UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Zigao 子羔 Allan, Sarah; Hamm, Matthew


The Zigao 子羔 is a short text written on fourteen bamboo strips that was part of a collection of such texts purchased by the Shanghai Museum in three batches in Hong Kong in 1994. The texts were looted from a tomb by grave robbers and their exact provenance is thus unknown. Similarities with the collection of texts excavated near the village of Guodian 郭店 in Hubei province in 1993, suggest that the Shanghai texts may have come from Guojiagang 郭家崗 Tomb One near the village of Guodian, though there is no way to confirm this. The Shanghai texts likely date from around the same period as the Guodian texts (between 300 and 278 BCE) and the text of the Zigao itself was likely written in the 4th century BCE. The text itself features clear calligraphy but is partially damaged, with one fragment of the text currently housed in the collection of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. The Zigao is written as a dialogue between Confucius (Kongzi 孔子) and his disciple, Zigao 子羔, and in its own time would likely have been considered a ru 儒 text. The term ru refers to a group of teachers and students who defined themselves by their adherence to the figure of Confucius, whom they took as their master. However, this group did not have a consistent philosophy and instead occupied a spectrum of intellectual positions based on shared ideas such as ren 仁 (“humanness”) and yi 義 (“righteousness”) as well as shared traditions such as the shi 詩 (“songs”), shu 書 (“documents”), and li 禮 (“rites”). In particular, the Zigao seems to have been part of an early debate over whether rulers should pass on the throne to their descendants or abdicate in favour of a worthy individual. The Zigao does not make an explicit statement regarding this issue, but focuses on comparing the sageking Shun 舜 (who, according to legend, received the throne when the sage-king Yao 堯 abdicated) to the three figures of Yu 禹, Xie 契, and Hou Ji 后稷. These three figures were the progenitors of the Xia 夏, Shang 商, and Zhou 周 dynasties, respectively. According to the Zigao, they were also all “sons of Heaven” (tianzi 天 子) because they were engendered through divine conception and born through miraculous births. While the text suggests that it was this divine origin that established the three dynasties as legitimate, it also states that, in ancient times, good rulers abdicated in favour of other worthy individuals and that none of the three dynastic progenitors were comparable to the fully human Shun (who had no divine provenance). The text, thus, advocates abdication and lays the foundation for future claims that Confucius was the “uncrowned king” (suwang 素王) by implying that he was the fully human sage most deserving of the position of king.

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