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Analects | Book 12 | Summary



Book 12 addresses ideas of humaneness and the gentleman, as well as some thoughts on government. Many chapters take the form of the Master's answers to questions put to him by his students and others. A wide range of people want to learn his teachings in this section, including well-known followers, lesser-known students, and powerful government figures. Among those who are recorded consulting with the Master or one of his followers is Duke Ai, the legitimate ruler of Lu; Ji Kang Zi (Chi K'ang—the head of the Ji family that actually controlled Lu); and the duke of Qi (Ch'i), another nearby state.

A number of chapters emphasize that the ideals of humaneness and the gentleman must be achieved internally. In Chapter 20 the Master warns not to confuse reputation with success. True humaneness will create success, but reputation is only the "air of humaneness." The person who pursues reputation will achieve it, likely in a bad way. The proper way to achieve humaneness, he says in Chapter 21, is putting your responsibilities before yourself and attacking your own bad qualities instead of others'. In Chapter 22 the Master says humaneness "is to love others," perhaps both the simplest and most profound definition in The Analects. The most authentic of the Master's teachings always contain this theme of focusing on other's concerns before one's own and focusing on one's own faults before others'.

The Confucian principles of virtuous government are closely related. A ruler creates a virtuous government by promoting virtuous civil servants. In Chapter 22 the Master further explains his definition of humaneness as love of others by saying raising the straight above the crooked will inspire the crooked to become straight. Inspiring the people is also vital. In Chapter 7 he says food, weapons, and trust are essential to government, and the weapons and food are less important than trust. In Chapter 19 the Master tells Ji Kang Zi the gentleman is the wind, and the small man bends to his influence like grass.


Book 12 records a number of interactions between the Master and Ji Kang Zi, the effective but illegitimate ruler of Lu during the latter part of the Master's life. Ji Kang Zi's questions show him to be concerned with money and power; in order to advance in The Way he even suggests killing those who don't follow The Way. The Master strongly rejects this thinking, using the metaphor of wind and grass to argue in Chapter 19 he should lead by positive example. The Master also seems careful not to refer to Ji as a ruler, instead speaking of the gentleman and general principles of leadership.

Another form of the Master's sense of humor can be seen in Book 12—he seems to enjoy a good pun. In Chapter 3 he tells a student that "a humane person is hesitant in ... speech." The student's reaction is also a bit humorous. Clearly surprised and puzzled, he asks if that's really all there is to it. The Master replies that being humane is difficult, so it is logical to be hesitant when discussing it. This makes some sense but isn't the deepest statement about humaneness. However, the Master's words, and their preservation, make more sense knowing it's a clever pun: In Chinese humaneness and hesitancy are homophones, or words that sound the same.

In an exchange with Ji Kang Zi in Chapter 17 the Master tells him "to govern means to correct"—if the leader acts correctly, the people will allow themselves to be corrected. This both expresses the principle of the ruler leading by virtuous example and contains a clever pun since govern and correct are homophones and related words in Chinese.

Chapter 12 helps to better illuminate the character of Zilu, showing him as impatient and hasty. The Master says he's the one who's likely to pass judgment in a lawsuit without all the evidence. He also wants to fulfill his promises before sleeping, which probably doesn't give him the time to consider all the results and consequences. It isn't hard to imagine this character trait contributing to a situation that caused the violent death the Master foretold for Zilu.

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