An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Zigong 子貢

Jan 6, 2012 © Ulrich Theobald

Zigong 子貢 (born 520 BCE), personal name Duanmu Ci 端木賜, courtesy name Zigong 子貢 or Zigan 子贛, also called Wei Ci 衛賜, was one of the ten wise disciples of Confucius (Kong men shi zhe 孔門十哲).

Before meeting Confucius, Zigong was a successful and rich entrepreneur who mainly operated in the region of the states of Cao 曹 and Lu 魯. He was a clear and intelligent person and was admired by Confucius for his spirit and eloquence.

He was one of the most important conversational partners of the Master, and the latter said that when he told him one point, Zigong knew its proper sequence. Zigong was very interested in the political aspects of Confucius' teachings, and how benevolence and kindheartedness could be applied in government. He therefore also travelled a lot to Qi 齊, Wu 吳, Yue 越 and Jin 晉 and also served in certain positions in the states of Lu and Wei 衛 (hence his name Wei Ci). Zigong so managed that Confucius was at least invited by the king of Chu 楚, and that in a territorial dispute the Duke of Qi gave back the towns of Lu he had occupied.

Zigong highly venerated Confucius and praised him as "sun and moon" and that "the Master cannot be attained to, just in the same way as Heaven cannot be gone up by the steps of a stair." When someone said that Zigong was superior to Confucius, he answered that his "own wall only reaches to the shoulders, yet the wall of my Master is several fathoms high." He also said, when he served the Master one year he thought he had surpassed his Master, after two years he thought that he was equal to his Master, and after three years he was conceived that he would never reach his Master."

After the death of Confucius, when Duke Ai of Lu 魯哀公 (r. 494-467) came to his interment, Zigong criticized the Duke that it was beyond propriety to mourn after his death while Confucius had never been appointed to an office during his lifetime. He stayed for six years near the tomb of his Master and only then dedicated himself to the propagation of the Master's ideals, mainly in the state of Qi.

During the reign of Emperor Xuanzong 唐玄宗 (r. 712-755) of the Tang dynasty 唐 (618-907) Zigong was bestowed the honorific title of Marquis of Li 黎侯, and Emperor Zhenzong 宋真宗 (r. 997-1022) of the Northern Song dynasty 北宋 (960-1126) elevated him to Duke Yang of Li 黎陽公.

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