The Analects of Confucius

The Analects of Confucius Summary and Analysis of Books IV and V


Book IV concerns itself largely with the qualities of jen and what can and cannot be considered jen. Thus it also deals with the characteristics of a gentleman. Confucius lays out specific examples of what a gentleman should and should not do. This is a brief book when compared with some of the others in the text. It also touches briefly on matters of filial piety, specifically relating to periods of mourning when one's parents have passed and how long a son should continue in the path of his father after his father's death.

Book V continues the discussion of jen by directly examining the disciples themselves as well as historical figures. Confucius evaluates their strengths and weaknesses as part of a larger discourse on virtue and goodness by drawing upon these figures as examples.

In Book IV, Chapters 3 and 4 are usually lumped together because of their seemingly contradictory nature. Confucius states that a good man knows both how to like someone and how to hate them. In Chapter 4 he is then quoted as saying that a good man will, in fact, dislike no one. This seeming discrepancy illustrates the editorial issues inherent in the text as a whole. In later books in particular, you will see that translation proves quite difficult and varies greatly in its interpretation at times. In this particular case, Chapter 4 can also be translated as "Only a good man is safe to like and safe to dislike....for if you like him, he will not take undue advantage of it; and if you dislike him, he will not resent it." This provides a more constructive picture when coupled with the first verse in Chapter 3.

Book IV also speaks of te, or moral force. In Chapter 11, for example, Confucius states that the gentleman sets his heart upon moral force. Altogether, Books IV and V are fairly straightforward when compared with other books in the text. Book V concerns itself chiefly with the disciples themselves.

Chapter 4 of Book V is sometimes thought to resonate with the phrase "A gentleman is not a vessel" from Book II. Here Confucius refers to Tzu-kung as a "vessel", indicating one who is not yet a gentleman. Such a person perhaps possesses certain qualities but is not yet sufficiently versed in the Way to be called a true gentleman. However, Confucius tempers this statement by telling Tzu-kung that he is a vessel of the highest quality, one made of jade, or an ancestral sacrificial vessel. This suggests that Confucius has confidence in Tzu-kung's abilities.

Chapter 6 finds Confucius complaining that the Way makes no progress in these times. He says he will set out to sea on a raft. Chapter 9 revisits the theme of disappointment in disciples. Confucius complains of Tsai Yu, with whom it is apparent he has lost patience. He decides there is little use in scolding Tsai Yu, who sleeps during the day. Confucius uses the harsh metaphor of "rotten wood" that "cannot be carved, nor a wall of dried dung be troweled." Confucius admits that in dealing with Tsai Yu, his methods of evaluating others have changed. He now listens not only to what they say or promise, but also observes what they do. Tsai Yu is the only disciple in the text that is never presented in a positive light, and many scholars feel that this was Confucius's way of expressing his regret in taking on such a disciple.

Chapter 17 is an unusual passage. Confucius describes someone named Tsang Wen Chung, a minister of Lu, who adorned his halls with a duckweed pattern and kept a tortoise from Ts'ai there as well. Such decorations were reserved for the Chou king and not permitted for ministers. Confucius treats it as a great offense, even though it doesn't seem so.


In other books in the text Confucius makes comparisons between the gentleman and what he calls "the small man". This distinction will prove of some importance, particularly when considering the historical context in which these words were presumably uttered. You will see some commentary on government, a topic that is expanded upon later in the text.

It is important to understand that te was seen in direct opposition to physical force or compulsion. In some translations, physical force is translated as li, the same term applied to ritual. This only confuses the matter further, but the underlying point is that the gentleman never resorts to threats or physical force to gain anything. He relies solely on a superior moral principal, and leads others by his example.

Several scholars have seen Chapter 6 of Book V as a wish by Confucius to settle amongst more tribal civilizations. Arthur Waley, for example, writes that early Chinese literature often idealized the "noble savage". In addition, Waley points to the maxim "When the Emperor no longer functions, learning must be sought among the Four Barbarians." The Four Barbarians in question represent the four cardinal directions of North, South, East, and West.

The last line of this chapter usually reads as, "It seems as though I should never get hold of the right sort of people," though several scholars have noted that it literally translates as "get hold of the right sort of material" or "lumber". Some see this as a pun. "Lumber" is sometimes used as a pun for the word "talent", which would mean that Confucius did not have a great opinion of Tzu-lu, whose personal name, Yu, is used in this passage.

Even though the offense in Chapter 17 does not seem bad, Confucius places great weight on matters concerning what was deemed appropriate or proper. The concept of li, sometimes translated as "ritual" but also as "propriety", is a central one in The Analects. Confucius's objection to the practice has less to do with the decorating choices made and more to do with the presumptive nature of Tsang Wen Chung's actions. Being presumptuous is often cited as a great offense in the text.