Leadership Lessons from Confucius: too good to be true
Gongshan Furao, using the town of Bi as a stronghold, launched a revolt. He summoned Confucius to join him and Confucius was tempted to go. Zilu was unhappy about this and said: “We may have nowhere to go, but why must we go to join Gongshan?” Confucius said: “Since he has summoned me, it must be for some purpose. If his purpose is to employ me, perhaps I could establish a new Zhou Dynasty in the East.”
If an offer sounds too good be true, it is best to ignore it no matter how enticing it appears to be on the surface. Particularly if your closest friends and advisors are against it. They likely have a much clearer view of what is really happening than you do.
This article features a translation of Chapter 5 of Book 17 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 17 here.
(1) Like Yang Huo in 17.1, Gongshan Furao was another disaffected retainer of the Ji family who rose up against them and asked Confucius to join him in a revolt. The major difference between the two men, allegedly at least, is that Gongshan planned to restore the rightful authority of the hereditary ducal family over the state of Lu whereas Yang was only interested in boosting his own power and prestige. I say “allegedly” because most likely later followers of Confucius ascribed to Gongshan this purer motive in order to sugarcoat this astounding moral lapse of their sage. Zilu certainly has no truck with it and is appalled that Confucius should even consider going to visit a rebel like Gongshan. Confucius, however, allows himself to believe that he can finally achieve his dream of setting up a “new Zhou Dynasty in the East.” (The original Zhou Dynasty was located in the western part of China whereas Lu was in the east.) It is not clear whether Confucius did go to meet Gongshan, but even if he did nothing ever came out of it. A good thing too given that any form of association with a rebel like him would have destroyed Confucius’s reputation and tarnished his legacy forever.
(2) According to the Zuo Commentary, this incident occurred in 497 BCE when Duke Ding was the ruler of Lu and Confucius was the minister of justice. If this is the case, Gongshan may have made the offer as a ruse to divert Confucius from advocating the demolition of the Ji family stronghold at Bi. Even though the Ji family had already agreed to the demolition, this was most likely because Gongshan had gained control of Bi and was using it as his own power base. Gongshan was so incensed by the threat of losing it that he led a nighttime assault on the Ji family palace in the capital of Lu. Ironically, the attack was foiled by troops summoned by Confucius.
(3) While serving as a retainer of the Ji family at the time, Zilu persuaded its head Ji Huanzi to agree to the demolition of Bi. This is no doubt the reason for his unhappiness with Confucius. As much as he respected the sage, he was not afraid to speak his mind when he deemed it appropriate. 15.2 provides a good example of his bluntness.
I took this image in the Four Beasts Scenic Area in Taipei.