“If any one among the princes would employ me,” said he, “I would effect something considerable in the course of twelve months, and in three years the government would be perfected.”
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
But though thus disappointed of the hopes he entertained of the duke of Loo, Confucius was by no means disposed to resign his role as the reformer of the age. “If any one among the princes would employ me,” said he, “I would effect something considerable in the course of twelve months, and in three years the government would be perfected.” But the tendencies of the times were unfavorable to the Sage. The struggle for supremacy which had been going on for centuries between the princes of the various states was then at its height, and though there might be a question whether it would finally result in the victory of Tsin, or of Ts’oo, or of Ts’in, there could be no doubt that the scepter had already passed from the hands of the ruler of Chow. To men therefore who were fighting over the possessions of a state which had ceased to live, the idea of employing a minister whose principal object would have been to breathe life into the dead bones of Chow, was ridiculous. This soon became apparent to his disciples, who being even more concerned than their master at his loss of office, and not taking so exalted a view as he did of what he considered to be a heaven-sent mission, were inclined to urge him to make concessions in harmony with the times. “Your principles,” said Tsze-kung to him, “are excellent, but they are unacceptable in the empire, would it not be well therefore to bate them a little?” “A good husbandman,” replied the Sage, “can sow, but he cannot secure a harvest. An artisan may excel in handicraft, but he cannot provide a market for his goods. And in the same way a superior man can cultivate his principles, but he cannot make them acceptable.”
But Confucius was at least determined that no efforts on his part should be wanting to discover the opening for which he longed, and on leaving Loo he betook himself to the state of Wei. On arriving at the capital, the reigning duke received him with distinction, but showed no desire to employ him. Probably expecting, however, to gain some advantage from the counsels of the Sage in the art of governing, he determined to attach him to his court by the grant of an annual stipend of sixty thousand measures of grain–that having been the value of the post he had just resigned in Loo. Had the experiences of his public life come up to the sanguine hopes he had entertained at its beginning, Confucius would probably have declined this offer as he did that of the Duke of T’se some years before, but poverty unconsciously impelled him to act up to the advice of Tsze-kung and to bate his principles of conduct somewhat. His stay, however, in Wei was of short duration. The officials at the court, jealous probably of the influence they feared he might gain over the duke, intrigued against him, and Confucius thought it best to bow before the coming storm. After living on the duke’s hospitality for ten months, he left the capital, intending to visit the state of Ch’in.
It chanced, however, that the way thither led him through the town of Kwang, which had suffered much from the filibustering expeditions of a notorious disturber of the public peace, named Yang-Hoo. To this man of ill-fame Confucius bore a striking resemblance, so much so that the townspeople, fancying that they now had their old enemy in their power, surrounded the house in which he lodged for five days, intending to attack him. The situation was certainly disquieting, and the disciples were much alarmed. But Confucius’s belief in the heaven-sent nature of his mission raised him above fear. “After the death of King Wan,” said he, “was not the cause of truth lodged in me? If Heaven had wished to let this sacred cause perish, I should not have been put into such a relation to it. Heaven will not let the cause of truth perish, and what therefore can the people of Kwang do to me?” Saying which he tuned his lyre, and sang probably some of those songs from his recently compiled Book of Odes which breathed the wisdom of the ancient emperors.
From some unexplained cause, but more probably from the people of Kwang discovering their mistake than from any effect produced by Confucius’ ditties, the attacking force suddenly withdrew, leaving the Sage free to go wherever he listed. This misadventure was sufficient to deter him from wandering farther a-field, and, after a short stay at Poo, he returned to Wei. Again the duke welcomed him to the capital, though it does not appear that he renewed his stipend, and even his consort Nan-tsze forgot for a while her intrigues and debaucheries at the news of his arrival. With a complimentary message she begged an interview with the Sage, which he at first refused; but on her urging her request, he was fain obliged to yield the point. On being introduced into her presence, he found her concealed behind a screen, in strict accordance with the prescribed etiquette, and after the usual formalities they entered freely into conversation.
Tsze-loo was much disturbed at this want of discretion, as he considered it, on the part of Confucius, and the vehemence of his master’s answer showed that there was a doubt in his own mind whether he had not overstepped the limits of sage-like propriety. “Wherein I have done improperly,” said he, “may Heaven reject me! May Heaven reject me!” This incident did not, however, prevent him from maintaining friendly relations with the court, and it was not until the duke by a public act showed his inability to understand the dignity of the role which Confucius desired to assume, that he lost all hope of finding employment in the state of his former patron. On this occasion the duke drove through the streets of his capital seated in a carriage with Nan-tsze, and desired Confucius to follow in a carriage behind. As the procession passed through the market-place, the people perceiving more clearly than the duke the incongruity of the proceeding, laughed and jeered at the idea of making virtue follow in the wake of lust. This completed the shame which Confucius felt at being in so false a position.