Shusun Wushu said to the ministers at court: “Zigong is superior to Confucius.” Zifu Jingbo told this to Zigong. Zigong said: “Let us take the surrounding wall of a residence as a comparison. My wall is only shoulder-height; so you can simply peer over it to see the beauty of the house inside. Our Master’s wall would tower many yards higher; so unless you are allowed through the gate, you cannot imagine the magnificence of the ancestral temple and the majesty of the other buildings. But since very few people have been allowed through the gate, it’s not surprising that your colleague would make such a comment.”
Zigong was extremely devoted to Confucius, reportedly living for six years near to the sage’s tomb to mourn him after his death, so there is no doubting the sincerity of his praise for him even if does sound a little over the top.
This is a very clever analogy from Zigong. The final twist of the knife is pure genius, skewering both Zifu Jingbo and Shusun Wushu with exquisite skill and timing. Like the rest of the common herd, they do not have the intellect or character to even to begin to appreciate the colossus that was Confucius.
Shusun Wushu and Zifu Jingbo were high officials in the state of Lu during Confucius’s lifetime. Zifu Jingbo appeared in Chapter XXXVII of Book 14 of the Analects, in which he memorably claimed he still had enough power to splay the corpse of a rival. Perhaps he was tempted to do the same thing to Zigong after this conversation.