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Analects | Book 11 | Summary



Book 11 reveals a lot about the Master's feelings toward various followers. A number of chapters are devoted to the Master's favorite student, Hui (actually named Yan Yuan or Yen Yuan) and his early death. Although most express admiration, affection, or grief, the Master first chides Hui a little in Chapter 4 for admiring his words too much. In a revealing story the Master holds Hui to be equal to his own son by telling Hui's father (Yan Lu or Yen Lu) they should have the same funeral honors. This shows he not only viewed Hui as a son but also that he had previously lost one of his own sons.

The Master's usual aversion to strong emotion seems to be suspended when Hui dies. He is recorded as crying out to Heaven in Chapter 9 but excuses it in Chapter 10 because it is for the exceptional Hui. Even more out of character, he seems to get angry at his other followers in Chapter 11 for giving Hui an extravagant burial, denying the Master the chance to bury him as a son. Hui is quoted in Chapter 21 saying he is not willing to die if the Master is not dead, a poignant statement loaded with irony (if not made up after the fact) since he did die before the Master.

Many chapters also focus on Zilu (Tsze-lu), further illuminating his life and character. Chapter 23 shows he has progressed in the world, now working as a government official. However, he has perhaps progressed less in Confucian philosophy. The Master seems pleased with his manner in Chapters 13 and 24, likely an aspect of ritual, but he is less complimentary in other respects, calling Zilu in Chapter 22 a minister "appointed to make up the number." When in Chapter 23 Zilu uses the Master's own argument against him in response to a criticism of a political appointment he made, the Master says he hates "those who have persuasive tongues." The Master also seems to foretell Zilu's violent death in a short, enigmatic statement in Chapter 13.


Confucian philosophy is humanistic, meaning it focuses on people rather than spiritual beings such as gods and spirits. This is one of the ways in which the Master's philosophy was revolutionary. Instead of the traditional approach (appealing to nature spirits to improve one's life), he taught people they could improve themselves and society by improving themselves. Chapter 12 contains the Master's best-known humanistic questions in The Analects: "If one is not yet capable of serving men, how can one serve ghosts?" Understanding how to serve people is the important part. If that is understood, serving the spirits will take care of itself. If it is not, serving the spirits is out of reach. The Master concludes, "If one does not yet understand life, how does one understand death?"

It is the purpose of a gentleman to serve in the government of a virtuous state, but a conflict between the ideal and the practice is revealed when the Master's followers begin to achieve powerful positions. Zilu and Ran You (Zan Yu, called a master elsewhere) worked for the Ji family (the real power in Lu) instead of the legitimate ruler, the duke. Although he doesn't criticize the Ji family directly and sometimes even answers questions from them, the Master also often doesn't approve of serving them. In Chapter 23 he calls Zilu's appointment of Zigao (Tsze-kao) to the Ji stronghold of Bi (Pi) "injuring another man's son," and he seems in Chapter 17 to temporarily reject Ran You as a follower for helping the Ji family get rich.

This section also offers an important insight into the Master's teaching style. One of the reasons his messages sometimes seem contradictory is that he tailors each answer to the student who asks it. At one point Zilu and Ran You ask the same question, and the Master answers each quite differently. When they ask about the difference in Chapter 20, he says that one needed to be held back while the other needed to be urged forward.

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