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Fan Zhongyan (范仲淹)
a block print portrait from Sancai Tuhui (1609)
Chancellor of the Song dynasty
MonarchEmperor Renzong
Personal details
BornSeptember 5, 989
Wu, Sū Prefecture, Song dynasty
Died(1052-06-19)June 19, 1052
Xú Prefecture, Song dynasty
Resting placein modern Yichuan County, Henan, China
34°29′32″N 112°32′53″E / 34.49222°N 112.54806°E / 34.49222; 112.54806
SpouseLady Peng ()
  • Fan Chunyou (范純祐), son
  • Fan Chunren (范純仁), son
  • Fan Chunli (范純禮), son
  • Fan Chuncui (范純粹), son
  • 3 daughters
    • Fan Yong (范墉)
  • Lady Xie () (mother)
Posthumous nameDuke of Wenzheng (正公) and Duke of Chu (國公)
Fan Zhongyan
Zhu Yue
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese
Fan Xiwen / Zhu Xiwen
Chinese /

Fan Zhongyan (5 September 989 – 19 June 1052), courtesy name Xiwen (希文), was a Chinese military strategist, philosopher, poet, and politician of the Song dynasty. After serving the central government for several decades, Fan was appointed Prime Minister or Chancellor over the entire Song empire. Fan's philosophical, educational and political contributions continue to be influential to this day, and his writings remain a core component of the Chinese literary canon. His attitude towards official service is encapsulated by his oft-quoted line on the proper attitude of scholar-officials: "They were the first to worry the worries of All-under-Heaven, and the last to enjoy its joys".[1] Fan was a respected Confucian scholar and one of the most prominent members of the Fan family.[2]

Family History

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 () 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” () 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 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 (范履冰), 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.

Living descendants of Fan Zhongyan include Fan Lei, a famous American musician currently teaching at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, China.

Early life

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, 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 little food everyday, but persisted on learning. He read almost all the books available at 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 to today's Shaanxi province and 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 and studied very hard. After several years, he had mastered different classics, and established his aspiration of being generous and responsible official.

In 1015, he successfully passed the Imperial Examination and became a Jinshi, after which he returned to using the Fan surname and received his mother again to provide for her.

Early career

Painting of Fan Zhongyan

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 Shaanxi, to inspect the defences; they rendered effective support to end 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.[3]

Qingli Reforms

Main article: Qingli Reforms

After the Song dynasty granted the Western Xia indemnities similar to those granted to the Liao dynasty in the Chanyuan Treaty, 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,[4] and wider sponsorship programs to ensure that officials were drafted more on the basis of merit. 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,[5] after Fan and his friend and colleague Ouyang Xiu had been charged with forming a faction, which was considered subversive by definition.[6] Fan Zhongyan was relegated to the prefect of Dengzhou; there he established the influential Huazhou Academy.[7] Nevertheless, his idealist approach to governance inspired others, like the later Chancellor Wang Anshi.

Educational reforms

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.[8] While Chancellor, Fan Zhongyan issued an edict that provided 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).[9] 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.[10] 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.[11]

Literary works

Statue in Fan Zhongyan's tomb site in Yichuan County, Henan

Fan Zhongyan's most famous work of literature is On 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 piece was written at Huazhou Academy in Nanyang, not at Yueyang Tower.[12] It contains a very famous line on the role of scholar-officials in China, which describes their ideal state of mind: "They were the first to worry the worries of All-under-Heaven, and the last to enjoy its joys"[1] "先天下之憂而憂,後天下之樂而樂".[13][14][15] These lines sum up the scholar-official's idealised self-image of self-denial and loyal service.[1]

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 the advice of a friend. That friend, Mei Yaochen, (梅堯臣), tried to persuade him to stop bearing so much concern for others 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 scholar-official, called "The Moral Responsibilities of Intellectuals".[13][16][17]

Fan Zhongyan was known for his ci poetry. Among the most famous are Su Mu Zhe (蘇幕遮) (written primarily to convey homesickness) and Yu Jia Ao (漁家傲). Together with Su Shi, he was considered one of the founders of the haofang (豪放) school of ci.

