Tag Archives: Guan Zhong

Leadership Lessons from Confucius Project: Week 1, 2021 updates

Quite a productive start to the year with the Leadership Lessons from Confucius project. In addition to some articles analyzing a few of the key themes of Analects Book 14, I have also added some profiles of historical figures that appear in the supporting cast. Here are the links: Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius Project: Week 1, 2021 updates

Goodness in Analects Book 14: more than just an ethical gold standard

What is goodness (仁)? This is a question that confounded the followers of Confucius just as much as it has generation after generation of scholars hoping to capture the sage’s secret ingredient and wrap it up in a pretty package with a bow on top.

In the first chapter of Analects Book 14, Confucius’s follower Yuan Xian shows that he considers goodness to be the ethical gold standard when he asks the sage if you can be said to have achieved it if you overcome “aggressiveness, arrogance, bitterness, and greed.” Continue reading Goodness in Analects Book 14: more than just an ethical gold standard

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. Continue reading Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: Shao Hu

Analects Book 14: Confucius defends Guan Zhong to Zilu and Zigong

Confucius defends Guan Zhong

A total of seven followers of Confucius are featured in Book 14 of the Analects. The faithful Zilu and Zigong make the lion’s share of appearances, with six and four respectively. Yuan Xian, Nan Rong, Ran Qiu, Zengzi, and Zizhang are confined to solitary mentions. For Yuan Xian and Nan Rong, the book marks their final curtain call in the Analects.

Zilu and Zigong set off the most contentious discussion with Confucius in the book by questioning the goodness of Guan Zhong, the great chief minister of the state of Qi, in 14.16 and 14.17. When they imply that Guan Zhong should have committed suicide alongside his colleague Shao Hu following the execution of their master Prince Jiu, Confucius launches into two remarkable rants that reveal a much more hardheaded side of the sage’s character than is usually seen in the Analects. Continue reading Analects Book 14: Confucius defends Guan Zhong to Zilu and Zigong

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

Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: Prince Jiu of Qi

Prince Jiu of Qi (公子糾) would have become the ruler of the state if an arrow fired at his younger brother Prince Xiaobai (公小白) had struck home as intended. But instead of sitting triumphantly on the throne, the prince ended up being executed at the orders of his sibling who was consolidating his power over the state and later became known as Duke Huan of Qi (齊桓公).

As the second and third sons of Duke Xi of Qi (齊僖公), neither Prince Jiu nor Prince Xiaobai were directly in line to succeed their father to the throne. When Duke Xi died in 698 BCE, their oldest brother Zhuer (諸兒) assumed power. He ruled until 686 BCE and was given the posthumous title of Duke Xiang (齊襄公). Continue reading Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: Prince Jiu of Qi

Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: Duke Huan of Qi

Duke Huan of Qi (齊桓公) was the ruler of Qi from 685 to 643 BCE. Together with his long-time chief minister Guan Zhong, he transformed the state into a military, economic, and political superpower that dominated China and fought off invasions from peoples living outside it. Towards the end of his long reign, however, the duke’s power declined as he grew ill and the court became embroiled in factional strife. Following his death in 643 BCE, Qi lost its dominance even more quickly than the duke and Guan Zhong had established it.

The duke was a son of Duke Xi of Qi (齊僖公) and was known by the personal name of Xiaobai (小白). Since he had at least two older brothers, he was not in line to succeed his father to the throne. Continue reading Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: Duke Huan of Qi

Notes from the field: happy Xmas from Taipei!

Happy Xmas from Taipei

Happy Xmas from Taipei and best wishes for the year ahead! Let’s hope that it will be an improvement on this one.

More by serendipity than design, I have managed to complete all my Leadership Lessons posts for Book 14 of the Analects just in time for the festive season. However, given that I had originally planned to complete Book 15 by the end of the year, I am not exactly in the mood to pop open the champagne! Continue reading Notes from the field: happy Xmas from Taipei!

Leadership lessons from Confucius: shades of grey

shades of grey

子曰:「管仲之器小哉。」或曰:「管仲儉乎?」曰:「管氏有三歸,官事不攝,焉得儉?然則管仲知禮乎?」曰:「邦君樹塞門,管氏亦樹塞門。邦君為兩君之好,有反坫,管氏亦有反坫。管氏而知禮,孰不知禮?」
Confucius said: “Guan Zhong had his limitations.” Someone objected: “Do you mean that Guan Zhong wasn’t frugal?” Confucius replied: “Guan Zhong had three households, each one staffed by a huge retinue. How could he be called frugal?” “But didn’t he know ritual?” “Even though only the ruler of a state can place a screen to mask the view of his gate, he also had one installed. Even though only the ruler of a state can use a special stand to place his inverted cup on when meeting with another ruler, Guan Zhong had one too. If you say Guan Zhong knew ritual, then who doesn’t know it?”

How to deal with larger-than-life characters who make outsize contributions to your organization? Do you call them out for their excesses or do you turn a blind eye to them? Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: shades of grey

Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: Guan Zhong

As the chief minister of Duke Huan of Qi (齊桓公), Guan Zhong (管仲) was the driving force behind the transformation of the state into an economic, military, and political superpower in the first half of the seventh century BCE.

Born in 720 BCE, Guan Zhong managed to work his way out of an impoverished family background thanks in large part to his close friendship with the much wealthier and more influential Bao Shuya (鮑叔牙). The two men grew up in the same town of Yingshang in modern-day Anhui province, and became business partners. Guan Zhong reportedly took most of the profits from these, though Bao Shuya didn’t seem to mind because he sympathized with his friend’s poor background and was hugely impressed with his talents. Continue reading Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: Guan Zhong