The Ji Family was about to attack Zhuanyu.
Ran Qiu and Zilu came to see Confucius and told him, “The Ji Family is about to take action regarding Zhuanyu.”
Confucius replied, “Ran Qiu! Is this not, after all, your fault? Long ago, our former king appointed the rulers of Zhuanyu to preside over the sacrifices to Mount Dongmeng. Moreover, Zhuanyu lies within the boundaries of the state of Lu, and its ruler is a minister dedicated to our altars to the soil and grain. What possible reason could there be to attack him?”
Ran Qiu replied, “Our Master desires it. We two ministers are against it.”
Confucius replied, “Ran Qiu! Zhou Ren had a saying, ‘He who can display his power should step into the ranks, he who is unable to do so should retire.’ Of what use is an assistant who cannot support someone when they are tottering on the brink of disaster, or steady them when they are about to fall? Furthermore, what you have just said is incorrect, for when a tiger or rhinoceros escapes from his cage, or a tortoise shell or piece of jade is ruined in its case, whose fault is it?”
Ran Qiu said, “Well, Zhuanyu is well-fortified and close to the Ji Family stronghold of Bi. If it is not taken now, it will certainly be a source of anxiety for the Ji Family descendents in later generations.”
Confucius replied, “Ran Qiu! The gentleman despises those who, declining to say that they want something, turn around and argue in favor of it.”
“I have heard it said that those who possess a state or noble house are not concerned about whether their people are scarce, but rather about whether their people are content; they are not concerned about poverty, but rather concerned that what wealth they have is fairly distributed. If wealth is fairly distributed, there should be no poverty; if your state or house is in harmony, there should be no scarcity; and if your people are content, there should be no instability. This being the case, if those who are distant will not submit, simply refine your culture and Virtue in order to attract them. Once you have attracted them, you should make them content.”
“Now, you two, Ran Qiu and Zilu, are supposed to be assisting your masters. Yet those who are far away will not submit, and they are unable to attract them; the state is partitioned and crumbling, and they are unable to preserve it; and now you are planning to move with spears and shields against your own countrymen. I am afraid that the source of the Ji Family’s troubles lies not in Zhuanyu, but rather within their own chambers.”Confucius, & Slingerland, E. (2003). Analects: With selections from traditional commentaries. Hackett Publishing.
[In the following passage Ran You and Zilu, two disciples who were in the service of the Ji family, inform Confucius of a plan to attack Zhuanyu, a small feudal domain within the state of Lu. It was situated close to Bi, a region under the control of the Ji family. Feudal lords were charged with the duty of sacrificing to the major mountains and rivers in their domain.]
When the Ji family was about to attack Zhuanyu, Ran You and Jilu (Zilu) called on Confucius and reported that the Ji family was planning to move against Zhuanyu.
Confucius said, Qiu (Ran You), are you going to make a mistake like this? Long ago the kings of former times charged Zhuanyu with the duty of conducting sacrifices to Mount Dongmeng. Moreover, it is located within our state and thus is a servant of our altars of the soil and grain. What reason could there be to attack it?
Ran You said, Our lord wishes to do so. Neither of us, his servants, wish it.
Confucius said, Zhou Ren had a saying: Show your ability, move into the ranks; if you can’t do that, then step aside. If you see your lord in danger and cannot support him, if you see him tottering and cannot prop him up, then of what use are you as his aides? And you are wrong in what you said. If the tiger or rhinoceros breaks out of its cage, if the tortoiseshell or jades lie broken in their box, whose fault is it?
Ran You said, Zhuanyu is at present heavily fortified and is located close to Bi. If we do not seize it now, it is bound to be a threat to our lord’s sons and grandsons.
Confucius said, The gentleman hates someone who won’t say outright that he favors a course and yet keeps offering reasons to support it. I have heard that a nation or a family does not worry that it has little but that that little is unevenly apportioned, does not worry that it is poor but that it is unstable. Because with equitable distribution there is no real poverty, with harmony, no real scarcity, with stability, no real peril. When such a situation exists, if neighboring people do not submit to your ruler, then enhance your culture and virtue and draw them to you, and once you have drawn them to you, offer them stability. Now you, Qiu and You, in assisting your lord to deal with neighbors who do not submit, are not following a course that will draw them to you. Instead, the state threatens to break apart, to collapse, and you cannot hold it together. And now you propose to resort to armed conflict within the state itself. I fear that the threat to the Ji family lies not in Zhuanyu but in what is taking place within its own walls!Confucius, & Watson, B. (2007). The Analects of Confucius. Columbia University Press.