Disciples of Confucius: Gongxi Chi

Gongxi Chi (公西赤), also known as Gongxi Hua (公西華) and Zihua (子華), was famous for his expertise in ritual etiquette. So much so that in Chapter 8 of Book 5 of the Analects, Confucius comments: “standing resplendent with his sash, he could entertain distinguished guests.”

Born in 509 BC to a patrician family in the state of Lu, he is said to have enjoyed a successful political career there. Because of his knowledge of the rites, he was asked by the other disciples to arrange the funeral of Confucius.

Appearances in the Analects of Confucius
Book 5, Chapter VIII
Book 6, Chapter IV
Book 7, Chapter XXXIII
Book 11, Chapter XXII
Book 11, Chapter XXVI

Book 5
Chapter VIII
孟武伯問:「子路仁乎?」子曰:「不知也。」又問。子曰:「由也,千乘之國,可使治其賦也,不知其仁也。」「求也何如?」子曰:「求也,千室之邑,百乘之家,可使為之宰也,不知其仁也。」「赤也何如?」子曰:「赤也,束帶立於朝,可使與賓客言也,不知其仁也。」
Meng Wubo asked “Is Zilu good?” Confucius said: “I do not know.” When he asked once again, Confucius said: “In a middle-sized country, he could be entrusted with military recruitment. But whether he is good, I do not 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 is good, I do not know.” “And what about Gongxi Chi?” Confucius said: “Gongxi Chi? Standing resplendent with his sash, he could entertain distinguished guests. But whether he is good, I do not know.”

Book 6
Chapter IV
子華使於齊,冉子為其母請粟。子曰:「與之釜。」請益。曰:「與之庾。」冉子與之粟五秉。子曰:「赤之適齊也,乘肥馬,衣輕裘。吾聞之也:君子周急不繼富。」
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 potful.” When he asked for more, Confucius said: “She should receive a measure.” Ran Qiu gave her five bundles. Confucius said: “Gongxi Chi is traveling to Qi with sleek horses and fine furs. I have always heard that a leader helps those in need; he does not make the rich even richer.”

Book 7
Chapter XXXIII
子曰:「若聖與仁,則吾豈敢?抑為之不厭,誨人不倦,則可謂云爾已矣。」公西華曰:「正唯弟子不能學也。」
Confucius said: “How could I possibly dare to claim that I am a man of great wisdom or goodness? All that can be said of me is that I never grow weary of learning and never get tired of teaching others.” Gongxi Chi said: “This is exactly what we disciples are unable to learn.”

Book 11
Chapter XXII
子路問:「聞斯行諸?」子曰:「有父兄在,如之何其聞斯行之!」冉有問:「聞斯行諸?」子曰:「聞斯行之!」公西華曰:「由也問『聞斯行諸?』,子曰:『有父兄在』;求也問,『聞斯行諸?』子曰:『聞斯行之』。赤也惑,敢問?」子曰:「求也退,故進之;由也兼人,故退之。」
Zilu asked: “If I hear of something that needs to be done, should I immediately take care of it?” Confucius said: “Your father and your elder brother are still alive. How could you take care of it immediately?” Ran Qiu said: “If I hear of something that needs to be done, should I immediately take care of it?” Confucius said: “Take care of it immediately” Gongxi Chi said: “When Zilu asked whether or not he should take care of something that he has heard needs to be done, 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 take care of it immediately. I am 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 XXVI
子路、曾皙、冉有、公西華侍坐。子曰:「以吾一日長乎爾,毋吾以也。居則曰:「不吾知也!」如或知爾,則何以哉?」子路率爾而對曰:「千乘之國,攝乎大國之間,加之以師旅,因之以饑饉,由也為之,比及三年,可使有勇,且知方也。」夫子哂之。「求,爾何如?」對曰:「方六七十,如五六十,求也為之,比及三年,可使足民;如其禮樂,以俟君子。」「赤,爾何如?」對曰:「非曰能之,願學焉!宗廟之事,如會同,端章甫,願為小相焉。」「點,爾何如?」鼓瑟希,鏗爾,舍瑟而作。對曰:「異乎三子者之撰。」子曰:「何傷乎?亦各言其志也。」曰:「莫春者,春服既成;冠者五六人,童子六七人,浴乎沂,風乎舞雩,詠而歸。」夫子喟然嘆曰:「吾與點也!」三子者出,曾皙後。曾皙曰:「夫三子者之言何如?」子曰:「亦各言其志也已矣!」曰:「夫子何哂由也?」曰:「為國以禮,其言不讓,是故哂之。」「唯求則非邦也與?」「安見方六七十,如五六十,而非邦也者。」「唯赤,非邦也與?」「宗廟會同,非諸侯而何?赤也為之小,孰能為之大!」

