Tag Archives: Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius

Analects Book 14 by numbers: a huge supporting cast

Analects Book 14

Not surprisingly for a volume of its size, Analects Book 14 delivers pretty big numbers across the board, particularly when it comes to the huge supporting cast that appears in its 44 chapters. This includes 18 historical figures and 18 contemporary figures, plus four unnamed ones that perform more than just walk-on roles.

The cast of historical figures ranges from mythical sovereigns and heroes from the dawn of antiquity such as the sage king Yu and Hou Ji, who is renowned for introducing agricultural techniques to China, to some of the titans of the Spring and Autumn period like Duke Huan of Qi and his chief minister Guan Zhong. There’s room for a couple of villains, too, in the form of Yi the Archer and Ao the Sailor, who both used their strength and martial skills to take over the reins of power only to be assassinated themselves.

Continue reading Analects Book 14 by numbers: a huge supporting cast

Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Zifu Jingbo

Zifu Jingbo (子服景伯) was a high-level official in the government of the state of Lu, who was so outraged by the accusations made against Zilu by Ji Family retainer Gongbo Liao (公伯寮) that in 14.36 he boasts that he still possesses enough power “to have Liao’s corpse splayed open in the market and court” for slander.

In 19.22, he rats out his fellow minister Shusun Wushu (叔孫武叔) to Zigong for claiming that Zigong was superior to Confucius. Zigong puts his attempt at mischief-making firmly in its place by telling Jingbo that since very few people really knew Confucius he isn’t surprised by such a comment. Continue reading Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Zifu Jingbo

Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Duke Ling of Wei

Duke Ling of Wei (衛靈公) was one of the most decadent rulers of the Autumn and Spring period and perhaps in all of Chinese history. As the son of a lowly concubine of Duke Xiang of Wei, he wasn’t even first in line for the throne. But when his father died in 535 BCE without anointing a successor, the chief minister Kong Zhengchi put him in power after consulting the oracles of the Book of Changes and Kang Shufeng (康叔封), the founder of the state of Wei.

Duke Ling had little interest in the affairs of government, preferring to spend his time carousing in his palaces and embarking on occasional military adventures. In 522 BCE he was forced to flee from Wei following a rebellion led by his retainer Qi Bao, who had been angered by the humiliating treatment given to him by the duke’s brother. It was only after Qi was assassinated that the duke was able to return to his homeland. Continue reading Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Duke Ling of Wei

Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Yuan Rang

Yuan Rang (原壤) was either a young acquaintance of Confucius whom he rapped on the shin for his rudeness or an eccentric old friend of the sage whom he indulgently chided for his casualness.

According to a famous story in the Book of Ritual, the latter persona of Yuan Rang was such a free spirit that he jumped on his mother’s coffin and sang before her funeral while Confucius walked away pretending not to have heard him. Probably this is an entirely fictional incident. Continue reading Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Yuan Rang

Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Qu Boyu

Qu Boyu (蘧伯玉) was the courtesy name of Qu Yuan, a high-ranking official in the state of Wei, who was celebrated for his never-ending quest for self-improvement and his refusal to serve unprincipled rulers. Such was his renown that he is featured in many of the great historical and philosophical texts of the Warring States period, including the Zuo Commentary, the Zhuangzi, and the Huainanzi.

Some commentators speculate that Confucius may have stayed with Qu Boyu, who was nearly forty years older than him, during the time he spent in Wei – but there is no historical evidence to support this claim. However, it is very clear from Confucius’s comments in 14.25 and 15.7 that he was a great admirer of him. Continue reading Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Qu Boyu

Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Weisheng Mu

Nothing is known about Weisheng Mu (微生畝) beyond this reference to him in 14.32 of the Analects. Judging by his use of Confucius’s personal name Qiu (丘) in the exchange between the two men, he was either a close friend bantering with the sage or a snarky cynic who decided to put him on the spot.

Many commentators speculate that Weisheng Mu was a proto-Daoist or primitivist recluse who had given up his career as an official to live off the land out of disgust at the corruption and chaos that reigned over the Zhou kingdom during his lifetime.

Continue reading Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Weisheng Mu

Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Gongbo Liao

Gongbo Liao (公伯寮) worked as a retainer for the Ji Family together with Confucius’s follower Zilu. Other sources say he was a minister of the state of Lu. Quite possibly he may have acted in both capacities.

In 14.36 of the Analects, Gongbo Liao is reported as having made serious accusations against Zilu before the head of the Ji Family. Although the exact nature of these accusations remains unclear, it is likely that he argued against Zilu’s plans to raze the fortified cities of the Three Families in order to root out the rebels living in them. Continue reading Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Gongbo Liao

Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Gongming Jia

Gongming Jia (公明賈) was a high-ranking official of Wei, who presumably also worked as a retainer for Gongshu Wenzi, a widely respected minister of the state.

Given the fulsome praise that he heaps on his master when speaking to Confucius in 14.13, Gongming Jia was clearly a great admirer of Gongshu and probably a close friend as well. The clarity of the description he gives of his master’s ability to respond appropriately to each situation he encounters with effortless action (無為/wúwéi) marks him out as a highly sophisticated individual as well. Continue reading Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Gongming Jia

Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Zang Wuzhong

Zang Wuzhong (臧武仲) was the head of a powerful family in Confucius’s home state of Lu and the grandson of Zang Wenzhong featured in 5.18. Zang is mentioned in the Commentary of Zuo (左傳/Zuǒchuán), one of the earliest Chinese historical works, and according to some sources he even employed Confucius’s father Shuliang He in his service.

Although Confucius praises Zang for his great wisdom in 14.12, he goes on to question his sense of morality two chapters later for the unsavory tactics he employed to force the Duke Xiang of Lu to allow his family to keep its fiefdom, the walled city of Fang, when he was sent into exile in 550 BCE following some intense political maneuvering from the Meng Family. Continue reading Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Zang Wuzhong

Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Shi Shu

Shi Shu (世叔) was the courtesy name of You Ji, a minister of the state of Zheng and a member of the core team of officials that supported its legendary chief minister, Zichan.

Information about Shi Shu is sparse. He is featured just once in the Analects along with his colleagues Bi Chen and Ziyu in 14.8. According to some sources, he later became chief minister of Zheng himself. Continue reading Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Shi Shu