Biography of Mengpi: the elder step-brother of Confucius

step-brother of Confucius

Mengpi (孟皮), the elder step-brother of Confucius, was the son of the first wife of their father Shuliang He (叔梁纥) and had nine sisters. Although he was the only son of the couple, Mengpi had a handicapped foot that meant he wasn’t considered eligible to carry on the family name. Desperate for an heir, Shuliang took Confucius’s mother Yan Zhengzai (颜徵在) as his concubine or second wife while in his early sixties to preserve the family line.

Shuliang died only three years after Confucius’s birth in 548 BCE, leaving Zhengzai and Confucius poor and of uncertain social status because of the cloudy circumstances of their marriage. Unable or unwilling to live with Shuliang’s first wife and daughters, Zhengzai is said to have returned to her father’s home together with her son and Mengpi – who was presumably regarded as a burden by his birth mother.

After his mother died when he was just 17-years-old, Confucius continued to look after Mengpi. Despite his handicap, Mengpi married and had at least one daughter. As the paterfamilias, Confucius was responsible for finding her a husband and secured a highly desirable match in the form of Nan Rong, one of his few students from the nobility of the state of Lu. The reasons for his choice are given in Chapter 2 of Book 5 and Chapter 6 of Book 11 of the Analects:

子謂南容,「邦有道不廢,邦無道免於刑戮。」以其兄之子妻之。
Confucius said of Nan Rong: “In a well-governed state, he will not be overlooked for an official position. In a badly-governed state, he will avoid punishment and disgrace.” Confucius arranged for him to marry his niece.

南容三復白圭,孔子以其兄之子妻之。
Nan Rong constantly repeated a refrain from the poem White Jade Scepter. Confucius gave him his elder brother’s daughter in marriage.

The dates of Mengpi’s birth and death are unknown. His tomb is located in the Cemetery of Confucius’s Parents in Qufu and is pictured above. You can read more about the cemetery here.

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