Ning Wuzi (甯武子) was chief minister under two rulers of the state of Wei (衛) during the seventh century BCE. Serving under the first one, Duke Wen (衛文公), Ning proved to be a wise and effective administrator.
When Duke Wen was succeeded by Duke Cheng (衛成公) in 634 BCE, however, the state started to fall apart as a result of Cheng’s chaotic rule and the looming threat of invasion from the powerful neighboring state of Jin (晉). The only way that Ning could hold everything together over the course of ten years was by acting dumb in public while quietly working in the background to keep everything under control. Confucius is thus speaking ironically when he remarks in Chapter 21 of Book 5: “Others may match his wisdom but not his dumbness.”
Appearances in the Analects of Confucius
Book 5, Chapter 21
Confucius said: “When the way prevailed in his state, Ning Wuzi acted wise. When his state lost the way, Ning Wuzi acted dumb. Others may match his wisdom but not his dumbness.”