Followers of Confucius: Zigong

Zigong (子貢) was known by a variety of different names, including Duanmu Ci (端木賜), Duanmu Zigong (端木子貢), Duanmu Zigan (端木子贛), and Wei Ci (衛賜).

Born in 520 BCE, Zigong was a native of the state of Wei and had already established himself as a successful and wealthy businessman in the states of Cao and Lu by the time he met Confucius.

With his sharp mental acuity and great enthusiasm, Zigong was quick to grasp the key elements of Confucius’s philosophy and soon became one of the sage’s closest confidantes. Indeed, Zigong is one of the most often-quoted disciples in the Analects, making frequent appearances throughout the book as he questions Confucius on all manner of subjects.

After his time with Confucius, Zigong became an accomplished official and statesman in his own right, assuming high-level offices in the states of Wei and Lu at various times and traveling extensively to other states. As a result of his diplomacy, he secured an invitation for Confucius from the Duke of Chu and persuaded the Duke of Qi to return to Lu the towns he had occupied.

Following the death of Confucius, Zigong lived for six years near the sage’s tomb – twice as long as the other followers. He then devoted himself to promoting Confucius’s thought, mostly in the state of Qi, where he died.

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Appearances in the Analects of Confucius

Book 1, Chapter 10
Book 1, Chapter 15
Book 2, Chapter 13
Book 3, Chapter 17
Book 5, Chapter 4
Book 5, Chapter 9
Book 5, Chapter 12
Book 5, Chapter 13
Book 5, Chapter 15
Book 6, Chapter 8
Book 6, Chapter 30
Book 7, Chapter 14
Book 9, Chapter 6
Book 9, Chapter 13
Book 11, Chapter 3
Book 11, Chapter 13
Book 11, Chapter 16
Book 11, Chapter 19
Book 12, Chapter 7
Book 12, Chapter 8
Book 12, Chapter 23
Book 13, Chapter 20
Book 13, Chapter 24
Book 14, Chapter 17
Book 14, Chapter 28
Book 14, Chapter 29
Book 14, Chapter 35
Book 15, Chapter III
Book 15, Chapter X
Book 15, Chapter XXIV
Book 17, Chapter XIX
Book 17, Chapter XXIV
Book 19, Chapter XX
Book 19, Chapter XXI
Book 19, Chapter XXII
Book 19, Chapter XXIII
Book 19, Chapter XXIV
Book 19, Chapter XXV

Book 1
Chapter 10
Ziqin asked Zigong: “When the Master arrives in another state and needs to find out about the affairs of its government, does he have to ask for this information or do people give him it of their own accord?” Zigong replied: “The Master obtains it by being warm, kind, courteous, unassuming, and deferential. He has a very different way of seeking out information than other people, hasn’t he?”

Chapter 15
Zigong said: “’Poor but not subservient; wealthy but not arrogant.’ What do you think of that?” The Master said: “Not bad, but this would be better still: ‘Poor but content; wealthy but loves the rites.’” Zigong said: “In the Book of Songs it is said: ‘Like carving and polishing stones, like cutting and grinding gems.’ Is this not the same idea?” Confucius said: “Wonderful, Zigong! At last I can discuss the Book of Songs with you! Based on what I’ve already said, you can work out what’s coming next!”

Book 2
Chapter 13
When Zigong asked about leadership, Confucius said: “First accomplish what you want to say and then say it.”

Book 3
Chapter 17
Zigong wished to do away with the sacrifice of a live sheep for the ceremony welcoming the new moon. Confucius said: “You love the sheep; I love ritual.”

Book 5
Chapter 4
Zigong asked: “What do you think of me?” Confucius said: “You’re a vessel.” “What sort of vessel?” “A precious sacrificial vessel.”

Chapter 9
Confucius asked Zigong: “Who is better, you or Yan Hui?” Zigong replied: “How can I compare myself with Yan Hui? When he learns one thing, he gets to understand ten more things; but if I learn one thing, I only get to understand two more things.” Confucius said: “You’re certainly not his equal and neither am I.”

Chapter 12
Zigong said: “I wouldn’t want to do to others what I wouldn’t want them to do to me.” Confucius said: “Ah, Zigong! That’s beyond your reach.”

Chapter 13
Zigong said: “The teachings of the master can be learned; but his views on the nature of things and the way of heaven can’t be learned.”

Chapter 15
Zigong asked: “Why was ‘Kong-the-Refined’ given the posthumous name of ‘Refined’?” Confucius said: “He was smart, fond of learning, and wasn’t ashamed to listen and learn from people of a lower social status: that is why he was given the name.” 

Book 6
Chapter 8
Ji Kangzi asked: “Is Zilu fit for government office?” Confucius said: “Zilu is resolute. Why isn’t he fit for government office?” Ji Kangzi asked again: “Is Zigong fit for government office?” Confucius said: “Zigong is intelligent. Why isn’t he fit for 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 for government office?”

