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Analects | Book 16 | Summary



In Book 16 stylistic changes and differences in teaching from previous books start to be seen. These differences tell scholars this and later books were likely written longer after the Master's death. Throughout this section he is mostly called Master Kong rather than the simpler "the Master," suggesting it was written at a time when he needed to be differentiated from other Confucian masters, perhaps by his followers' followers. The chapters also tend to be longer stories rather than short sayings.

The first couple of chapters focus on proper government, often related to the Ji family's control of the Master's state of Lu. In the lengthy first chapter the Master blames Zilu and Ran You (Qui), who now work for the Ji government, for failing to prevent the Ji family from attacking Zhuanyu, which used to be the site of an important sacrifice. As usual the Master prefers attracting people to move to a state rather than conquering them militarily. He continues in the next chapter with his vision of the ideal state in which social order flows from the Son of Heaven, or divinely appointed ruler, who follows The Way. In Chapters 2 and 3 he predicts the eventual decline of the "three Huan" or Three Families because they do not follow The Way.

Many other chapters focus on the conduct of a gentleman, but unlike earlier teachings the focus seems to be mostly on proper action rather than motivations behind the actions. In Chapter 5 the three types of beneficial pleasure focus on following ritual, talking about the good in other people, and having many high-quality friends, and the three harmful pleasures warn against excesses of pride or indulgence. Advice for moderation in sexual conduct is given in Chapter 7, accomplished in different ways at various ages. The three mistakes in dealing with a gentleman, told in Chapter 6, define how others should speak to a gentleman for the first time in The Analects.

The last chapter in Book 16 doesn't fit with the rest of The Analects, instead seeming to be misplaced from a book of etiquette.


Beginning in this book of The Analects, advice organized into numbered sets starts to appear much more frequently. Most in this section are sets or multiples of three—three beneficial friends versus three harmful friends, three mistakes in dealing with a gentleman, nine things a gentleman focuses on, and more. Lists of three or four things do occasionally occur in earlier books but not with such regularity or following such a set structure. This stylized structure also supports a later origin for this section and suggests it may be less authentic to the Master's teaching than earlier parts of the collection.

This seems to be supported by a number of differences from the Master's previous teachings. He is depicted in Chapter 8 as teaching a gentleman to hold three things in awe: the decree, or ordinances, of Heaven (the only time this phrase is used in The Analects); great men; and the words of sages. In earlier books in the collection the Master seemed more likely to question what defines a "great man" and why he should be held in awe, more often focusing on the conduct of the gentleman, an ideal of virtue anyone could reach. He did exhibit reverence for the teachings of specific past sages but didn't usually generalize it to all "sages."

Chapter 9, which states "those who know things from birth" are better than those who "know things from study," also seems to conflict with earlier teachings that hold study up as a necessary part of self-improvement. In particular in Book 7, Chapter 28 the Master called knowledge that is copied or restated, presumably in contrast with knowledge gained through study, an "inferior kind of knowledge." He also tended to speak more of understanding than knowledge in earlier books and usually avoided such simple categorizations as seen throughout Book 16.

A story told by Boyu (Po-yu), the Master's son, may provide some insight into him as a teacher and a father. Boyu says his father gave him no special instruction, only two suggestions: that he study the Book of Songs and study the rites, or ritual. The follower to whom he tells the story in Chapter 13 also says this shows "a gentleman keeps his son at a distance." Boyu is described as hurrying around his father, a sign of the reverence and respect demanded by filial piety. But these expectations could have also created a barrier for the Master's son as a student, preventing him from asking questions, which seemed to be the best way to prompt instruction from his father.

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