As depicted in Half Portraits of the Great Sage and Virtuous Men of Old (至聖先賢半身像), housed in the National Palace Museum
Hanyu PinyinZēngzǐ
Literal meaning"Master Zēng"
Zeng Shen
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese
Hanyu PinyinZēng Shēn

Zeng Shen (505–435 BC), better known as Zengzi (Master Zeng), courtesy name Ziyu (輿), was a Chinese philosopher and disciple of Confucius.[1] He later taught Zisi (Kong Ji), the grandson of Confucius, who was in turn the teacher of Mencius, thus beginning a line of transmitters of orthodox Confucian traditions.[1] He is revered as one of the Four Sages of Confucianism.[2]


Statue of Zengzi (right) and his mother

Zeng Shen was 46 years younger than Confucius.[3] He was a native of South Wu City in the State of Lu, and was the son of Zeng Dian, one of the earliest disciples of Confucius.[1]

When he was sixteen, he was sent by his father to study under Confucius. Confucians later considered him to be his second most senior student, after Yan Hui. Duanmu Ci said of him, "There is no subject which he has not studied. His appearance is respectful. His virtue is solid. His words command credence. Before great men he draws himself up in the pride of self-respect. His eyebrows are those of longevity." He was noted for his filial piety, and after the death of his parents he could not read the rites of mourning without being led to think of them and being moved to tears. He was a voluminous writer. He composed ten books, compiled in the Rites of the Elder Dai (大戴禮). He was said to have composed and/or edited the Classic of Filial Piety under the direction of Confucius. He was also associated with transmission of the Great Learning. He was first associated with the sacrifices to Confucius in 668 AD, but in 1267 he was advanced to be one of Confucius' Four Assessors. His title, "Exhibitor of the Fundamental Principles of the Sage", dates from the reign of the Jiajing Emperor, when he was associated with Yan Hui.[2]

Zengzi established his own school, and taught Zisi (Kong Ji), the grandson of Confucius, who was in turn the teacher of Mencius, thus beginning a line of transmitters of orthodox Confucian traditions.[1] Along with Yan Hui, Zisi, and Mencius, Zengzi is considered to be one of the Four Sages of Confucianism.[2]

Filial piety

Zengzi (right) kneeling before Confucius (center), as depicted in a painting from the Illustrations of the Classic of Filial Piety, Song dynasty

Zeng Shen was known for his filial piety. After the deaths of his parents, he was unable to read the rites of mourning without bursting into tears.[2]

A famous legend about Zeng Shen, called Nie Zhi Tong Xin (Chinese: 齧指痛心), is included in the influential Yuan dynasty text The Twenty-four Filial Exemplars. In the story, Zeng Shen was one day out gathering firewood, when some visitors unexpectedly showed up at his home. His mother bit her finger, and Zeng felt a sharp pain in his heart. He immediately knew his mother needed him and rushed home.[4]

Related stories

Zengzi slaughtered the pig for his son

One day, Zengzi's wife went shopping to the market. His son cried when his mother was leaving. She said to her son, “Don't cry. I'll slaughter a pig and make pork dishes for you when I'm back.” When she was back, Zengzi started slaughtering the pig in their yard. Zengzi's wife stopped him and said, “That was intended to be a joke.” Zengzi replied, “We should not lie to our children. Children are innocent and they learn from their parents. Therefore, if you cheat to your son, you're teaching your son to cheat others, and he won't trust you anymore. This is not the correct way to teach your son.” Finally, they cooked the pig for the son.[5]

“Zeng Shen” committed murder

When Zengzi was living in Fei County, there was a man with the same name of him living nearby committed murder. When the neighbours told Zengzi's mom that “Zeng Shen” committed murder, she initially did not believe it and stayed calm as if nothing happened. But when the third person told her about that, she started to believe that her son committed murder and hurriedly escaped from her house in panic.[6] This story was later widely used as an example to illustrate the serious effect brought by rumours, which is also known as the Woozle effect in English.


In 1452 the title Wujing Boshi (五經博士) was bestowed upon the descendants of Zengzi and other Confucian sages such as Mencius, Yan Hui, Zhou Dunyi, and Zhu Xi.[7]

In the Republic of China there is an office called the "Sacrificial Official to Zengzi" which is held by a descendant of Zengzi, like the post of "Sacrificial Official to Mencius" for a descendant of Mencius, "Sacrificial Official to Yan Hui" for a descendant of Yan Hui, and the post of "Sacrificial Official to Confucius", held by a descendant of Confucius.[8][9]

Some of the descendants of Zengzi include:



  1. ^ a b c d Huang 1997, p. 204.
  2. ^ a b c d Legge 2009, pp. 117–8.
  3. ^ Han 2010, p. 4610.
  4. ^ Li 2011, p. 205.
  5. ^ Han, Fei. Han Feizi. 曾子之妻之市,其子隨之而泣,其母曰:「女還,顧反為女殺彘。」妻適市來,曾子欲捕彘殺之,妻止之曰:「特與嬰兒戲耳。」曾子曰:「嬰兒非與戲也。嬰兒非有知也,待父母而學者也,聽父母之教,今子欺之,是教子欺也。母欺子,子而不信其母,非所以成教也。」遂烹彘也。
  6. ^ Qiuming, Zuo. Zhan Guo Ce. 昔者曾子處費,費人有與曾子同名族者而殺人。人告曾子母曰:『曾參殺人。』曾子之母曰:『吾子不殺人。』織自若。有頃焉,人又曰:『曾參殺人。』其母尚織自若也。頃之,一人又告之曰:『曾參殺人。』其母懼,投杼逾牆而走。
  7. ^ Wilson, Thomas A.. 1996. "The Ritual Formation of confucian orthodoxy and the Descendants of the Sage". The Journal of Asian Studies 55 (3). [Cambridge University Press, Association for Asian Studies]: 559–84. doi:10.2307/2646446. https://www.jstor.org/stable/2646446 p. 571.
  8. ^ "台湾儒家奉祀官将改为无给职 不排除由女子继任_新闻中心_新浪网".
  9. ^ "Rfi - 台湾拟减少儒家世袭奉祀官职位并取消俸禄".
  10. ^ Reimagining the Chinese Nation: The "Zeng Guofan Phenomenon", Yingjie Guo and Baogang He, Modern China Vol. 25, No. 2 (Apr., 1999), pp. 142-170
  11. ^ "Founder - Dr. Tsang Hin Chi". Goldlion Holdings Limited (in Chinese (Hong Kong)). Retrieved 9 January 2023.
  12. ^ "話你知 曾蔭權為曾子74代子孫" (in Chinese (Hong Kong)). Apple Daily (Hong Kong). 9 April 2007. Retrieved 26 January 2023.