Followers of Confucius: Ran Qiu

Ran Qiu (冉求) is also known and Ziyou (子有) and Ran You (冉有). Born in 522 BCE, he grew up in a poor household, which probably led to his strong interest in money and financial affairs. Indeed, he looked after Confucius’s own finances for a period of time, and when Meng Wubo (孟武伯) asked the sage about Ran Qiu’s qualities in 5.8, Confucius praised his administrative abilities by saying: “He could be the mayor of a small city or the manager of a large estate.”

Ran Qiu enjoyed a close relationship with Ji Kangzi (季康子), the de facto ruler of the state of Lu. On being appointed his steward (宰/zǎi), he helped Ji revive the local economy while enriching himself and his boss in the process.

After successfully leading the defense of Lu against an invasion from the state of Qi, he persuaded Ji to invite Confucius to come home in 484 BCE from fourteen years of exile. Not that this act of kindness spared Ran from Confucius’s vociferous condemnation when the sage decided his behavior merited it. On one memorable occasion recounted in 11.17, Confucius even went so far as to order his other followers to “beat the drum, my little ones, and attack him.”

Ran Qiu was related to two of Confucius’s other followers, Ran Geng (冉耕) and Ran Yong (冉雍). He appears to have been popular with the other followers because of his resourcefulness and many different talents. He also showed tremendous loyalty and patience to Confucius despite the sage’s harsh criticisms.

Additional Reading

Analects of Confucius Book 6: a rocky relationship with Ran Qiu
Analects of Confucius Book 6: Confucius and Ran Qiu

Appearances in the Analects of Confucius

Book 3, Chapter 6
Book 5, Chapter 8
Book 6, Chapter 4
Book 6, Chapter 8
Book 6, Chapter 12
Book 7, Chapter 14
Book 11, Chapter 3
Book 11, Chapter 13
Book 11, Chapter 17
Book 11, Chapter 22
Book 11, Chapter 24
Book 11, Chapter 26
Book 13, Chapter 9
Book 13, Chapter 14
Book 14, Chapter 13
Book 16, Chapter I

Book 3
Chapter 6
The Ji Family was setting off to carry out a sacrifice on Mount Tai. Confucius said to Ran Qiu: “Can you not stop this?” Ran Qiu replied: “I cannot.” Confucius said: “This is outrageous! Can it really be true that the spirit of Mount Tai has even less knowledge of ritual than Lin Fang?”

Book 5
Chapter 8
Meng Wubo asked “Is Zilu a good person?” Confucius said: “I don’t know.” When he asked once again, Confucius said: “In a middle-sized country, he could be entrusted with military recruitment. But whether he’s a good person, I don’t know.” “And what about Ran Qiu?” Confucius said: “Ran Qiu? He could be the mayor of a small city or the manager of a large estate. But whether he’s a good person, I don’t know.” “And what about Gongxi Chi?” Confucius said: “Gongxi Chi? Standing resplendent with his sash, he could entertain distinguished guests. But whether he’s a good person, I don’t know.”

Book 6
Chapter 4
When Gongxi Chi was sent on a mission to the state of Qi, Ran Qiu requested an allowance of grain for Gongxi’s mother. Confucius said: “She should receive a measure.” When Ran Qiu asked for more, Confucius said: “She should receive a double measure.” Ran Qiu gave her five double measures. Confucius said: “Gongxi Chi is traveling to Qi with sleek horses and fine furs. I’ve always heard that a leader helps those in need; he does not make the rich even richer.”

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 12
Ran Qiu said: “It’s not that I don’t enjoy the way of the Master, but I don’t have the strength to follow it.” Confucius said: “If you don’t have enough strength you can always give up halfway. But you’ve already given up before you’ve even started.”

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 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 17
The head of the Ji Family was wealthier than the Duke of Zhou ever was, but Ran Qiu still assisted him with the collection of taxes to further increase his wealth. Confucius said: “He’s no longer my follower. You may beat the drum and attack him, my young friends.”

Chapter 22
Zilu asked: “When I learn something new, should I put it into practice immediately?” Confucius said: “Your father and your elder brother are still alive. How could you put it into practice immediately?” Ran Qiu said: “When I learn something new, should I put it into practice immediately?” Confucius said: “Put it into practice immediately.” Gongxi Chi said: “When Zilu asked whether or not he should put into practice something new that he’s learned, you told him that his father and elder brother are still alive. But when Ran Qiu asked the very same question, you told him to put it into practice immediately. I’m confused. May I ask for an explanation?” Confucius said: “Ran Qiu holds himself back, so I push him forward; Zilu has enough energy for two, so I hold him back.” 

Chapter 24
Ji Ziran asked: “Would you say that Zilu and Ran Qiu are great ministers?” Confucius said: “I thought you were going to ask about somebody else; I never expected that you would ask about Zilu and Ran Qiu. A really great minister serves his lord by following the way and resigns if there is no possibility of doing so. As for Zilu and Ran Qiu, they might just about be qualified for an unfilled vacancy.” Ji Ziran said: “Do you mean that they can be counted on to follow orders?” Confucius said: “They wouldn’t go quite so far as murdering their father or their lord.”

