Book XVI is quite different in style from previous books. As opposed to the short statements or sayings offered before, Book XVI introduces a more narrative approach. Many scholars regard the remaining books to have been added at a later date and others regard them as less authoritative than the earlier books. Book XVI also features several numbered lists, usually detailing three things that are good and three that are not. This book also focuses on political affairs involving the Chi family. Confucius castigates two disciples for their failed services to the Chi family in the opening chapter.
The Head of the Chi family has decided to attack the small independent state of Chuan Yu, within the borders of Lu. When told of this, Confucius holds Jan Ch'iu, an advisor to the Chi family, responsible. He asks how such an attack could be justified. Jan Ch'iu tells him that it is his advisor who has decided to take this action. Neither he nor the other advisor, Tzu-lu, feels it is right. Confucius regards this as a poor excuse. As counsellors, he says, they have a duty to make sure that the right actions are always taken by their employer, even if that employer disagrees. If they simply let him take such action, they are of no use to anyone. The two counselors inform Confucius that the Chi family feels it advantageous to attack Chuan Yu now, as it will certainly become a problem for the family eventually. Confucius argues that the Chi family could achieve their goals without violence, relying on superior virtue and te to attract the people to their way of life. He infers that this grab for power signals great problems within the Chi family rather than a threat from the outside.
The next two chapters touch on political matters as well, though in a more general way. You will notice that the Chapters now begin "Confucius said" or "Master Kung said", instead of "The Master said" as we have seen prior. For this reason it is suspected that the remainder of this book was added from another book entirely. Chapter 2 espouses the importance of the Way in relation to maintaining the health and longevity of a kingdom. As expected, Confucius states that the ultimate rule of a successful kingdom originates in Heaven. Chapter 3 also focuses on the topic of power, specifically retaining power. Confucius sees a correlation between the loss of power of the descendants of the three families (Chi, Shu, and Meng) and the power now retained by ministers. This echoes the first few paragraphs of the first chapter. Tzu-lu and Jan Ch'iu were advisors under Chi K'ang-tzu. Their poor advice may have helped doom the Chi family. We can infer that Heaven cannot rule over a land when the wrong kind of people are in power.
The rest of Book XVI features numbered lists generally detailing qualities that are good and qualities that are bad in various relationships. Most of these are self-explanatory in nature and others merely curious. Some scholars believe that Chapter 7, for example, was likely written well after Confucius's time as it contains statements on anachronistic physiological changes.
Chapters 13 and 14 continue in the disjointed manner of Book XVI in that they bear no seeming connection to the other chapters. In Chapter 13 Tzu-ch'in questions Po Yu, Confucius's son, asking him if he has heard anything different from the other disciples. Tzu-ch'in assumes some secret information or insight must have been passed to his son. Po Yu tells him that he has not been offered any additional education or insight by his father. He tells Tzu-ch'in of two instances in which Confucius told him to study ritual and the Book of Songs. Tzu-ch'in is pleased, believing he asked for insight into one thing and came away with knowledge of three: the importance of the Book of Songs, ritual, and that a gentleman maintains a distance from his son.
Book XVII likewise lacks a central theme and is largely a collection of disjointed sayings and stories. It begins with a story that moves Confucius to seek political office. After receiving a suckling pig as a gift from Yang Huo, Confucius seeks to avoid an audience with this man. Instead, he travels to his home at a time when he believes Yang Huo will not be there to thank him for the gift. Regardless, he runs into Yang Huo on the way. Yang Huo poses a question to Confucius, asking if one who has such talents as Confucius does, but does not serve his country, can be called a good man. He reminds Confucius that time is passing quickly. Confucius responds that he will serve.
