孔門十哲 The Ten Disciples of Confucius
子路 Zi Lu
Zhongyou (542 BC – 480 BC), also known as Zilu or Jilu, was a renowned disciple of Confucius and one of the Ten Accomplished Persons of Confucianism. Born in the state of Bian in the Lu region, he is best known for being the main character in the story “The Son Who Carried Rice Home from Afar for His Parents,” which exemplifies filial piety. Zilu was nine years younger than Confucius and served as his follower for a prolonged period. Later in life, he followed Kong Kui, a prominent official of the state of Wei, and died while trying to save him during the Wei coup d’état. As a punishment, his body was minced into meat by Duke Zhuang II of Wei.
During the Tang dynasty, Emperor Xuanzong honored Zilu as the “Wei Hou,” and during the Song dynasty, Emperor Zhenzong elevated him to the “He Nei Gong.” Later, during the Song dynasty, Emperor Duzong honored him as the “Wei Gong.” During the Ming dynasty, Emperor Shizong changed his title to ” Xianxian Zhongzi.”
Carry Rice from Afar
When Zilu met Confucius, Confucius asked, “How have you been?” Zilu responded, “I haven’t been doing well.” Confucius clarified, “That’s not what I was asking. I meant to inquire about your recent activities and progress in your studies.” Zilu then questioned, “Is studying truly advantageous?” Confucius replied, “If a ruler lacks critical advisers, he will lose his way; if a scholar has no guiding friends, he will become deaf to reason. Just as a wild horse cannot be left without reins or a bowstring cannot be released too soon, a person cannot become wise without accepting constructive criticism. Therefore, valuing learning and inquiring are imperative. Who would not comply? If you take a rigid bamboo from the southern mountains and cut it, it can be used to create the finest ruler. Zilu asked, “If that’s the case, what’s the point of learning?” Confucius answered, “By smoothing and feathering a stick, and sharpening and grinding a shaft and attaching it to a string, is it not possible to penetrate deeply into a target?” Zilu bowed again and said, “I will respectfully accept your teachings.”
In 498 BC, he traveled with Confucius to various states. Later, he served as the administrator of Puyi in the State of Wei (now Changyuan County), and was also a retainer of Kong Kui, a local aristocrat.
子路受牛 Zi Lu receives a cow
According to “Master Lü’s Spring and Autumn Annals”, in the state of Lu, anyone who could redeem a Lu citizen who was enslaved in another state would be rewarded with a bounty by the Lu government. Zigong redeemed a Lu citizen who was enslaved in a foreign land but refused to accept the reward. Confucius believed that Zigong’s behavior was inappropriate because his refusal caused others to be afraid to accept rewards, which would prevent them from helping their fellow citizens and undermine the spirit of rescue. On the other hand, Zilu rescued a drowning person and received a cow as a reward, which would encourage more people to perform good deeds.
子路用子羔 Zilu appoint Zigao
Zigao was also a disciple of Confucius and served as an official in the state of Wei.
Once, Zilu appointed Zigao as the magistrate of Fei, but Confucius criticized him for outsourcing work and being unfit for the task. However, Zilu believed that serving as a government official and learning from the people and land was a form of education that did not necessarily require reading books. Confucius saw this as a fallacious argument.
君子死，冠不免 When a gentleman dies, his hat is not taken off.
Kuai Kui, the father of Wei Chu Gong, intended to usurp the throne and become the ruler of Wei. Despite being the Crown Prince of Wei Ling Gong, he was found guilty of plotting against his stepmother Nanzi and sought refuge under Zhao Jianzi in the state of Jin. However, he harbored a persistent desire to claim the throne of Wei and eventually succeeded in deposing his own son, Wei Chu Gong.
In 480 BC, Kuai Kui wanted to stage a military coup but felt that he lacked the power to do so, so he sought the help of his nephew Kong Kui. Kuai Kui then disguised himself as a woman and, with the help of his sister Boji (Kong Kui’s mother) and her lover Hun Liangfu, attempted to kidnap Kong Kui. Boji managed to seize Kong Kui while he was using the toilet and forced him to swear an oath of allegiance to Kuai Kui. Then, Kuai Kui took Kong Kui to a tower.
