Analects Book 2: contemporary figures

Although there is extensive (and inconclusive) debate over how high Confucius actually rose in the ranks of the bureaucracy of Lu, he was certainly extremely well connected with senior officials, members of the so-called Three Families that were the true powers in the state, and even its hereditary rulers. This gave him the opportunity to observe their character and behavior at first hand, and to offer them his counsel and wisdom (even if in most cases they chose to ignore it).

In Book 2, we come across Duke Ai, the hereditary ruler of Lu from 494 to ca. 467 BCE, for the first time when Confucius advises him to “promote the upright and place them above the crooked” in order to win the support of the people. Whether or not the duke tried to follow his counsel is unknown, but it’s safe to assume that any attempts he may have made to appoint virtuous officials in his government were unsuccessful because he was unceremoniously booted out of Lu after losing out in a power struggle against the Three Families.

Ji Kangzi, who was the chief minister and the true power behind the throne during much of Duke Ai’s reign, also makes his first appearance in Book 2 and asks a very similar question to the one posed by his nominal ruler when he enquires of Confucius: “What should I do to make the people respectful, loyal, and eager to follow me?”

Confucius’s response doesn’t differ too much in spirit from the one he gave to the duke either. Although there is no record of how Ji reacted to it, it’s likely that he too ignored it or at best filed it away for future reference.

Confucius and Ji Kangzi must have had a very complicated relationship. It was Ji, after all, who invited him to return from exile to the state of Lu, and although Confucius was highly critical of him, particularly for his ritual violations, he regularly asked him for advice. Perhaps he had great respect for the wisdom of the old sage even if he generally chose not to follow it. 

Ji Kangzi was head of the Jisun clan, probably the most powerful of the Three Families. Meng Yizi and his son Meng Wubo were members of the Mengsun, the second clan in the triumvirate. Confucius gives them both advice on filial piety in Chapter 5 and Chapter 6 of Book 2 respectively.

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