Leadership Lessons from Confucius: when your back’s against the wall

when your back's against the wall

Confucius said: “Zang Wuzhong demanded that the city of Fang be acknowledged by the Duke of Lu as his hereditary fief. Although it’s said he didn’t coerce his ruler, I don’t believe it.”
子曰:「臧武仲以防,求為後於魯,雖曰不要君,吾不信也。」

When your back’s against the wall, you sometimes have no choice but to play hard ball. If you let other people walk over you, you’ll lose the respect of your colleagues and members of your team. No matter how much criticism you attract, hang tough and fight your corner.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 14 of Book 14 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 14 here.

(1) As a result of some underhand political maneuvering from the Meng Family, Zang Wuzhong was exiled from the state of Lu in 550 BCE and fled to the neighboring state of Zhu. Concerned that he would lose the walled city of Fang, which had long belonged to his family, Zang returned to Lu and took control of it while at the same time asking his siblings to petition Duke Xiang of Lu to appoint one of them as his successor. Although Zang made no overt threats that he would continue to occupy Fang until he got his way, the duke agreed to his demand and appointed one of his half-brothers as his successor. Satisfied that the ownership of the city was still in his family, Zang then left Lu for exile in the state of Qi. Confucius was, of course, appalled by this attempt to hold the Duke of Lu to ransom. In his eyes, even if Zang had been unjustly sent into exile, this didn’t justify his flagrant disobedience towards his ruler. Two wrongs didn’t make a right; they just make a bad situation even worse and eliminated any possibility of it being redressed by more judicious means in the future.

I took the top image at the Zhusi Academy in Qufu. Confucius is said to have taught his students here after returning to Lu from exile in in 848 BCE, as well as compiling the Book of Songs, Book of History, Book of Rites, Book of Music, and Book of Changes. You can read more about the Zhusi Academy here.

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