Fan Chi (樊遲) was also known by the courtesy name of Zichi (子遲) and the given name of Fan Xu (樊須). Born in the state Qi or Lu in around 505 BCE, Fan is said to have distinguished himself as a military commander when young, serving in the armies of the Ji Family.
As the lieutenant to Ran Qiu, Fan Chi played a pivotal role in helping Ran to defeat an invasion force from Qi by advising him to personally lead the charge against the enemy. This military triumph boosted Ran Qiu’s standing with the Ji Family and gave Ran the ammunition he needed to persuade Ji Kangzi, the family head and chief minister of Lu, to invite Confucius to return to his home state.
The first time Fan Chi appears in the Analects he is pictured as the driver of Confucius’s chariot. Judging by the kinds of questions Fan asks Confucius and how the sage responds to them, he had a much better understanding of how to deal with military affairs than ethical and moral issues. Confucius even goes as far as to describe Fan as a petty person in 13.4 after he had asked him a couple of technical questions about agriculture.
Meng Yizi asked Confucius about filial devotion. Confucius said: “Never disobey.” While Fan Chi was driving him in his chariot, Confucius told him: “Meng Yizi asked me about filial devotion and I replied: ‘Never disobey.’” Fan Chi asked: “What does that mean?” Confucius replied: “When your parents are alive, serve them according to ritual. When they die, bury them according to ritual and make sacrifices to them according to ritual.”
Fan Chi asked about wisdom. Confucius said: “Do what is right for the common people; respect the spirits and gods but keep them at a distance. This is wisdom.” Fan Chi asked about goodness. Confucius said: “A good person is first in line to confront difficulties and last in line to collect rewards. This is goodness.”
Fan Chi was strolling with Confucius around the Rain Dance Terrace. He said: “May I ask how you can accumulate virtue, correct evil thoughts, and resolve confusion?” Confucius said: “An excellent question! Always put service before reward: isn’t this the way to accumulate virtue? Attack the evil in yourself rather than the evil in other people: isn’t this the way to correct evil thoughts? Forget yourself in a moment of anger and bring ruin upon yourself and your family: isn’t this is a case of confusion?”
Fan Chi asked about goodness. Confucius said: “Love others.” He then asked about wisdom. Confucius said: “Know others.” Fan Chi didn’t understand. Confucius said: “Promote the upright and place them above the crooked, so that they can straighten the crooked.” Fan Chi left. When he met Zixia he asked: “A short while ago when I saw Confucius I asked him about wisdom. He said: ‘Promote the upright and place them above the crooked, so that they can straighten the crooked.’ What does this mean?” Zixia said: “These are rich words indeed! When Shun ruled the world and was choosing from among the masses, he selected Gao Yao and those without goodness went away. When Tang ruled the world and was choosing from among the masses, he selected Yi Yin and those without goodness went away.”
Fan Chi asked to learn about cultivating grain. Confucius said: “You’d be better off asking an old farmer.” Fan Chi asked to learn about raising vegetables. Confucius said: “You’d be better off asking an old gardener.” After Fan Chi had left, Confucius said: “What a petty person! When a ruler loves ritual, the people don’t dare to be disrespectful. When a ruler loves rightness, the people don’t dare to be disobedient. When a ruler loves trustworthiness, the people don’t dare to be deceitful. If such a ruler existed, people would flock to them from everywhere with their children strapped to their backs. What need would there be to learn about farming?”
Fan Chi asked about goodness. Confucius said: “Be considerate in your private life, diligent in your public affairs, and loyal in your relationships with others. Even when you’re among the Yi and Di tribes, don’t deviate from these principles.”