Yan Hui (disciple of Confucius)

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Yan Hui
Statue of Yan Hui in the temple dedicated to him in Qufu

Yan Hui, also Yen Tzu or Yanzi (simplified Chinese: 颜回; traditional Chinese: 顏回; pinyin: Yán Huí; courtesy name Zi Yuan (Chinese: 子淵; pinyin: Zǐ yuān); 521 BC - 490 BC) was one of the disciples of Confucius.


Yan Hui was a native of State of Lu, the favorite of his master,[1] whose junior he was by thirty years, and whose disciple he became when he was quite a youth. 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, Zi-lu, and Zi-gong, Confucius asked them to tell him their different aims, and he would choose between them. Zi-lu began, and when he had done, the master said, It marks your bravery. Zi-gong 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![3]


When Yan Hui was twenty-nine, his hair was all white, and at the age of 32 he died.[3]

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?".[4] Even years later, Confucius would say that no other student could take Yan Hui's place, so gifted and dedicated Yan Hui had been.[5]


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 were fixed at that time. Yan Hui's place is the first of the four Assessors, on the east of the sage.[3]


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 Jin (Jurchen) Dynasty, and re-erected during the Ming Dynasty. The tomb is well preserved.[6]