Site Map
Fragments of Confucian Lore
Section › 8   Set    Search  Previous Next


  1. On The Order of Things
  2. On Truth and Sincerity
  3. On Virtue and Moral Courage
  4. On Heaven and the Spiritual
  5. On the Path - p 14
  6. On Knowledge and Learning
  7. On Human Intercourse
  8. On the Art of Governing
  9. On the Superior Man and the Small Man
  10. Confucius, the Man
  11. On Family Relationship
  12. On Propriety, Ceremony and Decorum
  13. On War
  14. On Music
  15. On Youth and Age
  16. On Litigation, Wealth and Rank

Here is the complete Fragments of Confucian Lore: A Selection of Short Quotations with the Original Text, edited by Thomas T. H. Ferguson and translated by James Legge. Shanghai: North-China Daily News & Herald, 1920.


The books from which these quotations have been culled are the Confucian Analects, the Great Learning and the Doctrine of the Mean. In the translation the rendering of Dr. James Legge has been mostly followed, though somewhat freely adapted. The arrangement in chapters [here] has been made without any regard to the order (there being no such order anyhow) in which the subjects are treated of in the original books.

Foochow, August, 1920. [5}

Some words below are updated.


On The Order of Things

Everything under Heaven is subject to the Order of Things.

The Importance of adhering to the Order of Things
Things have their Origin and Development; affairs their Beginning and End. A knowledge of the proper sequel leads to the Path.
No solid Structure possible on decayed Foundations
The Origin being disordered, no good result can spring from it.
Necessity of Preparation
Whatever has been previously arranged will succeed; without preparation failure is bound to follow.
And of Grounding
Confucius said: For the laying on of colours a plain ground is needed.
The Survival of the Fittest
The flourishing tree is nourished and the tottering one overthrown.


The Natural Route
Confucius said: Who can go but by the door? Then why not follow that route?

Force Majeure
When the wind blows, the grass must bend to it.
The Artisan and his Tools
The Artisan who wishes to produce good work will begin by giving attention to his tools.
The Need of Foresight
He who neglects distant precautions will have trouble near at hand.


On Truth and Sincerity

Sincerity the Alpha and Omega
Sincerity is the Beginning and End of things; without it nothing can exist.
Its Seat both in Heaven and in Man
Sincerity belongs to Heaven: its attainment to Man.
Knowledge of Self
Sincerity of mind consists in brooking no self-deception.
And the Remedy
If at fault, do not hesitate to correct yourself.
The Futility of the Mean Person trying to hide his Inner Self
"He is seen through as if lungs and liver were exposed."
Truly Impartial Vision rare
Hence to see the bad points of the beloved ones and the good qualities of those one hates, is a quality rarely met with in this world.


A Warning against superficial Impressions
A ready tongue and prepossessing appearance seldom go with true virtue.
The Futility of Self-Deception
The Book of Poetry hath it: Though a fish may try to hide at the bottom, yet it is clearly visible.
Confucius said: I do not see. how a man without truthfulness is to succeed.

A Damper for the Loquacious
Confucius said: The Ancients were spare in speech lest their actions might not bear out their words.
Beyond Redemption
Rotten wood cannot be carved; a mud wall cannot be plastered.
Where the Name exists without the Reality
Confucius said: A three-cornered vessel without the corners a strange vessel indeed!

Dying Confessions
Tsengtzu said: As a third about to die emits plaintive cries, so does a man at death's door speak nought but the truth.


Adversity the Test of Sincerity
Confucius said: As the weather turns cold we perceive how the pine and cypress are the last to shed their foliage.
Confucius' Aversion of Sophistry
"That is why I hate your glib-tongued people! "
Something in a Name
Confucius said: Above all, let names be made true!
Misleading names lead to insincere language. Insincere language shuts out success.

To the Verbose of all Ages
Let the Language be clear, and nothing more!
Ancient Meanness
Confucius said: Who said that Wei-Sheng Kao was upright? Someone begged him for some vinegar; he begged it off a neighbour and gave it to him.


On Virtue and Moral Courage

The Will as Starting Point
If the Mind be really bent on Virtue, there will be no Wickedness.
Restlessness of the Wicked
Those who are devoid of Virtue cannot abide (contentedly) in poverty nor live in long continued enjoyment.
Even in those Days
Confucius said: I have not yet seen the love of virtue equal the love of the senses.

Virtuous Deliberateness
Confucius said: The Virtuous are extremely cautious in their speech.
Moral Courage
To shirk taking what is clearly the right course is want of courage.
Power of the Will
The General of Three Army Corps may be carried off by force - not so the will of one simple man.


