Confucius is asked about government by a certain Duke Jing of Qi. Confucius replied: “Let the ruler be a ruler, the subject a subject, the father a father, the son a son. The Duke replies to Confucius: “Splendid! Truly, if the ruler be not a ruler, the subject not a subject, the father not a father, the son not a son, then even if there be grain, would I get to eat it?” (Analects 12.11)
As explained by Dellios and Ferguson in their book, China’s Quest for World Order:
Referred to as the rectification of names, it involves both a rigorous assessment of the meaning of roles and the correction of behaviour to fit the various roles needed in society.
. . . The process of the rectification of names or rectification of terms (zhengming) is thus a crucial mechanism underlying a harmonious society and good governance. The key point, of course, is that once the “names” have been correctly identified (epistemologically), this will lead to a rectification of roles, persons and behaviour – that is, the names once correctly identified will not then be changed but the behaviour of people should be brought into line with them. It is also important to rectify and reform oneself in the quest for cultivation (See Analects 9.24).
 Rosita Dellios and R. James Ferguson, China’s Quest for Global Order: From Peaceful Rise to Harmonious World (Lexington Books, Lanham Md, 2013), pp. 24-25
“The junzi (morally noble person) in everything puts forth their utmost endeavours.”
– From one of the “Four Books” of Confucianism, The Great Learning, ii: 4.
Confucius said: ‘Human beings are similar in their nature, but different as a result of their practice.’ (Analects 17.2)
In explaining this, Charlene Tan said that anyone has the potential to become a junzi – a morally noble person – which is commonly translated ‘gentleman’ but which in fact is a gender neutral. There is nothing in the junzi concept to preclude women.
Charlene Tan, ‘Confucius’, Bloomsbury, p. 104
To view Tan’s book, click here.
The Master said: “I was not born with wisdom. I love the ancient teachings and have worked hard to attain to their level.” Analects, 7.20
An article titled, “An Introduction to Confucianism,” by Dr Meredith Sprunger Confucius can help to explain this quote:
“Confucius regarded himself as a transmitter, not the originator, of social values and wisdom. Although Confucianism does not claim revelatory scriptures, the Five Classics and the Four Books are regarded as the touch-stone of Confucian conduct and wisdom. Mencius and Hsun Tzu were the great expositors of Confucius in the fourth and third centuries B.C. and did much to popularize and spread his teachings.”
Ziyou asked about being filial. The Master said, ‘Nowadays for a person to be filial means no more than being able to provide parents with food. Even hounds and horses are, in some way, provided with food. If a person shows no reverence, where is the difference?’
Confucius said: “Do not do unto others what you do not wish others to do unto you.”
(From Alan Chan’s book titled, Analects Renovated: Condensed to Pertinent Passages with Comments Relating to our Time)
Alan Chan’s Annotation:
This is the very essence of Confucius’ doctrines. It embodies the two most important concepts Ren (humaneness) and shu (Altruism or Reciprocity). It is regarded as the golden rule, and is parallel to the Christian version: Do unto others what you wish others to do unto you. One is passive, the other is active. The passive one is easier to follow, because you are not urged on, you are restrained.
Alan Chan has a passion for East-West cultural interactions nurtured by his experience in translating and bilingual broadcasting in his early years. He is a senior fellow at Bond University, Mentor at Zhejiang University and director of Qufu Confucius Neo-Institute.