Analects of Confucius Book 6: Confucius and Ran Yong

Confucius and Ran Yong

Confucius has a high regard for Ran Yong, otherwise known as Zhonggong, judging by his opening comment in Book 6. By declaring that “Ran Yong could take a seat facing south”, he is saying that he is fit to be a feudal lord, who traditionally sat in that position while presiding over the his court and ritual ceremonies.

The sage expresses his admiration for Ran Yong using a much more colorful metaphor in 6.7 while imploring people not be prejudiced against his lowly origins and focus on his abilities. “Some might hesitate to choose the offspring of a plow ox for a sacrifice,” he says, “but if a bullock has fine horns and sports a ruddy coat would the spirits of the hills and rivers reject it?”

In 6.2, Ran Yong shows a glimpse of his acuity when he corrects the evaluation Confucius makes of the “simple approach” to governing of Zisang Bozi (1). However, in none of the other relatively small number appearances he makes in the Analects does he demonstrate any of the qualities that would make him fit to be a ruler.

Ran Yong went on to become a steward or counselor for the Ji Family for a while, but he doesn’t appear to have gone on to a stellar official career in Lu or any of the other nearby states. Perhaps he wasn’t as talented as Confucius thought he was, or perhaps the sage’s pleas for people to put aside their prejudices against his humble background were simply ignored.

Curiously, Confucius didn’t object to Ran Yong taking up his appointment with the Ji Family even though he was adamantly opposed to his clansman Ran Qiu working for them. Perhaps he just had a soft spot for this “offspring of a plow ox” and was trying to give him a helping hand.

(1) There is a lot of speculation surrounding the identity of Zisang Bozi (子桑伯子). One popular theory is that he was a former minister of the state of Lu who gave up the good life to become a recluse or itinerant Daoist sage in protest against the corruption he saw while in government.

I took this image at the Shanghai Confucius Temple. You can read more about it here.

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