A Clear Conscience
If one can find no faults within oneself, what cause can there be for anxiety or fear?

Honest Effort, the one Thing needful
Only one day of real, honest effort in striving after virtue! I have not yet seen a case in which strength would then prove insufficient.
Confucius said: It is all over!I have not yet met one who, on perceiving his faults, could conduct his own prosecution.


On Heaven and the Spiritual

The Ordinances of Heaven
Confucius said: He who does not recognizes the Ordinances of Heaven cannot become a Superior Man.
A Warning
He who offends against Heaven has no one to whom he can pray.
A wellknown Utterance by Tze Hsia
Life and Death are ordained from Above; Wealth and Position come from Heaven.

When only Man was vile
Great as are Heaven and Earth, man ever finds something to croak about!
Angels or Spirits?
We look for them without seeing, listen without hearing them yet they pervade all things and can never be left behind.


The Hereafter
Not knowing Life, what can we know about Death?
As quoted elsewhere
Confucius avoided speaking on the subject (amongst others) of Spiritual Matters.


On the Path

Humanity the Starting Point
Confucius said: The Path does not lie far from Man. He who seeks to follow a path deviating widely from man's nature is on the wrong track.
The Quotation which immediately precedes the Golden Rule
He who cultivates to the utmost the best side of his nature and exercises it towards others on the principle of Reciprocity, is not far from the Path.
The Difficulty of finding the Happy Mean
Confucius said: I know why the Path is not trodden; the clever ones overstep it and the stupid ones do not reach it.
Both wrong
To overstep it is as bad as not to reach it at all.
A Truism:
Opulence and State are greatly coveted by man.
- and its Qualification
But if they cannot be reached by the Path of Righteousness, they should not be entertained.


The All-pervading Principle of Confucian Teaching
Tsengtzu said: All that the Master teaches is loyalty to one's best principles and their disinterested extension towards others.
Free-and-easy Ways not to be carried too far
Chuugkung said: While strictly adhering to Principle the smaller matters in one's dealing with men may perhaps be neglected; but if such neglect should also be extended to the principle itsejf, I certainly hold that it would be going too far!
The Human Starting Point again
By nature man is not far removed (from the Path). It is in the Practice where he goes astray.
What it is worth
Confucius said: He who beholds the Path in the morning may die in the evening without regret.
Effort and Success
Action is what matters - Success a secondary consideration.


On Knowledge and Learning

Human Intelligence
. . . For the Human Intelligence is inseparable from Knowledge.
Foundation of Knowledge
The extension of knowledge lies in the Investigation of Things.
The Reward of Perseverance
Using his endeavours perseveringly, he suddenly arrives at the stage of clear-sighted perception.
Preference of Knowledge to Fame
Confucius said: I would not be so much distressed at men not knowing me as I would at not knowing men.
Learning and Thinking mutually indispensable
Study without meditation is vain; meditation without study is dangerous.
True Knowledge: the Full Realisation of one's Limitations
To know that which one knows and to recognize as unknown that which one does not know; such is true knowledge!


Absence of Mind
When the mind is absent, we look without seeing, hear without understanding and eat without tasting.
On behalf of some of these Sayings
Let not the Reader despise them for their simplicity.

For it is all solid wisdom!

Secrecy is the most visible of everything and minuteness the most apparent.

The Paucity of Connoisseurs
All men eat and drink, but few can distinguish the real flavour.
Various Roads to Knowledge
Some are born with knowledge, some acquire it by study, some by painful experience; but once acquired it amounts to the same thing.
A modest List of Desiderata
Extensive Study, careful inquiry, discriminating thought, intelligent analysis and earnest action.


Keeping up to Date
He who can keep rubbing up his old knowledge while acquiring new, is fit to be a teacher.
How to utilise the Example of others
Confucius said: When you see a great man, try to equal him; when an unworthy one, turn and examine yourself!
The Proverb of all Nations
Confucius said: The Cautious seldom err.
But don't overdo it
Chi Wen-tzu thought thrice before acting. Confucius on hearing about this said: Twice will do!
How to make Use of one's Companions
Confucius said: Whenever I walk with a few others, I look upon them as my teachers. I select their good qualities for a guide and their bad ones for a warning.
A hopeful Promise
Confucius said: It would be hard indeed to find one who has studied for three years without arriving at some substantial result.


