Analects Book 16 Characters: Confucius condemns Duke Jing of Qi
Duke Jing of Qi appears in 16.12 as a counterpoint to Boyu and Shuqi, the poster boys of extreme filial devotion. In this chapter, Confucius casts the duke in an extremely harsh light, declaring that for all his worldly wealth and power, when he died “the common people could find no virtue to praise him for.” In contrast, he claims, the common people still praise the two virtuous siblings “to this very day.”
Confucius had plenty of good reasons for condemning Duke Jing so roundly, not least because of his own mixed personal history with the man. He first met Duke Jing on a visit to the state of Qi, probably in 505 BCE, where he famously advised him that the secret to good governance was to: “Let lords be lords; ministers be ministers; fathers be fathers; and sons be sons.” (See 12.11.) In common with all the other rulers Confucius talked to, the duke ignored his counsel and continued to allow his faction-ridden court slide further into decline while he enjoyed the trappings of power.
Confucius’s second and last encounter with Duke Jing came in 500 BCE in a remote border area called Xiagu (often written as Jiagu), where the rulers of Lu and Qi planned to meet to formalize a peace treaty between the two states. Having been put in charge of the preparations for the summit, Confucius stationed troops near to the meeting place when he learned that Duke Jing was planning to have Duke Ding, the ruler of Lu, kidnapped. After successfully foiling the plot with this action, Confucius helped Duke Ding to secure an apology from the humiliated Duke Jing together with the return of some disputed land that he had captured from Lu.
The meeting at Xiagu proved to be the highest point of Confucius’s official career. Within the space just of a couple of years, however, it reached its lowest one when he found himself fleeing the state of Lu for fourteen years of exile.
Although the reasons for his departure are disputed, one popular story suggests that Duke Jing was at least indirectly responsible for Confucius leaving his home state. According to later accounts such as the Hanfeizi and the Records of the Historian, Duke Jing became increasingly worried after his humiliation at Xiagu that Lu would become a much more formidable power if Confucius retained his influence in the government. When an official called Li Qie proposed sending a troupe of dancing girls to Lu create a conflict between Confucius and his ruler, Duke Jing readily agreed. As the wily Li Qie suspected, Confucius resigned in disgust when his Duke Ding and his chief minister Ji Huanzi ignored his remonstrations against accepting the gift and headed off into the sunset. (See Analects 18.4 for a slightly different version of the story.)
Another possible explanation is that Confucius lost out in an internal power struggle and used the arrival of the dancing girls as a pretext to get the hell out of Dodge, so to speak. But whatever the actual truth of this specific incident may be, it is very easy to see why, from his personal experiences alone, Confucius condemned Duke Jing of Qi so harshly.