exemplary person, paradigmatic individual
Confucius is responsible for altering the meaning of this term from denoting political status to indicating moral status. That is, what had meant mere prince, literally the son (zi) of a lord (jun), was altered to mean one worthy of high station by virtue of moral achievement. For Xunzi, as for other Confucians, “junzi” may be reasonably translated “exemplary person,” for the junzi is one who fulfills the crucial role of teacher and model (fa) of ritual propriety (li) and appropriate (yi) conduct. Xunzi writes:
“Junzi speak seldom but serve as exemplary models (fa).” (Xunzi 6.9)
“The learning of the junzi inters through his ears, adheres to his thoughts and feelings (xin), spreads to his four limbs, and is embodied in his actions. Every word, every subtle movement, may be taken as a model and pattern.” (Xunzi 1.9)
“Junzi measure themselves with a stretched cord [i.e. strictly]. . . . Thus, they may be taken as a model worthy of emulation everywhere.” (Xunzi 5.7)
“Junzi achieve the epitome of compelling character (de 德). Though silent, they serve as an analogy.” (Xunzi 3.9b)
Similarly, Confucius remarks:
“A junzi’s influential character (de 德) is the wind; a petty person’s influential character is the grass. When the wind flows over grass, it is sure to bend.” (Analects 12.19)
This last statement occurs in the context of Confucius encouraging a ruler to be good (shan) and govern properly, for in so doing he would be a model for the people.
Paul Goldin’s translation of junzi as “noble man” is a clever attempt to suggest both the earlier political meaning as well as the later moral meaning. However, it does not directly reveal the function of junzi as moral exemplars. In addition, when Confucius changes “junzi” from a political and hereditary concept to a moral one, the concept junzi, at least arguably, looses its gender.