Confucius' Political Mind

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Confucius’ political mind
-------Education and feeding

Confucius, who is also honored as Master Kong, is considered to be a master, a sage by people in China and even around the world nowadays. Yet, back to the years when he was alive, he was no famous man. Confucius was born in the state Lu. And by the sixth century of the Zhou dynasty, the state and other states around was in rapid decline with warfare fighting for territories (tradition 41). As a scholar at the time, Confucius travel around the states, hoping to be employed by one of the rulers to share his theories of governing a country (the way). He was never able to realize these ideals, yet he became a teacher who tries to prepare men for public office, making them capable to take part in government. (Analects 6) Giving this background, it can be deduced that the original purpose of Confucius’ being a teacher is to realize his ideal government; by cultivating his students and by trying to give political advice to the government. Therefore, Confucius’ political thinking is very much worth us studying. We start from the analysis of the following saying, and then go on to discuss the two essential factor of conducting a government in Confucius’ perspective: education and feeding. “ Zi Gong asked about government. The master said: if there is enough food and if there are enough weapons, the people will put their trust in it. Zigong said: suppose you definitely had no alternative but to give up one of these three, which would you relinquish first? The master said: I would give up weapons. Zigong said: suppose you definitely had no alternative but to give up one of the remaining two, which would you relinquish first?” The master said: “I would give up food. From of old death has come to all man. But a people will not stand if it lacks trust. “ ” (The Analects p45)

In this saying, Zi Gong, one of Confucius’ students, asks Confucius about how to govern a country. Confucius gives him the answer by ranking the three factors of governing a country according to their importance: people’s trust, food and weapons. 1. Misleading translation

Before going deep to analyze this saying, I have to point out that there is an obvious misleading translation in the Raymond Dawson version of the Analects. Dawson translates that “if there is enough food and if there are enough weapons, the people will put their trust in it”. In such sense, people’s trust is derived from enough food and enough weapons; thus only enough food and weapons are the ways of governing a country but not trust. This certainly contradicts with what Confucius says in the rest of the saying, where he consider weapon, food and trust all as the ways of conducting a government. 2. Why give up weapons first?

Confucius is never a fan of weapons and wars. He believes in solving problems within a country and between countries with ritual decorum (li) and the way (de). “Nangong kuo put a question to master Kong: ‘Yi was skillful art archery and Ao pushed a boat over dry land, but neither manage to die a natural death. Yu and Ji personally sowed the crops but gained possession of all under heaven’ our master did not reply. When Nangong Kuo went out, the master said: Such a man is indeed a gentleman! Such a man does indeed honor virtue!’ “ (Analects p54)

In this saying, Confucius praise Nangong kuo for point out that Yi and Ao cannot gain possession of all under heaven (the country) because they use weapons to govern a country; yet Yu and Ji gain the country for using the way (de) to govern the country. Therefore, Confucius consider ritual decorum (li) and the way (de) to be the key to hold the government, but not through weapons and fighting.

3.What does “Xin” mean?
The last sentence: “I would give up food. From of old death has come to all man. But a people will not stand if it...
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