The Analects of Confucius

The Analects of Confucius Summary and Analysis of Books X and XI


Book X presents a series of statements that speak directly to issues of propriety involving the gentleman's proper conduct. In many ways it reads like a list of rules specifically stating how a gentleman should handle himself in a variety of situations and settings. There does not appear to be a central tenet or theme, but many of the passages deal directly with the gentleman's conduct at Court or other public settings involving politics or aristocracy. The earlier passages in the text, in particular Chapters 1-8, seem to emphasize conduct in these matters, while the remainder deals with more miscellaneous topics.

Book X focuses on the conduct of a gentleman in ritual matters, specifically stating what a gentleman should and should not do in each situation. Chapter 4, for example, dictates very specific behavior to an almost comical degree. On entering the Palace Gate, the gentleman would "shrink into himself" and his legs would "seem to give way under him" while passing under the gaze of the ruler. All of the instructions in this chapter stress an air of subservience and extreme humility in the face of a ruler and the Palace. This tone continues through Chapter 5, where a gentleman exhibits much the same behavior while carrying a jade tablet, which would have served as a symbol of the ruler's feudal investiture.

Chapters 6 through 8 deal with issues of clothing and dress appropriate to different situations. They are surprisingly specific in detail and we can see that committing even a small mistake could be interpreted as quite a faux pas. Much of the instruction in these chapters refers to etiquette during sacrificial rituals. In Chapter 6, for example, it is stated that a gentleman "does not wear facings of purple or mauve, nor in undress does he use pink or roan." Roan is a term for the color purple, though in this case it refers to the coats of horses and may not be easily translated. The text continues, "with a black robe he wears black lambskin, with a plain one robe, fawn, and with a yellow robe, fox fur." It is easy to see how a mistake could be made in following these stipulations.

Chapters 9 through 18 deal with everyday matters rather than ones encountered in the Court or in sacrificial rituals. Chapter 10 is an exception. In it, the text comments on an expulsion, or exorcism, ritual. It states that during such rituals a gentleman wears his Court clothes and stands on the eastern steps. It is worth noting that some scholars believe an exorcism ritual would have been part of a local, shamanic belief system, and not linked directly with the royal ritual framework of the Chou dynasty. In that case it is surprising that the text has Confucius affording the ritual full ceremonial honors.

The rest of the Book continues in this manner, touching upon various instances of proper etiquette. However, Chapter 18 is of particular note and can be a bit perplexing. The first line, "It rises and goes at the first sign," seems to refer to the gentleman. This is in parallel with the line, "The chun-tzu is like a bird; if he is startled he rises" from the Lu Shih Ch'un Ch'iu and introduces the concept of the gentleman as a bird (the hen-pheasant in the next line).

Book XI focuses on comments made by the disciples themselves, revealing partially their relationships with Confucius. It is obvious that Confucius had strong feelings for some of them. Yen Hui, in particular, is revered in several passages in the book. These passages seem to cover the period of mourning Confucius was in following Yen Hui's untimely demise (Chapters 8 and 9). Book XI reveals disagreements and tension between Confucius and other disciples. Chapter 17, for example, finds Confucius stating that "Ch'ai is stupid, Shen is dull-witted, Shih is too formal; Yu, too free and easy." Likewise, in Chapter 14, Confucius tells the other disciples that Tzu-lu has no place studying the Way under him. He uses Tzu-lu's zithern, a stringed instrument, as a metaphor for Tzu-lu himself.

Chapter 21 sheds some light on how Confucius dealt with his disciples. In this passage the same question is posed by two different disciples, but Confucius gives them each different answers. When a third disciple, Kung-hsi Hua, asks why a discrepancy exists in these answers, Confucius replies that the first disciple was too forward, and so was held back, while the other was just the opposite and had to be pushed forward.

Chapter 22 contradicts other passages in the book. In it, Confucius directly addresses Yen Hui, who we were informed had died earlier. When asked how he could be alive, Yen Hui replies that he could not be dead as long as Confucius was alive. Though seldom interpreted literally, this passage seems to imply that Yen Hui could not be forgotten while the Way existed in the world. The Way, in this case, was represented by Confucius. Some scholars see a direct correlation between this passage and Chapter 12, in which Confucius seems to comment on Tzu-lu's death. Some believe it was a prophetic statement predicting Tzu-lu's death while others believe Tzu-lu had already died at the time. Tzu-lu is believed to have died in Wei during struggles over accession to power. Various interpretations exist. Yen Hui is presented as the model student, while Tzu-lu is shown to be distracted by matters of politics and power.

