Analects Book 16 Characters: the sorry tale of Duke Jing of Qi
Quite apart from his personal experiences with Duke Jing of Qi, Confucius had ample justification for condemning him as a man of no virtue. The duke was an all-too-typical example of a Spring and Autumn period ruler who succumbed to the temptations of wealth and power and left his state in chaos after his death.
As the son of a concubine, the duke would have had little chance of assuming the throne of Qi if the hand of fate had not intervened. This came in the form of a powerful minister called Cuizi, who murdered the duke’s half-brother and then-ruler of state, Duke Zhuang, in 547 BCE after discovering that his sovereign was conducting an affair with his wife Tang Jiang.
Although Duke Jing was installed on the throne the day after the death of his half-brother by Cuizi, he was little more than a figurehead during the first couple of years of his reign. He was forced to sit on the sidelines while Cuizi and Qing Feng, his fellow joint chief minister and alleged collaborator in the assassination of Duke Zhuang, vied with each other for control of the state.
After about a year, 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.
The dust had barely settled on the Cui family’s graves when Qing Feng began to experience family problems of his own and became the target of other aristocratic families in Qi after falling out with his son. With his dreams of grabbing power for himself shattered by the attacks on him, Qing Feng was forced to flee first to Confucius’s home state of Lu and then on the state of Wu to spend the rest of his life in exile. At least he didn’t have to kill himself like Cuizi.
The departure of Qing Feng enabled Duke Jing to assert his control over the state with the appointment of the brilliant statesman and philosopher Yan Ying as his chief minister. For a time, the partnership between the two men succeeded brilliantly, and they built Qi into a formidable economic and military power that was part feared and part admired by the rulers of other states.
When Confucius went to Qi, probably 505 BCE, however, the duke had stopped listening to the counsel of his aging chief minister in favor of indulging in more worldly pleasures. His constant imposition of heavy taxes on the common people to fund his lavish lifestyle and growing conflicts within his family about who should succeed him plunged the state into chaos. Power struggles between ministers, officials, and the heads of the richest and strongest noble families in Qi also intensified as the state went into rapid decline.
These problems came to a head in the summer of 490 BCE when the crown prince died. Instead of designating one of the four sons of his principal wife Yan Ji as his successor, the ailing duke chose the son of his favorite concubine Yu Si. To protect the newly appointed Crown Prince Tu, the duke ordered his top ministers to send his other sons into exile but died very soon afterwards. Although Crown Prince Tu assumed the throne, he was toppled from this precarious spot the following year following a revolt led by Duke Jing’s former prime minister Chen Qi, who brought back one of the duke’s middle sons, Lu Yangsheng, from exile in the state of Lu and installed him as the ruler of the Qi. Yangsheng reigned from 488–485 BCE and is known by the posthumous name of Duke Dao of Qi.
Confucius remarks in 16.12 provide the most fitting epitaph to the duke’s tumultuous reign: “Duke Jing of Qi had a thousand war chariots. On the day of his death, the common people could find no virtue to praise him for.”
The discovery of the duke’s grave in 1964 near to the ancient Qi capital of Linzi in present-day Shandong province proved that Confucius was not too far off with his estimate of how many war chariots he possessed. In addition to the huge pit containing the skeletons of 145 horses that was unearthed, it is estimated that there are the remains of over 600 horses on the site.