Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: Weisheng Gao

Weisheng Gao (微生高) was the subject of a famous story in the Zhuangzi (莊子) that depending on how you view it was either a tragic tale of unrequited love or a warning about the dangers of excessive rectitude.

According to the Zhuangzi, Weisheng arranged an assignation with a fair maiden under a bridge and promised to wait for her until she arrived. Even when it started pouring with rain and the floodwaters began rising, he stubbornly held on to one of the pillars of the bridge in the vain hope that she would arrive until he was swept away by the torrent and drowned.

Weisheng may not have got the girl, but he did receive admiration from some quarters at least for his determination to uphold his promise to her. Not surprisingly, others ridiculed him for his stubborn refusal to face reality and waste his life on his pointless pursuit of girl who didn’t even love him enough to risk going to meet him in the rain.

It’s possible that Confucius is attempting to defend Weisheng Gao in Chapter 24 of Book 5 by showing that he wasn’t quite as inflexible as people might think with his story about the vinegar. It’s more likely, however, that he is just having fun in puncturing the myth that had grown up around this rather eccentric character. Given his championing of moderation in all forms of behavior, Confucius must have thought that Weisheng went a bridge too far with his futile gesture.

Appearances in the Analects of Confucius
Book 5, Chapter 24

Book 5
Chapter 24
子曰:「孰謂微生高直?或乞醯焉,乞諸其鄰而與之。」
Confucius said: “Who said that Weisheng Gao was as straight as a die? When someone begged him for vinegar and he didn’t have any, he begged a neighbor for some and gave it to the person who asked him for it.”

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