The Analects of Confucius Book 13 has a limited supporting cast of just four of the sage’s contemporaries. But what it lacks in terms of numbers, it more than makes up for in terms of the status of its members, who include two rulers of Wei and Lu, one prince, and a lord with his personal fiefdom.
Duke Chu of Wei had the unique distinction of ruling the state while his father was still alive and being deposed by him in a bloody palace coup. With his opening question in 13.3, Zilu is implying that if Confucius chooses to recognize the duke as the legitimate ruler of Wei, he has a great chance of being appointed his chief minister. To Zilu’s incredulity, Confucius refuses to play ball no matter how great the prize may be. Although he does not state it directly, the sage regards Duke Chu as illegitimate because his father is still living and believes that he is planting the seeds for even greater chaos in Wei by basing his rule on a falsehood: “When language doesn’t accord with the truth of things, nothing can be carried out successfully.”
Confucius turned out to be correct in his assertion that the duke’s reign would end in tears. Even the great sage, however, could not have predicted that his faithful friend and follower Zilu would meet his end in the successful coup that Kuaikui, the father of Duke Chu, launched against his son in 480 BCE. Remarkably, Duke Zhu returned to Wei for another stint at the helm a couple of years after his no-good father was kicked out of the state for the second time. You can read more about the background to this tangled tale in the profiles of Duke Ling of Wei and his consort Nanzi here and here.
Although a scion of the ruling family of Wei just like Duke Chu, Prince Jing appears to have been quite content to lead a comfortable and (relatively) simple life rather than get involved in deadly power struggles. With his fulsome praise of the prince in 13.8, Confucius may also be making a few veiled criticisms of the more decadent members of the Wei ruling family who took advantage of their status to indulge in lives of dissolute luxury.
Duke Ding of Lu was the ruler who gave Confucius the chance to prove his talents on the government stage by appoint as minister of works (司空) following his successful stint as governor of Zhongdu. With their diplomatic triumph at the Xiagu conference in 500 BCE, the duke and Confucius appeared to have cemented their close relationship, culminating in the sage’s appointment as minister of crime for the state.
However, things very quickly started to go south from then on when Confucius pressed the duke to flush out the rebels hiding away in the strongholds of the Three Families and their relationship ended abruptly when he departed the state in 497 BCE for what turned out to be fourteen years of exile. You can read more about what happened in the profile of Duke Ding here.
The Lord of She, a high-level minister of the state of Chu and governor of the eponymous district, is most famous for the long-running controversy he ignited by telling Confucius about a man called Upright Gong who reported his father to the authorities for stealing a sheep. Talk about a tangled web of filial piety. To learn more about the Lord of She, please click here.
I took this image in the ancient water town of Wuzhen, which is located just a couple of hours from Shanghai by High Speed Train. You can read more about Wuzhen here.