Chapter 30
Zigong said: “What about someone who acts generously towards the people and benefits the masses? Could that be described as goodness?” Confucius said: “Why stop at calling it goodness? It could be defined as perfection. Even Yao and Shun wouldn’t be able to match it! Good people help others get on their feet while establishing their own career; they help others to achieve their goals while achieving their own objectives. By standing in other people’s shoes, it can be said that they’re on the right track to goodness.”

Book 7
Chapter 14
Ran Qiu said: “Does the Master support the Duke of Wei?” Zigong said: “Well, I’m 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: “The Master does not support the Duke of Wei.”

Book 9
Chapter 6
The Grand Steward asked Zigong: “Your master’s a true sage, isn’t he? He’s skilled in so many things.” Zigong replied: “Heaven indeed made him a sage, but he also happens to have many different skills.” When he heard of this, Confucius said: “What does the Grand Steward know about me? In my youth I was poor, so I had to learn a number of menial skills. Does a leader usually have so many different skills? I don’t think so.”

Chapter 13
子貢曰:「有美玉於斯,韞 而藏諸?求善賈而沽諸?」子曰:「沽之哉!沽之哉!我待賈者也!」
Zigong said: “If you had a precious piece of jade, would you hide it in a box for safekeeping or would you try and sell it for a good price?” Confucius said: “I would sell it! I would sell it! All I’m waiting for is the right price.”

Book 11
Chapter 3
Virtue: Yan Hui, Min Ziqian, Ran Geng, Ran Yong. Eloquence: Zai Yu, Zigong. Administration: Ran Qiu, Zilu. Letters: Ziyou, Zixia.

Chapter 13
When at Confucius’s side, Min Ziqian was straightforward but respectful; Zilu was bold and intense; Ran Qiu and Zigong were frank but amiable. Confucius was happy but said: “A man like Zilu won’t die a natural death.”

Chapter 16
Zigong asked: “Who is better: Zizhang or Zixia?” Confucius said: “Zizhang overshoots the mark and Zixia falls short of the mark.” Zigong said: “Then Zizhang must be better?” Confucius said: “Both miss the mark.”

Chapter 19
Confucius said: “Yan Hui has just about achieved perfection, but he lives in constant poverty. Zigong is never satisfied with his lot and engages in trading and speculation. He frequently succeeds in his business ventures.”

Book 12
Chapter 7
Zigong asked about governance. Confucius said: “Enough food, enough weapons, and the trust of the people.” Zigong said: “If you had to go without one of these three, which one would you give up?” Confucius replied: “Weapons.” Zigong asked: “If you had to go without one of the remaining two, which one would you give up?” Confucius replied: “Food. From ancient times, death has been the fate of everyone. But without the trust of the people, the government cannot stand.”

Chapter 8
Ji Zicheng said: “Native substance determines whether or not you’re a leader. What use is cultural refinement?” Zigong said: “What a pity you’ve chosen to describe a leader in this way. ‘A team of horses cannot catch up with a tongue.’ Cultural refinement is native substance; native substance is cultural refinement. Without their hair, the pelts of tigers and leopards are just the same as those of a dog or a sheep.”

Chapter 23
Zigong asked about friendship. Confucius said: “Advise your friends loyally and guide them tactfully. If that fails, stop: don’t disgrace yourself.”

Book 13
Chapter 20
Zigong asked: “What qualities must you possess to be called a true scholar-official?” Confucius said: “A person who maintains a sense of humility and can be sent on a mission to the four corners of the earth without bringing disgrace to their ruler can be called a true scholar-official.” “May I ask what type of person ranks one step below that?” “A person who is praised by their relatives for their filial devotion and who is known by the people of their neighborhood for being respectful towards their elders.” “May I ask what type of person ranks one step below that?” “A person whose word can be trusted and who completes whatever task they undertake. In their stubborn determination, they may resemble a petty person, but they could still probably qualify as a scholar-official of a lower rank.” “How would you rate the people currently involved in public affairs?” “Sadly, these are people you measure by a bucket or scoop. They’re not even worth mentioning.”

Chapter 24
Zigong asked: “If a person is liked by all the people in their village, what would you think?” Confucius said: “That’s not good enough.” “And if this person is loathed by all the people in the village, what would you think?” “That’s not good enough either. It would be better if the good people in the village liked them and the bad people loathed them.”

Book 14
Chapter 17
Zigong said: “Guan Zhong wasn’t a good person, was he? After Duke Huan had Prince Jiu put to death, he not only chose to live but also served as the duke’s chief minister.” Confucius said: “By serving as Duke Huan’s chief 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 petty fidelity and died with nobody knowing about it?”

