Confucius 孔丘, ‘Boyi and Shuqi’, The Analects

18.8 The Master said: ‘Never compromise, accept no insult — this might sum up the attitude of Boyi and Shuqi.’


5.23 The Master said: ‘Boyi and Shuqi never remembered old grievances and seldom provoked resentment.’


7.15 Ran Qiu said: ‘Does our Master support the Duke of Wei?’ Zigong said: ‘Well, I am going to ask him.’

冉有曰:夫子為衛君乎? 子貢曰:諾。吾將問之。

Zigong went in and asked Confucius: ‘What sort of people were Boyi and Shuqi?’ — ‘They were virtuous men of old.’ — ‘Did they complain? —— ‘They sought goodness, they got goodness. Why should they have complained?’


Zigong left and said to Ran Qiu: ‘Our Master does not support the Duke of Wei’.


16.12 Duke Jing of Qi had a thousand chariots of war. On the day of his death, the people could not find anything for which to praise his memory. Boyi and Shuqi starved in the wilderness; to this very day, the people are still celebrating their merits.


And, more generally:

8.13 The Master said: ‘Uphold the faith, love learning, defend the Good way with your life. Enter not a country that is unstable: dwell not in a country that is in turmoil. Shine in a world that follows the Way; hide when the world loses the Way. In a country where the Way prevails, it is shameful to remain poor and obscure; in a country which has lost the Way, it is shameful to become rich and honored’.



[1] 5.23 Boyi and Shuqi: semilegendary figures, famous for their exemplary integrity; they went into self-exile and let themselves starve to death out of loyalty toward their former lord.

[2] 7.15 Duke of Wei: Chu, grandson of Duke Ling, and son of a crown prince who had fallen into disgrace. The latter having come back to claim the throne, the legitimacy of Chu’s authority could be questioned, since he was occupying a position that should normally have belonged to his father.

Boyi and Shuqi: Each of the two brothers being equally determined to give precedent to the other, they both refused to succeed to their father’s title. In their pursuit of absolute integrity, they eventually chose to starve to death in the wilderness rather than compromise with their principles. Boyi and Shuqi provide an ethical standard: depending upon one’s view of the place which morality should occupy in politics, their fate will appear glorious or deplorable.

In this entire passage, note the art of exploring one issue under the guise of discussing another one, apparently unrelated: Zigong probes Confucius’s position on a delicate and dangerous political problem of pressing actuality, without mentioning it explicitly — and Confucius manages to indicate clearly where he stands while talking of something else. Two thousand five hundred years later, the great political debates in the People’s Republic of China still follow similar methods!

[3] Boyi and Shuqi starved in the wilderness: literally, they starved ‘at the foot of Mount Shouyang.’


  • Simon Leys, translation and notes, The Analects of Confucius, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1997, 5.23, p.22; 7.15, pp.30-31; 18.8, p.92; 16.12, p.83; 8.13, p.27