Duanmu Ci (Chinese: 端木賜; Wade–Giles: Tuan-mu Tz'u; 520–456 BC), also known by his courtesy name Zigong (Chinese: 子贡; Wade–Giles: Tzu-kung), was one of the most important and loyal disciples of Confucius. Among Confucius' students, he was the second best at speech, after only Zai Yu. He was a prominent diplomat of the Spring and Autumn period who served as a high official in several states, and was a very wealthy businessman.
Zigong had mental sharpness and ability, and appears in the Analects as one of the most forward talkers among Confucius' students. Confucius said, "From the time that I got Ci, scholars from a distance came daily resorting to me." According to Zhu Xi, Zigong was a merchant who later became wealthy through his own efforts, and developed a sense of moral self-composure through the course of his work. (His past profession as a merchant is elaborated in Analects 11.18).
When he first came to Confucius he quickly demonstrated an ability to grasp Confucius' basic points, and refined himself further through Confucius' education. He is later revealed to have become a skillful speaker and an accomplished statesman (Analects 11.3), but Confucius may have felt that he lacked the necessary flexibility and empathy towards others necessary for achieving consummate virtue (ren): he once claimed to of have achieved Confucius' moral ideal, but was then sharply dismissed by the Master (Analects 5.12); later he is criticized by Confucius for being too strict with others, and for not moderating his demands with an empathic understanding of others' limitations (Analects 14.29). He is one of the Confucius' students most commonly referred to in the Analects, also appearing in Analects 9.6, 9.13, 11.13, 13.20, 14.17, and 17.19.
Duke Jing of Qi once asked Zigong how Confucius was to be ranked as a sage, and he replied, "I do not know. I have all my life had the sky over my head, but I do not know its height, and the earth under my feet, but I do not know its thickness. In my serving of Confucius, I am like a thirsty man who goes with his pitcher to the river, and there he drinks his fill, without knowing the river's depth."
After studying with Confucius, Zigong became commandant of Xinyang, and Confucius gave him this advice: "In dealing with your subordinates, there is nothing like impartiality; and when wealth comes in your way, there is nothing like moderation. Hold fast these two things, and do not swerve from them. To conceal men's excellence is to obscure the worthy; and to proclaim people's wickedness is the part of a mean man. To speak evil of those whom you have not sought the opportunity to instruct is not the way of friendship and harmony."
Following Confucius's death, many of the disciples built huts near their Master's grave, and mourned for him three years, but Zigong remained there, mourning alone for three years more.
According to Sima Qian's Records of the Grand Historian, Duanmu Ci later served as Prime Minister for both the states of Lu and Wey, but this account could not be confirmed with other ancient chronicles. He finally died in the state of Qi.
During the Tang dynasty, Emperor Xuanzong posthumously awarded Duanmu Ci the nobility title of Marquess of Li (黎侯). During the Song dynasty, he was further awarded the titles of Duke of Liyang (黎陽公) and Duke of Li (黎公).
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