To the Tune "Screened by Su curtain" - Nostalgia[18][19][20][21]


Fan Zhongyan and his wife who from Peng Clan (彭氏) had four sons, all of whom also entered the government:

Overseas Branch Descendants

Statue of Fan Zhongyan in front of Suzhou railway station

Fan Zhongyan had many descendants. According to the Book of Gaoping Fan Clan Genealogy (高平范氏族谱), his 9th descendant is Fan Fachuan (范法传) who lived at Meixian in Guangdong Province and truly integrated into Hakka Chinese society.

Fan Daliang (范达亮), 12th descendant from Fan Fachuan and 21st descendant from Fan Zhongyan who migrated to Nanyang or Southeast Asia and arrived in 1879 at Cirebon, West Java, Indonesia when he was 18. Fan Daliang had another spelling name in Indonesia because influenced by the spelling of the Dutch language: "Hoan Tat Liang" or "Hoan Tat Liong". The second name of Fan Daliang is Hoan Tje Huang (范之皇) as a kleermaker, garment business owner, and fabric shop owner. Hoan Tat Liang had seven children by married to Sundanese women who called Arengsih or Nyai Hoan Tat Liang.

Sons :



  1. ^ a b c Pines, Yuri (2012). The Everlasting Empire: The Political Culture of Ancient China and Its Imperial Legacy. Princeton: Princeton University Press. p. 76. ISBN 9780691134956.
  2. ^ "Fan Zhongyan | Song Dynasty, Neo-Confucianism, Reforms | Britannica". 2023-09-05. Retrieved 2023-09-29.
  3. ^ Mote (1999), p. 123.
  4. ^ Mote (1999), p. 137.
  5. ^ Mote (1999), p. 124.
  6. ^ Mote (1999), p. 136.
  7. ^ Sima, Yimin (2022-11-18). "Fan Zhongyan and Lin Bu: Untold Stories". The Information Office of Zhejiang Provincial People's Government. Archived from the original on 2024-01-17.
  8. ^ Yuan (1994), p. 196.
  9. ^ Yuan (1994), p. 197.
  10. ^ Yuan (1994), pp. 198–199.
  11. ^ Yuan (1994), pp. 200–201.
  12. ^ 李, 纵 (2014-12-27). "《岳阳楼记》在这里写成" ["On Yueyang Tower" was written here]. 人民日报海外版 (in Chinese). Archived from the original on 2024-01-17.
  13. ^ a b "Fan Zhongyan - China culture". Archived from the original on 2012-01-21. Retrieved 2011-07-19.
  14. ^ “先天下之忧而忧,后天下之乐而乐”的11种翻译 - 沪江口译频道. Archived from the original on 26 April 2017. Retrieved 19 July 2011.
  15. ^ "Fan Zhongyan". 4 June 2004.
  16. ^ 范仲淹 at Chinese Wikipedia
  17. ^ "Fan Zhongyan".
  18. ^ Wang, Ping (June 2012). "Lasting Sorrow: Chinese Literati's Emotions on their Journeys". Literature & Aesthetics. 22 (1): 234.
  19. ^ Gu, Weilie (2022). A General Introduction to Chinese Culture. Translated by Lixin, Sun. American Academic Press. p. 220. ISBN 9781631815379.
  20. ^ Wenpeng, T. a. O.; Xuepei, Zhao (2010-01-01). "On the Theatricality of the Ci-Poetry in Tang and Song Dynasties". Frontiers of Literary Studies in China. 4 (4): 578–601. doi:10.1007/s11702-010-0112-8. ISSN 1673-7423.
  21. ^ Xu, Yuanchong (2009). Selected Poems of Su Shi -- Library of Chinese Classics (In Chinese & English). Hunan People Press. ISBN 9787543850002.

See also