Confucius at Eighty: Sufficiently Decayed or Ready for a Great Xi Change?

克己復禮 Keji fuli (restrain the self, restore the rites).

Kong Qiu, Kongzi, or Master Kong, known in English as “Confucius,” marked the passing of the decades:

At fifteen I set my heart upon learning.
At thirty, I had planted my feet firm upon the ground.
At forty, I no longer suffered from perplexities.
At fifty, I knew what were the biddings of Heaven.
At sixty, I heard them with docile ear.
At seventy, I could follow the dictates of my own heart;for what I desired no longer overstepped the boundaries of right.

But eighty? Nothing. No help at all, perhaps because he had died?

So when I passed the age of eighty myself, I instead turned for advice to Koko, a supposedly Japanese character in W.S. Gilbert’s supposedly Japanese Mikado, who sings:

There is beauty in extreme old age.
Do you fancy you are elderly enough?
Information I’m requesting
On a subject interesting:
Is a maiden all the better when she’s tough?  

Are you old enough to marry, do you think?
Won’t you wait till you are eighty in the shade?
There’s a fascination frantic
In a ruin that’s romantic;
Do you think you are sufficiently decayed?

You can hear them sing it at

If Master Kong had responded using Gilbert’s trimeter anapests it might have looked something like this, but even Gilbert could not have found a rhyme for that infernal nonsense “Confucius”:

Yes there’s beauty in extreme old age.
My feet are not yet planted in the ground.
I’m an octogenarian
Waiting to be centenarian
I’m a junzi who is waiting to be crowned.

At seventy, the dictates of my heart
Would never let me stray into the wrong.
I heard them with a docile ear
That turned into a fossil ear.
I’m still waiting to be crowned King Kong.

You venerate my lecture “table-scraps”
(That’s “Analects” in English) to begin.
Commentators periphrastic
Made my legacy dynastic,
But some Confucians lost it in the Qin.

The Han drew all together under Tian.
But Latter Han then fell apart again.
Three heroes dared to eat a peach,
And Buddhists called out each to each,
Before Tang Taizu centered it again.

The Neo-Way philosophers of Song
Revived my Dao and searched for living roots.
Their philosophies might vary
But were Sources for deBary
And ripened into many Zhu Xi fruits.[1]

In recent years I ‘ve seen a big Xi change,
With China’s roots pushed back 5,000 years.
If to legacies Confucian
We add Maoist Revolution
The sum is oligarchic engineers.

[1] Some texts have the variant “Juicy Fruits” ®

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