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Friendship in the Analects and Zhuangzi Texts Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Apr 14th, 2022

Friendship is an ethical issue that every living human being has to deal with in life. Different texts have contributed to this ethical issue using different approaches. Some authors use poetry, others use contemporary examples, and there are still those who quote sayings from the community to emphasize the issue of friendship. Examples of such texts are the “The Analects”, also known as “The Analects of Confucius” and the text of “Zhuangzi”. This paper aims to examine these two texts about friendship. In particular, the paper looks at the texts’ point of view on friendship. Their strengths and weaknesses on this issue will be examined as well. Additionally, the paper will compare and contrast the two thinkers’ points of view.

The Analects of Confucius

According to Eno (2003), the Analects of Confucius text is a collection of what the disciples of Confucius wrote in remembrance of their master shortly after his death. Therefore, this text keeps on referring to “My Master” and uses introductory passages, such as “My Master said”, thereby giving the impression that the disciples directly quoted what their master was saying in relation to various issues. Among the issues that the Confucius regularly mentioned was friendship. Confucius used different sayings to address friendship.

The author of “The Analects of Confucius” uses the word friend in the first section of the text to emphasize the importance of friendship. For instance, the author says that, “When friends come from distant places, is this not joy” (Eno 2013, p. 3)? This is something that we can learn about friendship. We should be joyous when we receive friends who have been living in far places. It takes several years for such friends to re-appear again. Therefore, when we get the chance to meet them, then we should maximize that time so that we have memorable experiences with them.

The other point that Confucius emphasized on friendship was the issue of trustworthiness. He was quoted asking himself whether he was a trustworthy person in the midst of his friends (Muller, 2013). This is a great lesson from the text. Each one of us needs to question himself on whether he is a trusted individual in the midst of his friends. It is only when we become trustworthy that we maintain long-lasting relationships with our friends. This text also emphasized the importance of loyalty as an important pillar in maintaining long-term relationships (Eno, 2013). Loyal friends are bound to live as genuine friends for many years. To emphasize on trustworthy, Confucius says that every human being, including our friends, should be treated as valuable beings. If we do so, then we are bound to respect our friends and see them as important and valuable creatures. This will, indeed, increase the strength of our friendships. In addition, the author says that friends who keep their words should be considered as learned, even though the rest of the community fails to recognize them as so (Eno, 2013). However, the “Master” seems to emphasize on the issue of loyalty and trustworthiness. According to Muller (2013), Confucius was quoted saying that these two aspects should be the core principles of friendship. Therefore, he restrained his servants from being friends with people who did not practice the values.

There are two types of friends that the author of the Analects gives. There are those who improve the life of an individual and those that drag the development of a person. As Muller (2013) translates, friends who are sincere, straightforward, and have a wealth of knowledge are important in the development of an individual. On the other hand, friends who flatter, insincere, and shrewd in their way of speech contribute significantly to the fall of a person. The text goes on to say that the friends that improve the life of an individual contribute to the happiness of the individual.

Finally, the Analects’ text summarizes the importance of friendship by giving the importance of maintaining friends that we obtained long ago. Confucius is said to have advised his servants that we should not let old friends go, unless there is a noble cause to do away with them (Eno, 2013). This is an interesting point that ought to be heeded by old friends who might be thinking of calling it quits without a good reason.

Strengths and Weaknesses of the Analects of Confucius on Friendship

This text has proven to be an excellent reference for friends who wish to maintain their relationship. The “Dos” and “Don’ts” that will steer the relationship among friends forward have been given in a precise and easy to understand manner. Among the strengths that this text has in discussing friendship as an ethical issue is the fact that it talks explicitly about the outcomes of taking specific directions. For example, when one focuses on friends who frequently flatter, then he is bound to be dragged behind by such friends. On the other hand, if one decides to become friends with sincere people, then there is likelihood that the life of such a person will be improved by the friends.

