Made To Follow Confucius Sayings But Cannot Made To Understand His Analects

Let’s find out made to follow Confucius line as found in the famous book composed of a collection of his thoughts and ideas.

“The people can be made to follow it, they cannot be made to understand it.” – Confucius

“民可使由之,不可使知之” (Mandarin)

It is from the Book Eight: Tai Bo (泰伯), Chapter Nine of The Analects (論語: lun-yi).

(The Analects Of Confucius Translated By R. Eno, 2015, Ch . 8 Tai-Bo, 8.9, P. 37)

There is another similar version translated by A. Charles Muller:

“You might force people act according a certain principle, but you won’t be able to force them to understand it.” – Confucius

(The Analects Of Confucius Translated Into English By A. Charles Muller, Tai-Bo, 8:9)

The Analects is a collection of the teachings and thoughts of the Chinese philosopher and politician Confucius.

In this book, you also find snippets of dialogues between the great Chinese philosopher Confucius and his disciples.

Note: This is my own interpretation of this particular aphorism by Confucius.

made to follow confucius

Made To Follow Confucius Adage Explained

We can get people to follow our instructions or actions, whether it is by compulsion or coaxing.

But then, we cannot force them to understand it.

For people to understand, their brains need to process the information as presented to them.

The thing is some people lacked of cognitive ability to grasp.

In other words, these folks have trouble processing information in their head, so to speak.

Ironically, it is quite difficult to understand what is understanding.

The term “understanding” I’m talking about here is not about to be sympathetic to someone’s woes.

I am referring to cognition and mental faculties.

But if we really think deeply, this topic can go over our head.

Understanding is a psychological process.

It is related to an abstract or physical object, whereby one is able to think about it and use concepts to deal adequately with that object.

Understanding is related with the ability to make inferences or reasoning.

We often hear people bemoan, “I just can’t get my head around this problem!”.

Then is this thing called deep and shallow understanding.

If you have a more sophisticated understanding, people will say you can understand things “deeply”.

Whereas, someone who has a more limited understanding of a thing, we say he or she has a “shallow” understanding.

The topic on understanding can be quite difficult to understand. No pun intended.

Lead The Horse To Water Proverb

By the way, I think this old popular English proverb is quite similar to Confucius’ saying.

“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” – John Heywood

The original version of this proverb is found in the book titled: “A Dialogue Conteinyng The Nomber In Effect Of All The Prouerbes In The Englishe Tongue: Compacte In A Matter Concernyng Two Maner Of Mariages Made And Set Foorth By John Heywood”.

He was a prominent courtier in Tudor England.

The line is found the first part, chapter eleventh.

It reads:

“A man may well bryng a horse to the water. But he can not make hym drynke without he will.” – John Heyward

It means you can show someone something that will benefit him, but you can’t force him to accept it.

By the way, there is third English translation of this Confucius’ maxim by James Legge:

“The people may be made to follow a path of action, but they may not be made to understand it.” – Confucius

(The Life And Teachings Of Confucius: With Explanatory Notes Vol. I, Translated By James Legge, London: N. Trübner & Co., 1867, Book VIII, IX, P. 164)

Then the meaning is very different.

For this version,  as explained by James is a knowledge of the reasons and principles of what we are called to do need not be required from the people.

Understanding Quotations To Be Understood

Let’s ponder over some of these profound quotes on understanding:

“Everyone hears only what he understands.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“Es hört doch jeder nur, was er versteht.” (German)

(The Maxims And Reflections Of Goethe By Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Translated By Bailey Saunders With A Preface, The Macmillian Company, 1906, Life And Character, 383, P.143)


“…for the eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.” – Robertson Davies

(The Salterton Trilogy By Robertson Davies, Penguin, 1986, Tempest-Tost, Ch. 3, P. 102)


“…understanding brings control…” – Issac Bonewitz

(Real Magic: An Introductory Treatise On The Basic Principles Of YellowLight By Isaac Bonewits, Philip Emmons Isaac Bonewit, Weiser Books, 1989, Ch. One, The Laws Of Magic, P. 3)


“He who does not understand your silence will probably not understand your words.” – Elbert Hubbard

(Selected Writings Of Elbert Hubbard: His Mintage Of Wisdom, Coined From A Life of Love, Laughter And Work, Volume 4, W. H. Wise & Company, 1923, P. 408)

(The quote is also found in: A Thousand & One Epigrams: Selected from the Writings of Elbert Hubbard, The Roycrofters, 1911, P. 60)


“The human understanding is like a false mirror, which, receiving rays irregularly, distorts and discolours the nature of things by mingling its own nature with it.” – Francis Bacon

(The New Organon Or True Directions concerning The Interpretation Of Nature By Francis Bacon, Translated By James Spedding, Robert Leslie Ellis, and Douglas Denon Heath, Boston: Taggard and Thompson, 1863, Aphorisms, Book I, XLI)

(The quote is also found in: The Philosophical Works Of Francis Bacon, With Prefaces And Notes By Robert Leslie Ellis, Together With English Translations Of The Principal Latin Pieces, Edited By James Spedding, In Five Volumes, Vol, IV, London: Longman & co., 1861, Aphorisms, Concerning The Interpretation Of Nature And The Kingdom Of Man, XLI, P. 54)


“…for no law or ordinance is mightier than understanding…” – Plato

(Plutarch’s Moralia: In Fifteen volumes, With An English Translation By Philip H. De Lacy And Benedict Einarson, Volume 7, Harvard University Press, 1959, On Fate, P. 351)

(The quote is also found here)


“For knowledge is grateful to the understanding, as light to the eyes.” – John Locke

(Some Thoughts Concerning Education: Including Of The Conduct Of The Understanding By John Locke, Edited By John William Adamson, Courier Corporation, 2007, Some Thoughts Concerning Education, P. 93)

(The quote is also found in: The Works Of John Locke, Volume 3 By John Locke, Arthur Bettesworth, 1727, Some Thoughts Concerning Education, Of Education, P. 55)


“To understand everything is to hate nothing.” – Roman Rolland, Jean-Christophe

(Romain Rolland’s Jean-Christophe, Volumes 1-3 By Romain Rolland, Translated By Gilbert Cannan, Henry Holt And Company, 1913, Book III, The Burning Bush, P. 199)

(The quote is also found here.)


* Here is a full collection of authentic Confucius sayings taken from his Analects.