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Analects | Book 5 | Summary



The pieces in Book 5 are mostly the Master's reactions to individuals and specific situations, only some of which impart larger lessons. The first two chapters record the Master's approval of two men by marrying them to his close female relatives. More about these men may be recorded elsewhere, but lacking that, little of the philosophy can be gleaned from such passages. However, broader messages appear in other assessments of public figures. In Chapter 16 the Master praises the statesman Zichan (Tsze-ch'an) for being a gentleman in four specific ways and calls another "cultured" because he was "fond of learning" and asked questions of "those beneath him."

Other passages about people provide insights about followers of the Master. Both the Master's and Zigong's praise for Hui's superior understanding in Chapter 9 show why he was the Master's favorite. And the Master's description of Zigong as a sacrificial tool made of precious stone in Chapter 4 reveals a lot. Remembering that Confucian philosophy values general traits over specific skills, the comparison of Zigong to an object with a specific purpose means he has not attained this important attribute of a gentleman. The Master's assessment also fits with Zigong's life—he became a successful merchant, which required specific skills and a focus on profit. However, the Master wants Zigong to know that, if he is a tool, he's a very precious one made of jewels (or jade, in some translations).

Chapter 12 features the first expression of what's sometimes called the Silver Rule (the negative of the Golden Rule)—if you don't want others to do something to you, you should "avoid inflicting it on others." Although the Master says Zigong hasn't achieved this ideal yet, it is an important principle that appears more than once in The Analects.


In Chapters 8 and 19 followers more than once ask the Master about the humaneness of other people. He generally assesses them in some way, sometimes more positively than others, but says he cannot speak to their humaneness. Humaneness is not only difficult to achieve but also difficult to determine from someone's outward actions. This makes sense because the essence of humaneness comes from inside—virtuous action is rooted in virtuous thought. Virtuous action undertaken for the wrong reason, such as to appear good, is not truly humane.

It is important to read the Master's words carefully, in this and other books of The Analects. Statements that initially sound complimentary can end up being criticisms. For example, Zilu (Tsze-lu, also called You or Yu) is thrilled when the Master calls him the follower most likely to sail away with him on a raft; however, the Master responds in Chapter 9 that this type of courage is pointless. This story also shows a more humorous side of the Master since the threat to sail away if his philosophy is not followed is clearly facetious.

The Master shown in earlier books of The Analects offers the deepest and most internal applications of his principles. When he asks Zilu and Hui to share their aspirations in Chapter 26, Zilu's response is fairly superficial—he wants to share his possessions with friends without resenting them. Hui's hope, to refrain from boasting about his "excellence," goes deeper but is still flawed. The Master's aspiration is broader and deeper, focusing on his reactions to young and old, friends and strangers. Each answer represents a different place in the path to humaneness. The Master's is the most advanced, but he does not criticize his students; he simply offers his deeper example when asked.

A number of legendary and historical figures serve as examples throughout The Analects. Referenced in Chapter 23, the brothers Bo Yi ('Po-i) and Shu Qi (Shu-ch'i) were legendary hero princes from the end of the Yin dynasty (not one of those who fled to the mountains to prevent one of them becoming ruler over the other). They later starved themselves rather than live under the regime that conquered the Yin dynasty. In this chapter the Master also holds them up as examples of the principle that letting go of your own resentments avoids resentment toward you.

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