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Fan Zhongyan (范仲淹)
a block print portrait from Sancai Tuhui (1609)
|Chancellor of Song Dynasty|
|Born||September 5, 989|
Wu, Sū Prefecture, Song Dynasty
|Died||June 19, 1052|
Xú Prefecture, Song Dynasty
|Resting place||in modern Yichuan County, Henan, China|
|Mother||Lady Xie (謝)|
|Posthumous name||Duke of Wenzheng (文正公) and Duke of Chu (楚國公)|
|Fan Xiwen / Zhu Xiwen|
|Chinese||范希文 / 朱希文|
Fan Zhongyan (5 September 989 – 19 June 1052) from Wu County of Suzhou (Jiangsu Province, China), courtesy name Xiwen (希文), ratified as the Duke of Wenzheng (文正公) posthumously, and conferred as Duke of Chu (楚國公) posthumously, was a Chinese poet, politician, philosopher, writer, and military strategist. He is one of the most prominent figures in the Chinese history, as a founder of Neo-Confucianism. Fan was one of the most prominent figures of the Song dynasty (960 - 1279), an era when China possessed the world’s largest economy and population. After serving the central government for several decades, Fan rose to a seat of Chancellor over the entire Chinese empire nearing the zenith of its pre-modern economic, social, and cultural development. Fan's philosophical, educational and political legacy is one that changed the course of the Chinese history, one so powerful that it continues to exert a profound impact on the Chinese civilization today, and his philosophy and writings remain a core component of the Chinese literary canon. While Fan spent the majority of his time governing China, his myriad deeds and teachings, well represented by his well-known saying "Be the first to bear the world's hardship, and the last to enjoy its comfort" (先天下之憂而憂，後天下之樂而樂), have served as an inspiration to the Chinese people for a thousand years. Fan is one of the most prominent members of the Fan family and is considered a Saint in China by some, other Saints including the philosophers Confucius and Mencius.
Fan Zhongyan traces his lineage to Emperor Yao, Emperor Ku, and Emperor Huang. Emperor Yao is a 5th generation descendant of Emperor Huang (or Yellow Emperor), and the second son of Emperor Ku. Often extolled as the morally perfect and intelligent sage-emperor, Emperor Yao became the founding father of the “Power Bestowing System” (禪讓制), by abdicating his throne and bestowing the Emperor-hood to Shun (舜) instead of his own children to make Shun the Emperor Shun (帝舜), an act appraised by Confucianism as “Power Bestowing” for several thousand years. Emperor Yao's benevolence and diligence served as a model to future Chinese monarchs and emperors.
During the Zhou Dynasty, Dubo (杜伯), a 51st generation decedent of Emperor Yao, the monarch of the TangDu Kingdom and a Marquis by hereditary, exhorted the then King Zhou Xuan, and was killed by King Zhou Xuan. His family left Kingdom Zhou to other Kingdoms subsequently. Shihui (士會), a descendant of Dubo, later became the grand marshal and governed the Jin Kingdom (see Jin dynasty). Shihui is the first person to have “Fan” (范) as family name. He was conferred the name Fàn with the territory of Fan (in Henan Province today) by the King of the Jin Dynasty, and has been called Fan Wuzi (范武子，BC 660 - BC 583, see Fan Clan since. From there, the Fan family became one of the most prominent governing families in the Jin Dynasty, and the most powerful of the six controlling families of the Jin Dynasty at the end of the Spring and Autumn period.
Among Fan Zhongyan’s famous ancestors, there is Fan Li, a prominent businessman from the Spring and Autumn period, who was the Chancellor of Kingdom Qi, a prominent statesman, military strategist, and the founding father of the Chinese commercial business who is worshiped as the "God of Prosperity" (or Caishen) by the Chinese. Fan Li was the lover and husband of Xi Shi, the No.1 of the renowned Four Beauties of ancient China, and said to be the most beautiful Chinese woman of all time. Fan Zhongyan's other ancestors include Fan Ju (范雎, d. 255 BCE), a powerful chancellor of the Qin Dynasty. Fan Zhongyan is also a descendant of Fan Lübing (���履冰), a Grand Chancellor (see Grand councilor) of the Tang Dynasty. Fan Zhongyan’s close ancestors all served as officials in the imperial governments. His grandfather Fan Zanshi (范贊時) famously passed the Imperial examination at age nine as a child prodigy.
All four sons of Fan Zhongyan served as officials in the imperial government of the Song Dynasty, and two of them Fan Chunren and Fan Chunli also became Chancellors of China. Among Fan Zhongyan and his sons, and the families married with Fan Zhongyan's family, together there were eight Chancellors, indicating the powerful influence of Fan Zhongyan's family on the Song Dynasty at the time.
- Fan Mengli 范夢齡: Fan Zhongyan's great grand father, conferred as Duke of Xu 徐國公 posthumously
- Fan Zanshi 范贊時: Fan Zhongyan's grand father, conferred as Duke of Cao 曹國公 and Duke of Tang 唐國公 posthumously
- Fan Yong 范墉: Fan Zhongyan's father, conferred as Duke of Su 蘇國公 and Duke of Zhou 周國公 posthumously
Fan Zhongyan, from Wu County of Suzhou, was born in Xu Prefecture (of Jiangsu Province) at a government residence. His father Fan Yong had been serving as an official of the government at different locations, and died in Xu Prefecture the subsequent year after Fan Zhongyan was born. Fan Zhongyan's mother Lady Xie returned to Suzhou and buried her husband at Fàn Clan's ancestral burial ground Tianping Mountain. Two years later, due to poverty and no financial means, Lady Xie remarried Zhu Wenhan (朱文翰), a government official at the Wu County. Fan Zhongyan's name was subsequently changed to Zhu Yue (朱說). Fan Zhongyan moved with step-father Zhu and mother Lady Xie to different places where Zhu took governmental posts. Always feeling grateful to step-father Zhu's kindness, Fan tried to pay back to Zhu's family after becoming very successful.
