Since Book 7 of the Analects is focused on Confucius, his interactions with his followers are limited compared to the previous two books. Of the six followers that are featured, Zilu makes the most appearances with three. Yan Hui, Ran Qiu, Zigong, Gongxi Chi, and Wuma Qi are limited to one.
The book does, however, manage to squeeze in some colorful episodes involving various powerful figures that he comes across during the course of his 14-year exile tramping around state to state in search of a job.
In 7.14, Confucius wisely refuses to get caught up in the struggle between Duke Chu of Wei (衛出公) and his father Ji Kuaikui (姬蒯瞶) over who had the right to rule the state. Kuaikui had been forced to flee Wei after failing in an attempt to kill Nanzi (南子), the notorious consort of his father, Duke Ling (衛靈公), in 499 BCE, and was keen to seize what he saw as his rightful crown after his father’s death. As the newly incumbent ruler, however, Kuaikui’s son was having none of it. In the end, Kuaikui managed to sneak back into Wei and depose his son, only to be thrown out on his ear a couple of years later.
Confucius is prevented by Zilu from getting involved with another controversial figure, the Duke of She (葉公), in 7.18. Sensing that this powerful feudal lord from the state of Chu was more interested in hiring the sage to bolster his bid for greater power than for his wisdom, Zilu refuses to get drawn into a conversation with him about Confucius.
In 7.22 Confucius comes close to death at the hands of thugs hired by Huan Tui (桓魋), the most powerful minister in the state of Song, when – according to Sima Qian’s Records of the Grand Historian (史記/shǐjì) – they attempt to crush him to death by cutting down a tree while he is conducting a ritual. Declaring that he has nothing to fear from Huan Tui because “heaven has bestowed me with virtue”, Confucius manages to escape along with his followers from this hairbrained attempt on his life.
In 7.30 Confucius has a much less threatening but potentially more embarrassing encounter with the unnamed Minister of Justice of the small state of Chen. Knowing full well that Confucius has no choice but to defend his former ruler, Duke Zhao of Lu, the minister asks whether the duke understood ritual. Confucius replies with a simple yes, even though the duke broke an important ritual convention by marrying a woman bearing the same family name as his own (姬/Jī) and attempted to brush this violation under the carpet by giving his wife the new name of Wu Mengzi (吳孟子) in place of her original one.
“I’m fortunate indeed,” Confucius shrugs when he learns of the minister’s subsequent criticism of him. “Whenever I make a mistake, there’s always someone on hand to let me know about it.”
For all his great wisdom, even the great sage has to take the loss from time to time.
I took this image at the Temple of Confucius in Changhua, Taiwan.