Disciples of Confucius: Ran Qiu

Ran Qiu (冉求) is also known and Ziyou (子有) and Ran You (冉有). Born in 522 BC, he grew up in a poor household, which probably led to his strong interest in money and financial affairs. Indeed, he looked after Confucius’s own finances for a period of time, and when Lord Meng Wu (孟武伯) asked the sage about Ran Qiu’s qualities, Confucius praised his administrative abilities by saying: “He could be the mayor of a small city or the manager of a large estate.”

Ran Qiu stayed behind after Confucius left his home state of Lu in 497 BC to go into exile, and on being appointed the counselor (宰/zai) of the regent Ji Kangzi (季康子) helped him revive the local economy while enriching himself and his boss in the process.

Despite Confucius’s vociferous condemnation of his behavior (on one occasion the sage ordered his other disciples to “beat the drum, my little ones, and attack him”), Ran Qiu played an instrumental role in persuading Ji Kangzi to invite Confucius to come home in 484 BC from fourteen years of exile, after successfully leading the defense of Lu against an invasion from the state of Qi.

Ran Qiu was related to two of Confucius’s other disciples Ran Geng (冉耕) and Ran Yong (冉雍). He appears to have been popular with the other disciples because of his resourcefulness and many different talents. Ran Qiu died in 489 BC, ten years before Confucius, having showed tremendous loyalty and patience to him despite the sage’s harsh criticisms.

Appearances in the Analects of Confucius
Book 3, Chapter VI
Book 5, Chapter VIII
Book 6, Chapter IV
Book 6, Chapter VIII
Book 6, Chapter XII
Book 7, Chapter XIV
Book 11, Chapter III
Book 11, Chapter XIII
Book 11, Chapter XVII
Book 11, Chapter XXII
Book 11, Chapter XXIV
Book 11, Chapter XXVI
Book 13, Chapter IX
Book 13, Chapter XIV
Book 14, Chapter XII
Book 16, Chapter I

Book 3
Chapter VI
季氏旅於泰山,子謂冉有曰:「女弗能救與?」對曰:「不能。」子曰:「嗚呼!曾謂泰山不如林放乎?」
The head of the Ji Family was about to set off to carry out a sacrifice on Mount Tai. Confucius said to Ran Qiu: “Can you not stop this?” Ran Qiu replied: “I cannot.” The Master said: “Oh no! Has it ever been said that the spirit of Mount Tai has even less knowledge of the rites than Lin Fang?”

Book 5
Chapter VIII
孟武伯問:「子路仁乎?」子曰:「不知也。」又問。子曰:「由也,千乘之國,可使治其賦也,不知其仁也。」「求也何如?」子曰:「求也,千室之邑,百乘之家,可使為之宰也,不知其仁也。」「赤也何如?」子曰:「赤也,束帶立於朝,可使與賓客言也,不知其仁也。」
Lord Meng Wu asked Confucius if Zilu was of good character. Confucius said: “I do not know.” The Lord asked once again. Confucius said: “In a middle-sized country, he could be entrusted with military recruitment. But whether he is of good character, I do not know.” “And what about Ran Qiu?” Confucius said: “Ran Qiu? He could be the mayor of a small city or the manager of a large estate. But whether he is of good character, I do not know.” “And what about Gongxi Chi?” Confucius said: “Gongxi Chi? Standing resplendent with his sash, he could entertain distinguished guests. But whether he is of good character, I do not know.”

Book 6
Chapter IV
子華使於齊,冉子為其母請粟。子曰:「與之釜。」請益。曰:「與之庾。」冉子與之粟五秉。子曰:「赤之適齊也,乘肥馬,衣輕裘。吾聞之也:君子周急不繼富。」
When Gongxi Chi was sent on a mission to the state of Qi, Ran Qiu requested an allowance of grain for Gongxi’s mother. Confucius said: “She should receive a potful.” When he asked for more, Confucius said: “She should receive a measure.” Ran Qiu gave her five bundles. Confucius said: “Gongxi Chi is traveling to Qi with sleek horses and fine furs. I have always heard that a leader helps those in need; he does not make the rich even richer.”

