Yan Hui

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For the painter, see Yan Hui (painter).
Not to be confused with Yan Yan, another disciple of Confucius.
This is a Chinese name; the family name is Yan.
Yan Hui
Yan Hui 颜回.jpg
Traditional Chinese 顏回
Simplified Chinese 颜回
Statue of Yan Hui in the temple dedicated to him in Qufu, Shandong province

Yan Hui (Chinese: 顏回; Wade–Giles: Yen Hui; 521? – 481 BC) was the favorite disciple of Confucius[1] and one of the most revered figures of Confucianism. He is venerated in Confucian temples as one of the Four Sages.


Yan Hui is also known by his courtesy name Ziyuan (Chinese: 子淵; pinyin: Zǐyuān; Wade–Giles: Tzu-yüan), and as Yan Yuan (Chinese: 顏淵; Wade–Giles: Yen Yüan), a combination of his surname and courtesy name. He is also reverently referred to as Master Yan or Yanzi (Chinese: 顏子; Wade–Giles: Yen Tzu).


Yan Hui was a native of State of Lu, and was the son of Yan Wuyou (Yan Lu), one of the earliest disciples of Confucius.[1] Yan Hui was about 30 years younger than Confucius, and became a student of the Master at a young age.[2]

Yan Hui was Confucius' favorite disciple.[3] "After I got Yan Hui," Confucius remarked, "the disciples came closer to me."[2] We are told that once, when he found himself on the Nang hill with Yan Hui, Zilu, and Zigong, Confucius asked them to tell him their different aims, and he would choose between them. Zilu began, and when he had done, the master said, "It marks your bravery." Zigong followed, on whose words the judgment was, "They show your discriminating eloquence." At last came Yan Hui, who said, "I should like to find an intelligent king and sage ruler whom I might assist. I would diffuse among the people instructions on the five great points, and lead them on by the rules of propriety and music, so that they should not care to fortify their cities by walls and moats, but would fuse their swords and spears into implements of agriculture. They should send forth their flocks without fear into the plains and forests. There should be no sunderings of families, no widows or widowers. For a thousand years there would be no calamity of war. Yu would have no opportunity to display his bravery, or Ts'ze to display his oratory." The master pronounced, "How admirable is this virtue!"[4]


When Yan Hui was twenty-nine, his hair was all white. He died at an early age.[4]

After the death of Yan Hui, Confucius lamented, "Heaven has bereft me! Heaven has bereft me!". When told by other students that he was showing "excessive grief", the old philosopher replied: "Am I showing excessive grief? Well, for whom would I show excessive grief if not for this man?".[5] Even years later, Confucius would say that no other student could take Yan Hui's place, so gifted and dedicated Yan Hui had been.[6]


Yan Hui, along with Confucius himself, was venerated by the first emperor of the Han dynasty. The title which he now has in the sacrificial Canon -- Continuator of the Sage (Chinese: 复圣; pinyin: Fù Shèng) -- was conferred in the ninth year of the Jiajing era, A.D. 1530. Almost all the present sacrificial titles of the worthies in the Temple of Confucius were fixed at that time. Yan Hui's place is the first of the Four Assessors, on the east of Confucius.[4]


In Taiwan there is an office called the "Sacrificial Official to Yan Hui" which is held by a descendant of Yan Hui, like the post of "Sacrificial Official to Mencius" for a descendant of Mencius, "Sacrificial Official to Zengzi" for a descendant of Zengzi, and the post of "Sacrificial Official to Confucius, held by a descendant of Confucius.[7]


Fusheng Hall, the main sanctuary of the Temple of Yan Hui in Qufu, Shandong province

Yan Hui is venerated at the Temple of Yan Hui, which is located in Qufu's walled city, a few blocks north of the Temple of Confucius.

Yan Hui's tomb is now surrounded by hundreds of tombs of his descendants, forming the Yan Family Cemetery ("Yan Forest"). A stele was installed at his tomb during the Jurchen Jin Dynasty, and re-erected during the Ming Dynasty. The tomb is well preserved.[8]