Zi Gong engaged in commerce and became wealthy-子贡经商致富


Zi Gong devoted himself to Confucius and became one of his most accomplished disciples. Throughout Confucius’s life, he had a total of three thousand students, and Zi Gong was among the most outstanding. In Confucius’s evaluation, Zi Gong excelled in eloquence and speech, standing out in the study of language and rhetoric.

Zi Gong, originally named Zi Ci and also known as Duanmu Ci, was from the state of Wei during the Spring and Autumn Period. He joined Confucius at the age of thirty-one and quickly became one of Confucius’s favorite disciples. Zi Gong demonstrated exceptional skill in speaking and debating, showcasing remarkable eloquence and oratory abilities, which earned him the highest recognition in the study of language.

During Confucius’s era, diplomatic exchanges and responses were heavily influenced by the Book of Songs (Shi Jing). Confucius emphasized the importance of studying the Book of Songs, stating, “Without the Book of Songs, it is impossible to speak.” Zi Gong, therefore, delved deeply into understanding the original meanings of the Book of Songs, enabling him to apply its verses skillfully in diplomatic conversations.

Apart from his linguistic talents, Zi Gong also excelled in political matters, demonstrating capabilities comparable to other prominent disciples known for their political acumen. Confucius appreciated Zi Gong’s comprehensive understanding of affairs, recognizing that this ability allowed him to view situations from a broader perspective, avoiding being misled by trivial details.

Zi Gong’s exceptional political skills and eloquence came to the forefront during diplomatic missions to the states of Qi, Wu, Yue, and Jin. Utilizing his persuasive speech, Zi Gong proposed strategies that aimed to benefit Lu, disturb Qi, defeat Wu, strengthen Jin, and dominate Yue. His insightful analysis convinced the rulers of these states, leading to the successful accomplishment of his diplomatic tasks.

In addition to his academic and political achievements, Zi Gong displayed remarkable talents in commerce. He possessed a keen sense for identifying business opportunities, accumulating wealth through astute buying and selling practices. Confucius praised Zi Gong, stating that he could profit consistently due to his ability to accurately understand market trends.

Zi Gong’s success in commerce can be attributed to his ability to predict market conditions accurately. For example, during the eleventh year of Duke Ai of Lu’s reign, when Wu was preparing to launch a military expedition against Qi, Zi Gong recognized the business opportunity. Anticipating a prolonged war that would lead to a shortage of silk and cotton in Wu, Zi Gong strategically purchased these commodities, later selling them at a significant profit when the demand increased.

While achieving great success in business, Zi Gong adhered to Confucius’s teachings, maintaining a sense of benevolence and righteousness. He used his wealth to aid those in need, embodying Confucian virtues in his actions. Zi Gong’s exemplary conduct and success in various fields significantly contributed to the spread and development of Confucianism.

Despite his outstanding accomplishments, Zi Gong remained humble and maintained a deep respect for his teacher. When compared to other disciples, Zi Gong acknowledged his limitations, stating that his knowledge was like a house surrounded by short walls, easily visible to others. In contrast, he described Confucius’s knowledge as enclosed by tall walls, requiring a specific entrance to access, making it less apparent to the casual observer.

Confucius once asked Zi Gong to compare himself with Yan Hui, another distinguished disciple. While acknowledging Yan Hui’s moral integrity, Zi Gong highlighted his own superiority in political affairs and livelihood. Despite the recognition of his achievements, Zi Gong remained modest, acknowledging Yan Hui’s ability to grasp multiple concepts from a single teaching, a skill he felt he lacked.

Legend has it that when Confucius fell seriously ill, Zi Gong was unable to return in time. Feeling guilty and sorrowful, Zi Gong dedicated himself to guarding Confucius’s grave for an extended period. While other disciples left after three years of mourning, Zi Gong extended his vigil for an additional three years, demonstrating his profound respect and commitment to Confucius’s memory.