Liezi’s Stories about Confucius
In the book Liezi , Zixia asked Confucius, “What do you think of Yan Hui?” Confucius replied, “He’s so benevolent that I cannot possibly compare to him.” “How about Zigong?” “He’s eloquent, how could I compare to him?” “How about Zilu?” “He’s brave, I could never be so.” “How about Zizhang?” “He’s seriousminded, I could never approach his level.”
Zixia then asked, “If you can’t compare to them in these aspects, why do they learn from you?” Confucius replied, “Yan Hui knows only benevolence, but not adaptability; Zigong is versed in debate, yet he knows only speaking, but not modesty or reticence; Zilu only knows ‘ bravery’ but not ‘ timidity’; Zizhang is serious, but knows not when he should be affable or accommodating.”
Liezi had not fabricated all these stories. Confucius did say, “Moderation in all things.” Zhuangzi also advocated being “centered,” thereby maintaining perfect distance from the two extremes and thus remaining invincible. The BookofChanges stressed the harmony between Yin and Yang, which is the essence of what is called the Tao (a Chinese Doctrine). What Laozi talked about was that “Existence was born of nothingness; difficult and simple complement each other; long and short define each other; high and low depend upon one another; voice and sound are in perfect harmony; and before and after follow each other.”
China is ancient and vast, so her parlance is far from simple. On the one hand, according to the traditional Chinese culture, when the emperor decreed a minister to die, the latter had no option but to die; yet he could only thank the emperor before his death. On the other hand, there is also a saying that goes, “A fine bird selects its roost to perch on, just as a wise minister chooses the right master to serve under.” The culture requires the minister to be fully loyal to the emperor, whereas when the emperor is not benevolent, it, on the contrary, requires the minister to risk being sliced to pieces and dare unsaddle the emperor. The culture advocates that one should sacrifice his/her life for the sake of virtue or for a just cause; yet it also allows one to pay attention to his/her own moral uplift without thought of others in times of hardship and when illegitimate government prevails in the state, one could shut up and feign ignorance.
The above Chinese sayings are quite unique and thought provoking. It is a well- rounded mindset that is not about petty titfor-tats, but focuses on the bigger picture. This mindset doesn’t need to be any certain way, and it is wide-open for adaptation.
( From Dushu , May 2018. Translation: Qing Run)