Leadership Lessons from Confucius Project: Week 2, 2021 updates

women in the analects

Women were excluded from holding formal positions of power by the Zhou dynasty operating system, though a small minority were able to wield it informally as wives, consorts, concubines, and mothers. The most famous or infamous example during the Spring and Autumn period was Nanzi, the wife or consort of the dissolute Duke Ling of Wei.

Some historians portray Nanzi as being as depraved as her husband, going as far as accusing her of conducting an incestuous affair with her brother. Even in the unlikely event that the stories about her scandalous behavior are true, that does not mean she was not an effective ruler. Although Confucius fails to mention it, it was almost certainly she who assembled and managed the team of officials that the sage mentions in 14.19.

Nanzi also enjoys the distinction of the being the only woman whom Confucius talks to in the entire Analects. It is such a pity that the passage in 6.18 does not describe what they talked about. You can read more about the whole story in this new article:

Analects Book 14: Confucius fails to mention his audience with Nanzi

One of the officials Confucius praises in 14.19 is Kong Yu, who to the amazement of many was given the posthumous name of Kong Wenzi, meaning Kong-the-Refined. Why Confucius held him in such high regard is a great mystery, particularly when you read the story about the huge argument the two men had during the sage’s final visit to Wei in around 485 BCE. The most bizarre part of the account is that Confucius does not object to Kong forcing an official to divorce his wife so that he could marry Kong’s daughter. He is outraged, however, that Kong was planning to have the official beaten up because he kept on seeing his former number one concubine who was also the sister of his ex-wife.

Since Kong died just a year before Confucius, it is tempting to think that the sage had already gone senile by the time he defends the choice of Kong’s posthumous name in 5.15

Confucius was always ready with advice on how to be an effective official. Analects Book 14 is no exception. To learn more, check out this new piece:

Analects Book 14: Confucius on how government officials should act

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