Gui Youguang

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Gui Youguang (simplified Chinese: 归有光; traditional Chinese: 歸有光; pinyin: Guī Yǒuguāng; 1507–1571) was a Chinese writer of Ming Dynasty. His courtesy name was Xifu (熙甫) and his art name was Zhenchuan (震川),[1][2] and he was also known as Xiangji Sheng (項脊生, literally Scholar of Xiangji).[3]

His prose writings were highly praised. People of his time regarded him as a modern-day Ouyang Xiu, an important writer of the earlier Song Dynasty, and later generations praised his works as "the best prose of the Ming Dynasty". He was one of the early masters of the xiaopin.

Names and titles[edit]


When Gui's mother conceived him, it was said that there was a rainbow glowed in the yard, while its light reached the sky, which was deemed lucky. Accordingly, he was gave the name "Youguang", literally "There was a light" in Chinese.[4]


Gui detested art names when he was young. Once he was notice as an exception without one at a party, thus the others began to call him "Zhenchuan". It is a compound of two geographical nouns: "zhen" refers to "Zhenze" (震澤), the ancient name of Lake Tai which adjoins his hometown, while "chuan" is a synonym for river in Chinese, refers to the Yangtze River sometimes. However, Gui still rejected that until he met He Qitu (何啓圖), an erudite scholar from Henan who happened to share the same art name with him. Gui took "Zhenchuan" out of admiration for He, he also made an analogy between they and Sima Xiangru together with Lin Xiangru.[5]

Xiangji Sheng[edit]

Gui's ancestors once lived along a river call Xiangjijing (項脊涇) in Taicang during Yuan dynasty,[4] later he designate his sanctum as Xiangjixuan (項脊軒) to commemorate them probably. Hence, Gui called himself Xiangji Sheng.[3] While "Xiangji" is supposed to be the abbreviation of "Xiangjixuan".


Gui Youguang was born in Kunshan, Suzhou Prefecture, a satellite city in south-east Jiangsu Province nowadays. His family had been a large, important family in the past, but by Gui Youguang's time it was falling increasingly into decay.[6] When he was only seven years old, his mother died,[7] leaving her husband to support their three sons and two daughters.[8] After that, his family lived a much harder life; Gui learned about suffering and sorrow at a very early age.[citation needed] Because of his cleverness and hard work, Gui was able to write relatively good articles when he was only nine years old.[citation needed] At the age of ten, he wrote an article of several thousand words, called Qi xi (乞醯) [On Begging Vinegar].[9][10][11] Gui was qualified to take prefecture examination when he was 14. He came first in this examination when he was 20 years old.

However, until 1540 Gui failed the provincial exam. He became Juren ranked second at age 35. Meantime, his first wife who came from Wei () clan died. Then he married to a woman came from Wang () clan of Anting which was once prosperous. Since the clan was on the decline, a younger descendant sold the local mansion treasured by the other members as heritage to pay taxes. On that account, his new wife begged him to get loan and redeem the mansion. In about 1541, he paid off all the debts eventually and moved to Anting, Jiading.[6]

Gui spent most of his time at Anting on reading. Moreover, he tutored up to hundreds students who worshipped him. During those intervening triennial springs, he went to Nanjing eight times to take the higher examinations but failed. In 1565, Gui finally got a Jinshi in his ninth examination.[4] Gui became a Zhixian in Changxing at the age of sixty. When Gui was judging, he allowed local people to utter Wu Chinese instead of Mandarin so that they could state clearly. Besides, he seldom imprisoned the defendant if the case could be conciliated.[12] Three years later, Gui was transferred to be a Tongpan (通判; an official position) in Shunde, he was in charge of local horse administration. In 1570, Gui went to Beijing to celebrate Longqing Emperor's birthday. Admired by Gao Gong and Zhao Zhenji (趙貞吉), he was promoted to be the Sicheng (寺丞; an official position) of Nanjing Taipusi (南京太僕寺). But he was still kept in Beijing by Li Chunfang (李春芳) to compile Shizong Shilu (世宗實錄) for Jiajing Emperor.[4] In the next year, Gui died of illness in Beijing at the age of 64. He was buried at Kunshan in 1575.[13]


Gui's father was Zheng (), while his mother was Zhou Gui (周桂). He had two younger brothers: Youshang (有尚) and Yougong (有功); A elder sister Shujing (淑靜) and a younger sister Shushun (淑順).

