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Persons in Chinese History - Xun Yue 荀悅

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Xun Yue 荀悅 (148-209 CE), courtesy name Xun Zhongyu 荀仲豫, was a historian and writer of the Later Han period 前漢 (206 BCE-8 CE). He came from Yingchuan 潁川 (modern Xuchang 許昌, Henan ) and was a poor, but intelligent boy in his youth. At the age of 12 he was able to read the Confucian Classic Chunqiu 春秋 "Spring and Autumn Annals". During the time of Emperor Ling 漢靈帝 (r. 167-189) the court eunuchs controlled access to state offices, so that Xun Yue could not gain an official post. Only when Cao Cao 曹操 assumed power, he was appointed attendant gentleman at the palace gate (huangmen shilang 黃門侍郎) and later Director of the palace library (bishujian 秘書監) and palace attendant (shizhong 侍中). At that time Emperor Xian 漢獻帝 (r. 189-220), who was fond of literature, ordered Xun Yue to compile a new history of the Former Han dynasty 前漢 (206 BCE-8 CE) because the official history, Ban Gu's 班固 Hanshu 漢書, was too complex and not easy to read because it was arranged in a biographic-thematic style. The new book, the Hanji 漢紀, was written in a chronological style like the Confucian Classic Zuozhuan 左傳. Later historiographers highly estimated the well-arranged style of the Hanji and put it side by side with the Hanshu. Today it is almost forgotten. Seeing that the emperor was only a puppet of the warlord Cao Cao, Xun Yue decided to write a political treatise, the Shenjian 申鑒. In this book he criticized the political situation of the Later Han court and the reliance of decision-makers on omina and portents.
Xun Yue follows the Confucian understanding of how a government should work and stresses that kindheartedness (ren 仁) and righteousness (yi 義) as the root of the way of human nature were also to be used in government, whey there are expressed by rituals and education, was well as by law and order. Law and the educative example of the emperor are the great guidelines of all government. Yet the rulers of the Han dynasty had impeded these guidelines by the spirit of hegemony and power and distorted the law in the field of penalties. In order to resolve this problem, the ruler would again have to care for the well-being of the people. Taxes and labour requirement should be as low as possible and not go beyond the really necessary level. The income of the peasants, on the other side, shold suffice for their own living (geng er wu you 耕而勿有), and only surpluses in production would lead to inequalities in the living standard. The human character was, according to Xun Yue, a mixture of good and bad, and education to virtue ameliorate the character of each individual towards a better man. The average man had to be guided through both education and punishment.
Other political writings of Xun Yue, like Chongde 崇德 and Zhenglun 正論, as well as other smaller treatises, are long since lost. The Ming period 明 (1368-1644) scholar Zhang Pu 張溥 has collected surviving fragments of Xun Yue's writings and published the Xun Shizhong ji 荀侍中集 in the collection Han-Wei-Liuchao bai san jia ji 漢魏六朝百三家集. There is a commentary to the Shenjian written by the Ming period scholar Huang Shengceng 黃省曾.


Sources: Fei Zhengang 費振剛 (1986), "Xun Yue 荀悅", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo wenxue 中國文學 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 2, p. 1127. ● Chen Jinsheng 陳金生 (1992), "Xun Yue 荀悅", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhexue 哲學 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 2, p. 1049.

December 29, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail
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