Chen Lin (Han dynasty)

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Chen Lin
Traditional Chinese 陳琳
Simplified Chinese 陈琳

Chen Lin (died 217), courtesy name Kongzhang (孔璋), was a minister, author and poet in the late Eastern Han Dynasty. Possessed of great literary talents, Chen became known as one of the "Seven Scholars of Jian'an". During his career, he served under General-in-Chief He Jin, in the imperial court.


Chen Lin was a courtier attached to the Cao family, during a time of constant armed conflict and warfare. He is survived by some of his writings, including literary yuefu written in imitation of current folk ballads, and he is considered one of the major exponents of this typical Jian'an poetry style, along with Cao Cao, and others.[1] Chen Lin died in the great plague which rampaged through China in 217.[2] Cao Pi ranked Chen Lin as what he termed the "Seven Masters (子, zi) of Jian'an". Besides Chen Lin, the other seven scholars are Wang Can, Ruan Yu (阮瑀), Liu Zhen (劉楨), Xu Gan, Ying Chang (應瑒), and Kong Rong. In 218, the year following the plague, Cao Pi, the second son of Cao Cao, wrote a surviving letter to a friend which laments that Chen Lin and 3 others of the 7 Masters of Jian'an had all been carried off from their life in this world, on the previous year.[3]

According to Chen Shou's Records of the Three Kingdoms, Chen attempted to dissuade He Jin from amassing an army outside the capital city of Luoyang to intimidate the Ten Attendants, a group of eunuchs who controlled the imperial court. He said: "To act in this manner is no difference from lighting a furnace to burn a strand of hair" (以此行事,无异于鼓洪炉以燎毛发). However, He Jin did not heed his advice and Chen was obliged to flee to Ji Province, where he worked as a secretary under the warlord Yuan Shao.

Chen rose to fame when he wrote a declaration of war for Yuan Shao to Cao Cao, listing the rationale for the subsequent campaign against Cao, which eventually culminated in the Battle of Guandu.

In fiction[edit]

In Luo Guanzhong's historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Cao was having a headache while the declaration was being read but his headache was gone after hearing it. After Yuan's defeat, Chen was captured by Cao, who reprimanded Chen for insulting his elders and ancestors in the declaration he wrote earlier. However, Cao spared Chen's life and instructed him to read the declaration again before Yuan's grave.

Chen was later appointed as an official to serve Cao Cao, as Cao admired his literary talent. Cao once said: "Reading Chen Lin's scripts heals my headaches much better than others."


Chen Lin's surviving literary works include his literary yuefu (also transcribed yüeh-fu) poem, translated by Wai-lim Yip as "Water the Horses at a Breach in the Great Wall".[4]

Appointments and titles held[edit]

  • Registrar (主簿) to General-in-Chief He Jin
  • Libationer and Army Advisor to the Excellency of Works (司空軍師祭酒)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Watson, 56
  2. ^ Watson, 55
  3. ^ Watson, 48-49
  4. ^ Yip, 104-105