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Amber: Hey everybody! Welcome back to Amber and Victor’s Chinese Buffet. I am Amber.
Victor: 大家好 (dàjiā hǎo), 我是 (Wǒ shì) Victor.
Amber: And today’s segment about Chinese culture is called ‘General Tso's China’ where we feature tidbit from history and we go beyond, getting to its impact on society today in China. And today we are talking about a person that had a huge impact on Chinese society.
Victor: A great master.
Amber: Through the centuries and right down until today. A great master. His name in Chinese is…
Victor: 孔子 (Kǒngzǐ).
Amber: You may not recognize him. You may know him from his more famous name of Confucius.
Victor: Right.
Amber: I’d say I don’t know about many people in the West but I think my only association with Confucius was hearing the phrase ‘Confucius say’.
Victor: Yeah. Very famous.
Amber: But I forgot everything he ever said and nobody ever told me. So, that’s why we thought we’d bring it up today because it’s a very interesting part of Chinese culture with a bigger fact on people and their thinking. So, who was Confucius? Well, he was born around 551 BC.
Victor: Long, long time ago.
Amber: Very long time ago. And he was a Chinese thinker and social philosopher. And his teachings have really deeply influenced Chinese thought, Chinese values, and way of life. Actually, not only Chinese people. He had a lot of influence on Vietnamese culture, Taiwanese, Korean, Japanese.
Victor: He was born into a pretty poor but noble family that had kind of deteriorated on the way and…
Amber: Fallen on hard times.
Victor: Yeah. And his father died when he was only three so he was brought up in poverty by his mother.
Amber: And before his career as a philosopher took on, he had actually done a lot of different menial jobs. He was a shepherd, a cowherd, a clerk, even a bookkeeper. And later he became involved in politics and that’s sort of where his position started to rise. He became the Justice Minister for a while. But then there were some scandals and things happened and he resigned and travelled the country.
Victor: And when he finally came back from all his travelling and teaching all over the place, he wrote the book The Five Classics which were one of the ancient classical literature that China has.
Amber: Is that where you find the ‘Confucius say’ quotes?
Victor: Some of his things.
Amber: From the books?
Victor: And another really famous thing is called lúnyǔ. That’s the analects that he wrote. It’s definitely a piece of highly revered literature.
Amber: Yeah. And basically, it was his followers that organized his teachings and put them into these analects.
Victor: Right.
Amber: Well, interestingly his way, the Confucian way is often followed in a religious manner but you know…
Victor: Under the influence, yeah.
Amber: Yeah, but Confucius himself, he actually presented himself as “a transmitter who invented nothing”. And basically, he stressed the importance of study. He wasn’t trying to build some sort of rules or systematic way of living or for society or some formalistic rights. He wanted people to think deeply for themselves and study the outside world. That was the thrust of his teachings. But of course, however, as you know, when you die you can’t really control what the people who idolize you do, right?
Victor: Right.
Amber: And so, later a lot of his teachings were turned into a very elaborate set of rules and practices by his disciples and followers.
Victor: Right. He was rumored to have over 3 000 disciples over the years of his lifetime and eventually, these people kind of ventured into their own philosophies or put together the words of Confucius and his belief later became known as Confucianism or Rúxué. In Chinese, that’s called Rúxué; probably the most important and most well-known field of philosophy.
Amber: Yeah. And even today, I had friends in China. Some Chinese people will quote Confucius, much the same way that maybe a Western person who is a Christian would quote Jesus, or maybe someone will quote Freud or Jung. His sayings, people really put a lot of weight on and use them as sort of tenants to live by. And you know, Confucius even had his own version of the Golden Rule.
Victor: Yeah, which is?
Amber: Speaking of the Jesus, well it’s sometimes called the Silver Rule because it’s turned around a little bit. “Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.” It’s a little bit less proactive than the Golden Rule but still pretty good. A rule to live by.
Victor: I think Confucius, his beliefs focused most on the worldly matters – how you as an individual should behave to the people surrounding you and based on different relations to you. And he also advised rulers and people in power and governments how to act to their constituents so that they can be respected and things like that. So, it’s not necessarily religious or spiritual. It doesn’t really involve like an afterlife or some sort of, you know, supernatural power. However, it’s about being a human being – how you should act to, for example you friends, your fellow human being, your elderlies and your governments and things like that.
Amber: Yeah. And they gained wide acceptance primarily because of their basis in common Chinese tradition and belief which is already there at the time, which is things like family, loyalty, ancestor worship, respected elders by their children. It really lacked anything to do with spiritual matters, deities, anything like that.
Victor: Right. It’s just how you behave in relations with other people around you, which I think it’s one of the reasons he’s so popular and so well-respected because that kind of thesis is the Chinese way of thinking. As a person yourself, what is your obligation and responsibility to other people in your society.
Amber: Your duty.
Victor: At least in theory it should be like that.
Amber: So, with all this wisdom, now we are going to expose some wisdom for you. We are going to tell you what Confucius said. Victor is going to share a few Confucius quotes and explain to us what they mean and what they mean for Chinese people.
Victor: Yeah. And of course, he came from a couple of thousand years ago so his language is in ancient Chinese, which is a totally different way of speaking today. But I am going to share a few quotes by him.
Amber: Translate it, of course.
Victor: Yeah. And even today, people still quote him. Like Amber said, he is very, very famous. People hear it all the time.
Amber: First I’ll say, ‘Confucius say’ and then you say the quote.
Victor: Okay. Let me just set up this quote for a little bit. He was in his 70s in his latter part of his life and he was asked to kind of summarize his life as he went through different stages. This was when he said…
Amber: Okay.
