The head of the Ji family was about to set 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: “Oh no! Has it ever been said that the spirit of Mount Tai has even less knowledge of the rites than Lin Fang?”
Confucius may seem to be ranting again about the liberties being taken against the rites by the impudent Ji family, but he does have a reasonable point. Mount Tai (泰山), located in today’s Shandong Province, is the most important of China’s five sacred mountains, and only the feudal ruler of the state of Lu was allowed to conduct sacrificial rituals on it.
In addition to being a disciple of Confucius, Ran Qiu was employed as a counselor by the Ji family because of his financial acumen. As mentioned in Chapter XXIV of Book 2, Confucius was furious that he was to stop this outrage – going as far as to accuse him of cowardice.
Lin Fang, who first made an appearance in Chapter IV of Book 3, was said to have been very interested in the rites but had only a basic knowledge of the subject. Confucius’s implication is that if Ran Qiu couldn’t prevent the sacrifice, the spirit of the mountain should have stepped in and put an end to it. Otherwise it would risk appearing even more ignorant than Lin Fang.