The Analects of Confucius

The Analects of Confucius Summary and Analysis of Books XVIII, XIX, and XX


Book XVIII deals largely with the concept of seclusion. Many of the passages deal with individuals distancing themselves from amoral actions or behavior. The book opens with Confucius speaking about Chou, the last sovereign of the Yin Dynasty, and how he forced the lord of Wei to flee and the lord of Chi to be enslaved, and killed Pi Kan. He adds that the Yin Dynasty would have benefited greatly from these three men. In Chapter 3, Duke Ching of Ch'i tells Confucius that he is old and has no use for him. Upon hearing this, Confucius departs from Ch'i. Chapter 4 revisits the story of Confucius's decision to leave Lu. After hearing that court was not held in Lu for three days because a group of female musicians were sent there from Ch'i, Confucius decided to leave Lu to seek more moral leaders in other lands.

Chapter 5 finds Confucius speaking to Chieh Yu, the madman of Ch'u. Chieh Yu sings a song that attracts Confucius's attention. He sings, "Oh phoenix, phoenix/How dwindled is your power!/As to the past, reproof is idle/But the future may yet be remedied./Desist Desist!/Great in these days is the peril of those who fill office." Upon hearing this Confucius attempts to speak to Chieh Yu, but the madman quickens his step and disappears.

Chapter 6 details an encounter between Tzu-lu and two plough-shares, Ch'ang-chu and Chieh-ni, where it was best to ford a river. They ask who he is and for whom he drives his carriage. He answers that he drives for K'ung Chiu of Lu, Confucius. They dismissively tell him that, as a sage, he should know where to ford the river. Chieh-ni tells Tzu-lu that he is better off following one who distances himself from a whole generation of men than following one who runs away from one man to another. Tzu-lu reports this to Confucius who tells him that he cannot consort with birds and beasts. He asks rhetorically that if he is not to be among other men, then with whom can he spend his time? He laments that if the Way prevailed under Heaven, he would not have to try to change the world.

Book XIX features sayings by his disciples and does not feature Confucius himself. A number of different disciples are quoted in it, though Tzu-chang and Tzu-hsia factor most heavily. Some chapters in this book demonstrate disagreement or debate over certain philosophical questions. Chapter 3 finds Tzu-chang questioned by disciples of Tzu-hsia. When Tzu-chang asks what it is that Tzu-hsia teaches them, they tell him that Tzu-hsia says to "go with those who are proper" and to keep others "at a distance." Tzu-chang responds that he was taught otherwise and that a gentleman "finds room for all."

Much of Book XIX revisits sayings and material we have encountered before and the book ends with an exchange between Tzu-kung and Shun-sun Wu-shu. Shun-sun Wu-shu mentions to some high officers that Tzu-kung is a better man than Confucius was. Upon hearing this Tzu-kung makes an analogy using the wall around a building as his metaphor. He says that the wall around his building is not very tall, short enough for a man to see over and into the house inside. Confucius's house, instead, would have been surrounded by a very high wall and very few would have had a chance to get a glimpse of the inside. For this reason, Tzu-kung says, Shun-sun Wu-shu's comment can be forgiven.

He continues to say that any attempt to disparage Confucius is pointless. He is beyond reproach. "Chung-ni (Confucius) is the sun and moon that cannot be climbed over. If a man should try to cut himself off from them, what harm would it do to the sun and moon? It would only show that he did not know his own measure." Tzu-ch'in tells Tzu-kung that he is simply being modest and that Tzu-kung was every bit Confucius's superior. Again, Tzu-kung disagrees, warning Tzu-ch'in to choose his words carefully so as not to seem a fool. "A gentleman, though for a single word he may be set down as wise, for a single word is set down a fool. It would be as hard to equal our Master as to climb up on a ladder to the sky."

Book XX, the final book in the work, is extremely brief. Although the chapters are lengthier than in other books, they are not numerous, and generally revisit sayings and ideas already covered in past books. Chapter 1 deals with the succession of power among kings as it is according to Heaven. This chapter also praises King Wu for his decisions to rule according to the Way.

Chapter 2 finds Tzu-chang asking Confucius about what a man must do to govern the land. Confucius tells Tzu-chang that he must pay attention to the Five Lovely Things and keep the Four Ugly Things at a distance. Confucius explains that the Five Lovely Things are to be bounteous without extravagance, to get work out of people without arousing resentment, to have longings but never be covetous, to be proud but not insolent, and to inspire awe but to never be mean. The Four Ugly Things are explained to be putting men to death without teaching them what is right, expecting the completion of tasks without due warning, to be slow to act in giving orders but to expect punctuality, to hold a grudge against a man after giving him something.

Book XX ends in Chapter 3 with a short passage about the gentleman. Confucius states that one who does not understand Heaven cannot be a gentleman. One who does not know rites cannot partake in public occasions, and one who does not understand the meaning behind words cannot understand people.


