Confucius: Jokes, Quotations and History


Confucius (551B.C.–479B.C.) was a great thinker in ancient China. His philosophies gained prominence in China over other doctrines for 2,000 years from Han Dynasty (206B.C.–220A.D.) to Qing Dynasty (1644A.D.–1911A.D.)

Like Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu, Confucius was a humorous philosopher in Chinese history. The Analects and other historical books recorded many funny Confucius sayings and golden rules. These wise words portray Confucius as an amiable old man and wise teacher.

Confucius Jokes: History and Anti-Chinese Feeling

Today many people use Confucius jokes in the United States. But in fact these funny sayings have nothing to do with Confucius. They are culture-bound folk humors originated from Anti-Chinese feeling about two centuries ago.

In 19th century when Chinese workers entered the United States to work building railroads in the American west, they still followed Confucian philosophy in a religious manner. They often used non-grammatical format of the quotations from the Analects of Confucius beginning with “Confucius say” instead of using “Confucius says” or “Confucius said.”

Anti-Chinese feeling was generated as the Chinese population in the US grew. Some people created the one-liners beginning with “Confucius say” to mock Chinese. This was the beginning of the American Confucius jokes.

Dirty and Clean Hilarious Short Jokes of Confucius Quotes

Today the anti-Chinese feeling of Confucius jokes has faded away. These short jokes have become standard-format folk humor beginning with the non-grammatical “Confucius say.”

A Confucius joke can be dirty or clean. Examples of clean Confucius jokes include: Confucius Say, Dumb man climb tree to get cherry, wise man spread limbs; Confucius Say, Man who cut self while shaving, lose face. There are also many dirty Confucius jokes available online.

Real Humorous Confucian Sayings in History

In fact there are many real Confucian funny sayings in Chinese classical books. For example, in the Analects chapter 7, Hwan Tui, a general of the Song State, tried to kill Confucius but the philosopher escaped. Being safe enough, Confucius explained why he survived, “Heaven produced the virtue that is in me. What can Hwan Tui do to me?”

Another story from the Records of the Grand Historian showed a self-mocking Confucius: In the State of Zheng, Confucius lost his students. He stood outside the east gate by himself, not knowing what to do. A student found him and said, “A citizen told me that there was an old man standing outside the east gate like a stray cur. So I find you.” Hearing this, Confucius smiled and said, “Yes, indeed. I’m really a stray cur.”


  1. Confucius, Analects of Confucius (about 450 B.C.–250 B.C.)
  2. Sima Qian, Records of the Grand Historian (104 B.C.–91 B.C.)
  3. Gershon Legman, Rationale of the Dirty Joke (1968) page 164