Leadership Lessons from Confucius: a man of supreme virtue

man of supreme virtue

子曰:「泰伯其可謂至德也已矣。三以天下讓,民無得而稱焉。」
Confucius said: “It can truly be said of Tai Bo that he was a man of supreme virtue. Three times he gave up the throne of his state without giving the people the opportunity to praise him.”

When you know that there’s someone more suitable for the job you’ve been promised, politely decline it so that they get on with it. Other opportunities will come if you work to create them.

Tai Bo (泰伯) was the eldest son of Gugong Danfu (古公亶父), the founding ancestor of the Zhou Dynasty (周朝) [1046–256 BCE]. According to the legend, he voluntarily left the small state of Zhou with his younger brother Zhongyong (仲雍) when he heard that his father wished to designate his youngest brother Jili (季歷) as heir to the throne after deciding that Jili’s son, Ji Chang (姬), would be a great and virtuous ruler.

After leaving Zhou, Tai Bo and Zhongyong first went to the state of Jin (晉) in the southern part of Shanxi Province (山西) before finally settling in Meili (梅里), believed to be located on the site of the modern city of Wuxi (無錫). There, the two brothers quietly went about sinicizing the native peoples and established the state of Wu (吳國), which subsequently became a major power during the Spring and Autumn (春秋時代) period [771 – 476 BCE].

After Gugong Danfu’s death, Tai Bo’s youngest brother Jili duly took the throne and was succeeded by his son Ji Cheng. Ji Cheng went on to become revered as King Wen (周文王), the founding father of the Zhou dynasty, even though it was left to his son, King Wu (周武王), to actually establish it after defeating the last Shang dynasty king Zhouxin (紂辛) at the battle of Muye (牧野之戰) in ca. 1046 BCE.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 1 of Book 8 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 8 here.

(1) You can read more about Tai Bo here.

I took this image at the Temple of Confucius in Changhua, Taiwan.

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