Chapter 24 also remarks upon Tzu-lu. This time, Confucius reprimands Tzu-lu for helping Kao Ch'ai become Warden of Pi, reminding him that the Duke of Lu was meant to have that position. Tzu-lu quotes a Confucian maxim to defend his action: "Learning consists in other things besides reading books." This retort is bold as it uses Confucius's own words against him. It is no surprise that he answers that it is "remarks of that kind that make me hate glib people." Consider the implications of any teacher seeing students use his lessons to justify actions the teacher does not agree with. While Confucius absolutely disagrees with Tzu-lu's actions, he cannot help but also see that he may have helped this behavior occur by taking Tzu-lu as a student. In this context his reply is not surprising at all.

Chapter 25 is one of the longer passages in the book and differs significantly in style. As opposed to some of the disjointed sayings and statements that comprise much of the text, this passage presents more of a narrative story. It is an illustrative story, meant to convey its meaning by example. Confucius asks several disciples what type of employment they would seek if someone were to recognize their merits. In other words, Confucius is asking each how they view themselves and what they feel they deserve. Tzu-lu asks for a country of a thousand war chariots, surrounded by enemy armies and suffering from drought and famine. In three years, he claims, he will have taught the people to be courageous. Ch'iu asks for a large domain that, under his leadership, would have all its citizens needed in three years time. Kung-hsi Hsua asks to be a junior assistant in an Ancestral Temple. Only Tseng Hsi asks to perform music in the open with a full choir to back him. Confucius agrees only with Tseng Hsi's response. Closer examination of the other three responses demonstrates that the three disciples all ask for kingdoms. Tzu-lu wishes for a country and Ch'iu asks for a "large domain". Kung-hsi Hsua's response seems different but Confucius observes that such ritual responsibilities can only be overseen by a feudal prince. He, too, would be a ruler.


From this point, most of the Books become increasingly incoherent in their content or intention. Many scholars feel they were little more than a collection of sayings, sometimes grouped by topic, but often not.

Book X, Chapters 4 and 5 are a bit unusual as they depict a very different picture of the chun-tzu from the more upstanding, even heroic, one we have seen thus far. Here, the gentleman is suddenly subservient, even put upon, though still characteristically humble. We may even feel somewhat sympathetic toward him. Although many scholars find this Book and subsequent ones in the text to be difficult and less representative of core Confucian doctrine, they do present interesting cultural information about the time and illustrate how ritual expectations and ethical obligations came to be intrinsically related.

The metaphor of the gentleman as a bird is not as bizarre as it might seem: birds and other animals were sometimes seen as omens from Heaven. Offerings were made accordingly. Some scholars believe Chapter 18 was also a means for Confucius to once again comment on the Chi family and their invitation for him to return to Lu. In this case the bird bided its time wisely and when an offer was made sniffed three times, or investigated the offer, before departing.

In Book XI, Chapter 21, Confucius gives two different answers to two different disciples who ask him the same question. This indicates that Confucius considered the disciple individually before an answer was delivered and saw his answers as largely dependent on who was asking or listening. If we extrapolate from this we can infer that each reply Confucius gave was not an empirical answer but one designed to address the student's particular weakness and to make them think. There are a number of passages in the text that touch on this subject, but it is most clearly demonstrated here.

Book XI, Chapter 25 introduces an interesting paradox regarding political power. Confucius spends much of the time documented in the text considering whether or not political service is something he has any interest in. On one hand, it is clear that he has little interest in being directly involved in politics. At other times he argues that the best method to spread the Way would be to rule effectively as a true gentleman. It is of no surprise then that the majority of his disciples see his teachings as a means to justify the pursuit of power. Each of them tempers their wishes with a reminder that their rule would benefit the common people and spread goodness. In this we can see the limitations of Confucius's ideology in political practice. What public servant would declare that they had no interest in serving the public? Upon taking power, the question would be if they could succeed in doing so.