Scant consolation

Confucius said: “It is five generations since control of appointments fell out of the hands of the ducal house. It is four generations since government fell into the hands of the grand families. For this reason, the descendants of the three houses of Huan families will fall into obscurity.”

Having vividly described the risk of a country collapsing when “the Way does not prevail” in Chapter II of Book 16, Confucius goes on to analyze how this applies to his home state of Lu in Chapter III.

By his lifetime, its rightful ruler the Duke of Lu was little more than a figurehead and the real power had been passed into the hands of the notorious Three Families, the Ji, Meng, and Shu. Since all three families traced their lineage to the sons of Duke Huan of Lu (魯桓公), who lived from 711 to 694 BC and was 15th ruler of the state of Lu, Confucius refers to them as “the three houses of the Huan families.”

The only consolation Confucius can find in what he sees as this scandalous state of affairs is that their descendants will fall into obscurity.”

This eventually happened less than hundred years after Confucius’s death in 479 BC when Duke Mu (407 BC – 377 BC) restored the power of the ducal house in the early part of the third century BC. In 249 BC, however, the state of Lu was annexed by the nearby state of Chu and the last Duke of Lu ended his days as a commoner.

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