Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Gongshu Wenzi

Gongshu Wenzi (公叔文子) was the posthumous title given to Gongsun Ba/Gongsun Zhu, a highly respected minister of Wei. According to the Book of Ritual, he was given the honorific title of Wenzi (文子), meaning ‘the Refined’, ‘the Civilized’ or ‘the Cultured’, by Duke Ling of Wei in recognition of his great loyalty to the state and the improvements he made to the system for ranking officials.

There appear to have been questions raised by some officials as to whether Gongshu truly merited this honor. By praising him for allowing his steward to be promoted to the same position as him in the duke’s court in 14.18, Confucius is likely aiming to counter these claims. In ancient China, most high-ranking officials would consider it a humiliation to be equal in rank with a former subordinate, so Confucius no doubt also considered this to be a rare and generous act that deserved great recognition.

Although happy to give Gongshu credit where credit is due, Confucius is less inclined to believe the description given in 14.13 by his retainer Gongming Jia of his almost superhuman ability to respond perfectly to each situation he encounters with effortless action (無為/wúwéi). Despite his undoubted talent, it’s highly unlikely that Gongshu was able to reach a level that the great sage didn’t manage to achieve until he was seventy. (See 2.14).

Appearances in the Analects of Confucius
Book 14, Chapter 13
Book 14, Chapter 18

Book 14
Chapter 13
子問「公叔文子」於公明賈,曰:「信乎?夫子不言不笑不取乎?」公明賈對曰:「以告者過也!夫子時然後言,人不厭其言;樂然後笑,人不厭其笑;義然後取,人不厭其取。」子曰:「其然!豈其然乎?」
Confucius asked Gongming Jia about Gongshu Wenzi: “Is it true that your master never spoke, laughed, nor took anything?” Gongming Jia replied: “Whoever told you this exaggerated. My master spoke, but only at the right time, and so no one ever thought he spoke too much; he laughed, but only when he was happy, and so no one ever thought that he laughed too much; he took things, but only when it was right, and so no one ever thought that he took too much.” Confucius said: “How commendable! Assuming of course it is true.”

Book 14
Chapter 18
公叔文子之臣大夫僎,與文子同升諸公。子聞之曰:「可以為文矣!」
The steward of Gongshu Wenzi, Zhuan, was promoted together with him to the duke’s court. Confucius heard this and said: “Gongshu truly deserves to be called ‘the Refined.’”

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