Analects of Confucius Book 11: Confucius and Ran Qiu

Confucius and Ran Qiu

Even though Confucius is critical of several of his most loyal followers in Book 11, most notably Zilu, he reserves his most virulent scorn for Ran Qiu. In 11.17 he famously rips into him for helping the Lu strongman Ji Kangzi to levy yet more taxes on the common people by loudly declaring: “He’s no longer my follower. You may beat the drum and attack him, my young friends.”

While Confucius is justifiably upset at Ran Qiu for ignoring his advice not to impose any more unnecessary burdens onto the impoverished peasantry, he never uses such violent language towards Zilu and other followers who also helped the corrupt and venal Ji Family enrich themselves at the expense of the downtrodden Lu population. Indeed, even though Confucius often chides Zilu for his indiscretions and impetuousness, he generally adopts a much more indulgent tone towards him than Ran Qiu.

There are a couple of possible reasons for Confucius’s animus towards Ran Qiu, starting with Qiu’s (sensible) decision to stay on in Lu when the sage went off in exile in 497 BCE. Although he was no doubt grateful to Qiu for the instrumental role he played in persuading Ji Kangzi to invite him to return home to Lu after fourteen fruitless years of tramping around China in search of employment, the success of his follower in achieving such an influential position may have served to remind Confucius of his own abject failure – not to mention making him feel indebted to him in a manner that was impossible to repay.

In other chapters of the book, Confucius shows a much more sympathetic attitude towards Ran Qiu. When Gongxi Chi asks him why he advised Qiu to put something he’s just learned immediately into practice in 11.22, the sage explains: “Ran Qiu holds himself back, so I push him forward.” In 11.26, he refrains from criticizing Qiu for his false modesty in claiming that his greatest wish is to manage a small territory when he knows that his follower has the much grander dream of governing a state.

For all his indignation at his dealings with the Ji Family, Confucius still cares deeply for Ran Qiu and appreciates his talents as much as he despises his weaknesses.

Notes

I took the top image at the Zhusi Academy in Qufu. Confucius is said to have taught his students here after returning to Lu from exile in in 848 BCE, as well as compiling the Book of Songs, Book of History, Book of Ritual, Book of Music, and Book of Changes.

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