An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Ziyou 子游

Jan 4, 2012 © Ulrich Theobald

Ziyou 子游 (born ca. 506 BCE), actual name Yan Yan 言偃, courtesy name Ziyou 子游, also called Yan You 言游, Yanzi 言子 or Shu Shi 叔氏 "Master Uncle", was one of the ten wise disciples of Confucius (Kong men shi zhe 孔門十哲).

Ziyou is often mentioned side by side with Zixia 子夏 as You-Xia 游夏. He was much younger than Confucius and only became a follower of the Master when the latter was already an old man. Confucius esteemed him highly for his literary education.

In his youth, Ziyou occupied the office of magistrate (zai 宰) of Wucheng 武城 (modern Feixian 費縣, Shandong). His administration was geared to the Confucian principle of loving the people. When the Master passed the town of Wucheng he was very pleased by the music played there. Ziyou also criticized the disciples of Zixia, saying that they were "suffiently accomplished in sprinkling and sweeping the ground, in answering and replying, in advancing and receding, but these are only the branches of learning, and they are left ignorant of what was essential."

He also stressed the importance of restraint in moral discipline. In serving a ruler, frequent remonstrances would lead to disgrace, and between friends, frequent reproofs would make the friendship distant. Similarly it was, according to Ziyou, not appropriate to exaggerate the mourning for the death.

After the death of Confucius Ziyou became an independent teacher of the Master's way. He was later harshly criticized by the realist Confucian Xunzi 荀子, and never gained the same importance as other disciples of Confucius.

During the reign of Emperor Xuan 唐玄宗 (r. 712-755) of the Tang dynasty 唐 (618-907) Ziyou was bestowed the honorific title of Marquis of Wu 吳侯, during the Song period 宋 (960-1279) that of Duke of Danyang 丹陽公 or Duke of Wu 吳公. In the same region (lower Yangtze area), a lot of temples for Ziyou and honorific tomb sites can still be found today (Yan Yan zhai 言偃宅, Yanzi mu 言子墓).

Chen Ying 陳瑛, Xu Qixian 許啟賢, ed. (1989). Zhongguo lunli da cidian 中國倫理大辭典 (Shenyang: Liaoning renmin chubanshe), 56.
Pang Pu 龐樸, ed. (1997). Zhongguo ruxue 中國儒學 (Shanghai: Dongfang chuban zhongxin), Vol. 2, 21.
Yin Yongqian 殷永千 (1988). "Ziyou 子游", in Zhao Jihui 趙吉惠, Guo Hou'an 郭厚安, ed. Zhongguo ruxue cidian 中國儒學辭典 (Shenyang: Liaoning renmin chubanshe), 8.