Yu Dan quotes
born 28 June 1965, Professor and Associate Dean of the School of Arts and Media at Beijing Normal
University, author of "Confucius from the Heart"
In China today we often say that for a nation to survive and prosper, Heaven must smile
it, the Earth must be favourable to it and its people must be at peace. It is to this
harmonious balance that Confucius can lead us today.
You should not think that the wisdom of Confucius is lofty and out of reach, or something
that people today can only look up to with reverence. The truths of this world are for ever
plain and simple, in the same way that the sun rises every day in the east, just as spring is
the time for sowing and autumn is the time to harvest. The truths that Confucius gives us
are always the easiest of truths.
Before the age of thirty, people live by addition, constantly acquiring the things they need
from the world: experience, wealth, relationships, reputation, and so on. But the more
material things we have, the more perplexed and doubtful we become. After thirty, we have
to start learning to live by subtraction - you must learn to let go of the things that are not
what your soul really needs.
In the twenty-first century we say that it is no longer enough to use the simplistic standard
of GNP (Gross National Product) to assess the quality of the people's life in different
countries. You must also look at GNH: Gross National Happiness.
The word junzi, which appears more often than any other in The Analects of Confucius,
describes Confucius's ideal person, who any one of us, rich or poor, has the potential to
become. To this day, in China, we still use the word as a standard for personal integrity,
saying that such and such a person is a real junzi.
Confucius was always suspicious of glib people and their sweet words. A junzi should speak
less and do more. Confucius believed that it is not what a person says that matters, but
what they do.
In this world, the most important person is the person in front of you who needs your help,
the most important thing is to help them, and the most important time is right now, you can't
delay, not even for an instant.
Increasing our ability to hold on to happiness is the greatest thing we can learn.
What Confucius tells us to focus on first is not how to bring stability to the world, but how to
be the best possible version of ourselves. To "cultivate one's moral character" is the first step
towards taking responsibility for the nation, and for society. Confucius and his disciples
struggled hard to be "the best version" of themselves, but their aim in this was to better
carry out their responsibilities to the society in which they lived.
Being tolerant of others is actually leaving yourself a lot more room.
A good man should not flatter. He must have a sound moral character and be able to stand
tall in society. This is a kind of good friend - his moral character can reflect on yours. He can
give you courage when you're flinching. He can make you decisive when you're hesitant.
Zigong again asked Confucius an extremely important question: "Is there a single word which
can be a guide to conduct throughout one's life? Can you give me one word that I will be able
to use until the end of my days, and always derive benefit from it?" Confucius replied to him
in a conversational tone of voice: "If such a word exists, it is probably the word shu, or
This is what we mean by "If you give a rose, the scent will remain on your hands": giving can
bring more happiness than receiving.
Confucius said: "Men of antiquity studied to impress themselves; men of today study to
impress others." (Analects XIV)
Confucius's student Fan Chi once respectfully asked his teacher: "What is benevolence?" The
teacher answered in two words. "Loving people." Loving other people is benevolence. Fan Chi
asked again: "What is this thing called wisdom?" The teacher said: " Knowing people." The
understanding of others is called wisdom.
Confucius never advocated taking up with rich or powerful people. Instead, he favoured
making friends with people who can perfect your moral character, increase your self-
cultivation and enrich your inner self.
As we move through life, it is hard for us to avoid things that cause regret and
disappointment. We may lack the strength to change this, but what we can change is the
attitude with which we approach these setbacks.
Where does self-confidence come from? It comes from a practical and steady sense of inner
calm, an easy unhurried bearing that is the mark of the true junzi.
Confucius said: "The junzi is easy of mind, while the small man is always full of anxiety."
If you want to understand someone, you only have to look at their circle of friends, which will
tell you what their values and priorities are - after all, as is often shown, birds of a feather
To be able to reflect on one's own failings and work bravely to put them right, this is the true
courage promoted by Confucius and his followers.
What kind of people are benevolent? What kind of people are superior men? Confucius said:
"Resoluteness, persistence, simplicity and slowness to speak are close to benevolence."
You should make friends with people who are calm and matter-of-fact. They will help you
take the long view of temporary victories and defeats, overcome the temptations of material
things, obtain spiritual comfort, and find a place of repose and respite for the soul.
"A superior man (junzi) is ashamed of talking more than doing." This has since become the
Chinese idiom: yan guo qi xing (more talk than action). If a man talks more than he does, a
superior man would regard it as a shame.
Confucius said: "The Three Armies can be deprived of their commanding officer, but even a
common man cannot be deprived of his purpose" (Analects IX) This is often quoted and it
tells us that a person's goals are of the utmost importance, for they determine the
development and direction of their whole life.
He is the sort of man who forgets to eat when he tries to solve a problem that has been
driving him to distraction, who is so of full of joy that he forgets his worries and who does not
notice the onset of old age.
Confucius about himself
A truly superior man (junzi), after understanding something thoroughly, aspires to achieve an
even higher standard. He doesn't tie himself down to a fixed job or a minor role. He is flexible.
He progresses with the times. He constantly adjusts himself according to major changes in
A good friend is like a book. It can open up a whole world for you.
Confucius did not like to talk about things like gods and spirits, because his attention was
focused on real, tangible behaviour. When Zilu asked him once about ghosts and spirits,
Confucius said calmly: "You are not able even to serve man. How can you serve the spirits?"
You can't even get living people's business straight in your head; how can you think of going
to honour dead people? That is to say, before you start to study you should keep things
simple, beginning with what is in front of you. Don't immediately go pondering empty,
profound things. Zilu was not ready to give up, and said: "May I ask about death?" Again,
Confucius said serenely: "You do not even understand life. How can you understand death?"