Class #9

Confucian Disciples

Reading:  Analects, Books V, VI, VII, XI, XIX; passages 3.22, 14.16-17

Lecture PowerPoint Deck

These books all focus on the character of Confucius and his disciples. Book VII is clearly intended as a portrait of Confucius, conveyed through descriptions of him and selected remarks he made about himself (other types of passages are interspersed, but the thematic interest in Confucius carries through). Why, we may ask, would this be important philosophically? (For those familiar with Western philosophy, would portraits of Aristotle, Kant, or Sartre give us added understanding of their philosophies?)

The other three books focus more on the disciples and Confucius's interaction with them. (A number of passages in which Confucius comments on historical figures and contemporary political actors are also included.) The disciples are a unique literary feature of the Analects--if the text were intended simply to convey doctrine, what need would there be to dwell on them to such a degree? In class, we will explore the significance of their role.

The profusion of names in these chapters is likely to be confusing to many of you. An Appendix to your translation of the Analects provides brief sketches of many of them. Try focusing on the following five disciples--all among Confucius' senior followers--as you read through the text.

1. Zilu (called You [pronounced to rhyme with "Joe"] by Confucius). The eldest disciple, as much a friend as a pupil of Confucius. He was a steward (a high official on a feudal estate) for the powerful Ji family in Lu; later, he lost his life in a coup while serving the ruler of the state of Wei.  [Book V.7-8, 14, 26; Book VI.8, 28; Book VII.10, 18, 34; Book XI.3, 12-13, 15, 18, 22, 24-26.] 

2. Ran Qiu (called Qiu by Confucius -- also referred to as Ran Yǒu -- whenever someone is just called "You," however, that is always Zilu). Also a steward for the Ji family, it was he who arranged Confucius' return to Lu late in life. [Book V.7; Book VI.3, 6, 10; Book VII.11; Book XI.3, 13, 17, 22, 24, 26.]

3. Zai Wo (called Yu by Confucius). The most denigrated disciple in the text. [V.10; VI.26; XI.3.]

4. Yan Yuan (called Hui by Confucius). Confucius' favorite disciple, who lived in poverty and died young. [Book V.9, 26; Book VI.3, 7, 11; Book VII.11; Book XI.3, 4, 7-11, 19, 23.]

5. Zigong (called Si by Confucius). Probably one of those most responsible for spreading Confucius' teaching after the Master's death. [Book V.12-13, 15; Book VI.8, 30; Book VII.15; Book XI.3, 13, 16, 19; Book XIX.22-25.  For Zigong, the following passages are also interesting: IX.6, XV.3, XVII.17]

Two critical passages we will focus on with regard to some of these disciples are 5.8 and 11.26.

Among the junior disciples, three are most important: "Master Zeng," (his name was Zeng Shen; he is called Shen by Confucius), Zixia (Shang), and Zizhang (Shi). Book XIX portrays the interactions among these men and their followers after the death of Confucius.  In the Analects, Master Zeng is treated with particular respect. Much of the text may have been compiled by his followers (Zigong's prominent role suggests that his disciples were also among the main editors). In Book VIII, we encounter passages which record Master Zeng's dying words, uttered many years after Confucius' death (VIII.3-7).

Some of the readings for today also focus on critiques of non-disciples, including famous people of the past.  If time permits, we will explore some of these to consider the link between "social actors in the making" (disciples, studying to make a difference in the future), and the Confucian view of actual influential social actors.  In this regard, perhaps the most interesting figure to focus on is Guan Zhong, a prime minister in the state of Qi during the seventh century BCE.  Passages 3.22, and 14.16-17 relate to him.