Biography of Qiguan Shi: the wife of Confucius

wife of Confucius

The wife of Confucius was a woman from his ancestral state of Song with the family name of Qiguan (亓官). Her first name isn’t known. She is often referred to as Qiguan Shi (亓官氏) or Lady Qiguan.

Confucius married her in 533 BCE at the age of 19.  A year later, Qiguan bore the couple’s only son Boyu (伯魚). She and Confucius are believed to have had two daughters as well, both of whose names are unknown. One of them probably died at an early age, while the other was married off by Confucius to a convicted criminal called Gongye Chang (公冶長), who he deemed “would make a good husband” and be declared “innocent” of his alleged crime. There are no records of whether Confucius consulted his wife or daughter about this decision. Presumably, given the prevailing customs of the time, the answer is negative.

All the (admittedly sparse) evidence that exists about the marriage between Qiguan and Confucius suggests that it wasn’t a particularly happy union. Indeed, according to some reports, it ended in divorce in 510 BCE. Even if the couple never officially parted company, Confucius spent a remarkable amount of time away from his family during his lifetime, including over ten years in exile after he left his home state of Lu in 497 BCE.

Qiguan died in 485 BCE, three years before her son Boyu and six years before Confucius. Despite some attempts to present Qiguan as a paragon of traditional Chinese womanhood, her reputation has been overshadowed by that of Confucius’s mother Yan Zhengzai (颜徵在).

Although Qiguan isn’t mentioned by name in the Analects, some commentators speculate that Confucius is referring to her in the highly problematic (for many different reasons) Chapter 25 of Book 17:

子曰:「唯女子與小人為難養也!近之則不孫,遠之則怨。」
Confucius said: “Women and servants are difficult to deal with: if you get too close to them, they become disrespectful; if you get too distant, they resent it.”

Note

The image above is of the shrine honoring Qiguan Shi in the Living Palace at the Temple of Confucius in Qufu. You can read more about it here.

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