Zilu, Zeng Dian, Ran Qiu, and Gongxi Chi were sitting with Confucius. Confucius said: “Forget for a moment that I am your elder. You often say: ‘People do not recognize our talents.’ But if you were given the opportunity, what would you wish to do?”

Zilu eagerly replied first: “Give me a middle-sized country 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 the rites and music, they would have to wait for a true man of character to take over.”

“Gongxi Chi, what about you?” “I am not saying that I would be able to do this, but I would like to try: in the ceremonies at the Ancestral Temple, such as a diplomatic conference, wearing 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 had 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 boys to bathe in the River Yi, enjoy the breeze on the Rain Dance Terrace, and then return home singing.” Confucius let out a wistful sigh and said: “I am with Dian.”

After the other three disciples 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 the rites, but his words showed no such restraint. That is why I smiled.”

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

Zilu, Zeng Dian, Ran Qiu, and Gongxi Chi were sitting with Confucius. Confucius said: “Forget for a moment that I am your elder. You often say: ‘People do not recognize our talents.’ But if you were given the opportunity, what would you wish to do?”

Zilu rushed to reply first: “Give me a medium-sized country squeezed between powerful neighbors that is under attack and in the grip of drought and famine. Put me in command and within three years, I would revive the courage of the people and guide them in the right direction.”

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

Ran Qiu replied: “Give me a domain of sixty or seventy – or, say, fifty to sixty li (miles); within three years I would secure the prosperity of its people. As regards the rites and music, I would have to wait for the intervention of a true man of character.”

“Gongxi Chi, what about you?”

Gongxi Chi replied: “I’m not saying that I would be able to do this, but I’m willing to learn! During the ceremonies at the Ancestral Temple, such as a conference for instance, I would like to serve as a junior assistant wearing a dark square robe and black linen cap.”

“And what about you, Zeng Dian?”

Zeng Dian, who had been softly playing his zithern, plucked one last chord and put his instrument aside. He replied: “I’m afraid my wish is not up to the same level as the wishes of my three companions.” Confucius said: “What is the harm in that? After all, each is simply expressing his own personal wishes.”

“In late spring, when the making of the of the spring clothes has been completed, together with five or six friends and six or seven boys, I would like to bathe in the River Yi, and then enjoy the breeze among the rain dance altars and return home singing.” Confucius heaved a deep sigh and said: “I am with Dian.”

After the three others had left, Zeng Dian remained behind and said: “What did you think of their wishes?” Confucius said: “Each simply confided his own personal wishes.”

Zeng Dian asked: “Why did you smile at Zilu?”

Confucius said: “You should govern a state according to the rites; yet his words weren’t humble.”

“As for Ran Qiu, wasn’t he in fact talking about a real state?”

“Indeed. I have never heard of ‘a domain of sixty to seventy, or fifty to sixty li (miles)’”

And Gongxi Chi? Wasn’t he also talking about a state?”

“A conference in the Ancestral Temple! What could it be but a major gathering?” And if Gongxi Chi were there just to serve as a junior assistant, who would be qualified to be in charge of it?”

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