At that time, Kong Kui’s retainer Luan Ning was drinking and roasting meat, but the meat was not yet cooked when he heard that a rebellion had occurred. He immediately sent someone to inform Zilu and ordered his driver to “hurry” the carriage. Luan Ning himself quickly took the roasted meat and wine on the carriage and rushed to the palace to pick up Wei Chu Gong and send him to the state of Lu.
Upon hearing the news of Kuai Kui’s rebellion, Zilu intended to go and rescue Kong Kui, but he encountered Zigao who had escaped from Kong Kui’s house. Zigao said, “The city gate is closed.” Zilu replied, “I will still go and see.” Zigao said, “It’s too late. Why die with them?” Zilu said, “I have taken their salary and cannot stand by and watch them die.” So Zigao fled on his own.
When Zilu arrived at the city gate, the gatekeeper Gong Sun Gan closed the gate and told him, “Don’t go any further!” Zilu scolded him, “Is this the Gong Sun Gan I know? You took people’s wages and ran away when they were in danger? I won’t do that. If I have spent someone’s wages, I will solve their difficulties.” At this moment, a messenger came out of the city and opened the gate, so Zilu took the opportunity to rush in.
When they arrived at the tower where Kong Kui was held hostage, Zi Lu said to Kuai Kui, “Your Highness, why did you come to see Kong Kui? Even if you kill him, there will always be someone else to attack you.” He also scolded, “Your Highness is cowardly. If I set fire to this tower and burned it halfway, your troops would probably retreat.” Kuai Kui was frightened and sent two brave warriors, Shi Qi and Yu Yan, to stop Zi Lu from setting fire.
Zilu fought against Shi Qi and Yu Yan, but found it difficult to fend off both at the same time. The strap of his hat was cut off by the enemy’s spear, and Zilu said, “Even if a gentleman dies, he cannot let his hat fall off.” He stopped the fight, bent down to pick up his hat, and tied the strap. While Zilu was tying his hat, Shi Qi and Yu Yan killed him with their spears. Zilu was 63 years old at the time of his death. After his death, Kuai Kui was so angry that he ordered Zilu’s body to be subjected to the haggling punishment and minced into meat sauce.
When Confucius heard about the rebellion in the State of Wei, he lamented that Zilu (子路) would surely sacrifice himself while Zigao (子羔) could safely return. As predicted, Zilu was killed in action. When Confucius heard that Zilu’s body was even subjected to the humiliating punishment of being minced into meat sauce, he wept bitterly in the courtyard and vowed never to eat meat sauce again.
子路性格直爽、勇敢、信守承諾、忠於職守，孔子曾說：「理想無法實現了，我準備乘著竹筏到海上漂流。會跟我走的，只有子路吧？」同時也表示：「子路比我勇敢，但缺乏才能」。《論語》中提到他是孔門四科（德行、政事、言語、文學）中傑出的「政事」人才。最終子路因為盡忠而殉職，且死時仍很有君子之風，戴好帽子才戰死。Zilu had a straightforward and courageous personality, faithful to his promises and duties. Confucius once said, “Since our ideal cannot be realized, isn’t it better to go on a raft to the sea?” He believed that only Zilu would follow him. At the same time, Confucius also said, “Zilu is braver than me, but lacks talent.” In the Analects, Zilu was mentioned as an outstanding talent in “political affairs” among the four categories of disciples (morality, government, speech, and literature). Zilu eventually died in the line of duty, maintaining his gentlemanly demeanor until the end, even tying his hat before his death.
According to the Analects, Confucius once predicted that the strong-willed personality of Zilu might lead to an unfortunate end. However, after Zilu’s death, Confucius was still deeply saddened and performed the act of fùhǎi (覆醢), which involved pouring out a dish of meat sauce when it was presented at mealtime out of respect for the deceased.