Chapter VIII
季康子問:「仲由可使從政也與?」子曰:「由也果,於從政乎何有?」曰:「賜也可使從政也與?」曰:「賜也達,於從政乎何有?」曰:「求也可使從政也與?」曰:「求也藝,於從政乎何有?」
Ji Kangzi asked: “Is Zilu fit to be appointed to government office?” Confucius said: “Zilu is resolute. Why isn’t he fit to be appointed to government office?” Ji Kangzi asked again: “Is Zigong fit to be appointed to government office?” Confucius said: “Zigong is intelligent. Why isn’t he fit to be appointed to government office?” Ji Kangzi asked again: “Is Ran Qiu fit to be appointed to government office?” Confucius said: “Ran Qiu has many talents. Why isn’t he fit to be appointed to government office?”

Chapter XII
冉求曰:「非不說子之道,力不足也。」子曰:「力不足者,中道而廢。今女畫。」
Ran Qiu said: “It’s not that I don’t enjoy the Master’s Way, but I don’t have the strength to follow it.” Confucius said: “He who doesn’t have the strength can always give up halfway. But you’ve already given up before you’ve even started.”

Book 7
Chapter XIV
冉有曰:「夫子為衛君乎?」子貢曰:「諾,吾將問之。」入曰:「伯夷、叔齊何人也?」曰:「古之賢人也。」曰:「怨乎?」曰:「求仁而得仁,又何怨?」出曰:「夫子不為也。」
Ran Qiu said: “Does our Master support the Duke of Wei?” Zigong said: “Well, I am going to ask him.” Zigong went in and asked Confucius: “What sort of people were Boyi and Shuqi?” “They were virtuous men of old.” “Did they complain?” “They sought goodness and attained goodness. Why should they have complained?” Zigong left and said to Ran Qiu: “Our Master does not support the Duke of Wei.”

Book 11
Chapter III
德行:顏淵、閔子騫、冉伯牛、仲弓;言語:宰我、子貢;政事:冉有、季路;文學:子游、子夏。
Virtuous conduct: Yan Hui, Min Ziqian, Ran Boniu, Ran Yong. Eloquent speech: Zai Yu, Zigong. Government and administration: Ran Qiu, Zilu. Cultural accomplishments: Ziyou, Zixia.

Chapter XIII
閔子侍側,誾誾如也;子路,行行如也;冉有、子貢,侃侃如也。子樂。若由也,不得其死然。
When at Confucius’s side, Min Ziqian looked respectful; Zilu looked feisty; Ran Qiu and Zigong looked relaxed. Confucius joked. “A man like Zilu will not die a natural death.”

Chapter XVII
季氏富於周公,而求也為之聚斂而附益之。子曰:「非吾徒也,小子鳴鼓而攻之可也!」
The head of the Ji Family was wealthier than the Duke of Zhou ever was, but Ran Qiu still assisted him with the collection of taxes to further increase his wealth. Confucius said: “He is no longer my disciple. You may beat the drum and attack him, my young friends.”

Chapter XXII
子路問:「聞斯行諸?」子曰:「有父兄在,如之何其聞斯行之!」冉有問:「聞斯行諸?」子曰:「聞斯行之!」公西華曰:「由也問『聞斯行諸?』,子曰:『有父兄在』;求也問,『聞斯行諸?』子曰:『聞斯行之』。赤也惑,敢問?」子曰:「求也退,故進之;由也兼人,故退之。」
Zilu asked: “If I hear of something that needs to be done, should I immediately take care of it?” Confucius said: “Your father and your elder brother are still alive. How could you take care of it immediately?” Ran Qiu said: “If I hear of something that needs to be done, should I immediately take care of it?” Confucius said: “Take care of it immediately” Gongxi Chi said: “When Zilu asked whether or not he should take care of something that he has heard needs to be done, you told him that his father and elder brother are still alive. But when Ran Qiu asked the very same question, you told him to take care of it immediately. I am confused. May I ask for an explanation?” Confucius said: “Ran Qiu holds himself back, so I push him forward; Zilu has enough energy for two, so I hold him back.”

