May Heaven punish me!

Nanzi

子見南子,子路不說。夫子矢之曰:「予所否者,天厭之!天厭之!」
Confucius went to see Nanzi (the concubine of Duke Ling of Wei). Zilu was not happy. Confucius swore: “If I have done wrong, may Heaven punish me! May Heaven punish me!”

You only have to glance at the portrayals of the notorious Qing Dynasty Dowager Empress Cixi and Tang Dynasty Empress Wu Zetian to realize that powerful women do not enjoy the most, er, wholesome of reputations in Chinese history. Both are accused not only of quite incredible feats of promiscuity but also of using their feminine wiles to seduce innocent men in their insatiable lust for power and riches.

As the concubine of Duke Ling of Wei, Nanzi didn’t quite reach the dizzying heights (or should that be depths) of Cixi and Wu Zetian  but she still managed to gain a rather unsavory reputation as a loose woman and political schemer that has lived on for over 2,000 years. Indeed, in the rather dire 2010 movie Confucius starring Chow Yun-Fat she was portrayed as the sage’s love interest.

This was done no doubt to add some spice to the movie, but it wasn’t entirely baseless. One of the reasons that Confucius’s disciple Zilu was unhappy with him for meeting Nanzi was because he may have suspected that the two of them had done more than chat with each other – or at the very least he had given reason for rumors to circulate that Confucius and Nanzi had become romantically involved.

Zilu may also have been concerned that Confucius was enlisting Nanzi’s help in securing a position in Duke Ling’s court – giving the sage’s political enemies yet more ammunition for attacking him and ejecting him from the state of Wei.

Even if Confucius’s motives in meeting Nanzi were entirely innocent, he showed extraordinary political ineptitude in this incident. When challenged by Zilu, he doesn’t exactly cover himself in glory either, preferring to ask for Heaven’s verdict rather than defending his actions or – God forbid – the honor of Nanzi.

Not surprisingly, Confucius and his disciples left Wei empty-handed soon afterwards.

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