Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Zang Wuzhong

Zang Wuzhong (臧武仲) was the head of a powerful family in Confucius’s home state of Lu and the grandson of Zang Wenzhong featured in 5.18. Zang is mentioned in the Commentary of Zuo (左傳/Zuǒchuán), one of the earliest Chinese historical works, and according to some sources he even employed Confucius’s father Shuliang He in his service.

Although Confucius praises Zang for his great wisdom in 14.12, he goes on to question his sense of morality two chapters later for the unsavory tactics he employed to force the Duke Xiang of Lu to allow his family to keep its fiefdom, the walled city of Fang, when he was sent into exile in 550 BCE following some intense political maneuvering from the Meng Family.

After fleeing to the small state of Zhu, Zang returned to Lu and took control of Fang, which was located in a strategic position in an area bordering the larger and more powerful state of Qi. Once he was installed there, Fang sent two of his half-brothers, Zang Jia and Zang Wei, to petition Duke Xiang to appoint one of them as his successor allegedly for the sole purpose of maintaining their ancestors’ memorial temple continuing to hold sacrifices to their ancestors.

Although Zang made no overt threats that he would continue to occupy Fang until he got his way, the duke had no choice but to accede to his demands because the risk of a rebellion was simply too great.

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.

When Zang first reached Qi, he hid in the wild and led a reclusive life. But when the ruler of Qi got to hear about his talents, he summoned him to his court and appointed him as a high-ranking official. In this role, he trained the Qi army and had his troops open up wasteland to grow grain for its food supplies and helped boost the power of the state. For all Confucius’s doubts about his sense of morality, Zang Wuzhong was a very formidable operator indeed. Talk about being Lu’s loss and Qi’s gain!

Appearances in the Analects of Confucius
Book 14, Chapter 12
Book 14, Chapter 14

Book 14
Chapter 12
子路問「成人」。子曰:「若臧武仲之知,公綽之不欲,卞莊子之勇,冉求之藝,文之以禮樂,亦可以為成人矣!」曰:「今之成人者,何必然?見利思義,見危授命,久要不忘平生之言,亦可以為成人矣!」
Zilu asked how to define a “complete person”. Confucius said: “Take someone as wise as Zang Wuzhong, as free from desire as Gongchuo, as brave as Zhuangzi of Bian, and as cultured as Ran Qiu, as well as being accomplished in ritual and music, and they may be considered a complete person.” Then he added: “But must a complete person be exactly like this today? Someone who thinks of what is right at the sight of profit, who is ready to risk their life when faced with danger, and who can endure hardship without forgetting the teachings that have guided their daily life may also be considered a complete person.”

Chapter 14
子曰:「臧武仲以防,求為後於魯,雖曰不要君,吾不信也。」
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.”

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