Analects of Confucius Book 11: Confucius in danger in the borderlands

Confucius in danger

Book 11 of the Analects highlights two dangerous scrapes that Confucius got himself and his followers into during his period of exile from the state of Lu from 496 BCE to 483 BCE.

In 11.23, Confucius and Yan Hui are reunited in the rough border town of Kuang, where the sage and his band of merry men had been detained by the locals for five days after being mistaken for Yang Huo (楊貨), a notorious outlaw from the state of Lu nicknamed Tiger Yang who had previously ransacked the town.

When some of his followers were afraid that they wouldn’t get out alive, Confucius famously proclaimed: “King Wen is dead, but the civilization he created lives on with me, doesn’t it? If heaven wished civilization to be destroyed, why was it entrusted to me? If heaven doesn’t wish civilization to be destroyed, what do I have to fear from the people of Kuang?” (See 6.9.) Whether Confucius was speaking the truth or just bluffing is unclear, but he did somehow manage to persuade the locals to release him and his followers.

The incident in Kuang took place in 496 BCE, the first year of Confucius’s grand tour of the divided states of China following his hasty departure from the state of Wei after he became the victim of a whispering campaign launched against him by ministers afraid that he would take their jobs.

The second one featured in the book occurred much later 489 BCE, when Confucius, Zilu, Zigong, Yan Hui, and some other followers were on their way to the state of Chu following an invitation from its ruler to assist his government. Upon reaching the border area between the small states of Chen and Cai, they were surrounded for seven days by angry locals who wanted to stop them from working for their much stronger neighbor. By the time their rescuers arrived, some of them had nearly starved to death.

When Confucius returned to his home state of Lu in around 483 BCE, Yan Hui had already died and his other followers had moved on to other posts. Hence his lament in 11.2 that none of them were still with him. Their long years of tramping along the highways and byways of China had been for nothing.


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 Rites, Book of Music, and Book of Changes.

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