Biography (SGYY): Kong Rong (Wenju)

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Kong Rong (Wenju)
孔融 (文舉)
Lived: AD C. 153–208

Sanguo Yanyi Officer Biography
Author Notes in Blue
Authored by Dong Zhou

Kong Rong (Wenju)

Kong Rong was one of the twentieth generation in descent from the great Teacher Confucius (1), born in Qufu in the old state of Lu. He was known as a very intelligent child and somewhat precocious. At the age of ten he went to visit Li Ying, the Governor of Henan, getting past the doorkeeper by claiming that he was Li Ying’s intimate friend.

1: Philosopher whose teachings on morality including the importance of filial piety.

Li Ying asked what relations their families had to justify Kong Rong’s claim, the child answered “Of old my ancestor Confucius questioned your ancestor, the Daoist sage Laozi (2), concerning ceremonies. So our families have known each other for many generations.” Li Ying was amazed by Kong Rong’s wit and pointed him out to the High Minister Chen Wei “He is a wonder, this boy.” The Minister replied “It does not follow that a clever boy grows up into a clever man.” To which Kong Rong shot back, to the laughter and admiration of all including the Minister. “By what you say, Sir, you were certainly one of the clever boys.”

2: Legend says he was the teacher of Confucius.

In his adult life (3), he rose up to Imperial Commander before being made Governor of Bei Hai where he became renowned for his hospitality, Kong Rong quoting

3: ZZTJ mentions Kong Rong as a sixteen year old shielding a friend of his elder brother Kong Bao, Zhang Jian, from the government. The two brothers were arrested later but both claimed it was their own fault as did the mother. The local government referred the matter to court and Kong Bao was executed.
Let the rooms be full of friends,
And the cups be full of wine.
That is what I like.

Kong Rong was a member of the Anti-Dong Zhuo Coalition, he was one of the eight commanders sent to oppose Dong Zhuo’s forces at Tiger Trap Pass, his general Wu Anguo was beaten by Lu Bu and despite the allied forces taking Luoyang, the Coalition collapsed so Kong Rong returned to Bei Hai.

After six years at Bei Hai, the people had become devoted to Kong Rong, there governor could often be seen seated amongst his guests and that was the state Mi Zhu had found him. Mi Zhu was sent by Tao Qian, the Governor of Xuzhou, to seek help from Kong Rong against the vengeful Cao Cao and Kong Rang agreed to send aid to his friend but would first write to letter to Cao Cao in an attempt to make peace.

Before the letter could be sent, ten thousand Yellow Turbans led by Guan Hai began to rob and murder the people of Bei Hai. Kong Rong led his army out to deal with them, refusing to give ten thousand carts of grain to rebels. When Guan Hai slew Zong Bao in a duel, Kong Rong’s soldiers panicked and fled into the city, the Yellow Turbans besieging the city from all sides.

Taishi Ci had returned home to visit his mother, who Kong Rong had looked after while Taishi Ci was away, and was asked by his mother to help Kong Rong. Fighting his way into Bei Hai, Taishi Ci offered to lift the siege if given a thousand men. Kong Rong had other plans and sent Taishi Ci with a letter to Liu Bei asking for help.

Liu Bei arrived with three thousand men, Guan Hai was quickly slain and Kong Rong sallied out to hit the rebels from two sides. In the banquet afterwards, Kong Rong persuaded Liu Bei to join him in helping Tao Qian. They joined up with Tian Kai but camped a great distance from the city for fear of Cao Cao until Liu Bei persuaded Kong Rong to aid him in getting inside the city, Kong Rong and Tian Kai forming an ox-horn while Liu Bei made a dash into Tao Qian’s capital.

Lu Bu’s attack on Cao Cao’s home base forced the invaders to retreat and in the victory banquet, Tao Qian tried to retire in favour of Liu Bei ruling but Liu Bei refused, asking why Yuan Shu shouldn’t be given the province instead of him. Kong Rong replied “Because Yuan Shu is a drying skeleton in a dark tomb: Not worth talking about. This opportunity is a gift from Heaven, and you will never cease to regret its loss.” Liu Bei refused the position but agreed to stay in Xiaopei and after the banquet, Kong Rong returned home.

