The Image Bank


Drawing of Confucius


Early Confucian thinkers feature in our Portraits of Integrity series.

Ancient Confucian thinkers harshly criticized a kind of people called “village worthies (xiang yuan 鄉原).” When the ancient Confucians used this term, they referred to people who typically held a political position in their village. These village worthies were popular because they were eager to please those around them. They projected the image that they have the kind of character idealized by people in the village when in fact they did not. Confucius (5-6th century BCE) explicitly condemned the village worthies as “thieves of virtue.” Mencius (4th century BCE) later on elaborated on this idea of thieves of virtue and raised the worry that the presence of these village worthies would confuse people’s conception of what is truly ethical. Mencius also expressed frustration with the fact that since the conduct of these village worthies agrees with the norms and customs of the society, it is difficult to locate their fault and allege what exactly they have done wrong.

Suggested reading

  • Confucius, 17.3 in The Analects, translated by D.C. Lau 1979. London: Penguin Books.
  • Confucius, 7B:37 in Mencius, translated by D.C. Lau. 2003. London: Penguin Books.
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