Zilu, Zengxi, Ran Qiu, and Zihua were seated in attendance. The Master said to them, “Because I am older than any of you, no one is willing to employ me. Yet you, too, often complain, ‘No one appreciates me.’ Well, if someone were to appreciate you, what would you do?”
Zilu spoke up immediately. “If I were given charge of a state of a thousand chariots—even one hemmed in between powerful states, suffering from armed invasions and afflicted by famine—before three years were up I could infuse its people with courage and a sense of what is right.”
The Master smiled at him.
He then turned to Ran Qiu. “You, Ran Qiu!” he said, “What would you do?”
Ran Qiu answered, “If I were given charge of a state sixty or seventy—or even fifty or sixty—square li in area, before three years were up I could see that the people would have all that they needed. As for instructing its people in ritual practice and music, this is a task that would have to await the arrival of a gentleman.”
The Master then turned to Zihua. “You, Zihua! What would you do?”
Zihua answered, “I am not saying that I would actually be able to do it, but my wish, at least, would be to learn it. I would like to serve as a minor functionary—properly clad in ceremonial cap and gown—in ceremonies at the ancestral temple, or at diplomatic gatherings.”
The Master then turned to Zengxi. “You, Zengxi! What would you do?”
Zengxi stopped strumming his zither, and as the last notes faded away he set the instrument aside and rose to his feet. “I would choose to do something quite different from any of the other three.”
“What harm is there in that?” the Master said. “We are all just talking about our aspirations.”
Zengxi then said, “In the third month of Spring, once the Spring garments have been completed, I should like to assemble a company of five or six young men and six or seven boys to go bathe in the Yi River and enjoy the breeze upon the Rain Dance Altar, and then return singing to the Master’s house.”
The Master sighed deeply, saying, “I am with Zengxi!”
The other three disciples left, but Master Zeng stayed behind. He asked, “What did you think of what the other disciples said?”
“Each of them was simply talking about their aspirations.”
“Then why, Master, did you smile at Zilu?”
“One governs a state by means of ritual. His words failed to express the proper sense of deference, and that is why I smiled at him.”
“Was Ran Qiu, then, not concerned with statecraft?”
“Since when did something sixty or seventy—even fifty or sixty—square li in area not constitute a state?”
“Was Zihua, then, not concerned with statecraft?”
“If ancestral temples and diplomatic gatherings are not the business of the feudal lords, what then are they? If Zihua’s aspiration is a minor one, then what would be considered a major one?”Confucius, & Slingerland, E. (2003). Analects: With selections from traditional commentaries. Hackett Publishing.
Zilu, Zeng Xi, Ran You, and Gongxi Hua were seated with the Master. He said, I’m a few days older than you, but forget that for the moment. You are always complaining that no one understands you. If someone truly understood you, how would you proceed?
Zilu quickly spoke up in answer: Suppose there is a state of a thousand chariots, hemmed in by larger states. In addition, it’s at war and thus there’s a famine. If I were in charge, in three years’ time I could teach the people courage and make them understand how to go about things.
The Master laughed at this and then asked Ran You how he would proceed.
He replied, An area sixty or seventy square li, or just fifty or sixty li—if I were in charge, in three years’ time I could make sure that the people had enough of what they needed. As for rites and music, I’d have to wait for the help of a gentleman.
And Chi (Gongxi Zihua), how about you?
I’m not saying that I could do it, he replied, but I’d like to study the procedure. In the ancestral temple, or when there is a diplomatic meeting or gathering of the rulers, I’d like to put on a ceremonial robe and cap and assist in a small way.
What about you, Dian (Zeng Xi)?
Dian ceased strumming on the large zither and, as the last notes died away, set the instrument aside and stood up. My tastes are different from those of these three men, he replied.
What harm in that? said the Master. Each person has simply to speak of his desires.
In the late spring, said Zeng Xi, when work on the spring clothes is finished, I’d like to go with five or six older fellows who have been capped and six or seven young boys to bathe in the Yi River, take the air among the altars where they pray for rain, and come home singing.
The Master gave a deep sigh and exclaimed, I’m with Dian!
When the others had left, Zeng Xi lagged behind. Master, he said, what did you think of what those three said?
The Master said, Each was just speaking of his desires, that’s all.
Why did you laugh at Zilu’s words?
The Master said, A state is governed through ritual, and his words lacked modesty. That’s why I laughed. And as for what Ran You said, he too was talking about governing a domain, wasn’t he? How can an area of sixty or seventy square li, or just fifty or sixty li, be seen as anything but a domain? And Gongxi Hua—he, too, was talking about governing a domain, wasn’t he? Ceremonies in an ancestral temple or diplomatic meetings—these are carried out by feudal rulers, are they not? If Gongxi Hua is merely to “assist in a small way,” I don’t know who that leaves to do the big assisting.Confucius, & Watson, B. (2007). The Analects of Confucius. Columbia University Press.