Tang (湯) founded the Shang dynasty after overthrowing Jie (桀), the tyrannical last ruler of the Xia dynasty, in around 1600 BCE. He is also known as Cheng Tang (成湯), which literally means “Tang the Successful/Accomplished”.
Shang was the name of the small vassal state that Tang ruled for 17 years before his victory over Jie. During the course of his reign, he gradually built up alliances with rulers of other states that were also part of the Xia dynasty. Appalled by Jie’s cruelty and depravity, these rulers supported Tang in his efforts to oust him, which culminated in a famous victory at the battle of Mingtiao (鳴條) amid a driving thunderstorm. Continue reading Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: Tang, founder of the Xia dynasty
King Wen of Zhou (周文王) is honored as the founder of the Zhou dynasty (周朝), even though in actual fact it was his son who actually established it after defeating the last Shang dynasty (商朝) king Zhouxin (紂辛) at the bloody battle of Muye (牧野之戰) in ca. 1046 BCE.
Born Ji Chang (姬昌) in 1152 BCE, King Wen took over as ruler of the then small state of Zhou after his father had been executed by the Shang king Wen Ding (文丁) in the late 12th century BCE. As the new king’s power and influence grew, the Shang king Zhouxin began to see him as a threat and had him thrown in prison in Youli (羑里) in modern-day Henan province, only agreeing to release him after being plied with lavish gifts from King Wen’s supporters. Continue reading Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: King Wen of Zhou
Yu (禹), also known as Yu the Great (大禹), was one of the three legendary sage kings that ruled ancient China in the 23rd or 22nd century BCE and laid the foundations for the development of its feudal society.
After being handed the throne by his predecessor, Shun (舜), Yu became renowned in Chinese history for building a system of irrigation canals that reduced flooding in the rich agricultural plains surrounding the Yellow River and brought unprecedented prosperity to the nation. Yu is said to have spent thirteen years toiling on the irrigation canal construction projects himself, sharing the same brutal labor and living conditions as his fellow workers. Continue reading Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: Sage King Yu
The Duke of Zhou (周公) is a legendary figure in Chinese history and Confucius’s hero for the pivotal role he played in unifying the country under the Zhou Dynasty (周朝) and putting the foundations in place for its social, economic, and cultural development while acting as regent until his nephew assumed the throne as King Cheng (周成王). Continue reading Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: Duke of Zhou
Confucius said: “It can truly be said of Tai Bo that he was a man of supreme virtue. Three times he gave up the throne of his state without giving the people the opportunity to praise him.”
When you know that there’s someone more suitable for the job you’ve been promised, politely decline it so that they get on with it. Other opportunities will come if you work to create them. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: a man of supreme virtue
Born in the early part of the 11th century BCE, Boyi (伯夷) and Shuqi (叔齊) were the sons of a ruler of the minor state of Guzhu (孤竹) during the time when the ruling Shang dynasty (商朝) was collapsing under the dissolute rule of its last emperor Di Xin (帝辛).
When their father chose the younger Shuqi his successor, Shuqi declined the offer. His elder brother Boyi then refused the throne as well, insisting that his younger brother take it. Rather than fight with each other over who was the rightful ruler, the two brothers fled to the nearby state of Zhou (周). Continue reading Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: Boyi and Shuqi
Ning Wuzi (甯武子) was chief minister under two rulers of the state of Wei (衛) during the seventh century BCE. Serving under the first one, Duke Wen (衛文公), Ning proved to be a wise and effective administrator.
When Duke Wen was succeeded by Duke Cheng (衛成公) in 634 BCE, however, the state started to fall apart as a result of Cheng’s chaotic rule and the looming threat of invasion from the powerful neighboring state of Jin (晉). The only way that Ning could hold everything together over the course of ten years was by acting dumb in public while quietly working in the background to keep everything under control. Confucius is thus speaking ironically when he remarks in Chapter 21 of Book 5: “Others may match his wisdom but not his dumbness.” Continue reading Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: Ning Wuzi
Ji Wenzi (季文子) was the posthumous title given to Jisun Xingfu (季孫行父), the most influential minister in Confucius’s home state of Lu (魯) serving three dukes between 600 and 568 BCE.
Ji was the head of the the Jisun (季孫) clan, one of the notorious Three Families that ran Lu in reality if not in name, though he is reported to have governed the state with great integrity during a very tumultuous period of its history. Continue reading Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: Ji Wenzi
Chen Wenzi (陳文子) was a high-ranking minister in Qi (齊), who left the state after his fellow minister Cuizi (崔子) arranged the assassination of Duke Zhuang (齊莊公) in 548 BCE for conducting an adulterous affair with his wife.
When Chen Wenzi moved to other states, however, he discovered that the officials there were no better than those in Qi and thus had to keep moving on.
Continue reading Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: Chen Wenzi
Cuizi (崔子) was a high-ranking minister in the state of Qi (齊) and is said to have assassinated its ruler Duke Zhuang (齊莊公) in 548 BCE after discovering that the duke was having a secret affair with his wife Tang Jiang (棠姜).
Although he ensured the succession of the dead duke’s half-brother, Duke Jing (齊景公), to the throne and thus maintained his ministerial position, Cuizi lost out in a political struggle against another alleged collaborator in the murder called Qing Feng (慶封).
About a year after the assassination, Cuizi made the fatal mistake of asking Qing Feng for assistance after his two sons from his deceased first wife murdered the son of his second wife in a bitter fight over who would succeed their father as head of the family. Qing Feng leapt at this unexpected opportunity to destroy his rival, not only killing the two sons but the rest of the family as well – leaving the grief-stricken Cuizi and his wife no choice but to commit suicide in 546 BCE. Continue reading Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Cuizi