block print portrait from Illustrations of the Three Powers (1609)
|Vice Chancellor of Song Dynasty|
|Died||19 June 1052 (aged 62–63)
|Burial||Luoyang (now Yichuan)|
Fan Zhongyan (范仲淹) (989-1052) was a prominent politician and literary figure in Song dynasty China. He was also a strategist and educator. After serving the central government of the state for many years he finally rose to the seat of Vice chancellor over the whole of the Chinese empire.
Fan Zhongyan was born in Wuxian, and his father died the subsequent year; his mother then remarried a man named Zhu in Zizhou, Shandong. When Fan eventually learned about his real parentage, he left home; in 1011 he arrived at Suiyang and spent his time studying, while living an austere lifestyle. In 1015, he successfully passed the Imperial Examination and became a jinshi, after which he returned to using the Fan surname and received his mother again to provide for her.
Early Official Career
In the 1020s, Fan served a variety of regional posts, including as magistrate for the Jiqing Army (in modern-day Bozhou, Anhui), and as a salt store inspector in Taizhou. He then became the county magistrate of Xinghua County (in modern-day coastal Jiangsu), where with his colleague and friend Teng Zongliang he engaged in a series of dyke-building activities along the coastal counties. Not long after the completion of this project, Fan's mother passed away and he resigned his post for filial mourning.
In the 1030s, Fan served as the prefect of Kaifeng. While there, he took on a young Ouyang Xiu as a disciple; a partnership that would become very important a decade later. However, after criticizing the Chief Councillor of the Song state when he submitted a proposal to reform criteria used in the advancement and demotion of officials, he was demoted to regional government.
In 1038, faced with the revolt of Li Yuanhao, the court dispatched Fan along with Han Qi to Shanxi, to inspect the defences; they rendered effective support to the ending of the revolt. Fan was recalled in 1040 when the Liao and Western Xia once again threatened Song borders from the north. Fan, who had long favored a strong defense, was brought back to devise a response to the northern threat.
After the Song granted Western Xia indemnities similar to those granted the Liao in the Treaty of Shanyuan, Fan, along with other advocates of Confucian ideals, sought reform at the court. He presented a ten-point proposal covering various aspects of government administration, including reforms to the recruitment system, higher pay for minor local officials to discourage corruption, and wider sponsorship programs to ensure that officials were drafted more on the basis of their intellect and character. However, many of the reforms that he introduced met with the opposition of conservative ministers who felt the system did not need drastic changes (and who felt threatened by the prospect of change halfway through their careers as state bureaucrats). The emperor rescinded the reforms in 1045, after Fan and his friend and colleague Ouyang Xiu had been charged with forming a faction, which was considered subversive by definition. Nevertheless, his idealist approach to governance inspired others, like the later Chancellor Wang Anshi.
Fan also began educational reforms in the 1040s. In the early Northern Song era, prefectural schools were neglected by the state and were left to the devices of wealthy patrons who provided private finances. While Chancellor, Fan Zhongyan issued an edict that would have a combination of government funding and private financing to restore and rebuild all prefectural schools that had fallen into disuse and abandoned since the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (907-960). Fan attempted to restore all county-level schools in the same manner, but did not designate where funds for the effort would be formally acquired and the decree was not taken seriously until the later Emperor Huizong of Song who expanded the county-level school system dramatically. Fan's trend of government funding for education set in motion the movement of public schools that eclipsed private academies, which would not be officially reversed until Emperor Lizong of Song in the mid 13th century.
Fan Zhongyan's most famous work of literature is Yueyang Lou Ji 岳陽樓記. The descriptive prose piece was composed at the invitation of Teng Zongliang, who was then the local prefect and had rebuilt the famed ancient tower. Yueyang Lou, a city gate by the side of Dongting Lake, was known as one of the three great towers in Southern China, due to their association with famous literary works (the others being Huanghe Lou 黃鶴樓 and Tengwang Ge 滕王閣).
This commemorative Ji was written in prose, with extensive usage of phrases in four, and culminates in the oft-quoted "先天下之憂而憂，後天下之樂而樂" (translated as "Feel concern for others under heaven before others, and rejoice after others under heaven have rejoiced" or "Be the first to feel concern about the country and the last to enjoy oneself" or "Bear the hardship and bitterness before others, enjoy comfort and happiness after others")
寧鳴而死，不默而生 (Better remonstrate and die, than keep silent and live) is also a quotation. This quote comes from Ling Wu Fu 《靈烏賦》 in 1036, which was written in reply to a friend (Mei Yaochen 梅堯臣)'s advice. This friend, Mei Yaochen, tried to persuade him to stop bearing so much concern for others "under heaven" (tianxia) and to start caring for his own career and life. In response, Fan told a fable about a spirit bird, using the metaphor to express his aspirations. It embodies the moral integrity, sound conscience, and responsibility for others required of a Shi Da Fu, called "The Moral Responsibilities of Intellectuals".
Fan Zhongyan was known for his ci (詞賦) poetry. Among the most famous are Su Mu Zhe (蘇幕遮) and Yu Jia Ao (漁家傲). Together with Su Shi (蘇軾), he was considered one of the founders of the haofang (豪放) school of ci.
Fan Zhongyan had four sons, all of whom also entered the government:
- Fan Chunyou
- Fan Chunren, prominent member of the conservative faction during the Wang Anshi Reforms
- Fan Chunli
- Fan Chuncui
- [Mote p. 123]
- [Mote p. 137]
- [Mote p. 124]
- [Mote p. 136]
- Yuan, 196.
- Yuan, 197.
- Yuan, 198-199.
- Yuan, 200-201.
- Ebrey, Walthall, Palais (2006). East Asia: A Cultural, Social, and Political History. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
- Mote, F.W. (1999). Imperial China: 900-1800. Harvard University Press. pp. 124, 136–138.
- Yuan, Zheng. "Local Government Schools in Sung China: A Reassessment," History of Education Quarterly (Volume 34, Number 2; Summer 1994): 193–213.
- (Chinese) Toqto'a et al., History of Song, vol. 314 (Fan Zhongyan)
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