In stark contrast with the totally devoted Yan Hui, Ran Qiu isn’t that bothered about following the teachings of Confucius and adhering to the sage’s strict moral principles. In 6.12 he unrepentantly tells him: “It’s not that I don’t enjoy the way of the Master, but I don’t have the strength to follow it.”
Although Confucius attempts to encourage Ran Qiu to stay on track, his response that he can give up half-way if he doesn’t have enough strength to go on suggests that the sage understands that he is pursuing a lost cause.
Ran Qiu’s refusal to listen to Confucius’s recommendation about how much grain he should give to Gongxi Chi’s mother in 6.4 makes you wonder why the sage persisted. His decision to grant her far more than she is entitled to represents a huge slap in the face for the sage because she and her family are so rich that they don’t even need it. While Confucius vociferously protests that a leader should help those in need rather than make the rich even richer, there is nothing he can do to stop Ran Qiu from doing what he wants to do.
Despite his rocky relationship with Ran Qiu, Confucius still finds it in himself to recommend him to Ji Kangzi as being fit for government office in 6.8. No doubt he is being honest in describing Ran Qiu as a man of many talents, but perhaps he is also thinking that it would be better to put the devil he knows in the service of Ji rather than risk having one he doesn’t know take up the position.
I took this image at the Shanghai Confucius Temple. You can read more about it here.