Chapter XXIV
季子然問:「仲由、冉求,可謂大臣與?」子曰:「吾以子為異之問,曾由與求之問。所謂大臣者,以道事君,不可則止;今由與求也,可謂具臣矣。」曰:「然則從之者與?」子曰:「弒父與君,亦不從也。」
Ji Ziran asked: “Would you say that Zilu and Ran Qiu are great ministers?” Confucius said: “I thought you were going to talk about something different, but you are just asking about Zilu and Ran Qiu. A great minister serves his lord by following the Way, and resigns if there is no possibility of doing so. As for Zilu and Ran Qiu, they might be described as useful.” Ji Ziran said: “Do you mean that they are the type to follow orders?” Confucius said: “They wouldn’t go quite so far as murdering their father or their lord.”

Chapter XXVI
子路、曾皙、冉有、公西華侍坐。子曰:「以吾一日長乎爾,毋吾以也。居則曰:「不吾知也!」如或知爾,則何以哉?」子路率爾而對曰:「千乘之國,攝乎大國之間,加之以師旅,因之以饑饉,由也為之,比及三年,可使有勇,且知方也。」夫子哂之。「求,爾何如?」對曰:「方六七十,如五六十,求也為之,比及三年,可使足民;如其禮樂,以俟君子。」「赤,爾何如?」對曰:「非曰能之,願學焉!宗廟之事,如會同,端章甫,願為小相焉。」「點,爾何如?」鼓瑟希,鏗爾,舍瑟而作。對曰:「異乎三子者之撰。」子曰:「何傷乎?亦各言其志也。」曰:「莫春者,春服既成;冠者五六人,童子六七人,浴乎沂,風乎舞雩,詠而歸。」夫子喟然嘆曰:「吾與點也!」三子者出,曾皙後。曾皙曰:「夫三子者之言何如?」子曰:「亦各言其志也已矣!」曰:「夫子何哂由也?」曰:「為國以禮,其言不讓,是故哂之。」「唯求則非邦也與?」「安見方六七十,如五六十,而非邦也者。」「唯赤,非邦也與?」「宗廟會同,非諸侯而何?赤也為之小,孰能為之大!」

Zilu, Zeng Dian, Ran Qiu, and Gongxi Chi were sitting with Confucius. Confucius said: “Forget for a moment that I am your elder. You often say: ‘People do not recognize our talents.’ But if you were given the opportunity, what would you wish to do?”

Zilu eagerly replied first: “Give me a middle-sized country wedged between powerful neighbors that is under attack from invading armies and gripped by drought and famine. If I were to govern it, within three years I would give its people courage and set them in the right direction.”

Confucius smiled at him: “Ran Qiu, what about you?” Ran Qiu replied: “If I was allowed to run a territory of sixty or seventy or, say, fifty to sixty li, within three years I would secure the prosperity of its people. As for the rites and music, they would have to wait for a true man of character to take over.”

“Gongxi Chi, what about you?” “I am not saying that I would be able to do this, but I would like to try: in the ceremonies at the Ancestral Temple, such as a diplomatic conference, wearing ceremonial cap and robes, I would like to act as a junior official.”

“And what about you, Zeng Dian?” Zeng Dian plucked one final chord of the zither he had been playing and put it down by his side. He replied: “My wish is very different than those of my three companions.” Confucius said: “What harm is there in that? After all, each one is simply speaking from his heart.”

Zeng Dian said: “In late spring, after all the spring clothes have been made, I would like to go out together with five or six companions and six or seven boys to bathe in the River Yi, enjoy the breeze on the Rain Dance Terrace, and then return home singing.” Confucius let out a wistful sigh and said: “I am with Dian.”

After the other three disciples had left, Zeng Dian stayed behind and said: “What did you think of their wishes?” Confucius said: “Each was indeed speaking from his heart.”

Zeng Dian asked: “Why did you smile at Zilu?” Confucius said: “You should govern a state according to the rites, but his words showed no such restraint. That is why I smiled.”

