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!

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.


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