For Students of the Chinese Language?
Confucius said: Learn as if you would never reach it and always fear lest it escape you again.
Few will deny this:
Confucius said: The Knowing ones are free from Doubt, the Virtuous ones from Trouble and the Brave from Fear.
Said of the Disciple Min Tzu-chien
This man never speaks without hitting the mark!
True Worth needs a suitable Setting
Ornament and Substance are mutually indispensable. The skin of a tiger without the hair looks like that of a dog or sheep.
No Royal Road to Learning
The Scholar who thinks of his comfort is not a true scholar.
A Hint to Thinkers
Confucius said: I have tried going without food and sleep for the sake of meditating, but find that even that cannot replace studying.


Knowledge the great Equaliser
Where there is instruction, classes disappear.
This was said 2500 years ago
The Ancients studied for their own improvement; nowadays, however, all study is prompted by a craving for contemporary fame!


On Human Intercourse

The Golden Rule
That which you do not wish to be done to yourself, do not unto others. [Modernised]

Another Variant
Not to bestow to the left what one dislikes receiving from the right, nor to the right what one dislikes from the left - is called Acting by the Golden Rule.
And the Positive Form (the existence of which in Confucianism is usually denied)
Confucius said: To set an example in behaving to a friend as I should wish him to behave to me - to this I have not yet attained.
On the Choice of Friends
Have no friends inferior to yourself in qualities and attainments.
Debit and Credit
Thus curses will return as curses and ill gotten goods will depart in ill manner.


A Warning to Excentrics
To love that which is commonly disliked by men and to dislike that which is generally cherished, is to act in opposition to human nature; calamities are bound to be the result.

Independence of character
In a high position he does not oppress his inferiors, in a lowly one he does not truckle to his superiors; he perfects himself without invoking aid of others and, consequently, has no cause for dissatisfaction.
How to obtain the Information one is seeking
Tze Kung said: The Master is kind, sincere, courteous, modest and accommodating and thus obtains the information he desires. Does he not in this respect differ from others who seek information?
It is no use talking about things which have had their course, analysing past occurrences or finding fault with former doings.
The Influence of Surroundings
Confucius said: Virtue should be prized in one's surroundings. To choose a neighbourhood devoid of virtue, how can that lead to wisdom!


The Unpopularity of the Egotist
Confucius said: He who acts merely for his own benefit will beget much ill-will.

Danger of being too smart
Confucius said: What is the use of being witty? Ready repartee often begets hatred. What is the use of being witty?
Where Familiarity did not breed Contempt
Confucius said: Yen P'ing-Chung excelled in his intercourse with men. However long the acquaintanceship, he never ceased to be courteous.
Secret Resentment
To harbour secret resentment and yet appear friendly wa abhorrent to Tso Ch'iu-ming. So it was to Confucius.
Yet some Polish seems to be needed, for:
Straightforwardness without due observance of forms becomes positive rudeness.

Again the Principle of Reciprocity
To be able to judge others by ourselves may be called the essence of virtue.


Tzu Hsia's Winged Words
ALL WITHIN THE FOUR SEAS ARE BRETHERN; then why should the Superior Man bemourn his lack of brothers?
The Spoken Word Irretrievable
A span of four horses cannot overtake the tongue!
What a Promise meant to one of Confucius' Disciples
Tzu Lu never slept over a promise.
Virtue's Example
Confucius said: Virtue will not remain alone; it is sure to have neighbours.
Charity begins at Home
To attack one's own faults and not those of others - is that not the right way to correct them?
Advice to Reformers
Confucius said: Try to guide to righteousness by honest exhortation. If not successful, stop! Do not make a fool of yourself.
Against Rashness in Speech
The headlong talker will find difficulty in making good his words.


As to Repaying Injury with Kindness:
Confucius said: How are we then to repay kindness? Repay injury with justice - kindness with kindness!
How to become Popular
To be exacting towards oneself and lenient towards others will ward off resentment.

Tact required in Details
Want of Tact in the details will frustrate the largest schemes.
International Conferences?
Confucius said: Where interests differ, it is useless deliberating jointly.


On the Art of Governing

The Pivot of the Universe
He who governs by virtue may be likened to the Polar Star which remains in its place while all the other stars circle around it.
The Fundamental Principle
Where the Rulers observe Propriety, the peoples are easily led.
To show the extreme Antiquity of these Principles:
Even Yao and Shun were solicitous about this!
How Confucius forestalled Adam Smith
Let there be many producers and few consumers; let the former be active and the latter thrifty and there will never be a lack of wealth.
A Lesson to Rulers
Not to be able to bring forward - and quickly - a man found to be superior, is neglectful. Not to be able to remove - and far - a man found to be bad, is weak.


Imperial Prerogatives
(now exploded)

It behoves only the Emperor to arrange ceremonies, to establish measures, to verify literature!