In Book XVIII we can see some elements of disappointment and rejection in Confucius's experiences. He seems to find it increasingly hard to find anyone in power who accepts his ideology and who he feels is morally upright. In addition, Confucius appears to have garnered a reputation as one who changes his allegiances often, according to the exchange in Chapter 6. Confucius's attempts to serve politically are hampered by these limitations, so much so that he admits to a diminished view of the world in Chapter 6. He describes a world that is not in step with the Tao.

The madman's song in Chapter 5 describes a phoenix, itself a symbol of rebirth, that finds itself in a time when it can do nothing to remedy the situation at hand. We can infer that Confucius is the phoenix in this parable. He appears to be aware of this as well. He seeks to speak with the madman, only to have the madman quickly disappear. Chieh Yu, the madman, sings specifically of those who try to fill office and how their position is one of peril. It is possible that Confucius saw this as a warning and wished to learn more but was not given the opportunity.

Earlier chapters in Book XVIII also find Confucius being rejected. In Chapter 3 Duke Ching of Ch'i tells Confucius that he is too old and that he has no use for him. This series of stories may have been added for dramatic effect and not necessarily based on actual events. Regardless, historical records do seem to account for the difficulties Confucius had in spreading his ideas. The formalization of these ideas into the ideology of Confucianism did not take place until after his death.

Book XIX differs slightly from the rest of the final books in the work. It contains a collection of sayings as recollected by Confucius's disciples. Chapter 3 points to some disagreement over Confucius's teachings as discussed by disciples Tzu-hsia and Tzu-chang. Some scholars see this as evidence of a fracturing of Confucian teachings and of divides emerging between disciples, eventually leading to different branches of Confucian thought. Chapter 12 is even more indicative of such disagreements. Tzu-yu makes belittling comments about Tzu-hsia's disciples, stating that they are good at handling small affairs but are quite at a loss for anything important. Tzu-hsia, upon hearing this, quotes Confucius directly to argue that disciples have to be treated separately according to their kinds. In this way, Tzu-hsia makes allowances for disagreements between Confucius's disciples regarding how best to transmit their Master's teachings. He admits that disciples under different teachers will yield differing results. He sees no point in trying to determine which of these students is the best.

Shun-sun Wu-shu's comments to Tzu-kung about Confucius suggest a further fracturing in that Tzu-kung is encouraged to move forward on his own instead of in the shadow of Confucius. Regardless, Tzu-kung defends the memory of his teacher. At first, he attempts to dismiss Shun-sun Wu-shu's comments as simply ill-informed, but later states that Confucius represented an impossible standard, one which no one else could hope to reach. When Tzu-Ch'in accuses Tzu-kung of simply being too modest to admit that he is superior to Confucius, Tzu-kung continues to deny such a possibility, ending with another testament to Confucius's greatness. For these reasons, some scholars believe Book XIX may have at one point been the last in The Analects series. It presents the various opinions of the disciples but ends with a stirring reminder of Confucius's greatness as if to remind readers that such a figure is irreplaceable.

Book XX is an unusual addition to the rest of the work and is generally believed to have been added as something of a late appendix of miscellaneous material. It is the shortest book in the work and one of the most atypical. Chapter 1 starts with a short discussion about the importance of succession under Heaven. While this topic does carry a mystical element, some scholars see a more concrete interpretation in the text. The calendar is placed at the center of the succession of rule, suggesting something akin to term limits in modern political positions. Such an arrangement could have been made "under Heaven" to ensure a healthier distribution of power. What many scholars interpret to be a vow is found in this chapter, presumably to be taken by any ruler accepting the responsibility of the position. A "scapegoat formula" is seen here and in many other aspects of Chinese literature. The ruler taking the vow promises to never let any harm brought upon him be transmitted to the lands he oversees. Likewise any harm brought to the lands is to be visited upon the ruler.

King Wu is held up as a shining example of the right type of ruler. The paragraph in Chapter 1 describing him lists many positive attributes to him, claiming that he cared most "that the people should have food, and that the rites of mourning and sacrifice should be fulfilled." A short paragraph following this description summarizes the intention of the chapter. It reminds the reader that he who keeps his word will win the trust of the people and he who is just will be the joy of the people. This chapter captures much of the political ideology presented in the work and frames it under the banner of Heaven.

The discussion of the Five Lovely Things and the Four Ugly Things in Chapter 2 summarizes the attributes of the gentleman succinctly. Chapter 3 also serves this purpose. Confucius goes into brief detail about each of the attributes he mentioned in the two lists of Lovely and Ugly Things. Again, this passage and the preceding chapter seem to have been selected for their summary-like qualities. Because of the brevity of Book XX, most scholars feel it was added much later. The lists of Lovely and Ugly things themselves are suspect. Most scholars do not believe they could be attributed directly to Confucius but were likely created to summarize his core ideas.