Victor: Confucius say…
Amber: With great respect.
Victor: 吾十有五,而治于学 (wú shí yǒu wǔ, ér zhì yú xué) “when I was about 15, I really focused on my studies and that was all I wanted to do”, 三十而立 (sānshí érlì) ”when I was 30, I became pretty independent and kind of started to realize the general direction that my life was supposed to take”, 四十而不惑 (sìshí ér bùhuò) “when I was 40, I was no longer confused by sayings in my life”.
Amber: Suddenly he didn’t have mid-life crisis. That’s what you get by being a philosopher. Everything makes sense.
Victor: 五十而知天明 (wǔshí ér zhī tiānmìng) “when I was 50, I started to know heaven’s will for my life”.
Amber: Whoa.
Victor: Yeah. Slightly more spiritual this time.
Amber: Yeah.
Victor: But, the heaven’s will for my life. What my life is supposed to be and things like that. 六十而耳顺 (liùshí ér ěrshùn) “by the time I was 60, I was kind of able to follow the flow of things and nothing really bothered me anymore”. You know people can say whatever and it doesn’t bother me anymore.
Amber: I look forward to that age.
Victor: And in the end, he says: 七十从心所欲,不逾矩 (qīshí cóngxīnsuǒyù, bù yú jǔ) “when I was 70, I could kind of just follow the desires of my heart”. I can do whatever I want and no longer bound by societal regulation and things.
Amber: That’s what we get for retirement.
Victor: You can do whatever you want now. So, right now you hear people say in retro respect, people in the middle life always say, 三十而立,四十而不惑,五十而知天命 (sānshí érlì, sìshí ér bùhuò, wǔshí ér zhī tiānmìng), like when I was 30, 40, 50. They are always quotes back to Confucius. So, that’s probably his most famous quotes.
Amber: Okay. Another one? Confucius say -
Victor: Well, Confucius put a lot of emphasis on the idea of ethics. That’s one of his major beliefs. Ethics or rights, rituals and rights – how you’re supposed to treat your fellow human beings based on the relations. They have to and it’s called 理 (lǐ). In Chinese, it’s called 理 (lǐ). Some can also be translated into politeness. And he said: 非礼勿视,非礼勿听,非礼勿言,非礼勿动 (fēilǐ wù shì, fēilǐ wù tīng, fēilǐ wù yán, fēilǐ wù dòng.) which means, if it’s not ethical, don’t look at it. Don’t listen to it. Don’t speak it and definitely do not act on it.
Amber: Wow, that’s wise.
Victor: Yeah. Right?
Amber: I can see why.
Victor: It sounds good in Chinese too.
Amber: Yeah. It’s kind of poetic.
Victor: I’ll say one of his most important ideals and still influences China in many, many ways today is called 中庸 (zhōngyōng). 中 (Zhōng) means neutral in the middle, in the center by not showing your emotions. Not to say not showing emotions but don’t go overboard and just act out whenever you feel something.
Amber: It’s very Chinese.
Victor: Just be okay to handle your emotions and be okay with it, you know? Just do not act on your impulses. 庸 (Yōng) means, original meaning kind of means stupid. 庸 (Yōng) is not the amount to anything achieving to anything. But his belief here is, not striving for some hefty goals for your life. Just kind of be okay with who you are.
Amber: Be content.
Victor: Be content but not, you know…
Amber: Content but not lazy.
Victor: Right. Exactly! Content but not lazy. Don’t strive for something that is out of your reach and some unreachable goals and always thinking about things you can’t obtain. Just be okay with what you got, be okay with whatever you have and do the best you can with what you got.
Amber: Yeah.
Victor: So, not really belittling yourself but not really trying to…
Amber: Trying to be too crazy or being too ambitious.
Victor: Right. Exactly. Confucius also said -
Amber: Confucius also say -
Victor: Another really important word to know about Confucius is called 仁 (rén) and this word has many meanings. It means kindness, it means honesty, it means integrity.
Amber: Yeah.
Victor: Basically means the best we can do as a human being. And like Amber said, the Silver Rule. Never impose on others what you wouldn’t choose for yourself and treat others with an open and compassionate mind, but hold yourself to the highest standards you can. Do the best you can and don’t judge other people. And 仁 (rén), that’s another thing. Another kind of distinction he made, the come out of the Confucius teachings is called 君子小人 (jūnzǐ xiǎo rén). 君子 (jūnzǐ) is basically the true gentleman who is able to kind of achieve all these hard values as opposed to 小人 (xiǎo rén), the little person who is kind of driven by these petty goals and things like that. So, you still hear Chinese people using the words 君子小人 (jūnzǐ xiǎo rén) as the higher value versus the petty desires.
Amber: Well, those were just a few proverbs and wisdom from Confucius. There is thousands if you get a book.
Victor: He’s a very prolific writer.
Amber: Yes. And if anyone has their own favorite Confucius quote, please come to the site chineseclass101.com and share them with us. We all need extra wisdom insight in our lives.
Victor: Yep. And don’t forget to check out on iTunes.
Amber: Yeah. You can subscribe to our show now on iTunes directly. Just go to the iTunes store, search Chinese Buffet and you’ll find out podcasts there and you can leave us a review too. So, that’s it for the Chinese Buffet today and if you want to learn more Chinese or about Chinese culture, make sure come visit us at chineseclass101.com. We have lots of lessons there that can give you lots of insights about China and also teach you to speak Chinese. 再见 (zàijiàn)!
Victor: 再见 (zàijiàn).