Advice to Autocrats
To advance the Upright and cast out the Unprincipled will secure the submission of the subjects. A reversal of this policy will breed rebellion.
The Kind of Officer Confucius wanted
One who could pause, think and act.
When the Masses were still ignorant
Confucius said: The people may be made to comply but cannot be made to understand.

Ne Sutor Ultra Crepidam [Rendered: "Cobbler, stick to your last," meaning "Do not presume to address matters beyond your competence.]
Confucius said: Those not in office should not meddle with Government.
The Master's terse Definition of Government
Let there be a sufficiency of food, of military power and of confidence among the people.
When asked which of these three might be best missed:
Cut out the military power!


And after that?
Cut out the food - for throughout the Ages men have had to die. Without Confidence, however, no state can exist.
Another Confucian Policy on Government
Do not aim at too speedy accomplishment, nor give too much attention to petty advantages.
The Ideal Delegate
He who can be trusted abroad without disgracing his Prince's mission, may be called a great officer.
What the Ancients thought of it
Confucius said: To be merely thinking of one's salary, whether the government served be good or corrupt, is shameful.
How to commandeer
He only takes when justified by right, hence the people do not resent his taking.

Ancient Opposition Leaders
What kind of men is the present Government composed of? Confucius said: Pooh! A set of nincompoops, not worth their salt! 29]}

On the Superior Man and the Small Man

The Main Distinction
The Superior Man is a Catholic and not a Partisan, the Small Man is a Partisan and not a Catholic.
A Test of Excellence
That in which the Superior Man cannot be excelled is what he accomplished unseen by others.
A Test of Modesty
The Superior Man acts within a sphere of his own which he does not wish to overstep.

A Test of Adaptability
The Superior Man never finds himself in a position in which he feels at a loss.

The Lasting Influence of a Great Mind
Thus the Superior Man in his Movements points the Way, in his Acts sets the Law and in his Words conveys the Lesson for Ages and a Day.


Another Distinction
The actions of a great man, though he may strive to hide them, will daily become moie apparent; the mean man's doings, though he proclaim them loudly, will dwindle in significance as time passes by.
The true Scholar is not a Utensil!
Words and Actions
Tzu Rung asked what constitutes a Superior Man. Confucius answered: He who first acts as he would have spoken and then speaks accordingly.
The Test of Serenity
The Superior Man has no jealous ambitions.
Discrimination in Acts of Charity
He aids the distressed but does not add to the wealth of the rich.
A Point often overlooked
The Superior Man can be imposed upon but he cannot be made a fool of.
Intellectual Life
Tsengtzu said: The Superior Man finds friends in his liter ary pursuits and by their friendship strengthens his virtue.


As an Improver of Mankind
The Superior Man strives to bring out the best qualities of his fellow beings and not their bad ones; the Small Man takes just the opposite course.
A gentle Insinuation
The Superior Man avoids speaking on topics of which he is ignorant.
Perspicacity without Suspiciousness
Without suspecting deceit or unbelief, yet to be able to recognise them when met with, is that not true worth?
The Effect of Want on the Uncultured
The Small Man, when in want, gives way to license.
A few more Traits of the Superior Man
The Superior Man does not raise a man for his words only, nor does he disregard words on account of the person by whom they are uttered.
A dangerous Excuse for those inclined to neglect Details
Confucius said: The Great Man may not show to advantage in small details, but can be trusted with important matters.
The Small Man again
The Small Man is sure to explain away his faults!


Confucius, the Man

Educational Progress
Confucius said: At fifteen my mind was bent on learning; at thirty it was fixed; at forty I had no doubts; at fifty I knew the Decrees of Heaven; at sixty I (still) had a willing ear; at seventy I could follow my heart's desire without transgressing what was right.
Some Intimate Personal Traits - Slyness
Confucius, when in his native village, held himself extremely simple as if he could not utter a word.
Veneration Extraordinary
While passing the seat of his Prince, his countenance seemed to change, his legs to bend under him, his words coming in whispers as if lacking breath.
Fastidiousness in Taste
He ate no meat which was not properly cut, nor that which was not served without its proper sauce.
As to Wine
Only in wine he imposed no limit but did not allow himself to be overcome by it.

[. 33}

General Dietetics
However much meat he might eat, b.e did not allow it to exceed its due proportion to vegetables.
He never omitted to eat ginger at a meal, nor did he eat much.
The Sage at the Table
He did not converse during meals.

And in Bed
He did not talk in his sleep.
Nobody knows why
If his mat was not straight he did not sit on it.
Not from Fear, but as a Matter of Ceremony
At unexpected thunderclaps or violent gusts of wind, he changed countenance.

(Changing Countenance appears to have been a common act of ceremony or propriety in Confucian days, resorted to under circumstances too numerous to mention).

