Nangong Kuo asked Confucius, saying: “Yi was a great archer, and Ao a great sailor, but neither died a natural death. Yu and Ji toiled on the land, but they came to own the world.” Confucius made no reply. Nangong Kuo left. Confucius said: “He is a true leader! This man truly prizes virtue!”
Yi was and Ao were legendary heroes from the semi-mythical Xia Dynasty (2070 –1600 BC) who ended up meeting untimely deaths because of their immorality.
Depending on which version of the legend you choose to believe, Yi saved the world by shooting down nine of ten suns that threatened the earth, slayed a series of monsters that were menacing humanity, or shot out the left eye of the Lord of the Yellow River as a punishment for killing a multitude of people in heavy flooding. As a reward for his efforts, he was made a regent of the Xia Dynasty king Tai Kang (太康) and usurped his power. Ao was the son of one of Yi’s ministers, and to gain power for himself murdered and dethroned Yi, only to be assassinated by one of his own ministers.
Yu and Ji were honest sons of the soil who were said to have laid the foundations of Chinese civilization by saving the world from floods and inventing agriculture during the third millennium BC. If that weren’t enough, Yu went on to become the founder of the legendary Xia Dynasty while Ji was the forbear of the Confucius’s beloved hero, the Duke of Zhou.
Virtue wins out in the end, I guess.