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Persons in Chinese History - Wang Yan 王衍

Periods of Chinese History
Wang Yan 王衍 (256-311), courtesy name Wang Yifu 王夷甫, was a scholar of the Western Jin period 西晉 (265-316). He came from Linyi 臨沂 (modern Linyi, Shandong) and was a retainer of the heir apparent (taizi sheren 太子舍人), secretarial court gentleman (shangshu lang 尚書郎), gentleman attendant at the palace gate (huangmen shilang 黃門侍郎), Director of the Imperial Secretariat (shangshuling 尚書令), and finally Defender-in-chief (taiwei 太尉). When the imperial house fell apart by internecine struggles, the Xiongnu 匈奴 leader Liu Yuan 劉淵 rose in rebellion and founded the Former Zhao Dynasty 前趙 (304-329). At that moment Wang Yan was appointed Counsellor-in-chief (zaixiang 宰相) and recommended the court to care for its own defense. Wang Yan was a highly respected member of the land-owning families and acted as their spokesman. He was killed by the Xiongnu rebel Shi Le 石勒, founder of the Later Zhao Dynasty 後趙 (319-351).
Although Wang Yan occupied some of the highest state offices, it is said that he never took the political business serious, until shortly before his death. Instead, he dedicated himself to the teachings of the "School of the Mystery" (xuanxue 玄學), a contemporary branch of intellectual Daoism that venerated the "voidness" (wu 無, i. e. the Dao) as the fundament of all things. Yet he also followed the teachings of the Confucian masters He Yan 何晏 and Wang Bi 王弼 and vehemently attacked Pei Wei 裴頠 who had developed the theory of the you 有 "existance" (without the "void" Dao). The actual practice of the School of Mysteries was often a life of indulgence in pleasures, for free and easy wandering, and carelessness about political matters.


Source: Gao Riguang 高日光 (1996), "Wang Yan 王衍", in Feng Kezheng 馮克正, Fu Qingsheng 傅慶升 (ed.), Zhuzi baijia da cidian 諸子百家大辭典 (Shenyang: Liaoning renmin chubanshe), p. 83.


February 28, 2013 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail
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