Confucius, or Kongzi, was one of the greatest philosophers in Chinese history. His thoughts and ideas about the sense of life were passed on throughout the centuries and are valued today. Confucius had many disciples and treated each of them differently. One of his favorite disciples was Zigong, or Si, who is known today as a great speaker, diplomat, and merchant of those times. Nowadays, one can use Zigong’s character to become better acquainted with Confucius. The sage always seemed out of reach, and one could understand him as a real human being only through his conversations with his students. Although Confucius’ dialogs with Zigong were short, they had a deep meaning and revealed the original intention of the Master’s teaching.

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The Nature of the Dialogs

By analyzing the dialogs from the Analects, one can notice that they seemed not didactic but casual. Confucius never pressed his views on Zigong, neither had he forced him to say or learn something. Moreover, all his speeches were not straight and clear. On the contrary, they contained some hints and stimulated thinking. For example, when Zigong asked Confucius what he thought about him, the Master replied, “You are a pot.” – “What sort of pot?” – “A precious ritual vase”. In such a way, the Master did not compliment Zigong for his skills openly, but he made him understand that he was a valuable disciple. In addition, through this dialog, one can comprehend that Confucius tried to convey his ideology of a permanent state of confusion. The Master liked to confuse people and make them think of different things they did not know but thought they knew. Such way of conversation helped the sage distinguish between those disciples who could develop their virtues effectively and those who did understand nothing. At the same time, Kongzi conveyed his political views and ethical concepts in his dialogs.

Confucius believed that a good leader should provide people with good food and weapons and make them believe in their ruler. When Zigong asked, “If you had no choice but to dispense with one of those three things, which would it be?” the Master replied that he would dispense weapons and food but not faith. The sage stated that the state could not stand if people had no faith in their ruler. Thus, Confucius taught Zigong that to be a good political leader, a person should induce faith in their subordinates. As to the ethical concepts, Kongzi taught Zigong that a real gentleman was filial, respectful of elders, “keeping to one’s words and following through in one’s actions”. At the same time, one can notice some sarcasm in the Master’s words about those people who participated in governance at that time: “They are men you measure by bucket or scoop – why even count them?”. Thus, through such casual dialogs, Confucius conveyed his didactic messages to his disciples without intrusion.

Teaching Methodology and Admonishment

Confucius was known for his unusual way of learning. He would not refuse those who wanted to learn, which is reflected in the following phrase, “From those who offer only a bundle of dried sausages on up, I have never refused to teach”. At the same time, if the Master observed no response and no progress in his disciples, he stopped teaching them. Thus, the learners were not induced to learn something but were encouraged to think and develop their skills. Zigong showed personal growth and creativity in his dialogs with Confucius. 

At the beginning of the Analects, Zigong displayed curiosity and lack of keenness of wit; however, with the development of their studies, Zigong gradually grew up and became a moral intellectual scholar. For instance, during their first dialogs, Zigong asked Confucius about the meaning of the poetry since he could not interpret this meaning himself. Kongzi explained that a good disciple listened to a master carefully and understood what was coming next. Later, Zigong showed some kind of Confucius’ influence on his thinking. When the prime minister Pi asked him what Kongzi was like, Zigong said, “That man is like a great stretch of mountain and forest, in that people take from him all that they require”. Thus, he neither praised the Master nor flattered him but displayed his deep thoughts the others could not understand at once.

While observing the dialogs between Kongzi and Zigong, one can notice the Master’s personal qualities, such as wisdom, willingness, morality, gratefulness, etc. The Master never repeated the same ideas over and over again because he believed that such repetitions would frustrate his students. Moreover, he never thought of the personal defects of other people since he preferred to think about the moral concepts and good qualities each person should develop: “Zigong spoke of others’ defects. The Master said, ‘How worthy Si is! As for me, I have no time for that.’”. Kongzi was always ready to answer all Zigong’s questions and thankful for the disciple’s listening to him. The most valuable thing in Confucius’ teaching was the fact that he tried to develop personal talents of each of his students; thus, the approach to them was also different. 

Evaluation, Attachment, Relation

The relationships between Kongzi and Zigong were mutually respectful. Kongzi called Zigong the most eloquent speaker while Zigong treated Confucius as an irreplaceable sage. For instance, Zigong said, “…when it comes to quenching my thirst, Kongzi can be compared with the rivers and seas”. He admired his Master’s way of teaching and enjoyed every moment spend with Confucius. The Master, in turn, tried to develop the best qualities he noticed in Zigong. For example, Confucius believed that Zigong could become a good merchant; thus, the sage stimulated him to sell and showed his will to buy anything for a good price. When Kongzi died, Zigong mourned on his grave for three years and continued mourning for three years more when the others departed. Such attachment to his teacher is nothing more but the sign of deep respect, filial piety (though Zigong was not his son), and value of Kongzi’s precious lessons. 

Contemporary View of Confucianism

Confucius became a sage not because he was wise but because he was ready to change. He always listened to his students and did not forbid them to compete with him. Moreover, he learned from personal experience and taught the students only the best outcomes of that experience. Today, modern teachers might use these features to influence their students without pressure but with respect. However, some political ideas of Kongzi would not be successful nowadays. The Master believed that people should fully obey their ruler, while in the modern world, people are free to express their will and dissatisfaction with their government. However, loyalty to one’s nation, homeland, and ancestors might be used today as a political necessity to strengthen the state and become an invincible nation. Kongzi’s school is still appreciated today in such countries as China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. These states value hierarchy and divide people into ranks, which helps them achieve order and harmony in their societies. 


Confucius was a wise teacher who valued his students and helped them develop their best qualities. Thus, Zigong was one of his best speakers and merchants, whose skills improved due to their conversations. Through their short dialogs, Kongzi revealed his real intentions and raised worthy men from his disciples. Today, Confucianism exists in many countries since it teaches moral values, best virtues, and the way of life. The main social function of Confucianism is to influence human consciousness through cultural cultivation and respect of traditions. 

May 26, 2020 in Informative
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