“Ran Qiu was actually talking about running an independent country, wasn’t he?” “Of course. Have you ever seen ‘a territory of sixty to seventy, or fifty to sixty li?’”

“And Gongxi Chi? Wasn’t he also talking about running a country as well?” “A diplomatic conference in the Ancestral Temple! What could this be but an affair of state?” And if Gongxi Chi were there merely to act as junior official, who could possibly be qualified to act as the senior one?”

Zilu, Zeng Dian, Ran Qiu, and Gongxi Chi were sitting with Confucius. Confucius said: “Forget for a moment that I am your elder. You often say: ‘People do not recognize our talents.’ But if you were given the opportunity, what would you wish to do?”

Zilu rushed to reply first: “Give me a medium-sized country squeezed between powerful neighbors that is under attack and in the grip of drought and famine. Put me in command and within three years, I would revive the courage of the people and guide them in the right direction.”

Confucius smiled: “Ran Qiu, what about you?”

Ran Qiu replied: “Give me a domain of sixty or seventy – or, say, fifty to sixty li (miles); within three years I would secure the prosperity of its people. As regards the rites and music, I would have to wait for the intervention of a true man of character.”

“Gongxi Chi, what about you?”

Gongxi Chi replied: “I’m not saying that I would be able to do this, but I’m willing to learn! During the ceremonies at the Ancestral Temple, such as a conference for instance, I would like to serve as a junior assistant wearing a dark square robe and black linen cap.”

“And what about you, Zeng Dian?”

Zeng Dian, who had been softly playing his zithern, plucked one last chord and put his instrument aside. He replied: “I’m afraid my wish is not up to the same level as the wishes of my three companions.” Confucius said: “What is the harm in that? After all, each is simply expressing his own personal wishes.”

“In late spring, when the making of the of the spring clothes has been completed, together with five or six friends and six or seven boys, I would like to bathe in the River Yi, and then enjoy the breeze among the rain dance altars and return home singing.” Confucius heaved a deep sigh and said: “I am with Dian.”

After the three others had left, Zeng Dian remained behind and said: “What did you think of their wishes?” Confucius said: “Each simply confided his own personal wishes.”

Zeng Dian asked: “Why did you smile at Zilu?”

Confucius said: “You should govern a state according to the rites; yet his words weren’t humble.”

“As for Ran Qiu, wasn’t he in fact talking about a real state?”

“Indeed. I have never heard of ‘a domain of sixty to seventy, or fifty to sixty li (miles)’”

And Gongxi Chi? Wasn’t he also talking about a state?”

“A conference in the Ancestral Temple! What could it be but a major gathering?” And if Gongxi Chi were there just to serve as a junior assistant, who would be qualified to be in charge of it?”

Book 13
Chapter IX
子適衛,冉有僕。子曰:「庶矣哉!」冉有曰:「既庶矣,又何加焉?」曰:「富之。」曰:「既富矣,又何加焉?」曰:「教之。」
When Confucius was traveling to Wei, Ran Qiu was driving his carriage. Confucius said: “There are so many people!” Ran Qiu said: “When there are so many people, what should be done next?” “Enrich them. “When they are rich, what should be done next?” “Educate them.”

Chapter XIV
冉子退朝,子曰:「何晏也?」對曰:「有政。」子曰:「其事也!如有政,雖不吾以,吾其與聞之!」
When Ran Qiu returned from court, Confucius said: “What kept you so long?” Ran Qiu replied: “Government affairs.” Confucius said: “Surely you mean private affairs. If it had been any government affairs I would have heard about them, even though I’m not in office.”

Book 14
Chapter XII
子路問「成人」。子曰:「若臧武仲之知,公綽之不欲,卞莊子之勇,冉求之藝,文之以禮樂,亦可以為成人矣!」曰:「今之成人者,何必然?見利思義,見危授命,久要不忘平生之言,亦可以為成人矣!」
Zilu asked how to define a “complete man”. Confucius said: “Take a man as wise as Zang Wuzhong, as abstemious as Gongchuo, as brave as Zhuangzi of Bian, and as proficient in the arts as Ran Qiu, as well as being accomplished in the rites and music, and he may be considered a complete man.” Then he added: “But must a complete man be exactly like this today? Someone who thinks of what is right at the sight of profit, who is ready to risk their life when faced with danger, and who can endure hardship without forgetting the teachings that have guided his daily life may also be considered a complete person.”

