|Born||January 23, 1514
Qiongshan, Hainan, China
|Died||November 13, 1587 (aged 73)
Nanjing, Jiangsu, China
|Resting place||Haikou, Hainan, China|
Hai Rui (Hai Jui; 23 January 1514 – 13 November 1587) was a Chinese official of the Ming Dynasty. In China he has been remembered as a model of honesty and integrity in office. A play based on his career, Hai Rui Dismissed from Office, gained political importance in the 1960s, during the Cultural Revolution.
Hai Rui, whose great-grandfather married an Arab and subsequently adopted Islam, was born in Qiongshan, Hainan, where he was raised by his mother (also from a Muslim, or Hui, family). Hai took the official examinations but was unsuccessful, and his official career only began in 1553, when he was 39, with a humble position as clerk of education in Fujian. He gained a reputation for his uncompromising adherence to upright morality, scrupulous honesty, poverty, and fairness. This won him widespread popular support but made him many enemies in the bureaucracy. Eventually he submitted a memorial impeaching the Jiajing Emperor himself in 1565 and was sentenced to death in 1566. He was released after the Emperor died in early 1567. Hai Rui was reappointed under the Longqing Emperor but soon forced to resign in 1570 after complaints were made over his overzealous handling of land-tenure issues. He then spent 15 years in retirement in Hainan before being finally brought back to the Empire's "auxiliary capital" of Nanjing, in 1585, to serve under the Wanli Emperor. Hai Rui died in office two years later.
Hai Rui's fame lives on in modern times. An article entitled "Hai Rui Dismissed from Office", was written by Communist Party official Wu Han in 1959 and later made into a Peking Opera play. Wu's play was interpreted by the Gang of Four member Yao Wenyuan as an allegorical work, in which the honest moral official Hai Rui representing the disgraced communist marshal Peng Dehuai, who was purged by Mao after criticizing the Great Leap Forward. According to Yao, the corrupt emperor in Wu's play represented Mao Zedong. The November 10, 1965, an article in a prominent Shanghai newspaper, "A Criticism of the Historical Drama 'Hai Rui Dismissed From Office'" (评新编历史剧《海瑞罢官》), written by Yao, began a propaganda campaign that eventually led to the Cultural Revolution. During the Cultural Revolution the grave of Hai Rui was destroyed, but it has since been rebuilt. Yao's campaign led to the persecution and death of Wu Han.
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- Roderick MacFarquhar, The Red Terror: Mao's Last Revolution (Cambridge: Harvard University, 2006) p. 120.
- Goodrich, L. Carrington, and Chaoying Fang, eds. Dictionary of Ming Biography, 1368-1644. 2 vols. New York: Columbia University Press, 1976.