The Analects of Confucius

The Analects of Confucius Summary and Analysis of Books VIII and IX


Book VIII differs from some of the other books in that its content is a bit more miscellaneous. The passages touch on topics of ritual and propriety with regard to the characteristics of the gentleman. It seems to form a core text, largely culled from sayings by Master Tseng, a figure who likely became a leader in the Confucian community in Lu after Confucius's death. Some scholars see a relationship between this book and Book XVII, suggesting a common origin. Book IX is seen by some scholars as a variant of Book VII, perhaps put together by another school or sect of Confucian followers. Its content is much like that of Book VIII in that it covers a variety of topics common in Confucian thought.

Book VIII contains a number of passages of note. Chapter 2 contains two verses, the latter of which deals with the characteristics of a gentleman but here likely is meant to convey the characteristics of a ruler. Again, the gentleman as ruler is presented as a model to be emulated, revisiting the theme of ruling by example and moral force (te), instead of by physical force. If the subjects of a ruler see that the ruler, for example, practices filial piety, they too will be inclined to do the same. In fact, Confucius believes this will prevent them from "being fickle".

Chapter 4 is a quote from Master Tseng. Chapter 7 sees the use of the "knight" in another of Master Tseng's passages. The knight in question does not specifically mean the medieval warrior we are familiar with. The term shih, meaning scholar, is used by Confucius to describe those who are knights or defenders of the Way. However, Master Tseng compares the scholar to the knight and highlights their similarities in this passage. Both undertake great burdens and must have strong resolve. For the scholar, goodness is this burden and the scholar's journey only ends with death, just as we might expect one to discuss the notion of a warrior knight.

Chapter 21 finds Confucius returning to the topic of the Divine Sage. Here, he describes Yu the Great, a figure from Chinese legend generally associated with a flood myth. Yu drained the land and tilled the fields, establishing agriculture. Confucius finds him to be flawless, living a humble life but still revering the sanctity of rituals. Yu is believed to have been celebrated as the ideal ruler by the Mohists, early adversaries of the Confucian school. Mohists valued selfless sacrifice as an ideal and viewed ritual as a somewhat extravagant and Confucian ideal. In this passage, Confucius seems to adopt Yu, praising these qualities. Thus some scholars feel this passage may have been added at a later date.

Book IX continues in much the same fashion as Book VIII, without a central theme or idea. There is a mix of statements concerning the character of Confucius as well as observations on goodness and ritual propriety. Chapter 2 finds a villager lamenting that Confucius, though being a great man, does nothing to further his reputation. Confucius's response is a bit unusual and has been interpreted in various ways by scholars. Confucius asks his disciples if he should take up charioteering or archery. He states he will take up charioteering. One of the characteristics of a gentleman is to not be known as a specialist in any line of work.

Chapter 5 states that Confucius was trapped or in danger in the state of K'uang. Some historical context is helpful here. K'uang was a border town that was held by various different parties at different times. Scholars believe that Confucius was mistaken for an adventurer or outlaw named Yang Huo, possibly because Confucius was driven by charioteer who had previously driven Yang Huo. Yang Huo is believed to have caused a disturbance in K'uang and thus Confucius faced detainment or maltreatment while there. While commenting on this matter, Confucius mentions King Wen of Chou, the founder of the Chou dynasty, who was imprisoned by King Chou of the Shang dynasty over fears of his growing power. Confucius argues that King Wen's imprisonment did not lead to the destruction of culture, since Heaven had decided that his culture should exist. Confucius directly ties himself to King Wen in this fashion to argue that he will survive this maltreatment and has nothing to fear because if Heaven did not have any desire to destroy King Wen's culture, it has no intention to destroy Confucius's way either. In this manner Confucius also ties himself to the Duke of Chou, who was King Wen's son. Consider also that some were concerned that Confucius may have been gathering too much power and support of his own. His comparison of himself to King Wen also signals his awareness of how a strong following could come to work against him.

