Fan Chengda (Chinese: 范成大; pinyin: Fàn Chéngdà; Wade–Giles: Fan Ch'eng-ta, 1126–1193), courtesy name Zhineng (致能), was one of the best-known Chinese poets of the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD), a government official, and an academic authority in geography, especially the southern provinces of China. His written work also falls under the literary category of 'travel record literature' (youji wenxue), a narrative and prose style approach to writing about one's travel experiences, which was popular in China during the Song Dynasty. Fàn was a member of a cadet branch of the elite Fàn family.
Life and works
Fàn's work deals with the traditional themes of the period, including peasant life, the seasons, Buddhism, and growing old. Fàn was born in Suzhou into a middle-ranking family at a time of conflict between the Southern Song and Jin dynasties. A precocious child, his early studies of classical literature prepared him for a career in the civil service - a career that was temporarily interrupted when his parents died within a few months of each other in 1143, leaving Fàn Chengda in sole charge of the family estate. These studies, together with his experiences of working in the fields as a teenager and his interest in Buddhism, provided inspiration for his later poetry.
After a youth of austere poverty, Fàn Chengda was able to pass the Imperial Examination and secure the jinshi degree in 1154 AD. Afterwards he entered a long career in service of the state. During his career he wrote an important geographical treatise known as the Gui Hai Yu Heng Chi. The book focused primarily on the topography of the land and commercial products of China's southern provinces. In this Fàn followed a long geographical literary tradition, continuing from the Shu Jing (Historical Classic) of the 5th century BC, the Huainan Zi of the 2nd century BC, and predating the famous written works by the Ming Dynasty geographer Xu Xiake.
However, his best-known work is a series of sixty poems which he wrote in 1186, following his retirement from his position as a high official at the Southern Song Court. The poems have been translated into English under the name Stone Lake - the location of his retirement villa just outside Suzhou.
- Hargett, 67-68.
- Needham, Volume 3, 510.
- Hargett, James M. "Some Preliminary Remarks on the Travel Records of the Song Dynasty (960-1279)," Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews (CLEAR) (July 1985): 67-93.
- Needham, Joseph (1986). Science and Civilization in China: Volume 3. Taipei: Caves Books, Ltd.
- J. D. Schmidt (1992) Stone Lake: The poetry of Fan Chengda (1126–1193). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-41782-1