Chapter 26
Zilu, Zeng Dian, Ran Qiu, and Gongxi Chi were sitting with Confucius. Confucius said: “Forget for a moment that I’m your elder. You often say: ‘Nobody recognizes our talents.’ But if you were given the opportunity, what would you wish to do?”

Zilu eagerly replied first: “Give me a middle-sized state wedged between powerful neighbors that is under attack from invading armies and gripped by drought and famine. If I were to govern it, within three years I would give its people courage and set them in the right direction.”

Confucius smiled at him: “Ran Qiu, what about you?”

Ran Qiu replied: “If I was allowed to run a territory of sixty or seventy or, say, fifty to sixty li, within three years I would secure the prosperity of its people. As for ritual and music, they would have to wait for a true leader to take over.”

“Gongxi Chi, what about you?”

“I’m not saying that I would be able to do this, but I would like to try: in the ceremonies at the Grand Ancestral Temple, such as a diplomatic conference, wearing a ceremonial cap and robes, I would like to act as a junior official.”

“And what about you, Zeng Dian?” Zeng Dian plucked one final chord of the zither he’d been playing and put it down by his side. He replied: “My wish is very different than those of my three companions.”

Confucius said: “What harm is there in that? After all, each one is simply speaking from his heart.”

Zeng Dian said: “In late spring, after all the spring clothes have been made, I would like to go out together with five or six companions and six or seven children to bathe in the Yi River, enjoy the breeze on the Rain Dance Terrace, and then return home singing.”

Confucius let out a wistful sigh and said: “I’m with Dian!”

After the other three followers had left, Zeng Dian stayed behind and said: “What did you think of their wishes?” Confucius said: “Each was indeed speaking from his heart.”

Zeng Dian asked: “Why did you smile at Zilu?” Confucius said: “You should govern a state according to ritual, but his words showed no such restraint. That’s why I smiled.”

“But wasn’t Ran Qiu also talking about governing a state?” “Of course. Have you ever seen ‘a territory of sixty to seventy, or fifty to sixty li?’”

“And Gongxi Chi? Wasn’t he also talking about running a state as well?” “A diplomatic conference in the Grand Ancestral Temple! What could this be but an affair of state? And if Gongxi Chi were there merely to act as a junior official, who could possibly be qualified to act as the senior one?”

Book 13
Chapter 9
Confucius traveled to Wei, with Ran Qiu driving his carriage. Confucius said: “There are so many people!” Ran Qiu said: “When there are so many people, what should be done next?” “Enrich them.” “When they are rich, what should be done next?” “Educate them.”

Chapter 14
When Ran Qiu returned from court, Confucius said: “What kept you so long?” Ran Qiu replied: “Government affairs.” Confucius said: “Surely you mean private affairs. If it had been government affairs I would have heard about them, even though I’m not in office.”

Book 14
Chapter 13
Zilu asked how to define a “complete person”. Confucius said: “Take someone as wise as Zang Wuzhong, as free from desire as Gongchuo, as brave as Zhuangzi of Bian, and as cultured as Ran Qiu, as well as being accomplished in ritual and music, and they may be considered a complete person.” Then he added: “But must a complete person be exactly like this today? Someone who thinks of what is right at the sight of profit, who is ready to risk their life when faced with danger, and who can endure hardship without forgetting the teachings that have guided their daily life may also be considered a complete person.”

Book 16
Chapter I
The head of the Ji family was preparing to attack Zhuanyu. Ran Qiu and Zilu went to see Confucius and said: “Ji Kangzi is going to intervene in Zhuanyu.”

Confucius said: “Qiu, this is your fault, isn’t it? In the past, our ancient kings gave Zhuanyu the responsibility of offering sacrifices to Mount Dongmeng; moreover it lies in the heart of our borders and is paying tribute to us. Why attack it?”

Ran Qiu said: “It is the wish of our master; it is not the wish of either of us.”

Confucius said: “Qiu! Zhou Ren had a saying, ‘he who has strength stands firm; he who lacks strength withdraws.’ What sort of assistant is one who cannot steady his master when he stumbles or stops him when he falls? In any case, what you said is mistaken. If a tiger or rhinoceros escapes from its cage or if a tortoise shell or a jade amulet is broken in its casket who should be responsible?”

Ran Qiu said: “But Zhuanyu has strong defenses and is close to our master’s stronghold at Bi. If he does not take it today, in the future it is sure to become a threat to his children and grandchildren.”

Confucius said: “Qiu! A leader detests those who invent excuses for their actions instead of simply saying: ‘I want this.’ I have heard it said that a head of a state or the chief of a clan worries not about having a small population but inequality, and not about poverty but instability. For if there is equality there will be no poverty, if there is harmony there will be no lack of population, and if there is stability there will be no unrest. It is for this reason that if people from afar still resist joining you, you must cultivate your virtue to attract them; and then, once they have come, you must ensure they are content with it. But, with you two as his ministers, people from afar are unwilling to join your master and won’t come; his state is racked with divisions and unrest, and he cannot hold it together any longer; but he still plots to wage war within the borders of the state itself! I’m afraid that for Ji Kangzi, the real threat does not come from Zhuanyu, but lies within the walls of his own palace!”

Chapter XIV
Ran Qiu said: “Does our Master support the Duke of Wei?” Zigong said: “Well, I am 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 they should have complained?” Zigong left and said to Ran Qiu: “Our Master does not support the Duke of Wei.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *