Analects Book 16: Ran Qiu and Zilu disappoint the sage

Only three followers of Confucius are featured in Book 16 of the Analects. Two of them, Ran Qiu and Zilu, appear in the first chapter when they inform the sage that Ji Kangzi, the lord they are working for, is planning to annex a small vassal territory within the state of Lu called Zhuanyu.

It is not clear from the text or other sources why Ran Qiu and Zilu decided to tell Confucius about this nefarious plot given that he had no formal authority to put a stop to it. Perhaps they were just letting him know about the plan before he heard about it from someone else. Or perhaps they were hoping that the sage would use his moral authority to dissuade Ji Kangzi from going ahead with an attack that they claim to Confucius they are opposed to.

Not surprisingly, Confucius berates his followers for their weakness and cowardice, reminding them that it is their duty as retainers of Ji Kangzi to make sure that their lord follows the right path no matter what the consequences may be to them. When Ran Qiu pours more oil on the fire by coming up with the ludicrous excuse that if Ji Kangzi did not take Zhuanyu now, it would pose a threat to the Ji Family in the future, Confucius turns up the heat by concluding: “I am afraid that for the Ji Family, the real threat does not come from Zhuanyu, but lies within the walls of their own palace!”

Although Confucius unleashes most of his fury on Ran Qiu, he is probably much more disappointed by the conduct of his more faithful follower and friend Zilu. Given the closeness of Ran Qiu’s relationship with Ji Kangzi, Confucius cannot have been too surprised by Ran’s attempt to defend the chief minister of Lu. He would, however, have expected the usually brave and honorable Zilu to pluck up the courage to set Ji Kangzi on the right path. It is not hard to imagine the despair Confucius must have felt at seeing all his years of careful instruction come to nothing.

For reasons that are still unknown, Ji Kangzi abandoned his plans to seize Zhuanyu. Even if Confucius had influenced this decision with his outburst, it is doubtful that he would have counted it as much of a victory.

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Richard Brown

I live in Taiwan and am interested in exploring what ancient Chinese philosophy can tell us about technology and the rise of modern China.