Confucius on Love, Governance, and Rebellion

He who exercises government by means of his virtue may be compared to the north polar star, which keeps its place and all the stars turn towards it.

—from the The Analects (trans. James Legge)


From the loving example of one family a whole state becomes loving, and from its courtesies the whole state becomes courteous while, from the ambition and perverseness of the One man, the whole state may be led to rebellious disorder—such is the nature of the influence. This verifies the saying, “Affairs may be ruined by a single sentence; a kingdom may be settled by its One man.”

—from The Great Learning (trans. James Legge)


Gongshan Furao headed a rebellion in the region of Bi and invited Confucius to join him. The Master wanted to go, but Zilu, displeased, said, Don’t go, and that will end the matter. What need is there to join someone like Gongshan?

The Master said, He has invited me—how could it be a complete waste? If someone would make use of me, I could create a Zhou of the east! […]

Bi Xi invited the Master to join him, and the Master wanted to go. Zilu said, In the past I have heard you say, When someone is personally doing what is not good, the gentleman will not go near him. Bi Xi has raised a revolt in Zhongmou. What reason could you have to go there?

The Master said, You are right—that’s what I said. But don’t people say, So hard, file it, but it never wears thin? And don’t they say, So white, dirty it, but it never turns black? Am I some sort of bitter melon? Can I go on hanging here and never be eaten?

—from the The Analects (trans. Burton Watson, p. 121)

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