Huan Tui (桓魋) was a powerful minister in charge of military affairs in the small state of Song. He felt so threatened by Confucius that he engineered an attempt to assassinate the sage when he visited the state in 492 BCE during his exile from Lu in order to prevent him from meeting with the titular ruler Duke Jing.
According to Sima Qian’s Records of the Grand Historian (史記/shǐjì), Huan ordered his thugs to cut down a tree that Confucius and his disciples were holding a ritual under in order to crush them to death. After the failure of this hairbrained attempt, Confucius and his followers fled the state in disguise.
Huan was the head of a famous family that were descendants of the great Duke Huan of Qi (齊桓公), who together with his brilliant prime minister Guan Zhong, turned the state into a formidable economic and military power. He had at least two younger brothers who were also influential ministers in the state of Song, who he attempted to enlist in his plans to oust Duke Jing. Although one of them called Song Chao agreed, his youngest brother Sima Niu was reluctant to participate and went to Confucius for advice on how to deal with this delicate situation.
In 481 BCE Huan Tui launched his rebellion without the aid of his youngest brother, only to have to flee the state in exile first to Wei and then to Qi after being defeated by forces loyal to Duke Jing. Both Song Chao and Sima Niu were also forced to leave, even though the latter hadn’t taken part in the rebellion.
Appearances in the Analects of Confucius
Book 7, Chapter 22
Confucius said: “Heaven has bestowed me with virtue. What do I have to fear from Huan Tui?”