasiness. When he entered the palace, or when he passed the vacant throne, his countenance changed, his legs bent under him, and he spoke as though he had scarcely breath to utter a word. When it fell to his lot to carry the royal scepter, he stooped his body as though he were not able to bear its weight. If the prince came to visit him when he was ill, he had himself placed with his head to the east, and lay dressed in his court clothes with his girdle across them. When the prince sent him a present of cooked meat, he carefully adjusted his mat and just tasted the dishes; if the meat were uncooked, he offered it to the spirits of his ancestors, and any animal which was thus sent him he kept alive.
At the village festivals he never preceded, but always followed after the elders. To all about him he assumed an appearance of simplicity and sincerity. To the court officials of the lower grade he spoke freely, and to superior officers his manner was bland but precise. Even at the wild gatherings which accompanied the annual ceremony of driving away pestilential influences, he paid honor to the original meaning of the rite, by standing in court robes on the eastern steps of his house, and received the riotous exorcists as though they were favored guests. When sent for by the prince to assist in receiving a royal visitor, his countenance appeared to change. He inclined himself to the officers among whom he stood, and when sent to meet the visitor at the gate, “he hastened forward with his arms spread out like the wings of a bird.” Recognizing in the wind and the storm the voice of Heaven, he changed countenance at the sound of a sudden clap of thunder or a violent gust of wind.