I first heard of this Chinese idiom, ‘Zheng Ren Junzi’, in my teens from a girlfriend, two years my junior. In English, the idiom can be translated to ‘Upright person, superior man’. This girlfriend had been learning from those who were much older and wiser than the both of us.
The superior man possessing the quality of an upright person speaks volumes to those who cultivate. But for a teenager or a beginner, it can mean something or pretty nothing.
Being an upright person, a Junzi is honorable. The Junzi does not make promises lightly and once made, keeps them by taking the relevant follow up actions. For justice (yi), they may even give up their lives, their fortunes or their prominent stations in life to help the weak. See some similarity with the meaning of the English gentleman? The gentleman is the nearest equivalent to a Junzi.
In their upbringing, the Chinese can learn about the Junzi from their parents, elder relatives, teachers, friends, and in modern eras - through news media, TV and films. Therefore these Chinese enjoy a small advantage over others who have not heard of the term, Junzi, until they become a student of ancient Chinese philosophy. This small advantage has been emphasized upon by Carl Jung in his commentary on the Secret of the Golden Flower, an esoteric Daoist text.
Almost everyone who is taught or has some knowledge about the Junzi knows the difficulty to become one. For an in-depth understanding of the term, Junzi, students even if they happen to be Chinese will have to read the same ancient books and classics as the learned to learn more about this type of exemplary persons.
The Zhouyi, as an ancient Book of Wisdom, provides a guide to earnest student on how to become a Junzi. Confucius and Mencius in their respective books or teachings also provide students with an opportunity to learn how to be a Junzi. The Book of History, the Book of Rites, the Spring and Autumn Annals describe the instructions, rituals (Li), and actions of various rulers and their ministers. From these books and classics, students can also learn how to differentiate between the actions of the Da Ren, Junzi and the Xiao Ren – if we put our hearts into the studies.
Meanwhile, there is an interesting ongoing discussion in the I Ching Forum under ‘Divination’ titled ‘Junzi and the trigrams’ where Yi aficionados with varying years of studies each give their perspective of the Junzi. If interested, find out for yourself who will provide the most in-depth answer to the term and why, by clicking the website on the ‘Recommended Sites’ section to your right.