Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: Zhuangzi of Bian

Zhuangzi of Bian (卞莊子) was an official in the walled city of Bian in the state of Lu, who was celebrated for his bravery and cleverness. His sole appearance in the Analects is in 14.12.

According to a popular legend, Zhuangzi once came across two tigers eating a bull. Instead of trying to kill both of them, he waited until they started fighting each other after eating their fill to put the two wounded animals to the sword.

Such was Zhuangzi’s formidable reputation that the great Confucian philosopher Xunzi remarked in his eponymous work that the people of Qi were so afraid of having to do battle with him that they avoided passing through Bian on the way to attack Lu.

Probably as a result of the legend that grew up around Zhuangzi, the men of Bian became famous for their courage and fearsomeness. These were two qualities that Confucius’s follower Zilu, a native of the town, certainly possessed – probably to excess.

Appearances in the Analects of Confucius
Book 14, Chapter 12

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.”

Notes

(1) Some sources claim that Bian was located in the state of Qi.

(2) Zhuangzi of Bian has no connection with the ancient Chinese philosopher of the same name.

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