Duke Zhao (昭公) was the predecessor of Duke Ding (定公) as the ruler of Confucius’s home state of Lu. He spent much of his reign from 541–510 BC struggling to prevent his power being undermined by the Three Families, Jisun 季孫, Mengsun 孟孫, and Shusun 叔孫, that dominated the state. Ultimately, he failed in his attempts to control them and spent the last part of his life in exile in the states of Qi and Jin.
The son of a concubine, the duke violated an important social taboo by marrying a woman bearing the same clan name as his own (姬/Jī). Even they were not related by blood, he was criticized for his failure to respect the rites (禮/lǐ).
Appearances in the Analects of Confucius
Book 7, Chapter XXX
Chen Sibai asked: “Did Duke Zhao understand the rites?” Confucius said: “Yes, he understood the rites.” Confucius withdrew. With a bow, Chen invited Wuma Qi to come forward and said to him: “I have heard it said that a true leader is never biased. But isn’t your master biased after all? The Duke took a wife from the state of Wu, but since she belonged to his own clan he changed her name to Wu Mengzi. If the Duke understood the rites, who doesn’t understand them?” Wuma Qi reported this to Confucius. Confucius said: “I am fortunate indeed: whenever I make a mistake, there is always someone on hand to let me know about it.”