Chapter 2

Good Government, Filial Piety, and The Superior Man

Confucius

Let a ruler base his government upon virtuous principles, and he will be like the pole-star, which remains steadfast in its place, while all the host of stars turn towards it.

The ‘Book of Odes’ has 300 pieces.

But one expression in it can cover the purport of all, namely unswerving mindfulness. The people will become evasive and devoid of any sense of shame if they are governed simply by statute, pains and penalties. They will develop a sense of shame and know their errors if they are governed by principles of virtue and the Rules of Propriety.

Confucius
  • When I reached 15, I became bent on study.
  • At 30, I was a Confuciusirmed student.
  • At 40, nothing could move me from my course.
  • At 50, I comprehended the will and decrees of Heaven.
  • At 60, my ears were attuned to them.
  • At 70, I could follow my heart’s desires, without overstepping the lines of rectitude.

Filial Piety

Mang-i What does filial piety consist in?
Confucius

Filial piety is in not being perverse.

We should always follow the Rules of Propriety with regard to our parents:

  • in ministering to them while living,
  • in burying them when dead, and
  • in offering sacrificial gifts to them.

Parents should bear only one trouble: their own sickness. The filial piety of the present day simply means the being able to support one’s parents.

This extends even to the case of dogs and horses. All of these can support them.

Mang-i If there is no reverential feeling, what is there to distinguish between the cases?
Confucius It is the difficulty.
Mang-i Does filial piety mean that young people should just do whatever is told of them? Or that, in the matter of meat and drink, they simply set these before their elders?
Confucius I talked to Hwi all day. He has controverted nothing that I have said, as if he were without wits. But when his back was turned, and I looked attentively at his conduct and found it satisfactory in all its issues.
Mang-i No, indeed! Hwi is not without his wits.
Confucius

If you observe the motives of people and note what gives them satisfaction, then they will not be able to hide their character from you.

Be versed in ancient lore, and familiarize yourself with the modern; then may you become teachers. The great man is not a mere receptacle.

Confucius replied to Tsz-Kung about respecting the great man:

Confucius What he first says, as a result of his experience, he afterwards follows up. “The great man is catholic-minded, and not one-sided. The common man is the reverse. “Learning, without thought, is a snare; thought, without learning, is a danger. “Where the mind is set much upon heterodox principles there truly and indeed is harm.”

Tsz-Lu What is knowledge?
Confucius Shall I give you a lesson about knowledge? When you know a thing, maintain that you know it. When you do not, acknowledge your ignorance. This is characteristic of knowledge.

Tsz-Chang I am studying official incomes
Confucius You will make few mistakes if you speak guardedly and stay away from doubtful things. Avoid risky courses, and carefully follow the others. You will be seldom mistaken in your utterances. This will aid you on the high road to your preferment.

Duke-Ngai What should be done to render the people submissive to authority?
Confucius Promote the straightforward, and reject those whose courses are crooked, and the thing will be effected. Promote the crooked and reject the straightforward, and the effect will be the reverse."

Ki-Kang How can the people be induced to show respect, loyalty, and willingness to be led?
Confucius

Their leader should have a grave dignity. He should be seen to be good to his own parents and kind. This will make them loyal to him.

He should promote those who have ability and see to the instruction of those who have none. This will make them willing to be led.

Someone Why are you not an administrator of government?
Confucius

The ‘Book of the Annals’ says about filial duty:

‘Make it a point to be dutiful to your parents and amicable with your brethren. These same duties extend to an administrator.’

Therefore I am an administrator in my own way.

People whose word has no reliability are good for nothing How should your carriages, large or little, get along without your whipple-trees or swing-trees?


Tsz-Chang Is it possible to forecast the state of the country 10 generations from now?
Confucius

The Yin dynasty adopted the rules and manners of the Hu line of kings. It is possible to tell whether it retrograded or advanced.

The Chow line has followed the Yin and adopted its ways. Whether there has been deterioration or improvement may also be determined.

Some other line may take up in turn those of Chow. If this process goes on for 100 generations, then the result may be known.


Confucius

It is but flattery to make sacrificial offerings to departed spirits not belonging to one’s own family.

It is moral cowardice to leave undone what one perceives to be right to do.

[Footnote 2= Of Lu (Confucius’s native State).]

[Footnote 3= Head of one of the “Three Families” of Lu.]

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