As a true Sportsman
Confucius angled and did not use nets; he shot, but not birds sitting.


What was said of Confucius to his Disciples
My friends, why thus sorrowful? Long have lawlessness and disorder held their sway; now Heaven is about to employ your Master as a wooden bell-hammer.
What Confucius claimed for himself
In a ten-family hamlet there may be as sincere and faithful as I, but none as fond of learning.
How Confucius wished himself to be characterised
He is a man who in his studious ardour forgets food, in his happiness forgets sorrow and does not perceive the advent of age.
And as devoid of Originality
A transmitter and not an originator, a believer in and lover of the Ancients.

A wasted Hint
Confucius only spoke on the right occasions; thus people did not tire of his talk.

A typical Confucian Reply
A great question indeed!


Irony or Modesty?
Confucius said: I am fortunate indeed. Whatever faults I possess are bound to be known by all.
A startling Confession
And never to be overcome by wine, how can I lay claim to such qualities?
His frequent Themes of Discourse
The Odes, History and the Rules of Propriety.
And the Topics he avoided
Mysteries, Feats of Strength, Rebellion and Spiritual Matters.


On Family Relationship

Filial Piety
Confucius said: To follow a father's wish during his lifetime and to imitate his example after his death without departing from it for three years, such is filial piety.
No longer observed.
Confucius said: Do not travel afar while your parents live. If you must travel, let it be to definite and known places.
For Fathers
He who does not know the bad qualities of his son is ignorant of the richness of his sprouting crops.
Paternal Partiality
Confucius said: Be he talented or not, a son remains a son.
As to Girls
Whoever heard of a girl being taught to bring up children in order that she may be prepared for motherhood?
Filial Love paramount
A father concealing his son's crimes; a son shielding his father, this includes righteousness.


On Propriety, Ceremony and Decorum

The Importance of Propriety
Without knowledge of the rules of propriety man's character cannot be established.

In matters of propriety it is better to be sparing than extravagant.
Mere outward Show deprecated
In matters of Mourning, real grief is more in place than a minute observance of form.

The Gravity of the Scholar
If a scholar be not grave he will not be respected, his learning will lack substance.

Decorum as observed by Confucius
In a carriage he never looked behind him; he never talked excitedly nor pointed at anything.


On War

Civilisation not necessarily detrimental to Military Prowess
Confucius said: A nation civilised for seven years by a virtuous man will also be fit to wage war.
To lead an uninstructed people to war is to cast them away.


On Music

The Soul of Music
A man without virtue, how can he have anything to do with music?
A Lesson in Harmony
Confucius instructing the Music Master of Lu said: The principles of music are thus: let there be complete accordance at the beginning, then let there be harmony, individuality and continuity till the end.
Some Music!
Confucius after hearing the " Shao " performed in the State of Ch'i forgot the taste of meat for three months. He said: I never thought music could produce such an effect!

Against serenading by one's Disciples
Confucius said: What business has Yu with his noisy harp at my door?


On Youth and Age

Youth's Potentiality
Confucius said: A youth should be regarded with awe; who knows but in after years he may excel us.
The Age of Resignation to Mediocrity
If at 40 or 50 years of age he has not yet made his mark, he need no longer be feared.

How Confucius reproved a disrespectful Youth
In youth to be disrespectful, in manhood unproductive and in old age to remain alive: that is to be a public nuisance!


On Litigation, Wealth and Rank

A sound View on Litigation
Confucius said: In hearing cases I may do as well as the rest. The main thing, however, is to prevent litigation.
The Ability of one of Confucius' Disciples on the Bench
To settle a law case with half a word, such was Yu's ability.
Consolation for the Poor
Ill-gotten riches are to me like floating clouds.
The greater Merit
Confucius said: It is more difficult to be poor without discontent than to be rich without pride.
Practical Advice in Trade
Confucius said: Sell it, by all means, but if I were you I would wait until a price was offered for it!

Confucian fragments, Fragments of Confucian Lore: A Selection of Short Quotations translated by Thomas T. H. Ferguson, Literature  

Fragments of Confucian Lore: A Selection of Short Quotations with the Original Text, edited by Thomas T. H. Ferguson, translated by James Legge. Shanghai: North-China Daily News and Herald, 1920.

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting

Fragments of Confucian Lore: A Selection of Short Quotations translated by Thomas T. H. Ferguson, To top    Section     Set    Next

Confucian fragments, Fragments of Confucian Lore: A Selection of Short Quotations translated by Thomas T. H. Ferguson. User's Guide   ᴥ    Disclaimer 
© 2009–2019, Tormod Kinnes, MPhil [Email]