Guan Zhong

Guan Zhong (管仲) was the chief minister of the state of Qi (齊) during the seventh century BC. He was born in c. 720 BC and died in c. 645 BC, just over a hundred years before Confucius was born.

After his appointment to the position of chief minister in 685 BC, he encouraged Duke Huan of Qi (齊桓公) to implement a raft of political, administrative, and economic reforms that ultimately made Qi one of the most powerful and wealthiest states during the Spring and Autumn period (7771-476 BC).

Confucius had mixed feelings about Guan Zhong. Even though he strongly defends him in Chapter XVI and Chapter XVII of Book 14 of the Analects, his sharp criticism in Chapter XXII of Book 3 suggests that he also blamed him for destroying traditional Zhou dynasty culture and institutions with his technocratic reforms.

Appearances in the Analects of Confucius
Book 3, Chapter XXII
Book 14, Chapter IX
Book 14, Chapter XVI
Book 14, Chapter XVII

Book 3
Chapter XXII
子曰:「管仲之器小哉。」或曰:「管仲儉乎?」曰:「管氏有三歸,官事不攝,焉得儉?然則管仲知禮乎?」曰:「邦君樹塞門,管氏亦樹塞門。邦君為兩君之好,有反坫,管氏亦有反坫。管氏而知禮,孰不知禮?」
Confucius said: “Guan Zhong was a man of truly mediocre capabilities.” Someone objected: “Wasn’t Guan Zhong frugal?” Confucius replied: “Guan Zhong had three households, each one staffed by a huge retinue. How could he be called frugal?” “But didn’t he know the rites?” “Even though only the ruler of a state can place a screen to mask the view of his gate, he also had one installed. Even though only the ruler of a state can use a special stand to place his inverted cup on when meeting with another ruler, Guan Zhong had one too. If you say Guan Zhong knew the rites, then who doesn’t know them?”

Book 14
Chapter IX
或問「子產」,子曰:「惠人也。」問「子西」,曰:「彼哉彼哉!」問「管仲」,曰:「人也,奪伯氏駢邑三百,飯疏食,沒齒無怨言。」
Someone asked about Zichan. Confucius said: “He was a generous man.” “And what about Zixi?” “Don’t even mention his name!” “And what about Guan Zhong?” “What a man! He seized over three hundred households in Pian from the head of the Bo family. But even though he was reduced to eating coarse food until the end of his days, the poor man could never bring himself to utter a single word of complaint against him.”

Chapter XVI
子路曰:「桓公殺公子糾,召忽死之,管仲不死。」曰:「未仁乎!」子曰:「桓公九合諸侯,不以兵車,管仲之力也。如其仁!如其仁!」
Zilu said: “When Duke Huan put Prince Jiu to death, Shao Hu took his own life but Guan Zhong chose to keep his. Should we say that Guan Zhong was a man without goodness?” Confucius said: “Duke Huan was able to bring the rulers of all the states together nine times without having to resort to military force because of the power of Guan Zhong. Such was his goodness, such was his goodness!”

Chapter XVII
子貢曰:「管仲非仁者與?桓公殺公子糾,不能死,又相之。」子曰:「管仲相桓公,霸諸侯,一匡天下,民到于今受其賜。微管仲,吾其被髮左衽矣!豈若匹夫匹婦之為諒也,自經於溝瀆,而莫之知也!」
Zigong said: “Surely Guan Zhong was not a good person. After Duke Huan had Prince Jiu put to death, he not only chose to live but also served as the Duke’s prime minister.” Confucius said: “By serving as Duke Huan’s prime minister, Guan Zhong imposed his authority over all the states and brought order to the world; the people still reap the benefits of his actions until this day. Without Guan Zhong, we would still be wearing our hair loose and folding our robes on the wrong side. Or would you prefer it if he had drowned himself in a ditch like some wretched husband or wife in their small-minded faithfulness and died with nobody knowing about it?”

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