Kong Rong was visiting Xu Chang, the home of the Han Court, when Cao Cao, fearing that Yang Biao would conspire with the Yuan family and help them within, had a secret emissary accuse the Imperial Guardian Yang Biao of intriguing with Yuan Shu, Yang Biao was arrested and was facing execution when Kong Rong remonstrated with Cao Cao. “Yang Biao comes from a family famed for virtue for at least four generations. You cannot trump up so foolish a charge as that against him.” Cao Cao claimed it was the wish of the Emperor Xian to which Kong Rong replied “If the child Emperor Cheng of Zhou Dynasty had put Duke Chao to death, could the people have believed Duke Zhou, the Regent Marshal, had nothing to do with it?” Yang Biao was released from jail but lost his rank and banished to his estates.

Yuan Shao issued a proclamation to justify the impending war with Cao Cao as his armies prepared to march. Cao Cao called a council of his advisors where Kong Rong (4) expressed concern that Yuan Shao was too strong, advocating making peace, Xun Yu called Yuan Shao despicable and was for war. Kong Rong backed up his argument ““His land is wide and his people strong. He has many skillful strategists like Guo Tu, Xu You, Peng Ji, and Shen Pei; loyal leaders like Tian Feng and Ju Shou; and formidable generals like Yan Liang and Wen Chou; able commanders like Gao Lan, Zhang He, Han Meng, and Chunyu Qiong. You cannot say he is despicable.”

4: The ZZTJ explains how Kong Rong went from Governor of Bei Hai to a vassal of Cao Cao. Yellow Turbans pillaged in Bei Hai, defeating Kong Rong and forcing him to flee to Duchang. Yuan Tan besieged Duchang, capturing the town and Kong Rong’s family in a night attack. Cao Cao, an old acquaintance, offered Kong Rong a job as Court Architect.

Xun Yu’s rebuttal silenced Kong Rong, “His army is a rabble. One general, Tian Feng, is bold but treacherous; another, Xu You, is greedy and ignorant; Shen Pei is devoted but stupid; Peng Ji is steady but useless. And these four of such different temperaments, mutually incompatible, will make for confusion rather than efficiency. The brave Yan Liang and Wen Chou are worthless and can be disposed of in the first battle; and the others such as Gao Lan, Zhang He, Han Meng, and Chunyu Qiong are poor, rough stuff. What is the use even of their hundred thousands?”

Cao Cao marched to face Yuan Shao, sending Liu Dai and Wang Zhong in a feint against Liu Bei, reassuring Cheng Yu that they wouldn’t fight Liu Bei. When Yuan Shao made no move, Cao Cao ordered Liu Dai and Wang Zhong to attack Liu Bei but the two generals where easily defeated. Cao Cao was furious and wished to put them to death but Kong Rong pointed out “You knew these two were no match for Liu Bei, and if you put them to death because they failed, you will lose the hearts of your people.” The two failed generals where stripped of rank and status instead.

Cao Cao now wanted to lead an attack against Liu Bei immediately but Kong Rong proposed “The weather is too inclement. We must wait the return of spring. In the interval, we better use the time to arrange peace with Zhang Xiu and Liu Biao, before launching an expedition against Xuzhou.” Cao Cao accepted the advice and sent Liu Ye to Zhang Xiu who surrendered. To get Liu Biao on Cao Cao’s side, it was decided they needed a famous scholar to be sent as the envoy, Xun You proposed sending Kong Rong. When Xun You asked him, Kong Rong proposed recruiting Mi Heng who he described as “whose talents are ten times mine.”

Kong Rong sent a memorial to the Emperor, recommending Mi Heng to the court (5). Mi Heng was summoned but spent his time insulting Cao Cao and his officers before being appointed as a drummer boy for the banquet. Mi Heng turned up shoddily dressed then as a symbol of purity, he stripped naked, claiming that at least he was pure whereas Cao Cao was foul. Kong Rong feared for the life of Mi Heng so tried to reassure Cao Cao that Mi Heng’s misnomer was minor and was not a man to disturb Cao Cao’s dreams.

5: The memorial in full:

“In ancient days, when the great waters were abroad, the emperor pondered over their regulation and he sought out people of talent from all directions. In old time, when Emperor Wu of the Hans desired to enlarge his borders, crowds of scholars responded to his call.”

