The Origin of a Chinese Idiom: Rare and Commendable

Zi Lu, Zi Gong and Ran You were all Confucius’ disciples.

Zi Lu was a very brave man. At 63 years old, Zi Lu worked for Kong Kui, a high-ranking official of the Wei state. In the fifteenth year of the reign of Duke Aigong of the Lu state, a civil war broke out in the Wei state and Kong Kui was kidnapped. As soon as Zi Lu got the news, he hurried to the capital city of the Wei state to rescue Kong Kui. He ran into Gao Chai, another high-ranking official of the Wei state, outside the capital city as he was leaving there to escape the civil war. Gao Chai advised Zi Lu not to go into the city. Zi Lu said: “I receive a salary from Kong Kui, so I must fulfill my duty and try to save him from danger.” Zi Lu ended up being killed after he entered the capital city.

Zi Gong was very articulate. No one could compare to his talent in speech. Mr. Sunshu Wushu once made a remark: “Zi Gong is more talented and virtuous than Confucius.” When Zi Gong heard about the comment, he responded: “I will use a wall as an analogy. The wall of my house is of a shoulder’s height. A man standing outside of the wall can have a full view of my expensive and splendorous home. However, Confucius’s wall is much higher than that of mine by many meters. One standing outside the wall will be unable to see his grand and magnificent mansion unless he is admitted to the mansion. There are but a few people in this world that have the privilege of entering the door. So it is quite understandable why Mr. Shusun made that comment.”

Confucius' other disciple, Ran You, was a talented administrator. One day a high-ranking official from the Lu state called Ji Kang, consulted Confucius saying: “In your opinion, is Ran You capable of government administration?” Confucius said: “Ran You is versatile and has many talents, skills and much experience. I don’t see why he shouldn’t be successful in government administration.”

Thus Ji Kang invited Ran You to be his personal advisor and to assist him in governing the Lu state. In the fifteenth year of Duke Aigong of the Lu state, the Qi state attacked the Lu state. Ran You insisted on fighting the Qi army and his proposal prevailed over all dissenting views. He led a troop to fight against the strong Qi army and won the battle.

The famous poet Su Dongpo of the Song Dynasty once said: “Zi Lu’s valor, Zi Gong’s eloquence, and Ran You’s wisdom are rare and commendable.”

The Chinese idiom of “rare and commendable” is used to praise someone who has managed to achieve extremely meritorious and challenging qualities.

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