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Analects | Book 13 | Summary



Most of Book 13 relates to government—how to govern correctly and the effects of a virtuous government. Numerous chapters expand on the idea that a leader or ruler should promote good people and set a good example to inspire the people to be good, which should include them being reverent and obedient to their superiors. When Duke Ding (Ting) asks in Chapter 15 for sayings to make a state succeed or fail, the Master offers a saying for success—that a prince should understand ruling is difficult—and one for failure: that a ruler should love having no opposition to his words. In Chapter 17 he advises leaders to take their time and accomplish tasks thoroughly.

The Master makes an unusual statement in Chapter 10, saying if he were employed he could make things "acceptable" within a year and "after three years there would be results." This is the most directly he ever states his own ambition of working in government to create a virtuous state. This seems a slight shift in character from earlier sections, which show serving in government as the general goal of a gentleman and only hint at the Master's desire to do so. However, it could also be taken more generally as part of a section about humane rule producing an ideal country, in which Chapter 11 says it would eventually eliminate even cruelty and killing.

Chapter 18 emphasizes the importance of filial piety. Although the Master repeatedly instructs that the humane gentleman is morally upright and does the right thing, filial piety is the one virtue that overrides that principle. Instead, he expects fathers and sons to cover up even one another's crimes, saying in Chapter 18 "uprightness is to be found in this." This conflicts with Western ideas of morality, but it is a reflection of the central value of honoring the family in Chinese culture.


Chapter 3 contains the clearest expression in The Analects of the Confucian philosophy of the rectification, or correction, of names. The term was developed to include different things by later Chinese thinkers, and there is a possibility even this reference was added to the collection after the Master's death. However, as attributed to him here, it says calling things by their proper names is necessary to the proper functioning of society. Inexact naming undermines words and deeds, which undermines ritual and music (an aspect of culture), which in turn undermines punishment. This last connection seems strange, but Confucian philosophy holds that ritual and music provide checks on a gentleman's behavior like punishment limits the behavior of the common people. Thus naming things incorrectly undermines all of society. The ideal gentlemen, as a leader of other gentlemen and the people, should try to always speak as accurately as possible to ensure correct action.

The Master also speaks in Book 13 of a person's character being rectified. If a person's character is correct, then people will follow without being ordered; if it is not, readers learn in Chapter 6, people will not follow despite orders. Correct character is also important for participating in government—if people cannot rectify their own characters, they cannot rectify others' characters. The use of the word rectify to refer to acting correctly is distinct from other books, but the message is consistent with other chapters connecting the gentleman, humaneness, and effectiveness to doing what is right.

Finally, Book 13 clarifies some of the goals of a virtuous government. A superior ruler attracts people to come and live in his state, an important purpose of a ruler, by setting an example of ritual, rightness, and good faith. Once people have been attracted, they should continue to be developed by enriching and then instructing them. The Master's advice to the duke of She in Chapter 16 echoes this.

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