In Chapter 5 he rushes to meet with Kung-shan Fu-jao, who led a revolt against the Chi family. In Chapter 7 Confucius is summoned by Pi Hsi, a Chin officer, who was holding a town in Wei in revolt as well. In both cases Confucius's decision to meet these men is questioned by disciples who argue using their teacher's own sayings and ideology. In total, these chapters, along with Chapter 1, suggest a period of great political turmoil where the normal rules of engagement had been abandoned or changed significantly. Confucius appears to dispense with many of his previous ideals, perhaps out of desperation, but also upon the realization that his opportunities to affect change are quickly passing him by. In Chapter 5 Confucius hopes for a "Chou in the east", ostensibly a second Golden Age. Both Chapters seem to emphasize the importance of timeliness, an ideal that some scholars recognize in The Analects. This doctrine is frequently juxtaposed with the topic of political change and upheaval in these Chapters. Timeliness also seems to be tied directly to the issue of mortality. His poetic phrase in Chapter 7, comparing himself to a dried out bitter gourd that is suitable to hang but not to eat, appears to support this notion. In this context, it is easier to understand Confucius's willingness to compromise some of his beliefs to seek out support from individuals he would otherwise not consort with.
Much of the rest of Book XVII contains short anecdotes and sayings, reflecting on familiar themes such as ritual or the nature of the gentleman. Confucius's relationship with the disciple Tsai Yu has already been shown to be rocky. In Chapter 21 he once again discusses his disappointment in this disciple when Tsai Yu questions why the cultural standard mourning period should be three years instead of one. Confucius asks if he would feel comfortable "eating good rice and wearing silk brocades" after one year, essentially questioning Tsai Yu's character and the amount of goodness in him. In this Chapter we are also given an explanation for why the three years of mourning are standard. Confucius states that a child does not leaves its parents' arms until three years have passed. This indicates a cultural custom in Confucius's time that he believes is a universal measure.
Chapter 25 has frequently attracted the attention of scholars for Confucius's characterization of women. Here, Confucius captures the concerns of the elite male class who fear that any kindness showed to women or "people of low birth" (sometimes this is translated as "small men") would allow them to forget their place.
The opening chapter of Book XVI illustrates the dangers of political peril when power is entrusted to immoral rulers. Although Confucius decides that the blame lies in poor advisors, his point is that the fate of an entire ruling family is jeopardized when immoral or unwise action is taken, regardless of who is blamed. Both advisors attempt to rationalize their own involvement in a disastrous decision. By stating that their employer has made such a decision they attempt to wash their hands of the affair, but also reveal how poorly they have handled themselves as advisors. As advisors it is their job to attempt to prevent any such potential threat to the kingdom. Instead, they come to Confucius looking for guidance when it is already too late. The Chou Jen that Confucius mentions is believed to have been an ancient sage or historian, though there is no evidence to confirm his identity.
At the end of Book XVI, it is revealed that Confucius kept an emotional distance from his son. This distance appears to be cultural in nature. It is discussed in Mencius that a gentleman should not teach his own son. Likewise, a son could not act as the vessel or medium into which his father's spirit could pass. In Mencius (Book IV, Part A) it was stated that if a man were to teach his own son it would create a rift between them and sabotage their relationship. This was seen as a terrible tragedy. Mencius also states that people are often too eager to take on the role of teacher.
A few chapters in Book XVII find Confucius discussing the need to serve and going to meet other individuals with this as his stated goal. However, there is no indication that any political service actually took place. Here, we can see that there is a direct contrast between Confucius's own ideals and his desire (or guilt) to serve. He seeks to find a way to be politically active and relevant, yet is unwilling to work with anyone he finds unsavory. This places him in a difficult position, as he is unwilling to compromise.
Chapters 5-7 in Book XVII emphasize the importance of timeliness, an ideal that some scholars recognize in The Analects. This doctrine is frequently juxtaposed with the topic of political change and upheaval in these chapters. Timeliness also seems to be tied directly to the issue of mortality. Confucius's poetic phrase in Chapter 7, comparing himself to a dried out bitter gourd that is suitable to hang but not to eat, appears to support this notion. In this context, it is easier to understand Confucius's willingness to compromise some of his beliefs to seek out support from individuals he would otherwise not consort with.
Chapter 25 is an atypical passage and it is unclear if it was a late addition to the text or Confucius's own words. Some translations present the phrase "women" and "people of low birth" as "maids and valets", though there is disagreement over the translation among scholars and some feel this terminology is used to intentionally soften the language in the original. If so it is clear that the passage did little to challenge the social conventions of the time.