An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Zixia 子夏

Jan 4, 2012 © Ulrich Theobald

Zixia 子夏 (born ca. 507 BCE), actual name Bu Shang 卜商, courtesy name Zixia 子夏, also called Bu Xiansheng 卜先生 "Master Bu", was one of the ten wise disciples of Confucius (Kong men shi zhe 孔門十哲). He hailed from the town of Wen 溫 in the state of Jin 晉, later occupied by Wei 魏. Zixia was 44 years younger than Confucius and was known as one of the most intelligent and educated among his followers.

The Master often praised Zixia of his wit and intelligence in explaining the meaning of the traditional classics like the Shijing 詩經 "Book of Songs" and said the Zixia was able to bring out the meaning of Confucius towards the songs. Yet Confucius was of the opinion that Zixia had not yet reached the utmost completeness of virtue, so that he said "Do you be a scholar after the style of the superior man, and not after the mean man."

The Lunyu 論語 "Confucian Analects" quote a lot of important aphorisms created by Zixia, like "There are learning extensively, and having a firm and sincere aim; inquiring with earnestness, and reflecting with self-application – kindheartedness is in such a course." Or, "Mechanics have their shops to dwell in, in order to accomplish their works. The superior man learns, in order to reach to the utmost of his principles." Or, "He, who from day to day recognizes what he has not yet, and from month to month does not forget what he has attained to, may be said indeed to love to learn." Or, "Even in inferior studies and employments there is something worth being looked at." Or, "The officer, having discharged all his duties, should devote his leisure to learning. The student having completed his learning, should apply himself to be an officer," etc.

After the death of Confucius, Zixia went back home to Wei, where he founded his own school and transmitted the teachings of his Master to famous disciples as Tian Zifang 田子方, Duangan Mu 段干木, Wu Qi 吳起 or Qin Huali 禽滑厘. Marquis Wen 魏文侯 (r. 424-387 BCE) was also instructed by him. Zixia ceased to work as a teacher when his own son died.

Some modern scholars like Guo Moruo 郭沫若 think that Zixia's teachings contained the spirit of legalism. This is the reason why the legalist master Han Fei 韓非 did not count Zixia among the eight Confucian schools of his time.

This was different during the Han period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE), when Zixia was seen as one of the most important Confucians who contributed to the canonisation of the Shijing, Shangshu 尚書, Liji 禮記 and the putative Classic on Music (Yue 樂), as the Later Han period scholar Xu Fang 徐防 said. The Southern Song period 南宋 (1127-1279) scholar Hong Mai 洪邁 stressed that of all disciples of Confucius, it was only Zixia who was an expert in and teacher of all the ancient writings that later became the Six Classics.

During the time of Emperor Xuanzong 唐玄宗 (r. 712-755) of the Tang dynasty 唐 (618-907) Zixia was bestowed the honorific title of Marquis of Wei 魏侯. During the Song period he became venerated as Duke of Hedong 河東公.

Pang Pu 龐樸, ed. (1997). Zhongguo ruxue 中國儒學 (Shanghai: Dongfang chuban zhongxin), Vol. 2, 20.