The Wikipedia article on Kong Rong says:

In 208, Kong Rong spoke ill of Cao Cao before an emissary from Sun Quan, a warlord occupying southeast China. Cao Cao then sentenced him to death. According to the Spring and Autumn Annals of Wei (魏氏春秋) by Sun Sheng (孫盛), Kong Rong's two eight-year-old sons (a nine-year-old son and a seven-year-old daughter according to the Book of Later Han) were playing a game of weiqi when their father was arrested. When others urged them to escape, they answered:

How could there be unbroken eggs under a toppled nest?

What did Kong Rong say to end up like that?

  • 2
    I edited the attribution in, but in the future you should source quotes, especially if they form the basis of your question.
    – Semaphore
    Oct 5, 2015 at 11:12

1 Answer 1


Kong Rong and his family's execution was not due to saying any one thing. Rather, Cao Cao long harboured a festering resentment over his vocal criticism. As a 20th generation descendant of Confucius Kong was a Han loyalist. In line with Confuscian morals, he strongly opposed Cao Cao's increasingly tyrannical usurpation of imperial governance.

The Book of the Later Han, a historical record compiled in the fifth century, describes their relationship in the chapter "Biography of Kong Rong" as:

(Source text missing due to CJK ban: will fill in when able)

It was a time of famine and warfare, and Cao issued an edict banning wine making. Rong authored frequent petitions against Cao's orders, often using arrogant or insulting phrases. He could not stomach seeing Cao's ambitions and trickery became more obvious. Hence his words became more extreme and disobedient.

Rong often petitioned the court that the government should emulate the kingdom of old, and award no fiefs within 1000 miles of the capital. Cao suspected Rong's ideals were becoming more widespread, and thus became fearful of him. Yet since Rong was famed and respected throughout the world, Cao outwardly tolerated him.

Originally, Kong Rong was protected by the respect and fame he enjoyed. As much as he hated him, Cao Cao did not want to appear a tyrant by killing someone so famous. However, as Cao defeated successive rivals in the Central Plains, his position also became more secure at court. He still couldn't simply murder such a renowned and respected scholar, but by 208 he felt ready to have him executed on trumped up charges.

This brings us to what Wikipedia says about Kong Rong talking to an emissary. The Book of the Later Han reports that:

Cao Cao's resentment festered ... so he ordered [an advisor] to falsely accuse Rong. He submitted a petition to the court saying:

When Kong Rong was in Beihai, he saw the disturbances at court and gathered an army with rebellious intentions. He said, 'I'm a descendant of a Great Sage, the world doesn't have to be ruled by L I U". He spoke with an emissary from Sun Quan, and slandered the court. ...

He said with Mi Heng, "The relationship between father and child is really only a moment's libido. A mother is no more than a container for her children". Mi calls Kong "Confucius still lives," and Kong calls Mi "Yan Hui born again."

This is high treason, and deserves to be punished to the extreme.

Upon filing the accusations, Kong Rong was jailed and executed in the market. He was aged 56. His wife and children were also killed.

The accusation that Kong Rong slandered the court to an emissary of Sun Quan is what Wikipedia is reference in that passage. However, this is a wholly fictitious episode. It was merely a flimsy excuse concocted by Cao Cao and his cronies to legally murder a political opponent.

Nonetheless, Kong Rong repeatedly offended Cao Cao with his criticisms, rudeness, and mockery due to their political differences. It's impossible to nail Cao's revenge down to any one thing Kong said, however, since it took Cao years to establish his political hegemony, before which he could not publically move against a renowned elder statesman.

  • Where do you get this When Kong Rong was in Beihai, he saw the disturbances at court and gathered an army with rebellious intentions. He said, 'I'm a descendant of a?
    – user4234
    Oct 5, 2015 at 13:55
  • @SharenEayrs He didn't actually say it, it's part of the allegations against him fabricated by Cao Cao's croony. It's similarly from the Book of the Later Han. I'll edit the source in once the CJK ban gets lifted again.
    – Semaphore
    Oct 5, 2015 at 13:56
  • What is CJK? So Kong Rong got his wife children nephew father and mother executed too?
    – user4234
    Oct 5, 2015 at 15:17
  • @SharenEayrs Chinese, Japanese, Korean characters - there's currently a ban on posting them. Also, there's only records of his wife and children being executed - his parents were probably deceased already, and familial exterminations in the Han dynasty were relatively lenient.
    – Semaphore
    Oct 5, 2015 at 15:43
  • The Shang kings were revered by their descendants but weren't 圣人: he was talking about Confucius. You can translate 圣人 as saint but it's highly misleading, and the better standard word for revered Chinese philosophers is sage. If the source used their first names it would be one thing, but Mi Heng's surname is Mi, not Heng.
    – lly
    Feb 29, 2020 at 12:25

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