Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: Tai Bo

Tai Bo (泰伯), which literally means Great Uncle, was the eldest son of King Wen of Zhou (周文王), the founding father of the Zhou dynasty (周朝).

When he realized that his younger brother Jili (季歷) had much greater wisdom than he possessed, Tai Bo voluntarily left the then minor kingdom of Zhou to enable his father to designate him as heir to the throne. This was an almost unimaginable act in the hereditary feudal system that reigned at the time and one that has only been very rarely repeated in Chinese – or indeed world – history. No wonder Confucius described him as a man of “supreme virtue” (至德/zhìdé).

After leaving the kingdom of Zhou, Tai Bo first went to the state of Jin (晉) in the southern part of Shanxi Province (山西) together with his younger brother Zhongyong (仲雍). They then went further south, finally settling in Meili (梅里), believed to be located on the site of present day city of Wuxi (無錫). Taibo sinicized the native peoples there and established the state of Wu (吳國), which subsequently became a major power during the Spring and Autumn period (771 until 476 BCE).

Appearances in the Analects of Confucius
Book 8, Chapter 1

Book 8
Chapter 1
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.”

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