The Analects Of Confucius

K'ung-fu-tzu ("Master Kung," now known as Confucius) was a Chinese philosopher and teacher in the 6th century BC. His disciples collected his teachings, their conversations with him, and the teachings of some of his followers in The Analects.

One of the fundamental tenets of Confucian philosophy is loyalty. Specifically, Confucius returns repeatedly to the importance of "filial devotion" and "dutiful conduct." These teachings may well be why the Chinese government eventually embraced Confucianism so enthusiastically. But Confucius did not preach blind loyalty. The Analects is replete with instances where he speaks critically, even disdainfully, of particular rulers and government officials. He even tells admiringly of a son who chose not to follow in the path of his immoral father--although the main point (and the source of Confucius' admiration) is that the son kept silent about his reason for his behavior so as not to speak ill of his father. The balance is essential: "The wise man is intelligently, not blindly, loyal."

In addition to loyalty, Confucian teaching centers on humility. He urges what when someone is wrong, "let him not hesitate to amend." He also teaches, "When you know a thing to recognize that you know it; and when you do not, to know that you do not know,--that is knowledge." In a similar vein, he approvingly describes a man who "was not ashamed to seek knowledge from his inferiors."

This emphasis on humility leads Confucius to shun external rewards. He says, "One should not be concerned at lack of position, but should be concerned about what will fit him to occupy it." The true master, he says, leads by example. And in The Analects, his disciples describe the example he set: "affable yet dignified, commanding yet not overbearing, courteous yet easy."