Gui had three wives and a concubine.

His first wife's surname was Wei. They married in about 1529, five year later she died. Bore a daughter and a son. In about 1536, he married to Wang. Wang died in about 1552, one year later, Gui married to his third wife Fei ().

Hanhua (寒花) was a handmaiden accompanying Wei initially, when Wei married, she was only nine years old. After Wei's death, she became Gui's concubine, before she died at the age of 18.[14]

Sons: Zixiao (子孝) or Zengsun as birth name (䎖孫; 1533–1548?), Zihu (子祜), Zining (子寧), Longsun (隆孫), Zijun (子駿), Zimu (子慕), Zixiao (子蕭)

Daughters: Rulan (如蘭; 1534–1535), Erer (二二; 1538–1539) and the other three


Gui was one of mid-Ming notable writers of the xiaopin.[15]


Gui professed a distaste for the Revivalist School. He criticized the later Revivalists such as Wang Shizhen (王世貞), a contemporary bureaucrat and scholar.[16] Wang Shenzhong, Mao Kun, Tang Shunzhi and Gui etc. were bracketed together as Tang Song pai (唐宋派, a school advocating Tang and Song dynasties' classic works of literature) afterwards. While Gui was regarded as the head of them.[17] These writers of the mid-Ming created the canon of the eight great Tang and Songwriters which impact hitherto.[18]

Despite Wang Shizhen and Gui horrid to each other, Wang expressed great esteem towards him and compared his works to that of Han Yu and Ouyang Xiu, after Gui's death.[19]

Qian Qianyi praised his works as "the best prose of the Ming Dynasty" (明文第一).[20]

In 1828, Tao Zhu, the Jiangsu Xunfu of that time, got permission from the emperor. Zhenchuan Academy was built to memorize Gui after three years’construction. Then it was closed in 1903. One year later, An Yuan and some other people founded the Zhenchuan Primary School at the former campus of Zhenchuan Academy. After several years, Zhenchuan junior high school was added to Zhenchuan Primary School. Now the school is called Anting Junior High School which is located in Anting Town, Jiading District, Shanghai.


  1. ^ Britannica Kokusai Dai-Hyakkajiten article "Gui You-guang" (帰有光, Ki Yūkō in Japanese). Shogakukan.
  2. ^ Daijisen entry "Gui Youguang" (帰有光, Ki Yūkō in Japanese). Gakken 2006.
  3. ^ a b Gui Youguang 1675, 項脊軒志.
  4. ^ a b c d Wang Xijun (王錫爵; 1534–1611). Taipusi sicheng Guigong muzhiming (太僕寺丞歸公墓誌銘) [Gui Youguang's Epitaph]
  5. ^ Gui Youguang 1675, 震川別號記.
  6. ^ a b Huang (2007), p. 1.
  7. ^ Gui Youguang 1675, 亡兒䎖孫壙志.
  8. ^ Gui Youguang 1675, 先妣事略.
  9. ^ Begging vinegar is an allusion in Analects ("孰謂微生高直?或乞醯焉,乞諸其鄰而與之。"). Gui utilized it here to discuss politics.
  10. ^ "歸有光". Chinese Encyclopedia Online. 
  11. ^ Gui Youguang 1675, 乞醯.
  12. ^ Qian Qianyi 1659, 丁集中: 震川先生歸有光.
  13. ^ "归有光卒于何地". Fudan Journal (Social Sciences Edition) (in Chinese). 1: 112. 1991. 
  14. ^ Gui Youguang 1675, 寒花葬誌.
  15. ^ Mair 2001. "Introduction: The Origins and Impact of Literati Culture", paragraph 22.
  16. ^ Chang (2010), p. 61.
  17. ^ Encyclopedia of China, Vol. 8 (2nd edition, 中国大百科全书(第二版)第8册). Encyclopedia of China Publishing House. 2009. p. 281. ISBN 978-7-500-07958-3. 
  18. ^ Chang (2010), p. 92.
  19. ^ History of Ming, Vol.287 ("有光少子子慕")
  20. ^ Nomura Ayuko, 2009. 科学研究費補助金研究成果報告書 3.研究の方法 (1)個人研究, 14 April 2009. National Institute of Informatics. Accessed 8 April 2016.

Cited works[edit]