Lecturing at the Apricot Pavilion
The State of Lu was essentially governed by the Jisun clan. But its ruler, Lu Zhaogong, was dissatisfied with the political state of affairs because the Jisun clan often acted arrogantly and interfered with matters that fell outside their jurisdiction. As time went on, Lu Zhaogong and the Jisun clan increasingly found themselves faced with irreconcilable differences. Since Lu Zhaogong himself was not known as a virtuous ruler, many did not believe he would be able to maintain social stability for an extended period of time. The unstable political atmosphere finally completely broke down in 517 BC. Influenced by officials who disagreed with Ji Pingzi, Lu Zhaogong decided to wage a war against the Jisun clan. Due to Lu Zhaogong’s political influence, it would have been sufficient to force Ji Pingzi into exile so that Lu Zhaogong’s subjects would regain confidence in him, but instead he insisted on killing Ji Pingzi. Contrary to his expectations, this led to the Mengsun and Shusun clans coming to the aid of Ji Pingzi and sending reinforcements. In the end Lu Zhaogong fled with his courtiers to the State of Qi.
In ancient times, when a ruler was exiled, there were usually two ways for him to return to his home country: One was to contact dissident officials and have them welcome him back, and the other was to seek support from other powerful countries and be escorted home by officials from one of these countries. Some officials from Lu who were loyal towards Lu Zhaogong began to move between the State of Lu and Qi, hoping that they could get Lu Zhaogong to return home and stabilize the political situation. It was for this reason that Confucius went to the State of Qi.
At the age of thirty-five Confucius began studying in the State of Qi and meeting with Qi government officials. On many occasions Qi Jinggong, the ruler of Qi, consulted Confucius on political problems the state was facing, such as misgovernment and officials acting without authorization. In addition, the ruler of Qi had too many concubines and could not decide on a candidate to be his successor. The country was confronted with turmoil due to problems within and outside the court. Responding to this Confucius stated, “A monarch needs to do his job as a monarch, a courtier needs to fulfill his obligation as a courtier, a father needs to meet his responsibilities as a father, and a son needs to show filial piety.” His simple answer revealed all the problems faced by the State of Qi. When Qi Jinggong heard this he was overcome with admiration for Confucius and intended to recruit him, but the ruler’s most trusted minister, Yan Ying, immediately opposed the idea, saying that Confucius’ pursuit of rites and music was outmoded and suggested the ruler not to accept his ideas. After hearing this, Qi Jinggong changed his mind and told Confucius, “I am afraid I am unable to treat Confucius the same way the ruler of Lu treated the Ji clan. Please allow me to treat him in such a way that is between the way the Ji clan and the Meng clan were treated.” Surprisingly, this drew disagreement from a large number of Qi officials. Qi Jinggong knew his power was waning and could only tell Confucius, “I am an old man now; I wield little influence.” Since Qi was also in a state of chaos, the ruler had no desire to interfere with the political affairs of Lu. Lu Zhaogong’s own actions were far from deserving merit, so Confucius returned to the State of Lu and rarely ventured outside the state again.
Confucius once said, “A man should have his life firmly established by the age of thirty.” By the time he was in his thirties, Confucius was known widely as a man of knowledge and integrity. After returning to the State of Lu from the State of Qi, many individuals began approaching Confucius and wanted to become his students. His students grew in number and thus Confucius began his life-long dedication to teaching and lecturing.
During the Zhou Dynasty, knowledge of “poetry, history, rites and music” were considered basic requirements for rulers and politicians. Rites and music were believed to be important connections linking the political system to the society and its people, but they were increasingly overlooked by the descendants of royal families. In contrast, Confucius’ vast knowledge in these matters made him a widely respected gentleman. In 535 BC (when Confucius was 17), Lu Zhaogong was on his way to the State of Chu to attend an opening ceremony; when he passed through the State of Zheng, the monarch and his entourage were welcomed and treated as guests, and once they arrived in the State of Chu they were invited to attend another welcoming ceremony. Meng Xizi, the minister who was accompanying Lu Zhaogong, did not know how to respond to these rites. Since the ruler of Lu descended from the royal house of Zhou, Meng Xizi felt greatly embarrassed that as a high-ranking court official he did not know the rites of Zhou. After returning home he felt that it was necessary to study with someone who was knowledgeable about rites and customs. In 517 BC, during the last moments of Meng Xizi’s life, he told those around him, “Rites and manners of propriety constitute how one establishes oneself in the world. I have heard that Confucius will have a prosperous future. His ancestors are men of great ethics and their descendants will be blessed. If I were to die without regrets, I would tell my two sons, Hoji and Shuo, to study with Confucius. Then through their knowledge of rites they would be able to maintain their status in Lu.”
Even high-ranking officials at the time learned of Confucius’ reputation for being wise and knowledgeable, and thus sent their children to study with him. People went to Confucius for different reasons: Some felt they lived in a world plagued by social unrest, where values of morality were no longer upheld, and that it was necessary to restore social order and moral values of the Zhou tradition through knowledge of “poetry, history, rites and music”; some had a passion for learning from classical literature since knowledge of “poetry, history, rites and music” was not readily accessible; some merely hoped to study more the more practical reason of gaining better prospects for employment, which would eventually bring them a brighter future.
Most learned persons during Confucius’ time held positions in the military, and only a small number held civilian posts such as managing warehouses or farms, jobs similar to those Confucius had in his youth. Towards the middle and end of the Spring and Autumn Period, the intellectual class began to wield more influence and occupy important court and government positions. The demand for well-educated employees also increased rapidly. Moreover, although descendants of royalty naturally inherited titles of nobility, they were not always well-educated and talented, and therefore needed competent individuals from the lower ranks of the intelligentsia who could assist them in dealing with important administrative affairs. Previously, the study of poetry, history, rites and music were available exclusively to the upper-class descendants of royalty, but gradually knowledge of these subjects became a stepping stone for well-educated commoners and their descendants. Many of Confucius’ followers belonged to this category and a substantial number of them sought him out for the purpose of raising their own social status.
Confucius was quite passionate about teaching. He once said, “The silent treasuring of knowledge, learning without satiety, yet when instructing others I’m never wearied” (Analects of Confucius). Confucius welcomed all students regardless of their social class or motive for learning. As long as the students showed politeness and respect for the teacher, Confucius allowed them to follow him in the pursuit of knowledge.
Confucius is remembered by posterity for many of his ideas on teaching: one being “in education there should be no discrimination.” Regardless of the student’s background, character, or progress in learning, Confucius attentively gave guidance to each of them, treating them with equal respect. On the other hand, Confucius taught “according to the students’ aptitude,” deciding on the depth of discussion according to their learning abilities, and explaining things in a manner that could speak to each student’s individual character. In addition, Confucius’ teaching was not limited to the classroom or the textbook; he taught by example and always acted in accordance with his words. The Analects recorded many anecdotes from Confucius’ daily life. He also said to his students, “Do you think I conceal anything from you? I conceal nothing. Everything I do is laid before your eyes.” Under the tutelage by Confucius, although some students did not stay for long, many were deeply enlightened and followed his guidance towards a path of great learning and knowledge.
Review by Su-Fen Lin and Timothy Baker Jr.