Chapter 28
Confucius said: “A leader adheres to three principles that I haven’t been able to live up to: the good are never anxious; the wise are never perplexed; the brave are never afraid.” Zigong said: “Master, you’ve just described yourself.”

Chapter 29
Zigong was in the habit of criticizing other people. Confucius said: “Zigong must already be perfect. I have no free time for that.”

Chapter 35
Confucius said: “No one understands me!” Zigong said: “How is it that no one understands you?” Confucius said: “I neither complain about heaven nor do I blame other people. I study what’s below in order to understand what’s above. If there’s anyone who understands me, it can only be heaven.”

Book 15
Chapter III
Confucius said: “Zigong, do you take me for someone who learns a lot and then stores it all up in my head?” Zigong replied: “Yes, is that not the case?” Confucius said: “No. I weave it all together into a single thread.”

Chapter X
Zigong asked how to practice goodness. Confucius said: “A craftsman who wishes to do outstanding work must first sharpen his tools. No matter which state you settle in, offer your services to the wisest ministers and make friends with others who cultivate goodness.”

Chapter XXIV
Zigong asked: “Is there one single word that can guide you through your entire life?” Confucius said: “Should it not be reciprocity? Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself.”

Book 17
Chapter XIX
Confucius said: “I wish to speak no more.” Zigong said: “Master, if you don’t speak, how will your disciples be able to pass on any of your teachings?” Confucius said: “Does Heaven speak? The four seasons turn and all the creatures continue to be born, but does Heaven speak?”

Chapter XXIV
Zigong said: “Does a leader have things that he can’t stand?” Confucius said: “Yes. He can’t stand those who point out the evils in others. He can’t stand those in inferior positions who slander their superiors. He can’t stand those whose courage is not tempered by the rites. He can’t stand those who are impulsive and stubborn.” Confucius continued. “Do you have things that you can’t stand?” “I can’t stand those who pretend to be learned by plagiarizing. I can’t stand those who pretend to be brave by acting arrogant. I can’t stand those who pretend to be frank by being malicious.”

Book 19
Chapter XX
Zigong said: “Zhouxin can’t have been as evil as people say. That is why a leader hates to dwell downstream. All the world’s effluent finds its way to him.”

Chapter XXI
Zigong said: “The errors of a leader are like an eclipse of the sun or the moon. When he makes an error, everyone notices; when he corrects his error everyone looks up to him in admiration.”

Chapter XXII
Gongsun Chao of Wei asked Zigong: “From whom did Confucius learn?” Zigong said: “The Way of King Wen and King Wu has never disappeared; it has remained alive among the people. The wise have retained its most important elements; the ignorant have retained its least Save significant details. There is not a single person who doesn’t have some elements of the Way of King Wen and King Wu. There is not a single person from whom our Master could not have learned something; and there is not a single person who could have been our Master’s only teacher.”

Chapter XXIII
Shusun Wushu said to the ministers at court: “Zigong is superior to Confucius.” Zifu Jingbo told this to Zigong. Zigong said: “Let us take the surrounding wall of a residence as a comparison. My wall is only shoulder-height; so you can simply peer over it to see the beauty of the house inside. Our Master’s wall would tower many yards higher; so unless you are allowed through the gate, you cannot imagine the magnificence of the ancestral temple and the majesty of the other buildings. But since very few people have been allowed through the gate, it’s not surprising that your colleague would make such a comment.”

Chapter XXIV
Shusun Wushu vilified Confucius. Zigong said: “It doesn’t matter. Confucius cannot be vilified. The worthiness of other people is like a hill that you can climb over; but Confucius is like the sun or the moon, which are impossible to climb over. Even if someone wished to cut himself off from their light, how would this harm the sun and the moon? At most, it would show that he had no sense of his own value.”

Chapter XXIV
Shusun Wushu vilified Confucius. Zigong said: “It doesn’t matter. Confucius cannot be vilified. The worthiness of other people is like a hill that you can climb over; but Confucius is like the sun or the moon, which are impossible to climb over. Even if someone wished to cut himself off from their light, how would this harm the sun and the moon? At most, it would show that he had no sense of his own value.”

Chapter XXV
Chen Ziqin said to Zigong: “Sir, you are just being polite; how could Confucius be considered to be your superior?” Zigong said: “A leader can reveal his wisdom with a single phrase, and can betray his ignorance with a single phrase. That is why he must be careful about what he says. The Master’s achievements cannot be equaled, just as there are no steps that you can climb to reach the sky. If the Master been entrusted with running a country or a family estate, he would have lived up to the old adage: ‘If he helps them to stand they will stand up; if he leads them they will march; if he gives them peace they will flock to him; if he mobilizes them to work they will follow his call. In life, he is glorified; in death, he will be mourned.’ How can his achievements ever be equaled?”

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