“Intelligent and holy, Your Majesty ascended the throne. You have fallen upon evil days, but have been diligent, modest, and untiring in your efforts. Now the great mountains have sent forth spirits, and people of genius appear

“I, your humble servant, know of a certain simple scholar, Mi Heng by name, of Pingyuan, a young man of twenty-four. His moral character is excellent, his talents eminent. As a youth he took a high place in study and penetrated the most secret arcane of learning. What he glanced at he could repeat, what he heard once he never forgot. He is naturally high principled, and his thoughts are divine. Sang Hongyang’s mental calculations and Zhang Anshi’s memorial feats compared with Mi Heng’s powers are no longer wonderful. Loyal, sincere, correct, and straight-forward, his ambition is unsullied. He regards the good with trembling respect; he detests the evil with uncompromising hatred. Ren Zuo in unflinching candor, Shi Yu in severe rectitude, never surpassed him.

“Hundreds of hawks are not worth one osprey. If Mi Heng be given a court appointment, notable results must follow. Ready in debate, rapid in utterance, his overwhelming intelligence wells up in profusion. In the solution of doubts and the unravelling of difficulties he has no peer.

“In former days of Han, Jia Yi begged to be sent on trial to a vassal state for the control of the Xiongnu tribespeople; Zhong Jun offered to bring back the Prince of Nanyue to do homage to the emperor. The generous conduct of these youths has been much admired.

“In our day Lu Cui and Yan Xiang, remarkable for their talents, have been appointed among the secretaries. And Mi Heng is no less capable. Should he be got, then all possibilities may be realized: The dragon may curvet through the celestial streets and soar along the Milky Way; fame will extend to the poles of the universe and hang in the firmament with rainbow glory. He would be the glory of all the present Ministers and enhance the majesty of the Palace itself. The Music will acquire new beauties, and the Palace will contain an excellent treasure. People like Mi Heng are but few. As in the recitation of ‘Ji Chu Songs’ and the singing of ‘Yang E Poems’, the most skillful performers are sought; and such fleet horses as ‘Fei Tu Broncos’ and ‘Yao Niao Mustangs’ were looked for by the famous judges of horses, Wang Liang and Bo Le.

“So I, the humble one, dare not conceal this man. Your Majesty is careful in the selection of servants and should try him. Let him be summoned as he is, simply clad in his serge dress; and should he not appear worthy, then may I be punished for the fault of deception.”

After the Yuan family had been defeated, Cao Cao decided to march on Jingzhou and destroy Liu Bei who was serving Liu Biao. Kong Rong protested “Liu Bei and Liu Biao are both of the Imperial House and should not be attacked without grave reasons. Sun Quan in the six territories of the South Land is terrible as a crouching tiger and, with the Great River as his defense, he is very secure. If, Sir Prime Minister, you undertake this unjustifiable expedition, you will forfeit the respect of the world, I fear.”

Cao Cao called the two Liu’s disobedient ministers who must be punished and bade Kong Rong to leave him, orders where soon given that any who spoke against the campaign would be executed. As Kong Rong left the palace, he cried “Where is the chance of success when the perfectly inhumane attacks the perfectly humane? He must be defeated!” He was overheard by Imperial Inspector Chi Lu, a man Kong Rong had treated with disdain and contempt, Chi Lu told his patron who mentioned the matter to Cao Cao.

Chi Lu added “Kong Rong habitually speaks disrespectfully of the Chief Minister and has been very friendly with Mi Heng. In fact the insults that Mi Heng had hurled at you had been deliberately arranged and intrigued by Kong Rong. Kong Rong and Mi Heng seemed to admire each other hugely, and Mi Heng used to say, ‘Confucius is not dead, because Kong Rong is he,’ and the other used to reply, ‘And his treasured disciple, Yan Hui, has risen again, because Mi Heng is he.’” This tale angered Cao Cao who ordered Kong Rong’s execution.

Kong Rong had two young sons who where playing chess when a servant asked why they did not flee, they replied “When the nest is pulled down, are the eggs left unbroken?” The executioners came for the whole household, Kong Rong and sons where beheaded, Wenju’s corpse exposed in the market place where Zhi Xi (6) wept over the body before taking the bodies of Kong Rong and his sons to be buried.

6: Zhi Xi had often warned Kong Rong about the dangers that Wenju’s severe rectitude might lead him into.
Kong Rong, who dwelt on the north sea shore,
A noble reputation bore;
With him all guests warm welcome found,
And ceaselessly the wine went round.
For skill in letters he was famed,
In speech, he dukes and princes shamed,
Historians his merits tell,
Recorders say that he did well.

Copyright © 2006 Dong Zhou. All Rights Reserved.
Source: Luo Guanzhong’s Romance of the Three Kingdoms