Analects Book 18 historical figures: recluses, brothers, and twins

Even though Confucius refused to give up on his dream of securing an official position that would enable him to restore the Zhou dynasty to its former glories, this did not mean that he automatically condemned his peers in the educated elite for abandoning public office as long as they did so for good reason.

Historical Figures in Analects Book 18

Indeed in 18.8, he praises seven individuals who felt compelled to withdraw from the world because the corruption and decadence of the courts they served at had become so rancid that they were no longer able to perform their duties in an honorable manner.

Confucius gives the highest praise to Boyi and Shuqi, who previously appeared in 5.23, 7.15, and 16.12. The two brothers followed such a strict moral code that they retired to the remote countryside in protest at the failure of King Wu of Zhou to show the appropriate level of filial devotion to his father King Wen by doing battle with the Shang tyrant Zhouxin when he should still have been mourning his father’s death. Upon learning that the land they had retired to was under the control of King Wu, the two starved themselves to death rather than eat any plants or animals owned by their sovereign.

We don’t know anything about Yuzhong and Yiyi, though the text implies that the two men withdrew from public life because of the moral code that they followed. Like Boyi and Shuqi, their decision was voluntary in the sense that it was a conscious choice, but given the strength of their beliefs they didn’t have any alternative.

Liuxia Hui is probably the same Liuxia Hui featured in 15.15 and 18.1, who was dismissed as a magistrate three times for refusing to act dishonorably. There is no record of how he compromised his ideals, despite Confucius’s criticism of him for this.

As for Shaolian, nothing is known about him except for a possible reference in the Record of Ritual, in which he and his elder brother are described as barbarians who mourned the dead in the proper way. That is more than is known about Zhuzhang. Some scholars argue that the name was included in the text by mistake, because Confucius makes no comment about him.

The final chapter of Book 18 was probably also included in error. No records exist about the eight Zhou dynasty scholars that are mentioned: Boda, Boshi, Zhongtu, Zhonghu, Shuye, Shuxia, Jisui, and Jigua. Some commentators suggest that the list consists of two sets of four brothers because the family names of Bo (伯), Zhong (仲), Shu (叔), and Ji (季) respectively mean: eldest brother, second brother, young brother, and youngest brother. Other commentators posit that the list consists of four sets of twins born to the same mother because the names of each pair of twins rhymed with each other in ancient Chinese.

Of course, a woman bearing four pairs of twins who all went on to be outstanding individuals would be an extremely rare and thus noteworthy occurrence. It’s a pity that no additional sources have been found that confirm this story.

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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.