Tag Archives: Confucius and women

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. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius Project: Week 2, 2021 updates

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

When Ji Kangzi asks Confucius in 14.19 why Duke Ling of Wei was able to hold on to power despite his failure to follow the moral way, the sage replies that it was because the old reprobate had a strong team of ministers to support him.

Although Confucius is telling Ji the truth with his answer, he fails to mention one important detail: namely, who oversaw the team of ministerial mavens that kept the state running smoothly while the dissolute duke cavorted in his palaces and hunting grounds. Continue reading Analects Book 14: Confucius fails to mention his audience with Nanzi

Women and servants

Confucius said: “Women and servants are difficult to deal with: if you get too close to them, they become disrespectful; if you get too distant, they resent it.”

There has been a lot of debate among commentators over whether Confucius is directing this comment at women in general or referring to the specific challenges of managing the female members of a large household. Continue reading Women and servants

An unhappy lot

Confucius said: “When their rulers love the rites, the people respond readily when they are called on for service.”

In common with other ancient Chinese thinkers, Confucius had a top-down view of how society should be governed. If the ruling classes adhered to the correct ethical principles and customs, the people would automatically follow them. Continue reading An unhappy lot

May Heaven punish me!


Confucius went to see Nanzi (the concubine of Duke Ling of Wei). Zilu was not happy. Confucius swore: “If I have done wrong, may Heaven punish me! May Heaven punish me!”

You only have to glance at the portrayals of the notorious Qing Dynasty Dowager Empress Cixi and Tang Dynasty Empress Wu Zetian to realize that powerful women do not enjoy the most, er, wholesome of reputations in Chinese history. Both are accused not only of quite incredible feats of promiscuity but also of using their feminine wiles to seduce innocent men in their insatiable lust for power and riches. Continue reading May Heaven punish me!