But even Confucius found it impossible to carry all his theories into practice, and his experience as Minister of Crime taught him that something more than mere example was necessary to lead the people into the paths of virtue.
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
The principles which underlie all these details relieve them from the sense of affected formality which they would otherwise suggest. Like the sages of old, Confucius had an overweening faith in the effect of example. “What do you say,” asked the chief of the Ke clan on one occasion, “to killing the unprincipled for the good of the principled?” “Sir,” replied Confucius, “in carrying on your government why should you employ capital punishment at all? Let your evinced desires be for what is good and the people will be good.” And then quoting the words of King Ching, he added, “The relation between superiors and inferiors is like that between the wind and the grass. The grass must bend when the wind blows across it.” Thus in every act of his life, whether at home or abroad, whether at table or in bed, whether at study or in moments of relaxation, he did all with the avowed object of being seen of men and of influencing them by his conduct. And to a certain extent he gained his end. He succeeded in demolishing a number of fortified cities which had formed the hotbeds of sedition and tumult; and thus added greatly to the power of the reigning duke. He inspired the men with a spirit of loyalty and good faith, and taught the women to be chaste and docile. On the report of the tranquillity prevailing in Loo, strangers flocked into the state, and thus was fulfilled the old criterion of good government which was afterward repeated by Confucius, “the people were happy, and strangers were attracted from afar.”
But even Confucius found it impossible to carry all his theories into practice, and his experience as Minister of Crime taught him that something more than mere example was necessary to lead the people into the paths of virtue. Before he had been many months in office, he signed the death-warrant of a well-known citizen named Shaou for disturbing the public peace. This departure from the principle he had so lately laid down astonished his followers, and Tsze-kung–the Simon Peter as he has been called among his disciples–took him to task for executing so notable a man. But Confucius held to it that the step was necessary. “There are five great evils in the world,” said he: “a man with a rebellious heart who becomes dangerous; a man who joins to vicious deeds a fierce temper; a man whose words are knowingly false; a man who treasures in his memory noxious deeds and disseminates them; a man who follows evil and fertilizes it. All these evil qualities were combined in Shaou. His house was a rendezvous for the disaffected; his words were specious enough to dazzle any one; and his opposition was violent enough to overthrow any independent man.”
But notwithstanding such departures from the lines he had laid down for himself, the people gloried in his rule and sang at their work songs in which he was described as their savior from oppression and wrong.
Confucius was an enthusiast, and his want of success in his attempt completely to reform the age in which he lived never seemed to suggest a doubt to his mind of the complete wisdom of his creed. According to his theory, his official administration should have effected the reform not only of his sovereign and the people, but of those of the neighboring states. But what was the practical result? The contentment which reigned among the people of Loo, instead of instigating the duke of T’se to institute a similar system, only served to rouse his jealousy. “With Confucius at the head of its government,” said he, “Loo will become supreme among the states, and T’se, which is nearest to it, will be swallowed up. Let us propitiate it by a surrender of territory.” But a more provident statesman suggested that they should first try to bring about the disgrace of the Sage.
With this object he sent eighty beautiful girls, well skilled in the arts of music and dancing, and a hundred and twenty of the finest horses which could be procured, as a present to the duke King. The result fully realized the anticipation of the minister. The girls were taken into the duke’s harem, the horses were removed to the ducal stables, and Confucius was left to meditate on the folly of men who preferred listening to the songs of the maidens of T’se to the wisdom of Yaou and Shun. Day after day passed and the duke showed no signs of returning to his proper mind. The affairs of state were neglected, and for three days the duke refused to receive his ministers in audience.
“Master,” said Tsze-loo, “it is time you went.” But Confucius, who had more at stake than his disciple, was disinclined to give up the experiment on which his heart was set. Besides, the time was approaching when the great sacrifice to Heaven at the solstice, about which he had had so many conversations with the duke, should be offered up, and he hoped that the recollection of his weighty words would recall the duke to a sense of his duties. But his gay rivals in the affections of the duke still held their sway, and the recurrence of the great festival failed to awaken his conscience even for the moment. Reluctantly therefore Confucius resigned his post and left the capital.