Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Zisang Bozi

There is a lot of speculation surrounding the identity of Zisang Bozi (桑伯子). One popular theory is that he was a former minister of the state of Lu who gave up the good life to become a recluse or itinerant Daoist sage in protest against the corruption he saw while in government.

Confucius is said to have met Zisang Bozi by chance while walking around the countryside and appears to have been quite taken by his easygoing ways. This would fit with the overriding message of Chapter 2 of Book 6, the only passage in which Zisang is mentioned in the Analects, though of course it doesn’t mean that this theory is correct.

Some scholars even believe that Zisang may have been the Sang Hu featured in a line of the famous verse “Crossing the River” by the great poet Qu Yuan (屈原) [340 – 270 BCE]: “Sang Hu is wandering about naked.” I doubt that Confucius would have been quite so taken by him if this story is true.

Appearances in the Analects of Confucius
Book 6, Chapter 2

Book 6
Chapter 2
仲弓問子桑伯子。子曰:「可也簡。」仲弓曰:「居敬而行簡,以臨其民,不亦可乎?居簡而行簡,無乃大簡乎?」子曰:「雍之言然。」
Ran Yong asked about Zisang Bozi. Confucius said: “He’s fine with his easygoing ways.” Ran Yong said: “Taking your duties seriously while being easygoing towards the people might be OK. But being easygoing towards yourself and the people is going too far. Am I right?” Confucius said: “You are right.”

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