Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: Chen Heng

Chen Heng (陳恒), also referred to by his posthumous title Chen Chengzi (陳成子) in the Analects, is notorious for having not just one but probably two rulers of the state of Qi assassinated in the space of only four years.

Even though he was already extremely powerful as head of the formidable Chen Family and a highly ranked minister at court, Chen had his eyes firmly set on nothing less than assuming complete control of the state of Qi. In 485 BCE he is believed to have murdered the state’s hereditary ruler Duke Dao (齊悼公). In 481 BCE, after learning that the duke’s successor Duke Jian (齊簡公) and his chief minister Kan Zhi (闞止) were planning to expel him and the rest of the Chen Family from Qi, Chen had both of them killed in a violent coup d’état.

Although Chen Heng installed the duke’s younger brother Prince Ao (公子驁) as Duke Ping (齊平公) of Qi, he became the de facto ruler of the state and continued to strengthen the iron grip he and his family had on power. Such was the impact of his legacy that the Chen Family finally brought six hundred years of rule by the original Jiang (姜) ruling house of Qi to an end in 381 BCE and formally took over the throne.

Appearances in the Analects of Confucius
Book 14, Chapter 21

Book 14
Chapter 21
陳成子弒簡公。孔子沐浴而朝,告於哀公曰:「陳恒弒其君,請討之。」公曰:「告夫三子。」孔子曰:「以吾從大夫之後,不敢不告也!」君曰:「告夫三子者!之三子告,不可。」孔子曰:「以吾從大夫子後,不敢不告也!」
Chen Chengzi assassinated Duke Jian of Qi. Confucius took a bath and went to court, where he told Duke Ai of Lu: “Chen Heng murdered his ruler. Please punish him.” The Duke said: “Report this to the three lords.” Confucius said: “As a former official myself, I had no choice but to make this report. Yet my lord has only said, “Report this to the three lords.’” He went and made his report to the three lords. They refused to intervene. Confucius said: “As a former official myself, I had no choice but to make this report.”

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