Liezi’s Sto­ries about Con­fu­cius


Special Focus - - Contents - Wang Mengi 王蒙

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)

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