Another strength that this text can be credited for is the fact that Confucius, who happened to be the master in this context, is quoted many times as giving pieces of advice from his experiences. In other words, it is what Confucius had believed was right and had been practicing that he gave to his servants as advice. It means that the bits of advice given in this text have been tested and proven to work. Unlike many theoretical sayings that are not backed by practical examples or evidence, the advice given in this text has been put in practice and proven to be true.

On the other hand, there are shortcomings that emanate from this text on the ethical issue of friendship. For example, the author says that there should be no secrets between friends (Eno, 2013). In fact, the master in these Analects is said to have kept no secrets from his friends. This can be argued as a weakness because some unfaithful friends can decide to blackmail someone. It can be detrimental if one’s secrets are exposed to such fake friends. In addition, this text does not give examples of how specific things that have been recommended in this book should be done. For example, the issue of rejoicing with friends who have come from far places has been emphasized in this text, yet there is no mention of the ways that can be used to celebrate with such people. Moreover, there is the mention that if one becomes friendly with people from a different country in which they visit, then there is a high likelihood that they will get more information from the host people (Muller, 2013). What the text fails to give in this context are the examples of how to initiate friendship with the foreigners. It would have been commendable if good examples of how to start friendships in such contexts were given.

The “Zhuangzi” Text on Friendship

Zhuangzi is a text of Chinese origin, where ‘Master Zhuang’ is credited with coming up with this fascinating book. Zhuang was a renowned Chinese writer who was born more than 100 years after the demise of the famous Confucius (Coutinho, 2010). Guo Xian translated most of the texts written by Zhuang. According to Coutinho (2010), a lot of humour and excellent examples have been used in this text. The issue of friendship has also been discussed in this book in a comparative way.

One of the emphases that the writer gives on friendship is the problem of mutual understanding in any friendship (Hansen, 2014). The author provides two examples of friendship, with one example talking about three friends and the other example talking about four friends. In both instances, the friends had first to come up with the terms of their friendship. It means that the sets of friends had to come up with terms of how their relationship would be conducted. This is a good lesson that people can learn when making friends. It is important for aspiring friends to come to an agreement on how their relationship should be conducted. The uniting factors should also be laid down so that friends can know what to expect from the rest of the friends.

The text on Zhuangzi has also emphasized on the saying that, “A friend in need is a friend indeed.” Two of the friends in the first example that involves four friends are seen to care for one another in times of trouble (Blakeley, 2008). One of the friends gets very sick, and the other shows concern by paying the sick friend a visit. The conversation that ensues during the visit is given, where the visiting friend is seen to comfort the sick man. However, the two are seen to read from the same script on the consequences of death. Modern friends can borrow a leaf from this text, where friends should show concern for the welfare of the others, especially in times of need.

Finally, this text portrays the need to support the families of our friends when our friends are in dire need for our support. When the family members of the sick person start to cry over the health of their sick friend, the visiting friend comforts them and instructs them not to cry anymore (Blakeley, 2008). Likewise, we should be available to support and comfort the immediate family members of our friends in case our friends are in trouble.

Strengths and Weaknesses of the Text on Zhuangzi

One of the strengths of this piece of writing on the ethical issue of friendship is that examples of friends who were involved in particular types of friendships have been given. The examples emphasize the results of taking part in various forms of friendship. Another strength that is portrayed in this text is the fact that the actual family set up has been brought up. As human beings, we live in particular family setups. A text becomes interesting and lively the moment the writer infuses the family setup into his writing. Additionally, the family setup helps to communicate the emphasis that the author intends to put across.

On the other hand, there are weaknesses in the way the Zhuangzi text describes the issue of friendship. The qualities to look for in a friend are not vivid in this text. The question of friendship is not discussed in a length that gives more emphasis on the ethical issue of friendship. In addition, the issue of friendship only focuses on death as a transitional stage to another form of life. One may argue that more could have been done to describe friendship on other occasions, other than death, such as during weddings.

