Frontiers of Philosophy in China

, Volume 5, Issue 1, pp 1–30 | Cite as

Courage in The Analects: A genealogical survey of the confucian virtue of courage

Research Article


The different meanings of “courage” in The Analects were expressed in Confucius’ remark on Zilu’s bravery. The typological analysis of courage in Mencius and Xunzi focused on the shaping of the personalities of brave persons. “Great courage” and “superior courage”, as the virtues of “great men” or “shi junzi 士君子 (intellectuals with noble characters)”, exhibit not only the uprightness of the “internal sagacity”, but also the rich implications of the “external kingship”. The prototype of these brave persons could be said to be between Zengzi’s courage and King Wen’s courage. The discussion entered a new stage of Neo-Confucianism in the Song and Ming dynasties, when admiration for “Yanzi’s great valor” became the key of various arguments. The order of “the three cardinal virtues” was also discussed because it concerned the relationship between “finished virtue” and “novice virtue”; hence, the virtue of courage became internalized as an essence of the internal virtuous life. At the turn of the 20th century, when China was trembling under the threat of foreign powers, intellectuals remodeled the tradition of courage by redefining “Confucius’ great valor”, as Liang Qichao did in representative fashion in his book Chinese Bushido. Hu Shi’s Lun Ru 论儒 (On Ru) was no more than a repetition of Liang’s opinion. In the theoretical structures of the modern Confucians, courage is hardly given a place. As one of the three cardinal virtues, bravery is but a concept. In a contemporary society where heroes and sages exist only in history books, do we need to talk about courage? How should it be discussed? These are questions which deserve our consideration.


yong Zilu’s bravery Zengzi’s bravery Yanzi’s great valor Confucius’ great valor 


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© Higher Education Press and Springer Berlin Heidelberg 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophySun Yat-sen UniversityGuangzhouChina

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