Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Zixi

There is extensive debate over the identity of Zixi (子西), who makes only one rather inglorious appearance in the Analects in which Confucius compares him less than favorably to Zichan, the illustrious chief minister of the small state of Zheng.

Some commentators believe Zixi to have been a fellow minister of the great man who went on to succeed him as chief minister after his death. A few go as far as to claim that he was a brother of Zichan with the courtesy name of Gongsun Xia. Sibling or not, Zixi doesn’t appear to have distinguished himself in the post – perhaps partly because he had to operate in his renowned predecessor’s shadow.

Others suggest that Zixi had nothing to do with Zichan and the state of Zheng at all. Instead, he was Prince Shen, who served as chief minister of the state of Chu under Duke Zhao and who dissuaded his ruler from offering Confucius a post in the government out of fear that the sage would outshine him. No wonder Confucius didn’t even want to hear his name spoken if this is true!

Appearances in the Analects of Confucius
Book 14, Chapter 9

Book 14
Chapter 9
或問「子產」,子曰:「惠人也。」問「子西」,曰:「彼哉彼哉!」問「管仲」,曰:「人也,奪伯氏駢邑三百,飯疏食,沒齒無怨言。」
Someone asked about Zichan. Confucius said: “He was a generous man.” “And what about Zixi?” “Don’t even mention his name!” “And what about Guan Zhong?” “What a man! He seized over three hundred households in Pian from the head of the Bo family. But even though he was reduced to eating coarse food until the end of his days, the poor man could never bring himself to utter a single word of complaint against him.”

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