Supreme virtue

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子曰:「泰伯其可謂至德也已矣。三以天下讓,民無得而稱焉。」
Confucius said: “It can truly be said of Tai Bo that he was a man of supreme virtue. Three times he gave up sovereignty over his kingdom to another without giving the people the opportunity to praise him.”

Tai Bo (泰伯) was the eldest son of the founding ancestor of the Zhou Dynasty (周朝) [1046–256 BC], who voluntarily left the kingdom of Zhou to enable his father to designate his youngest brother Jili (季歷), who was renowned for his great wisdom, as heir to the throne.

This was an almost unimaginable act in the hereditary feudal system that reigned at the time and one that has only been very rarely repeated in Chinese – or indeed world – history. No wonder Confucius described him as a man of “supreme virtue” (至德/zhìdé).

After leaving the kingdom of Zhou, Tai Bo first went to the state of Jin (晉) in the southern part of Shanxi Province (山西) together with his younger brother Zhongyong (仲雍). They finally settled in Meili (梅里), believed to be located on the site of present day city of Wuxi (無錫), where Taibo sinicized the native peoples and established the state of Wu (吳國), which subsequently became a major power during the Spring and Autumn (春秋時代) period [771 – 476 BC].

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