Chapter 11 introduces another question that Confucius faced: whether or not to serve in a political position. In this passage, Tzu-kung uses an analogy to ask Confucius this very question. Tzu-kung asks if a precious jewel is best stored away where no one will see it or sold for the best possible price. Confucius enthusiastically answers that it should be sold, adding that he is himself waiting for an offer. While this may seem to fall into conflict with other Confucian ideals, it is important to consider that Confucius would also have found it advantageous to put the Tao into practice using political leverage. As unseemly as politics might appear for Confucius, there would have been a practical goal in being able to influence those in power in the hopes of spreading goodness.

Chapter 23 speaks to the importance of taking action in the name of goodness or the Tao. Confucius criticizes those who approve of an ideology or are stirred by its teachings, but do not apply them to their lives. For such individuals, he claims, nothing can be done. This topic is revisited in Chapter 28 when Confucius lists the characteristics of the gentleman. Goodness, wisdom, and courage are presented as the three methods of the true gentleman. Some scholars see this order as having some significance. Essentially, good would rank above wisdom and courage would be the least important of the three. Goodness, once again, is presented as the key characteristic, a foundation for other positive attributes to flow. However, this foundation is paramount. The assimilation of other positive characteristics would be of no use without goodness.

In the final chapter of this book, Confucius relays a brief poem. He comments on this poem, saying "He did not really love her. Had he done so, he would not have worried about the distance." Scholars have had varied interpretations of this particular stanza and Confucius's commentary on it. Some see it as being included simply because it is something Confucius may have said at some point. Others see it as a comment on the nature of goodness. Goodness is not a distant goal, but something that is simply not loved by some men. That is why they do not achieve it. If they really cared enough for it, no distance or time would divide them from it.


Ritual, or li, is cited as a key ingredient in the maintenance of a moderate approach to all things. Li is seen as a moderating force of its own, particularly when Book VIII, Chapter 2 is compared to another in Book XVII. In that book, Chapter 8 quotes Master Tseng as ascribing many of the same characteristics to the love of learning. What emerges from these passages is an underlying structure that forces the gentleman to always be questioning his own actions and beliefs to ensure that he is always in compliance with goodness. The second part of this passage speaks of the gentleman's conduct in dealing with his own kin, specifically the elderly.

We can see from Book VIII, Chapter 4 in particular that Master Tseng's school of Confucian thought stressed the principles of inner sincerity over those of ritual. This is of particular interest when considering how much of The Analects is devoted specifically to the understanding and accordance of ritual. However, Master Tseng seems to make a distinction between matters of personal etiquette and matters of actual rituals. He states that a gentleman should never employ arrogance or incite violence, must express good faith, and must be true to propriety in every word. The matter of ritual vessels, he says, is the business of the others. Accountability seems to be the best word to describe Master Tseng's message in Book VIII, Chapter 4.

Although Book VIII, Chapter 7 is not attributed to Confucius himself, we can see an attitude in Confucian ideology that was peaceful in practice but martial in spirit. The path of the gentleman was not an easy one and much of the text implies that true gentlemen were few and far between, particularly as rulers. Confucius found that he had less and less influence amongst men of power in his time. Thus Master Tseng's passage is both celebratory and cautionary.

Confucius's response to the villager in Book XI, Chapter 2 can be seen as sarcastic. If this interpretation is accepted, Confucius is commenting on the villager's ignorance of the character of a gentleman. However, another interpretation is that Confucius is sarcastically asking his disciples what he should be known for. In jest, he answers that charioteering is a profession he could be known for. This interpretation suggests that Confucius had no desire "to be known" or to seek any kind of fame. This would be consistent with Confucian beliefs. Confucius sought to learn and to teach and to transmit what had been taught to him, not to be simply revered as some kind of sage.

Compare Book IX, Chapter 23 with what is said in Chapter 11. When these passages are taken together, it seems that Confucius saw no benefit to simply observing or commenting on the way of the world. The characteristic of courage would seem apt here. Compare this with earlier passages about seeing an opportunity to do good and doing nothing. Confucius saw this as cowardice.