Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: Shao Hu

Shao Hu (召忽) is known for the extreme, some would say excessive, devotion he showed to his master Prince Jiu of Qi (公子糾). After the prince was executed as a result of losing out in a power struggle against his younger brother, Duke Huan of Qi, the grief-stricken Shao Hu committed suicide rather than return to his homeland together with his comrade-in-arms Guan Zhong (管仲) as the duke ordered.

Although many people like Zilu admired Shao Hu for what they considered to be the ultimate act of loyalty of a retainer towards their master, others such as Confucius strongly defended Guan Zhong’s decision to defy the convention that Shao Hu followed and return to Qi. As Confucius argues in 14.16 and 14.17, Guan Zhong’s subsequent achievements as Duke Huan’s chief minister far outweighed his violation of a rarely observed rule of ritual propriety.

Shao Hu and Guan Zhong were counselors of Prince Jiu, who was second-in-line to the throne of the state of Qi. When the prince’s father Duke Xi of Qi (齊僖公) died in 698 BCE, his oldest brother Zhuer (諸兒) assumed power and ruled until 686 BCE as Duke Xiang (齊襄公).

So great was Zhuer’s debauchery and brutality that Shao Hu and Guan Zhong fled with Prince Jiu to the state of Lu while Bao Shuya (鲍叔牙) the tutor of the prince’s younger brother Xiaobai (公小白), whisked him off to the state of Ju.

In 686 BCE, Duke Xiang was murdered by his cousin Wuzhi (無知), who sat on the throne himself for a few months before being killed by a minister called Yong Lin (雍廩) in the spring of 685 BCE.

As soon as Prince Jiu heard the news of the death of Wuzhi, he set his plans to assume the throne of Qi in motion. To prevent his younger brother from stealing it, he instructed Shao Hu and Guan Zhong to kill Xiaobai on the way back to his homeland.

When the two men encountered Xiaobai, Guan Zhong shot him with an arrow. Thinking that Xiaobai was dead, the two men reported to Prince Jiu that they had successfully completed their mission.

Safe in the knowledge that his younger brother was no longer a threat to him, Prince Jiu made a leisurely trip back to Qi – only to find out upon his arrival outside the capital that Prince Xiaobai was already installed on the throne.

Following a failed attempt to seize power, the prince and his two retainers fled back to the state of Lu. Although Duke Zhuang of Lu (魯莊公) was a supporter of Prince Jiu, he was forced to execute him after Xiaobai sent an army to attack his state. As part of the peace settlement, the duke was also obliged to send Guan Zhong and Shao Hu back to Qi.

By taking his own life, Shao Hu is dimly remembered as a man of great principle and loyalty. But his name evokes none of the distinction and awe as that of the man whose poorly aimed arrow led to his downfall. Talk about a cruel and bitter irony!

Appearances in the Analects of Confucius
Book 14, Chapter 16

Book 14
Chapter 16
Zilu said: “When Duke Huan had Prince Jiu put to death, Shao Hu took his own life but Guan Zhong chose to keep his. Should we say that Guan Zhong was a man without goodness?” Confucius said: “Duke Huan was able to bring the rulers of all the states together nine times without having to resort to military force because of the power of Guan Zhong. Such was his goodness! Such was his goodness!”

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