Throughout his life, Confucius endured the hardships of travel with the hope of redeeming the social ills of his time so that peace might prevail in the country. He was an outstanding sage of all time, whether in China or abroad. His family name was Kong and we commonly address him by the respectful title of ‘zi’. The name ‘Kongzi’ is an abbreviation for ‘Kong Lao Fuzi’ or ‘Elder Master Kong’. Confucius’ personal name was Qiu [‘hill’, because he was born after his parents had prayed on Mount Ni] and he was styled Zhongni (second), a form of alias, because he was the second son in the family. His father’s name was Shuliang He and he had an elder brother called Mengpi who was a cripple. As Confucius was born of a concubine, some people referred to him as Second Brother Kong.
Confucius was a native of the State of Lu, which was one of the fiefdoms governed by various feudal lords appointed by the King of the Zhou Dynasty. A feudal lord is similar to today’s provincial governor. At that time, each province was called a state, such as the State of Lu and the State of Qi. Confucius was born in the State of Lu, which was located in Qufu County in present-day Shandong Province. The birth of Elder Master Kong was associated with certain auspicious signs. After he was born, a
qilin [unicorn-like creature] came and spit out a jade book from its mouth, symbolizing auspiciousness. Thereupon, his mother tied a red floss thread around the
qilin’s neck. Furthermore, nine dragons spouted water to bathe him. In this respect, he was exceptional from the moment he was born.
Confucius could truly be considered to be fond of studying for he would not hesitate to learn from those of lower status. He looked upon everyone as his teacher and learned from them. This was in accordance with the saying:
“Everyone is my teacher; I am a teacher to everyone. I often teach myself; I am my own constant teacher.” He was extremely studious for there was never a time when he was not eager to learn any subject or unwilling to listen to any principle. Ordinary people like us would only listen when the topic is agreeable to us, otherwise we would turn a deaf ear. In contrast, Confucius learnt from everyone regardless of whether the words spoken were agreeable to him or not, and thereafter, he would impart his knowledge to others. How did he carry out his teaching? He was tireless in this respect. The character ‘hui’ means ‘to teach’ and the characters ‘bu juan’ mean ‘without tiring’. Whether his students were intelligent or dull, he would patiently guide and instruct them without any distinction.
Confucius was once the Minister of Justice and Acting Chief Minister in the State of Lu. Although he held the post for only a brief period of three months, the State of Lu achieved excellent governance to the point that
“people did not pick up lost articles on the streets, and the doors of houses were not locked at night”. What was the reason for this? It was because the people were not greedy. Furthermore,
“weapons were put back in the arsenal and war-horses were sent to graze on the hillsides.” This was truly a peaceful scene.
During the three months that he served as Minister of Justice in the State of Lu, Confucius invigorated the state affairs and applied humaneness in its government. This caused the neighboring State of Qi to become wary for they reasoned: “Since Confucius took office as Minister of Justice, the State of Lu has been administered so well. We ought to quickly think of a plan to disrupt its government, otherwise it would surely seize our state if it were to grow any stronger.” Therefore, the State of Qi devised a plan to disrupt the administration of the State of Lu. And what was the plan? It was to train a troupe of dancing girls. Although these maidens did not go to the extent of performing striptease acts, they were all very pretty and coquettish, could sing very well and were very bewitching. The intention was to offer them as a gift to the Duke of Lu so that he would neglect the affairs of state once he set sight on these maidens, thereby resulting in the decline of Lu. As the saying goes:
“The envoy of Qi brought a gift of dancing girls. Ji Huanzi accepted it.” There was a senior official in the State of Lu by the name of Ji Huanzi who accepted the dancing girls and presented them to the Duke. When once the maidens were in his possession, the Duke of Lu was so smitten by them that he forgot everything else, even to the extent of
“failing to hold court and attend to state affairs for three days in succession”. All day long, he immersed himself in wine and song, enjoying the performances of the dancing girls. Faced with this situation, Confucius resigned from his post and embarked on a journey to visit the various states throughout the Zhou kingdom.
What was Confucius’ aim in traveling from one state to another? It was solely to fulfill his aspiration in finding an avenue to apply his ideas on saving the world. Within a period of three months, he had brought peace and order to the State of Lu. If given time, he would definitely be able to bring everlasting peace to the world. That was why he journeyed to all the various states and sought audiences with the dukes so that he could have an opportunity to fulfill his aspiration. However, at that time, all the dukes whom he met did not possess such lofty ideas and were rather mediocre in their outlook. Lacking foresight, none of them engaged his services. What was the reason for this? It was because they feared that by engaging him, they would forfeit the enjoyment of life and could not indulge in their selfishness. Since time immemorial, human beings are mostly selfish. If you tell them not to be selfish, they will find it unbearable. As a result, Confucius did not fulfill his aspiration despite having endured the hardships of traveling throughout this life. Realizing that he could not make any further progress in the other states, he finally returned to the State of Lu.
Upon returning to his native state, Confucius formed a learning center at the Apricot Pavilion to teach and transform the common people. He advocated universal education whereby everyone, rich or poor, had a chance to study and learn. The disciples whom he taught by this method numbered over three thousand. There were seventy-two disciples who were well versed in all the Six Arts: rites, music, archery, chariot driving, writing and mathematics. Among them, the most outstanding student was Yan Hui.
Regardless of what Confucius expounded, Yan Hui understood him tacitly. Hence, the Master said,
“I may spend a whole day talking to Hui but he does not disagree with whatever I say. It is as if he is a fool.” This means that when Confucius talked to Yan Hui, the latter did not respond at all. Without any indication of whether he understood the Master’s words or not, he was akin to a stupid person. However,
“an observation of his personal life after he departed revealed his qualities in full. Hui is not foolish at all!” Confucius waited until Yan Hui had left for home and then proceeded to check whether he applied the principles in his private life. It was discovered that Yan Hui lived his life according to the Master’s teachings. Indeed, there were many areas in which he excelled, attesting to the fact that he was not a foolish person after all. Confucius expressed such words of praise for Yan Hui.
To be continued