Historical figures from the Analects of Confucius: Ao the Sailor

Ao the Sailor (奡) was a martial hero from the Xia dynasty who tarnished his great reputation as a master of boatbuilding and naval warfare by becoming a brutal despot after murdering the holder of the throne.

Some sources claim that Ao was the offspring of a tawdry union between Han Zhuo (寒浞), the chief minister of the legendary archer Hou Yi (后羿), and Hou Yi’s wife, who had conspired to have Hou Yi murdered so that Han Zhuo could seize the throne. Others suggest that Ao was the son of one of Han Zhuo’s ministers.

Regardless of who his father was, Ao murdered Han Zhou to grab the throne for himself – only to suffer the same fate as his two predecessors when he was assassinated by one of his own ministers to bring his harsh rule to an end.

Confucius was decidedly not among those who considered Ao to be a hero. In 14.5, he fully concurs with Nangong Kuo’s condemnation of Ao’s violent seizure of the throne.

Appearances in the Analects of Confucius
Book 14, Chapter 5

Book 14
Chapter 5
南宮适問於孔子曰:「羿善射,奡盪舟,俱不得其死然。禹稷躬稼而有天下。」夫子不答。南宮适出,子曰:「君子哉若人!尚德哉若人!」
Nangong Kuo asked Confucius, saying: “Yi was a great archer and Ao was a great sailor, but neither died a natural death. Yu and Ji toiled on the land, but they came to own the world.” Confucius made no reply. Nangong Kuo left. Confucius said: “He’s a true leader! This man truly prizes virtue!”

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