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Analects | Book 9 | Summary



Book 9 starts with the statement that the Master never spoke of, among other things, humaneness. This seems contradictory since The Analects contains many of the Master's quotations about humaneness. Perhaps it means he only answered questions about the topic when asked and didn't make unsolicited statements about it. Regardless, it is not the only contradictory statement in the collection, and it certainly doesn't invalidate the value of the Master's ideas about humaneness and other topics.

A number of chapters focus in on the idea that the gentleman should be a generalist instead of focusing on particular skills. When a villager criticizes the Master for not having a reputation for anything in particular, he jokes in Chapter 2 about taking up driving chariots to make the point. Another time, a high officer asks about the Master's abilities. The Master says in Chapter 6 he gained many abilities when he was young and poor, but the gentleman doesn't have many abilities. In Chapter 7 he says he has accomplishments only because he has not yet served in office.

The Master also makes a significant point about ritual in Chapter 3. He says he doesn't object to changing the material of a ritual cap from linen to silk (silk apparently being cheaper at that time). However, he doesn't approve of the new practice of waiting to bow to the ruler until after climbing the platform on which he sits. He will continue to bow before ascending to the dais even if no one else does. This chapter shows rituals can be changed, but changes should not alter the substance or essence of the ritual. Presumably he objects to bowing after ascending to the ruler's level because it is less respectful than bowing below the ruler.

Chapter 11 is Hui's classic and poetic expression of admiration for the Master. His teaching is elusive, perhaps even unreachable: "The more I look up to it, the higher it is" and "I see it ahead of me and suddenly it is behind." But it is so engaging that "he lures people on step by step," and Hui would be not able to give it up even if he wanted to. It is a lovely tribute, as well as a great way to describe what it feels like to try to grasp the lessons of Confucianism. The Master also praises Hui in a number of chapters. In Chapter 21, he describes a plant that flowers but does not produce fruit, which seems to be a lament for Hui's death and the "fruit" he might have produced had he lived.


Book 9 includes an interesting mix of views of the Master. Some chapters present him as equal in status to legendary figures held to be ideal. In an incident in the town of Kuang (Kwang), the Master was attacked by townspeople in a case of mistaken identity. In the story he proclaims culture did not die with King Wen (wen literally meaning "culture"), suggesting he also embodies culture, like the idealized king. He continues in Chapter 5, "if Heaven is not yet putting an end to culture," the townspeople will not kill him. In another quote he seems to claim an indispensable role in editing two sections of the Book of Songs that could not be "rectified" until he returned to Lu.

Other chapters present the picture of the Master more common in the first half of The Analects: the humble teacher who argues against his greatness. He is depicted in Chapter 8 as saying he doesn't really possess understanding, he just "[hammers] at both sides of the question and [goes] into it thoroughly," and in Chapter 9 he denies the status of "sage" by saying the traditional signs of a sage—a phoenix and a chart or map—have not appeared to him. When in Chapter 12 Zilu makes students act as the Master's official underlings while he is ill, an honor due only to someone with an official position, the Master says Heaven isn't fooled, and he would rather die among friends.

This Master demands responsibility and the constant internalization of learning. Using the analogy of making a mound with baskets of dirt, he encourages students in Chapter 19 to own both their shortcomings no matter how small and their most minor accomplishments. In any time there is value to recognizing and accepting your own strengths and weaknesses. He also meaningfully warns in Chapter 24 that agreeing with truths means nothing if you don't use them for self-improvement.

For the most part the Western image of Confucius as a font of enigmatic fortune-cookie pronouncements is a misconception. However, the occasional chapter, such as the metaphor of winter revealing the strength of pines and cypresses in Chapter 28, demonstrates where it could have originated.

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