Fan Zhongyan studied in residence at Changbai Mountain Jiuquan Temple as a young boy. It's said he lived in hardship with very little food everyday, but he never cared about it and instead persisted on learning. He read almost all the books available at the Changbai county.
After learning his Fan family origin as a young adult by accident, Fan Zhongyan bid farewell to his mother Lady Xie. He traveled far away to today's Shanxi province, befriended Taoist priests Zhou Debao, Qu Yingyuan, and other intellectuals such as Wang Zhu. The experience broadened Fan's views about the world. In year 1011, Fan started schooling at the Yingtian Institute (應天書院, in today's Henan Shangqiu 河南商丘), the head of the Big Four Institutes (四大書院, similar to today's big four universities). He lived an austere lifestyle but studied very hard days and nights. After several years, he had mastered different classics books, and established his aspiration of being generous and taking the world as his responsibilities.
Early official career
In the 1020s, Fan served a variety of regional posts, including as magistrate for the Jiqing Army (in modern-day Bozhou, Anhui), and as a salt store inspector in Taizhou. He then became the county magistrate of Xinghua County (in modern-day coastal Jiangsu), where with his colleague and friend Teng Zongliang he engaged in a series of dyke-building activities along the coastal counties. Not long after the completion of this project, Fan's mother died and he resigned his post for filial mourning.
In the 1030s, Fan served as the prefect of Kaifeng. While there, he took on a young Ouyang Xiu as a disciple; a partnership that would become very important a decade later. However, after criticizing the Chief Councillor of the Song state when he submitted a proposal to reform criteria used in the advancement and demotion of officials, he was demoted to regional government.
In 1038, faced with the revolt of Li Yuanhao, the court dispatched Fan along with Han Qi to Shanxi, to inspect the defences; they rendered effective support to the ending of the revolt. Fan was recalled in 1040 when the Liao and Western Xia once again threatened Song borders from the north. Fan, who had long favored a strong defense, was brought back to devise a response to the northern threat.
After the Song granted Western Xia indemnities similar to those granted the Liao in the Treaty of Shanyuan, Fan, along with other advocates of Confucian ideals, sought reform at the court. He presented a ten-point proposal covering various aspects of government administration, including reforms to the recruitment system, higher pay for minor local officials to discourage corruption, and wider sponsorship programs to ensure that officials were drafted more on the basis of their intellect and character. However, many of the reforms that he introduced met with the opposition of conservative ministers who felt the system did not need drastic changes (and who felt threatened by the prospect of change halfway through their careers as state bureaucrats). The emperor rescinded the reforms in 1045, after Fan and his friend and colleague Ouyang Xiu had been charged with forming a faction, which was considered subversive by definition. Nevertheless, his idealist approach to governance inspired others, like the later Chancellor Wang Anshi.
Fan also began educational reforms in the 1040s. In the early Northern Song era, prefectural schools were neglected by the state and were left to the devices of wealthy patrons who provided private finances. While Chancellor, Fan Zhongyan issued an edict that would have a combination of government funding and private financing to restore and rebuild all prefectural schools that had fallen into disuse and abandoned since the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (907-960). Fan attempted to restore all county-level schools in the same manner, but did not designate where funds for the effort would be formally acquired and the decree was not taken seriously until the later Emperor Huizong of Song who expanded the county-level school system dramatically. Fan's trend of government funding for education set in motion the movement of public schools that eclipsed private academies, which would not be officially reversed until Emperor Lizong of Song in the mid 13th century.
Fan Zhongyan's most famous work of literature is Memorial to Yueyang Tower. The descriptive prose piece was composed at the invitation of Teng Zongliang, who was then the local prefect and had rebuilt the famed ancient tower. Yueyang Lou, a city gate by the side of Dongting Lake, was known as one of the three great towers in Southern China, due to their association with famous literary works (the others being Yellow Crane Tower and Pavilion of Prince Teng).
This commemorative Ji was written in prose, with extensive usage of phrases in four, and culminates in the oft-quoted "先天下之憂而憂，後天下之樂而樂". This can be translated as "Feel concern for others "under heaven" before others, and rejoice after others under heaven have rejoiced"; or "Be the first to feel concern about the country and the last to enjoy oneself"; or "Bear the hardship and bitterness before others, enjoy comfort and happiness after others".
寧鳴而死，不默而生; 'Better remonstrate and die, than keep silent and live' is also a famous quotation of his. This quote comes from Ling Wu Fu 《靈烏賦》 in 1036, which was written in reply to a friend (Mei Yaochen, 梅堯臣)'s advice. This friend, Mei Yaochen, tried to persuade him to stop bearing so much concern for others "under heaven" and to start caring for his own career and life. In response, Fan told a fable about a spirit bird, using the metaphor to express his aspirations. It embodies the moral integrity, sound conscience, and responsibility for others required of a Shi Da Fu, called "The Moral Responsibilities of Intellectuals".
Fan Zhongyan had four sons, all of whom also entered the government:
- Fan Chunyou (范純佑, 1024—1063)
- Fan Chunren (范純仁, 1027—1101), Chancellor of the Song Dynasty, prominent member of the conservative faction during the Wang Anshi Reforms, ratified as the Duke of Zhongxuan (忠宣公) posthumously
- Fan Chunli (范純禮, 1031一1106), Chancellor of the Song Dynasty, ratified as the Duke of Gongxian (恭獻公) posthumously
- Fan Chuncui (范純粹, 1046—1117)
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