Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Kong Wenzi

Kong Wenzi (孔文子) was the posthumous name given to Kong Yu (孔圉) a minister of the state of Wei who died about a year before Confucius in around 480 BCE.

Kong’s posthumous name literally means Kong-the-Refined or Kong-the-Cultured. Many people at the time considered this to be rather ironic given that he was said to have been an unsavory character notorious for his disloyalty and dissoluteness. No wonder Zigong is so befuddled in 14.19 by the news that Kong had been given such an honor!

Confucius appears to have had a more positive opinion of Kong than many of his contemporaries. In addition to reminding Zigong that of some of his good points in 5.15, he also lauds him in 14.19 for the pivotal contribution he made along with his two fellow ministers Wangsun Jia and Zhu Tuo in holding Wei together while the while the state was under the rule of the decadent Duke Ling and his scheming consort Nanzi.

Why Confucius held Kong in such high regard is quite a mystery given the bizarre incident that occurred after the two men struck up a friendship when Confucius returned to Wei in 485 BCE. Prior to that, Kong had persuaded a fellow minister at court to marry his daughter, even though the man already had a wife plus her sister as his consort. Although the minister divorced his wife and married Kong’s daughter, he still kept his former wife’s sister as his consort and installed her in a separate residence.

Kong was so angry at his new son-in-law’s lack of respect towards his daughter that he decided to bring her back home and have the minister beaten up for this affront to the honor of the family. When Kong asked Confucius for his opinion on whether he should go ahead with his plan to give his errant son-in-law a kicking, Confucius stormed out in a fit of fury and, according to one account, ordered his carriage driver to drive him straight back to his home state of Lu.

Although this tale of Confucius’s dramatic departure from Wei is probably an exaggeration, Confucius did leave for home in 484 BCE. But this was probably at the instigation of Ran Qiu rather than out of righteous indignation at the boorish antics of Kong Wenzi. Perhaps his memory of the incident had faded by the time of Kong’s death. Otherwise, it is difficult to understand why Confucius defended Kong being given the posthumous name of Kong-the-Refined.

Not only did Kong hardly show himself to be a model father in the way he treated his daughter. He did not prove to be much of a husband either given that his wife was discovered carrying out an affair with a manservant. Fortunately for Kong, this only came to light after his death, so he was spared the embarrassment of everyone knowing that he had been cuckolded.

Appearances in the Analects of Confucius 
Book 5, Chapter 15
Book 14, Chapter 19

Book 5
Chapter 15
Zigong asked: “Why was ‘Kong-the-Refined’ given the posthumous name of ‘Refined’?” Confucius said: “He was smart, fond of learning, and wasn’t ashamed to listen and learn from people of a lower social status: that is why he was given the name.”

Book 14
Chapter 19
Confucius said that Duke Ling of Wei didn’t follow the way. Ji Kangzi said: “If this is the case, how come he hasn’t lost his state?” Confucius said: “He has Kong Wenzi looking after guests and foreign delegations, Zhu Tuo taking care of the ancestral temple, and Wangsun Jia in charge of defense. With such officials as these, how could he possibly lose his state?”

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