Biography of Shuliang He: the father of Confucius

father of Confucius

The father of Confucius was called Shuliang He (叔梁纥) and is also referred to as Kong He (孔紇). He was born in 619 BCE and died in 548 BCE.

Shuliang was an officer in the army of the state of Lu and a member of a minor aristocratic family whose lineage, according to some accounts, could be traced back to members of the original royal family of the Shang dynasty (1600-1046 BC). When the Shang dynasty was overthrown by the Zhou, the family moved to the state of Song, where it stayed for around four hundred years until Shuliang’s grandfather was forced to flee to the state of Lu to escape from domestic political turmoil.

By the time Shuliang was born, the family had long lost its original wealth and been relegated in terms of status to the new and emerging middle class of so-called shi (士), loosely translated as knights or scholars. Although well-educated, members of this class had to find work as professional administrators or soldiers rather than being able to rely on connections to the hereditary aristocracy for their livelihoods.

As a low-ranking military officer, Confucius’s father gained some fame for his exploits in the field. On one occasion, he is said to have used his bare hands to raise a locked gate that had been lowered in order to cut the army he was serving in into two as it advanced into an enemy city. On another, he led a band of a few hundred soldiers that defeated an enemy host that was reportedly twice its size in terms of numbers.

father of Confucius

His military prowess notwithstanding, Shuliang reached his early sixties without a true son and heir, having sired nine daughters through his first wife and a club-footed son from a second one who was too lame to be allowed to carry on the family name.

He thus he took Confucius’s mother, Yan Zhengzai (颜徵在), the third daughter of an elderly scholar in Qufu, as a concubine in order to give him a son. Since Zhengzai was only in her late teens or early twenties when they became a couple, this was considered a highly unusual arrangement and was the cause of much scandal and speculation.

Shuliang died in 548 BCE only three years after Confucius’s birth, leaving his concubine and son not only poor but also of dubious social status because of the cloudy circumstances of his birth. Unable or unwilling to live with Shuliang’s first wife and daughters, Zhengzai is reported to have returned to her father’s home together with her son and his club-footed step brother.

Note

I took this image of the temple dedicated to Shuliang He on Nishan (尼山) – where, according to popular legend, Confucius was born and perhaps even conceived. You can read more about Nishan here.

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