Similarities and Differences between ‘the Analects’ and the ‘Zhuangzi’ Text

The two texts have emphasized the importance of friendship. In the Analects, the master is quoted several times mentioning the importance of friendship (Muller, 2013). In fact, he went on to say that he would have loved to die at the hands of his friends, rather than the hands of his opponents. This is a similar theme in the Zhuangzi text, where one sick person is comforted by his friend until the time the ailing friend meets his death (Hansen, 2014). Both texts have also given the conditions in which friendship should be anchored. In the Analects, the founding pillars of friendship are trust and loyalty. In the Zhuangzi text, the founding pillar of friendship is to provide support in times of death (Coutinho, 2010). The two texts differ on the pillars of friendship, but both of them acknowledge the importance of having supporting pillars in any given friendship.

One of the differences that the two texts have is their view of death. In the Analects book, the master is seen to be moved by the need to assist the bereaved family, even to a point of organizing for the burial (Muller, 2013). On the other hand, the Zhuangzi text does not seem to emphasize the need to worry much about the dead (Blakeley, 2008). When one master in the Zhuangzi text visits a bereaved family, he is seen to say a few words of respect and does not show signs of sorrow. The master in this context, as recorded by Hansen (2014), is said to have a different view of death, which is a justification for his reaction.

Another difference that is seen in the two texts is the use of examples. In the Analects text, there are no external cases that are used to show the effects of specific types of friendships. On the contrary, the Zhuangzi gives at least two examples, where two sets of friends, three and four respectively, are engaged in separate relationships. The choice of examples determines how the intended message will be received by the reader. Some people may hold to the thought that the first text that uses the first person persona has more influence because the writer gives an account of his experiences. On the other hand, some people may argue that the second person persona creates a lively environment because the reader can compare the actions of each character mentioned in the book.

The discussions in these two texts have been supported by texts like Ivanhoe and Patsy Cline. In Ivanhoe, Scott (1820) says that, “I must trust to your friendship for an apology in your eyes” (p. 11). This illustrates how important it is to maintain friendship to a point that one gives an apology to his friend in case he does something that hurts the friend. Bartles, Showers, and Brannon (2005) admit that friendship is very important as they review what is written in the Cline. They say that, “Aunt Maud was very loved by all her nieces and nephews. She was the one they turned to for comfort and care” (p. 15). This translates to the fact that we will have people to turn to in times of trouble if we maintain healthy friendships.

Conclusion

Friendship is one of the ethical issues that mankind has to deal with in a manner that is acceptable to the society. In the Analects of Confucius, friendship is said to be anchored on trustworthiness and loyalty. In addition, the text gives the importance of celebrating with friends that we have not been in contact with for a long time. On the other hand, the Zhuangzi text outlines the terms that should hold a given friendship. This book also shows the importance of visiting our friends in case they are in need. The two books are similar because they stress on the importance of friendship and the conditions on which friendship should be anchored. However, the two texts differ on the issue of death. Whereas, the master in the Analects shows concern for the dead friend, the master in Zhuangzi does not seem to care much about the death of the fallen friend.

References

Bartles, C., Showers, L. M., & Brannon, W. R. (2005). Patsy Cline: Our father’s other daughter, the never before told story of country music legend Patsy Cline’s real father and her unknown family. Lincoln: iUniverse.

Blakeley, D. N. (2008). Hearts in agreement: Zhuangzi on Dao adept friendship. Philosophy East and West, 58(3), 318-336.

Coutinho, S. (2010). Zhuangzi (Chuang-Tzu, 369-298 B.C.E.). Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Web.

Eno, R. (2013). The Analects of Confucius. An online teaching translation. Web.

Hansen, C. (2014). Zhuangzi. Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy. Web.

Muller, A. C. (2013). The analects of Confucius. Web.

Scott, W. (1820). Ivanhoe: A romance. London: Edinburgh.

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