The identity of Nan Rong (南容), also known as Nangong Kuo (南宮适), Zirong, and Nangong Tao, is uncertain, though Confucius thought highly enough of him to arrange for him to marry his niece.
Some commentators speculate that Nan Rong was Nangong Jingshu (南宮敬叔), the younger son of Meng Xizi (孟僖子), the head of one of the notorious Three Families who were the real power in the state of Lu. If this claim is true, Nan Rong would have been one of only two students from the nobility who Confucius taught along with his elder brother Meng Yizi (孟懿子).
The two brothers are said to have been urged by their father on his deathbed to study with the sage so that they would avoid repeating the mistakes that he had made about ritual and protocol as a minister of the state of Lu.
Nan Rong, assuming he was Nangong Jingshu, is believed to have played a major role in arranging for Confucius to visit the court of the Zhou king to study its ancient rituals and music. In another story, he is credited for saving the priceless ancient documents kept in the library of Duke Ai of Lu when fire broke out in the palace.
Given his love of learning and his ability to navigate the treacherous winds and squalls of life in the Lu bureaucracy, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Confucius saw him as the ideal husband for his niece.
Confucius said of Nan Rong: “In a well-governed state, he will not be overlooked for an official position. In a badly-governed state, he will avoid punishment and disgrace.” Confucius arranged for him to marry his niece.
Nan Rong constantly repeated a refrain from the poem White Jade Scepter. Confucius gave him his elder brother’s daughter in marriage.
Nangong Kuo asked Confucius, saying: “Yi was a great archer and Ao was a great sailor, but neither died a natural death. Yu and Ji toiled on the land, but they came to own the world.” Confucius made no reply. Nangong Kuo left. Confucius said: “He’s a true leader! This man truly prizes virtue!”