When 從 in Classical Chinese means "to follow", literally as in "John followed Peter to the park," does the subject (the follower) necessarily refer to someone who is lower in rank than whoever the object (the followed) refers to?

Do you know of any examples where this use of 從 does not require a subject that refers to someone lower in rank?

I'd appreciate your help.

2 Answers 2


in the book “殷周金文集成”, the entry 04030,

my best understanding of 从 in the 5th column:

engaged in (从) the commanding (司) [of] the royal court (王家), outside and inside (外內)

the structure of “从司” is similar to “從事”, or “從政”; that “从” means “engaged in, enter, become”. it does not have the meaning of “follow” here.

enter image description here

enter image description here

edited. if 從 (u+5f9e) is allowed, in lieu of 从 (u+4ece); then, in the book of rites (禮記), the chapter 曾子問 has the text:


in the same book, the chapter 曲禮下:


roughly, it means:

Confucius said, 'The Grand minister and the Grand master of the ancestral temple will follow the Grand officer of prayer, and announce the fact before the spirit tablet (of the deceased ruler)

that, the grand minister (大宰), the grand master of the ancestral temple (大宗) were the no 1 & no 2 in 周 dynasty

the grand officer of prayer (大祝) is the no 4

so, under specified circumstance, the no1 & no2 official would follow () a lower ranking official (the no4) to a particular place.



enter image description here

edited again.

Are there any cases where the object of 從 did not display such superiority or any superiority altogether?

well, in the book 莊子, chapter 德充符:


roughly, it means:

In Lu there was a Wang Tai who had lost both his feet; while his disciples who followed and went about with him, were as numerous as those of confucius.

that, in ancient time, disabled persons were treated as inferior. in this case, mr 王’s disciples were numerous, that, we ought to assume that most, if not all of them are able-bodied.

so, the “從” in here does not infer superiority.


another case is in the same book, chapter 達生:


roughly, it means:

Confucius was looking at the cataract near the gorge of Lu, which fell a height of 240 cubits, and the spray of which floated a distance of forty li (producing a turbulence) in which no tortoise, gavial, fish, or turtle could play. He saw, however, an old man swimming about in it, as if he had sustained some great calamity, and wished to end his life. Confucius made his disciples hasten along the stream to rescue the man; and by the time they had gone several hundred paces, he was walking along singing, with his hair dishevelled, and enjoying himself at the foot of the embankment. Confucius followed and asked him

i think this example is clear, that the “從” doesn’t not display any superiority.

have fun :)


  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Becky 李蓓
    Commented Aug 16, 2020 at 4:23

In modern chinese, It's rare to use 從 as a verb to represent "follow someone to a place".

So if you mean "John followed Peter to the park", you can use 跟著 隨著. John 跟著/隨著 Peter to the park.

從 has several extended meanings which comes from FOLLOW (phyically to logically).


隨從 - entourage

服從 聽從 順從 - obey, comply with...

從軍 - Join the Military, 從政 - engage in politics, 從事 - engaged in, work as, do (你從事的工作是甚麼?)

從2020年 - since 2020, 從現在開始 - from now on.

Here for more information about 從,All explaintions are userful and very commonly used in daily conversation.

  • I'm asking about 從 in the partiular sense I'm interested in in Classical Chinese, not Mandarin.
    – Apollyon
    Commented Aug 15, 2020 at 6:21

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.