Confucius’s Travels Among the States-孔子周游列国


Confucius, Mencius, Laozi are also rare sages in Chinese civilization.


Confucius, whose given name was Kong Qiu, was a native of the state of Lu. His father, Shuliang He, was a military officer but held no significant position in Lu. Confucius lost his father at the age of three, and from then on, he relied on his mother for support. Later, he moved with his mother to Qufu, where he grew up. Confucius displayed intelligence and a love for learning from a young age. He was particularly interested in rituals and often imitated the ceremonies of adults, such as those performed for ancestral worship. In his youth, he diligently studied and mastered the Six Arts: rituals, music, archery, charioteering, calligraphy, and mathematics.

By the age of twenty, Confucius had acquired extensive knowledge and, due to his admiration for the Zhou rituals, regarded Duke Ding of Zhou, who initiated the rituals and music of the early Western Zhou period, as a sage. His profound understanding of ancient rituals earned him the reputation of being “learned and respectful of rituals.”

Although Confucius aspired to serve in government, he faced challenges in official positions. Despite holding minor positions managing warehouses and livestock, he demonstrated dedication and achieved notable success.

Confucius, known for his broad knowledge and proficiency in Zhou rituals, gained recognition in his thirties. Some people sought him out, desiring to become his students. When the prominent figure Meng Xishi of Lu was on his deathbed, he entrusted his two sons to learn rituals from Confucius. Later, Meng Xishi’s sons recommended Confucius to Duke Zhao of Lu. Duke Zhao sent Confucius to the capital of the Zhou dynasty, Luoyang, to observe the rituals and music of the Zhou court.

In the twentieth year of Duke Zhao’s reign, Duke Jing of Qi visited Lu and summoned Confucius. During their meeting, they discussed the issue of Qin Duke Mu’s hegemony. This encounter marked the beginning of Confucius’s acquaintance with Duke Jing of Qi.

In the twenty-fifth year of Duke Zhao’s reign, internal turmoil erupted in Lu, leading to the expulsion of Duke Zhao by the powerful families of Ji, Meng, and Shu. Duke Zhao sought refuge in the state of Qi, and Confucius left Lu, arriving in the state of Wu. During his stay in Wu, Confucius met with Duke Huan of Wu, who desired to expand his influence in the region.

Realizing the value of Confucius’s expertise in military matters, Wu sought his assistance. Confucius proposed a test using palace maidens to demonstrate the applicability of his military principles. Duke Huan agreed, providing 180 palace maidens for Confucius to train.

Confucius divided the maidens into two teams, with the two favorite consorts of Duke Huan serving as captains. However, during the training, the maidens, unfamiliar with military formations, laughed and ignored instructions. Confucius reiterated the rules and military discipline, warning them of consequences if they disobeyed. When the disobedience persisted, Confucius ordered the execution of the two consort-captains. Duke Huan, concerned for his consorts, pleaded for mercy, but Confucius insisted on enforcing military discipline. After the execution, new captains were appointed, and the training continued with disciplined and serious efforts.

Impressed by the transformation, Duke Huan recognized Confucius’s capability and appointed him as a general, granting him authority in the military. Under Confucius’s training, Wu’s military strength significantly increased. In 511 B.C., Duke Huan aimed to eliminate the remnants of Duke Liao, who had rebelled against Wu. He sent Confucius to lead the campaign, resulting in the capture of the city of Yangcheng and the defeat of Duke Liao’s forces.

After these military successes, Duke Huan intended to expand Wu’s influence to the middle reaches of the Yangtze River and defeat the state of Chu. Confucius, however, advised consolidating their strength, developing the country, and accumulating power. Duke Huan, impressed by Confucius’s wisdom, heeded his counsel.

After a period of rest and training, Confucius, now an accomplished military strategist, led Wu’s forces to victory against the Chu army, capturing the capital, Yingcheng. This victory allowed Wu to avenge the death of Wu Zixu’s father and brothers. With assistance from the state of Qin, Chu managed to survive, but Wu emerged prosperous and powerful.

According to tradition, after achieving Wu’s dominance, Confucius quietly retired and withdrew from public life, choosing seclusion in the mountains.

Translation of the continuation of Confucius’s life and teachings is provided in the next response.