Tag Archives: Historical Figures in the Analects of Confucius

Historical figures from the Analects of Confucius: Ao the Sailor

Ao the Sailor (奡) was a martial hero from the Xia dynasty who tarnished his great reputation as a master of boatbuilding and naval warfare by becoming a brutal despot after murdering the holder of the throne.

Some sources claim that Ao was the offspring of a tawdry union between Han Zhuo (寒浞), the chief minister of the legendary archer Hou Yi (后羿), and Hou Yi’s wife, who had conspired to have Hou Yi murdered so that Han Zhuo could seize the throne. Others suggest that Ao was the son of one of Han Zhuo’s ministers. Continue reading Historical figures from the Analects of Confucius: Ao the Sailor

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: Hou Yi

So many fantastical myths have grown up around the legendary archer Hou Yi (后羿) that it is easy to forget that he started out as a minor tribal chieftain who treacherously seized control of the Xia dynasty, only to be murdered by his most trusted minister who was perhaps working in league with Yi’s wife. How he became portrayed as a great hero who saved the world from incineration by ten suns and lovingly honored the sacrifice of his moon goddess wife is a mystery that will never be fully unraveled.

Most ancient historical sources agree that Hou Yi was the king or chieftain of a small state or tribe who was famous for his martial prowess with bow and arrow. Although Yi was purportedly allied with the Xia dynasty, the Bamboo Annals reports that he launched an attack against the Xia capital during the first year of the reign of Tai Kang (太康) while the young monarch was hunting and seized control of its government. Other sources claim that after being made regent of Tai Kang in recognition of his great martial feats, Yi usurped power for himself.

Preferring to spend his time on honing his archery skills, Hou Yi delegated his government responsibilities to an official called Han Zhuo (寒浞). Perhaps with the encouragement of Hou’s wife, Zhou arranged for his sovereign to be assassinated. Some particularly gruesome accounts of this incident claim that Han had Hou Yi’s flesh prepared for his sons to eat and to order their execution when they refused to partake of their father.

Having seized power for himself, Han Zhuo married Hou Yi’s widow and the happy couple had two sons. According to some sources one of these sons was called Ao (奡), who grew up to become famous for his boatbuilding and naval warfare abilities and succeeded his father after his death. Other sources claim that Ao was the son of one of Han Zhuo’s ministers and murdered Han Zhou to grab the throne for himself. Regardless of who his father was, Ao went on to meet the same fate as his two predecessors when he was assassinated by one of his own ministers!

The most obvious connection that the mythical version of Hou Yi has with the historical one is his great skill as an archer. Rather than a treacherous king, he is portrayed as a heroic, perhaps even divine, figure who descended from heaven to save the earth from being scorched by ten suns that appeared in the sky one day.

At first, Hou Yi is said to have tried to reason with the suns. But when they refused to listen to his warnings, he shot nine of them down – turning each one into a three-legged raven as it dropped from the sky. As he was about to fire at the final one, the sage king Yao and the mother of the sun stepped in, with the latter begging Yi to spare her solar progeny in return for ensuring that humanity would live in eternal peace and prosperity.

In addition to being made a king in recognition of his valorous deed, Hou Yi was, according to some more fantastical versions of the story, given the elixir of immortality by the gods as a reward for shooting down the nine suns. Unable to bear the thought of living forever without his wife Chang’e (嫦娥), however, the doting Yi refused to drink the potion. Continue reading Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: Hou Yi

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

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

Duke Jian (齊簡公) was the ruler of the powerful but volatile state of Qi for just three years, from 484 to 481 BCE. The duke’s short reign was consumed by a vicious power struggle with Chen Heng (陳恒), a high ranking official and the head of the Chen Family who was fighting for complete control of the state.

When Chen Heng learned that Duke Jian and his chief minister Kan Zhi (闞止) were planning to expel him and the rest of his family from Qi, he had both of them killed in a violent coup d’état. Continue reading Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: Duke Jian of Qi

Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: Chen Heng

Chen Heng (陳恒), also referred to by his posthumous title Chen Chengzi (陳成子) in the Analects, is notorious for having not just one but probably two rulers of the state of Qi assassinated in the space of only four years.

Even though he was already extremely powerful as head of the formidable Chen Family and a highly ranked minister at court, Chen had his eyes firmly set on nothing less than assuming complete control of the state of Qi. In 485 BCE he is believed to have murdered the state’s hereditary ruler Duke Dao (齊悼公). In 481 BCE, after learning that the duke’s successor Duke Jian (齊簡公) and his chief minister Kan Zhi (闞止) were planning to expel him and the rest of the Chen Family from Qi, Chen had both of them killed in a violent coup d’état. Continue reading Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: Chen Heng

Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: Duke Wen of Jin

Duke Wen of Jin (晉文公)  was one of the five hegemons of the Spring and Autumn Period. He famously turned his state into a major military, political, and economic power in less than a decade after spending many years in exile as a result of serious factionalism at the Jin court.

Born in 697 BCE with the name of Ji Chonger (姬重耳,) the duke was the second son of Duke Xian of Jin (晋献公). Chonger’s mother was Hu Ji (狐姬), the second of the duke’s six wives. His older half-brother and the crown prince, Shensheng (申生), was the son of the duke’s second wife, Qi Jiang (齊姜). Jia Jun (賈君), the first wife of the duke had no sons, while Xiao Rongzi (小戎子), the younger sister of Hu Ji, had a son called Yiwu (夷吾). Continue reading Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: Duke Wen of Jin

Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: Zhuangzi of Bian

Zhuangzi of Bian (卞莊子) was an official in the walled city of Bian in the state of Lu, who was celebrated for his bravery and cleverness. His sole appearance in the Analects is in 14.12.

According to a popular legend, Zhuangzi once came across two tigers eating a bull. Instead of trying to kill both of them, he waited until they started fighting each other after eating their fill to put the two wounded animals to the sword. Continue reading Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: Zhuangzi of Bian

Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: Tang, founder of the Xia dynasty

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