Leadership lessons from Confucius: an extraordinary outburst

extraordinary outburst

The head of the Ji Family was wealthier than the Duke of Zhou ever was, but Ran Qiu still assisted him with the collection of taxes to further increase his wealth. Confucius said: “He’s no longer my follower. You may beat the drum and attack him, my young friends.”

There’s no point in exploding with anger when someone has done something that upsets you – particularly if they’re not actually there to hear you. It might make you feel good for a couple seconds, but pretty soon you’ll be left feeling sheepish along with everyone else who was there to witness your outburst. How do you think you would make them feel if you went as far as to call for violence against someone you’re a close friend of?


This article features a translation of Chapter 17 of Book 11 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 11 here.

(1) The background to this extraordinary outburst from Confucius against Ran Qiu is given in the Zuo Commentary on the Spring and Annals and in Mencius 4A14. Confucius was strongly opposed to his follower and friend helping the Ji Family to further enrich itself at the expense of the poor and downtrodden common people and was furious at him for ignoring the advice he give him to keep taxation to a minimum. Confucius had a love-hate relationship with Ran Qiu because of his love of money and willingness to work for the Ji Family, whom the sage detested for myriad crimes including corruption, usurpation of power, and the violation of ritual conventions.

Remarkably, Ran Qiu bore Confucius no grudges for his harsh criticisms of his behavior. After successfully leading the defense of Lu against an invasion from the state of Qi, he played an instrumental role in persuading Ji Kangzi to invite Confucius to return home in 484 BCE from fourteen years of exile and gave the sage generous financial support in his final years. You can read more about Ran Qiu here.

I took this image of an ancient Zhou dynasty ritual vessel at the new Confucius Museum in the sage’s home town of Qufu. You can read more about the museum here.

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