Han Yu

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Han Yu
Han Yu.jpg
Full name
Family name: Hán 韓
Given name: Yù 愈
Courtesy name: Tuìzhī 退之
Posthumous name
Duke Wen of Han 韓文公
Born 768
Died 824 (aged 55–56)

Han Yu (traditional Chinese: 韓愈; simplified Chinese: 韩愈; pinyin: Hán Yù; Wade–Giles : Han Yü) (768–824), born in Nanyang, Henan, China, was a precursor of Neo-Confucianism as well as an essayist and poet, during the Tang dynasty. The Indiana Companion calls him "comparable in stature to Dante, Shakespeare or Goethe" for his influence on the Chinese literary tradition. He stood for strong central authority in politics and orthodoxy in cultural matters. He was also considered to be among China's finest prose writers, second only to Sima Qian, and first among the "Eight Great Prose Masters of the Tang and Song" (唐宋八大家) in a list compiled by Ming Dynasty scholar Mao Kun (茅坤).[1] Song Dynasty poet Su Shi praised Han Yu that he had written prose which "raised the standards after 8 dynasties of literary weaknesses" (文起八代之衰).

Biography[edit]

He was born in Nanyang, which was somewhat of a city in Henan, to a literary family, meaning he schooled at some point in history. His father died when he was two, and he was raised in the family of his older brother, Han Hui. He taught himself to read and write and was a student of philosophical writings and confucian thought. His family moved to Chang'an in 774 but was banished to Southern China in 777 because of its association with disgraced minister Yuan Zai. Han Hui died in 781. In 792, after four attempts, Han Yu passed the imperial exam (jin shi). A few years later he went into the service of the military governor of Bianzhou, and then of the military governor of Xuzhou." He gained his first central government position in 802, but was soon exiled; seemingly for failing to support the heir apparent's faction (other possible reasons are because of his criticism of the misbehaviour of the emperor's servants or his request for reduction of taxes during a famine). From 807 to 819 he held a series of posts first in Luoyang and then in Chang'an. During these years, he was strong advocate of reimposing central control over the separatist provinces of the north-east. This period of service came to an end when he wrote his famous Memorial on Bone-relics of the Buddha (諫迎佛骨表). The memorial is a strongly worded protest against Buddhist influence on the country. Its only immediate effect was to prompt Han Yu's dismissal and exile to Chaozhou. "After a number of their distinguished government posts, he died at the age of fifty-six in Changan."[citation needed]

Thoughts and Beliefs[edit]

"Han Yu is generally considered the greatest master of classical prose in the Tang. He was an important Confucian Intellectual and served as the sponsor of many literary figures of the turn of the ninth century. Although he was Meng Jiao's strongest supporter, Han Yu was himself a very different poet. Han Yu wrote in many modes, often with discursiveness and experimental daring. He was "a Confucian thinker and was deeply opposed to Buddhism, a religion that was then popular in the court. Han Yu came close to being executed in 819 for sending a letter to the emperor in which he denounced "the elaborate preparations being made by the state to receive the Buddha's fingerbone, which he called 'a filthy object' and which he said should be 'handed over to the proper officials for destruction by water and fire to eradicate forever its origin'. He believed that literature and ethics were intertwined, and he led a revolution in prose style against the formal ornamentation then popular."[citation needed]

Han Yu contrasted the Chinese civilization and barbarism where people were "like birds and wild beast or like the barbarians". He considered Buddhism to be of barbarian (夷狄) origin, therefore an unsuitable religion for the Chinese people.[2][3] Although he was also critical of Daoism as a harmful accretion to Chinese culture, he nevertheless made the distinction between Daoism which is a home-grown religion and Buddhism as a foreign faith.[2]

Han Yu advocated the personal assimilation of Confucian values through the Classics, making them part of one's life. He also championed what came to be called "old style prose," breaking free of the stylized formality of much Tang prose to a kind of writing more suited to argumentation and the expression of ideas.

Poetry[edit]

His "writings, especially his essays, are often of the very highest order, leaving nothing to be desired either in originality or in style. Han Yu wrote a large quantity of verse, frequently playful, on an immense variety of subjects, and under his touch the commonplace was often transmuted into wit. Among other pieces there is one on his teeth, which seemed to drop out at regular intervals, so that he could calculate roughly what span of life remained to him."[citation needed]

Overall Significance[edit]

Han Yu died on December 25, 824 and was buried April 21, 825 in the ancestral cemetery at Ho-Yang. He ranks among the most important personalities in the history of traditional Chinese culture. All the major accounts of Han Yu's life agree that he had an open and forthright character, which manifested itself in his unswerving loyalty to his friends. He was a great conversationalist and an inspired teacher: "His teaching and his efforts to mold his students were unrelenting, fearing they would not be perfect. Yet he amused them with jokes and with the chanting of poems, so that they were enraptured with his teaching and forgot about returning home". The sense of humor that is so obvious in his writing was also important in his life. Contemporarily, it is 'due to his calm and dignified patriotism that the Chinese still keep his memory green". Most modern scholarship, although content to assign to Han Yu a secure place in the history of Chinese literature, has been embarrassed by the violence of his Confucian passions. Han Yu's own life and personality as well as understanding of T'ang history have made this process more feasible than it would have been half a century ago. Han Yu is among the most personal and at the same time the most open of Chinese authors, he writes often and frankly about his own life, his feelings, his career, his friends. Accordingly, almost 95 percent of his writings can be securely dated and then read against the political history of the time. The result is a remarkably clear picture of Han Yu as an active participant in the political life of his age.

Studies[edit]

Erwin von Zach wrote Han Yüs poetische Werke, a German language study. The Poetry of Meng Chiao and Han Yü, a book by Stephen Owen published by the Yale University Press, was the first substantial English-language study of Han Yu. It was published 13 years after Zach's book.[4]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Sigfried J. de Laet (ed.). "History of Humanity: From the seventh to the sixteenth century". p. 108. 
  2. ^ a b Marc S. Abramson (2007). Ethnic Identity in Tang China. University of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 65–68. ISBN 978-0812240528. 
  3. ^ "Chinese Cultural Studies: Han Yu - Memorial on Buddhism (819 CE)". 
  4. ^ Leung, p. 715.

Sources[edit]

  • Barnstone, Tony and Chou Ping (ed.) (2005). The Anchor Book of Chinese Poetry, Random House, New York.
  • Birch, Cyril (ed.) (1965). Anthology of Chinese Literature. Grove Press, Inc., New York.
  • Giles, Herbert G. (1973). A History of Chinese Literature. Charles E. Tuttle Company, Inc. Rutland, Vermont.
  • Leung, K.C. (San Jose State University). "The Poetry of Meng Chiao and Han Yü" (book review). Books Abroad, ISSN 0006-7431, 07/1976, Volume 50, Issue 3, pp. 715
  • Hartman, Charles. (1986). Han Yu and the T'ang Search for Unity. Princeton University Press, New Jersey.
  • Owen, Stephen (ed.) (1996). An Anthology of Chinese Literature. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., New York.

External links[edit]