Book 16
Chapter I
季氏將伐顓臾。冉有季路見於孔子曰:「季氏將有事於顓臾。」孔子曰:「求,無乃爾是過與?夫顓臾,昔者先王以為東蒙主,且在邦域之中矣,是社稷之臣也,何以伐為?」冉有曰:「夫子欲之;吾二臣者,皆不欲也。」孔子曰:「求,周任有言曰:『陳力就列,不能者止。』危而不持,顛而不扶,則將焉用彼相矣?且爾言過矣。虎兕出於柙,龜玉毀於櫝中,是誰之過與?」冉有曰:「今夫顓臾,固而近於費,今不取,後世必為子孫憂。」孔子曰:「求,君子疾夫舍曰『欲之』,而必為之辭。丘也聞,有國有家者,不患寡而患不均,不患貧而患不安。蓋均無貧,和無寡,安無傾。夫如是,故遠人不服,則修文德以來之。既來之,則安之。今由與求也,相夫子,遠人不服而不能來也,邦分崩離析,而不能守也,而謀動干戈於邦內,吾恐季孫之憂,不在顓臾,而在蕭牆之內也!」
The head of the Ji family was preparing to attack Zhuanyu. Ran Qiu and Zilu went to see Confucius and said: “Ji Kangzi is going to intervene in Zhuanyu.”

Confucius said: “Qiu, this is your fault, isn’t it? In the past, our ancient kings gave Zhuanyu the responsibility of offering sacrifices to Mount Dongmeng; moreover it lies in the heart of our borders and is paying tribute to us. Why attack it?”

Ran Qiu said: “It is the wish of our master; it is not the wish of either of us.”

Confucius said: “Qiu! Zhou Ren had a saying, ‘he who has strength stands firm; he who lacks strength withdraws.’ What sort of assistant is one who cannot steady his master when he stumbles or stops him when he falls? In any case, what you said is mistaken. If a tiger or rhinoceros escapes from its cage or if a tortoise shell or a jade amulet is broken in its casket who should be responsible?”

Ran Qiu said: “But Zhuanyu has strong defenses and is close to our master’s stronghold at Bi. If he does not take it today, in the future it is sure to become a threat to his children and grandchildren.”

Confucius said: “Qiu! A leader detests those who invent excuses for their actions instead of simply saying: ‘I want this.’ I have heard it said that a head of a state or the chief of a clan worries not about having a small population but inequality, and not about poverty but instability. For if there is equality there will be no poverty, if there is harmony there will be no lack of population, and if there is stability there will be no unrest. It is for this reason that if people from afar still resist joining you, you must cultivate your virtue to attract them; and then, once they have come, you must ensure they are content with it. But, with you two as his ministers, people from afar are unwilling to join your master and won’t come; his state is racked with divisions and unrest, and he cannot hold it together any longer; but he still plots to wage war within the borders of the state itself! I’m afraid that for Ji Kangzi, the real threat does not come from Zhuanyu, but lies within the walls of his own palace!”

Chapter XIV
冉有曰:「夫子為衛君乎?」子貢曰:「諾,吾將問之。」入曰:「伯夷、叔齊何人也?」曰:「古之賢人也。」曰:「怨乎?」曰:「求仁而得仁,又何怨?」出曰:「夫子不為也。」
Ran Qiu said: “Does our Master support the Duke of Wei?” Zigong said: “Well, I am going to ask him.” Zigong went in and asked Confucius: “What sort of people were Boyi and Shuqi?” “They were virtuous men of old.” “Did they complain?” “They sought goodness and attained goodness. Why they should have complained?” Zigong left and said to Ran Qiu: “Our Master does not support the Duke of Wei.”

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