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
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
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
Confucius said that Duke Ling of Wei didn’t follow the way. Ji Kangzi said: “If this is the case, how come he hasn’t lost his state?” Confucius said: “He has Kong Wenzi looking after guests and foreign delegations, Zhu Tuo taking care of the ancestral temple, and Wangsun Jia in charge of defense. With such officials as these, how could he possibly lose his state?”
You’re only as good as the people you have around you. Be careful to ensure that you put the right person in each job and that their personalities and abilities mesh with each other. When you have everyone in place and the team is functioning smoothly, resist the temptation to take things easy. That’s the time to start planning how to take things to the next level and unleash everyone’s full potential. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: unleash everyone’s full potential
Zilu asked: “If the Duke of Wei were to entrust you with the government of his state, what would be your first priority?” Confucius said: “It most definitely would be to rectify the names.” Zilu said: “Really? Isn’t that a little strange? How would that make things right?” Confucius said: “How dense can you get! If a leader doesn’t understand what they’re talking about, they should remain silent. If the names aren’t correct, language doesn’t accord with the truth of things. When language doesn’t accord with the truth of things, nothing can be carried out successfully. When nothing can be carried out successfully, ritual and music won’t flourish. When ritual and music don’t flourish, punishments and penalties miss their mark. When punishments and penalties miss their mark, the people don’t know where to place their hands and feet. Therefore, a leader must be able to give the appropriate name to whatever they want to talk about, and must also make sure they do exactly as they say. When it comes to speaking, a leader doesn’t allow any carelessness.”
Say what you mean. Mean what you say. The further you deviate from the truth, the greater the problems you’ll cause – not just for you but everyone around you. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: say what you mean
Confucius has more than his fair share of awkward encounters with his followers in Book 6 of the Analects. The most notable one is with Zilu of all people. In 6.28, he is extremely unhappy when he learns about the sage’s visit to Nanzi, the allegedly depraved and scheming consort of Duke Ling of Wei. Although Confucius protests that nothing untoward happened during the audience, Zilu is rightly incensed that at the very least his master has sullied his reputation by meeting with her.
The young follower Zai Yu, of rotten wood and dung wall fame, attempts to put Confucius on the spot in 6.26 when he asks if a good person should jump into a well if he hears that someone is lying at the bottom of it. Confucius manages to bat the question away with relative ease by explaining that while it’s possible that a leader can be enticed down the wrong path, he wouldn’t be gullible enough to fall into a trap. So much for Zai Yu’s cunning plan to bamboozle the sage with a trick question. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 6: awkward encounters
Confucius said: “I’ve never met anyone who loves virtue as much as sensual beauty.”
Don’t delude yourself: appearances matter. If you can’t be bothered to dress for the role you’re being interviewed for, why should your prospective employer be bothered to hire you? If a company that’s trying to do business with you can’t be bothered to have a clean and attractive website, why should you be bothered to give them an order? Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: appearances matter
Duke Chu of Wei (衛出公) only became the ruler of the state because his father, the former crown prince Ji Kuaikui (姬蒯瞶), had been forced to flee the state after failing in an attempt to kill Nanzi (南子), the notorious consort of his father, Duke Ling (衛靈公), in 499 BCE. Continue reading Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Duke Chu of Wei
Ran Qiu said: “Does the Master support the Duke of Wei?” Zigong said: “Well, I’m going to ask him.” Zigong went in and asked Confucius: “What sort of people were Boyi and Shuqi?” “They were virtuous men of old.” “Did they complain?” “They sought goodness and attained goodness. Why should they have complained?” Zigong left and said to Ran Qiu: “The Master does not support the Duke of Wei.” (1) (2) (3) (4)
Don’t make the mistake of assuming that other people will support you just because you have a good relationship with them. Learn to accept that their opinions will differ from yours no matter how close you happen to be with them. In fact, the stronger the bond you have with someone, the greater the chance that they will free to voice their disagreement with you. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: a tawdry tale
Song Chao (宋朝), also known as Song Zichao, was a minister of the state of Wei who was famous for his good looks. He is said to have used his appearance in order to attract the favor of Nanzi (南子), the scheming and lustful consort of the notorious Duke Ling of Wei (衛靈公).
Indeed, according to some of the more lurid rumors that circulated about Song and Nanzi, the couple were brother and sister and Nanzi had specifically invited Song to serve in her husband’s court so that they could become lovers. There is no evidence to prove that these rumors were true – though that didn’t stop them from spreading like wildfire and further damaging Nanzi’s dubious reputation. Continue reading Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Song Chao