Jun Zi: Confucius’ Teachings on Being a Gentleman

By Sunny Chao | November 7, 2021
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Confucius-Lao-Zi-Zhang-Cuiying
Painting "Confucius Asks about Decorum" by Zhang Cuiying. Among the many topics the Chinese sage Confucius covered in his teachings, how to be a gentleman was a serious concern, and thus thoroughly covered. In the painting he is asking Lao Zi, his teacher, for guidance. (Image: courtesy of artist Zhang Cuiying)

Jun Zi (君子), an ancient Chinese term, describes a virtuous man who is forever striving to perfect his character through virtue and morality; namely, a gentleman.

“A true gentleman needs to possess the qualities of a 君子, which are to speak less and do more, always help others in need, and having the courage to acknowledge and improve upon one’s mistakes,” said Mr. William Li, Shen Yun’s principal dancer, in an interview. Shen Yun , a renowned performing arts company based in New York, aims to revive the five thousand years of traditional Chinese culture that was nearly lost in the Cultural Revolution.

Jun Zi is an important concept in traditional Chinese culture. It is a core concept in Confucianism, a philosophical thought that has remained influential across China throughout Chinese history. 

Confucius was a Chinese philosopher and educator from 551–479 BC. He founded Confucianism, and is generally considered one of the paragons among Chinese sages.

His book, Analects of Confucius, contains a wealth of wisdom demonstrated in historical dialogues between the sage and his followers as they traveled around the Divine Land (神州, Shen Zhou, one of China’s ancient names). The text explicitly depicts what traits a Jun Zi has and how to achieve that status.

The following quotes about “Jun Zi” from The Analects of Confucius sheds light on traditional Chinese thinking and moral values:

“Jun Zi works hard to transcend spiritually rather than pursuing self interest.”

“He does not worry about being poor. The decline of morality in society is his only concern.” 

“Jun Zi guards against three tendencies: In his youth, he guards against lust before he is physically mature. When he is mature and has physical strength, he guards against fighting and daring. In his old age, he is cautious of being covetousness”

When one of his followers asked him how to be a Jun Zi, Confucius replied, “He who takes action before talking about it is a Jun Zi.”

When another follower asked the same question, Confucius replied: “Jun Zi has neither worries nor fear. Since he is upright, there is nothing for him to fear or be anxious over.”

“Jun Zi does not pursue the satisfaction of food or comfort of living. He works hard when doing things and chooses his words carefully when speaking.”

“Taking morality (道義 dao yi) as the fundamental trait, he practices it earnestly; expressing himself with humble words, he tries his best to attain it — this is a true Jun Zi.”

“He who fears only his own inadequacy and does not pursue others’ recognition is a Jun Zi.”