Confucius’ Government Service for the State of Lu
After Lu Zhaogong was exiled, he never returned to the capital of Lu, living out the rest of his life in a foreign land. After his death, Lu Dinggong was named the next ruler, when Confucius was 43. Around the time he turned 50, the State of Lu faced a series of political upheavals that led to Confucius serving as a government official for a period of four years.
During this period, political power in Lu was divided among the three clans of Jisun, Shusun and Mengsun. Domestic officials working under these clans learned from their leaders and they succeeded in consolidating their own political power. Yang Hu, an official from the Jisun clan known for his despotic, irrational disposition, had planned to align forces with other unpopular officials to assassinate leaders of the three clans and take over their positions. However, his plan was soon exposed and he fled to the State of Qi.
In the following year, after the turmoil over Yang Hu’s incident had died down, Lu Dinggong officially appointed Confucius as a high-ranking official in Zhongdu. After a long wait, Confucius had finally been given his rightful place in court and so he accepted the position. He was 51 years old at this time.
Since Confucius was appointed directly by Lu Dingdong, and although his rank was below the leaders of the three clans, he did not belong to any of these clans and therefore was granted more autonomy. During his appointment Confucius was known for three great achievements: a diplomatic victory at the Jia Valley, combining the cemetery of Lu Zhaogong and his predecessors, and his attempt to weaken the military power of the three clans.
The “Jia Valley” event occurred a year after Confucius had been appointed. In the summer of 500 BC, Confucius went with Lu Dinggong to meet Qi Jinggong at the Jia Valley for peace talks. The people of Qi thought Confucius was knowledgeable only about rites and lacked military prowess, so they had planned to forcibly hold Lu Dinggong. But Confucius saw through their plot and immediately commanded his entourage to be on guard. He also stated publicly, “If during a meeting between monarchs, someone were to resort to violence and disrupt the meeting, causing disorder, I am sure the State of Qi would not tolerate such behavior!” After hearing this Qi Jinggong decided to abandon his plan. Just before the rulers were to sign the treaty, Qi added an article requiring the State of Lu to support Qi if it went to war. But in exchange, Confucius had Qi return territory it had previously seized from Lu.
The historical event known as “combining the monarchs’ tombs” also took place around 500 BC. By this time Confucius had been promoted from magistrate of Zhongdu to the position of minister of justice. Ji Pingzi had originally been buried Lu Zhaogong, outside the cemetery where the monarchs of Lu were buried. Confucius ordered that the perimeter of Lu Zhaogong’s tomb be expanded so that it connected with the cemetery where his predecessors were buried, thereby giving Lu Zhaogong the respect he deserved.
The historical event of “weakening the military power of the three clans” took place in 498 BC. Confucius suggested this in order to restore a more balanced political order to the State of Lu. Because the domestic officials of the three clans had continued to cause troubles in the state, the Jisun clan and Shusun clan readily agreed to Confucius’ suggestion. Initially everything went according to plan. The city of Hou, controlled by the Shusun clan, was first attacked and captured. Confucius’ next target was the city of Fei, which was guarded by the Jisun clan. An official named Gongshan Buniu led a rebellious army of Fei citizens to attack the capital, while Confucius led the Lu army in defense. In the end the rebels were defeated and the city of Fei was captured successfully. But when it came to the city of Cheng controlled by the Mengsun clan, a loyal official to Meng Yizi named Gonglian Chufu warned his ruler against Confucius’ campaign, saying that the city of Cheng was not only an important site as it bordered the State of Qi to the south, but also “an indispensable asset to the Mengsun clan.” At the end of the year Lu Dinggong led an army to attack the city but failed to capture it. Hence the political campaign aimed at weakening the power of the three clans could not be completed.
After Lu Dinggong passed away, he was succeeded by Lu Zhaogong and the new ruler and ministers of Lu no longer maintained the goal of restoring political order to the state. Even Ji Huanzi who had trusted Confucius previously and assigned Confucius’s disciples to official posts, became suspicious of him. Because Confucius realized that his situation had changed and he could do nothing to counter this, he prepared to leave the State of Lu.
Review by Su-Fen Lin and Timothy Baker Jr.