Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Gongbo Liao

Gongbo Liao (公伯寮) worked as a retainer for the Ji Family together with Confucius’s follower Zilu. Other sources say he was a minister of the state of Lu. Quite possibly he may have acted in both capacities.

In 14.36 of the Analects, Gongbo Liao is reported as having made serious accusations against Zilu before the head of the Ji Family. Although the exact nature of these accusations remains unclear, it is likely that he argued against Zilu’s plans to raze the fortified cities of the Three Families in order to root out the rebels living in them.

Gongbo Liao drew the ire of a high-ranking minister called Zifu Jingbo (子服景伯), who boasted to Confucius that he still had enough power to “splay Liao’s corpse open in the market and court.” Confucius was much more relaxed in his response, however, replying: “Will the way prevail? That’s for fate to decide. Will the way be cast aside? That’s for fate to decide. What does Gongbo Liao matter compared with fate?”

Perhaps the severity of the threat from Zifu Jingbo deterred Gongbo from further pursuing his accusations against Zilu since there are no records of him doing so. Or perhaps Gongbo didn’t receive the support he needed to make the charges stick.

The great Han dynasty historian Sima Qian included Gongbo Liao in the “Biographies of the Disciples of Confucius” chapter of his Records of the Grand Historian, but it seems highly unlikely that he was a follower of the sage – not least because of his attempt to slander Zilu in this passage.

Appearances in the Analects of Confucius
Book 14, Chapter 36

Book 14
Chapter 36
公伯寮愬子路於季孫,子服景伯以告曰:「夫子固有惑志於公伯寮,吾力猶能肆諸市朝。」子曰:「道之將行也與?命也!道之將廢也與?命也!公伯寮其如命何!」
Gongbo Liao made accusations against Zilu to the head of the Ji Family. Zifu Jingbo reported this to Confucius, saying: “My master’s mind is being led astray by Gongbo Liao; but I still have enough power to splay Liao’s corpse open in the market and court.” Confucius said: “Will the way prevail? That’s for fate to decide. Will the way be cast aside? That’s for fate to decide. What does Gongbo Liao matter compared with fate?”

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