Xun Can
Bornc. 209[1]
Diedc. 237 (aged 28)[1]
Other namesFengqian (奉倩)
Spouse(s)Cao Hong's daughter
RelativesSee Xun family of Yingchuan

Xun Can (c. 209–237),[1] courtesy name Fengqian, was a Chinese xuanxue philosopher of the state of Cao Wei in the Three Kingdoms period of China. He was a son of Xun Yu.[2]

Family background

Xun Can's ancestral home was in Yingchuan Commandery (穎川郡; around present-day Xuchang, Henan). He was born in the influential Xun family as a son of Xun Yu, a prominent statesman of the late Eastern Han dynasty and an adviser to the warlord Cao Cao. His exact birth order among his siblings is not clear; it is only known that he was younger than Xun Yu's sixth son, Xun Yi.[3]

Views on human understanding of reality

Xun Can was markedly different from the rest of his brothers; he enjoyed studying and discussing Taoism as opposed to his brothers' preference for Confucianism. He believed that when Zigong talked about how sages came to understand human nature and divine order, he was referring to a particular higher state of mind that these sages had attained, and that state of mind cannot be expressed in any way. In his opinion, even though the past sages had written books such as the six Confucian classics, these books are actually the "leftovers" from the sages' journeys towards that higher state of mind rather than an expression of that state of mind itself. Xun Yu (荀俁), one of Xun Can's elder brothers, rebutted him, "The Yi Zhuan (易傳) says the sages created images to make sense of reality. They used words to express and describe their understanding of reality. How can you say that human understanding cannot be expressed in any way?"[4]

Xun Can replied,

"The intricacies of human understanding are too complex to be expressed in the forms of images and words. You can use images to make sense of reality, but you can't use them to make sense of the deeper meanings beyond reality. You can use words to express your understanding of reality, but you can't use them to express what is beyond reality. We thus see that the intricacies of human understanding include not only what is expressed through images and words, but also what is beyond such things. Even though you may fully express in images and words what you understand about reality, you can't use them to express what is beyond reality. This means that the intricacies of human understanding not only cannot be fully expressed through images and words, but also cannot be easily understood."[5]

Even the most skilled debaters at the time were unable to counter his argument.[6]

Views on Xun Yu and Xun You

Xun Can had another debate with his brothers about their father Xun Yu and their third cousin Xun You. In his opinion, his father focused on maintaining his image as a morally virtuous and upright man who assumed the moral high ground, whereas his third cousin was not concerned about his external image and was careful about maintaining a low profile and keeping to himself. His brothers were angry with him for describing Xun You in more favourable terms, but they could not refute him.[7]

Friendships with Fu Gu and Xiahou Xuan

In the early Taihe era (227–233) of Cao Rui's reign, Xun Can travelled to the imperial capital Luoyang to meet Fu Gu and have a discussion with him. Fu Gu focused on concrete details while Xun Can focused on abstract things, hence they could not understand each other and ended up in a heated quarrel. Pei Hui (裴徽), the Inspector of Ji Province, stepped in to mediate and successfully helped them resolve their misunderstandings. Xun Can and Fu Gu developed a close friendship after that.[8]

Xun Can was also close friends with Xiahou Xuan. He once told Fu Gu and Xiahou Xuan, "The two of you will become more famous than me, but not as wise as me." Fu Gu retorted, "A famous person should also be a wise person. How can there be people who gain more than they are worth?" Xun Can replied, "A person becomes famous as a reward for being ambitious. However, ambition is a quality on its own and isn't necessarily linked to wisdom. I can also become famous like you, but I might not do so in the same way as you."[9]

Marriage and death

Xun Can assessed women in terms of their beauty and appearance rather than their talent and intelligence. He married the general Cao Hong's daughter, who was known for her pretty looks. At their wedding, they were dressed in extravagant garments and had expensive decorations for their bedroom. Xun Can treated his wife with special care and devotion. However, their romance did not last long as she died of illness a few years later. Fu Gu went to comfort Xun Can at his wife's funeral and saw that he was extremely grieved even though he did not shed tears. Fu Gu told him, "It's difficult to find a wife who has both looks and talents. However, you prefer looks over talents, so it's not too hard to find a new wife. What's there to feel sad about?" Xun Can replied, "It's difficult to find another beautiful woman like her again! Even though she may not have had the most beautiful looks, it wasn't easy for me to have found someone like her." He was so deeply upset over his wife's death that he died a few years later at the age of 28.[10]

Xun Can's personality and outlook on life made it difficult for him to socialise with ordinary people. His friends were all great talents of their time. Although only about 10 people attended his funeral, all of them were famous members of the scholar-gentry. They mourned him so much at his funeral that they even touched the hearts of passers by.[11]

Yuan Can's name change

The Liu Song dynasty official Yuan Can admired Xun Can so much that he changed his given name from "Minsun" (愍孫) to "Can" (). He also adopted the courtesy name "Jingqian" (景倩),[12] which was also the courtesy name of Xun Can's brother Xun Yi.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Ozaki, Yujiro; Isa, Masaaki; Togawa, Yoshiro, eds. (20 April 2013). "荀粲 [Xun Can]". 中国文化史大事典 [The Great Events of Chinese Cultural History] (in Japanese). Tokyo: Taishukan Shoten. ISBN 978-4469012842.
  2. ^ de Crespigny (2007), p. 925.
  3. ^ (顗弟粲,字奉倩。) Jin Yang Qiu annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 10.
  4. ^ (何劭為粲傳曰:粲字奉倩,粲諸兄並以儒術論議,而粲獨好言道,常以為子貢稱夫子之言性與天道,不可得聞,然則六籍雖存,固聖人之糠粃。粲兄俁難曰:「易亦云聖人立象以盡意,繫辭焉以盡言,則微言胡為不可得而聞見哉?」) Xun Can Zhuan annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 10.
  5. ^ (粲荅曰:「蓋理之微者,非物象之所舉也。今稱立象以盡意,此非通于意外者也。繫辭焉以盡言,此非言乎繫表者也;斯則象外之意,繫表之言,固蘊而不出矣。」) Xun Can Zhuan annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 10.
  6. ^ (及當時能言者不能屈也。) Xun Can Zhuan annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 10.
  7. ^ (又論父彧不如從兄攸。彧立德高整,軌儀以訓物,而攸不治外形,慎密自居而已。粲以此言善攸,諸兄怒而不能迴也。) Xun Can Zhuan annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 10.
  8. ^ (太和初,到京邑與傅嘏談。嘏善名理而粲尚玄遠,宗致雖同,倉卒時或有格而不相得意。裴徽通彼我之懷,為二家騎驛,頃之,粲與嘏善。) Xun Can Zhuan annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 10.
  9. ^ (夏侯玄亦親。常謂嘏、玄曰:「子等在世塗間,功名必勝我,但識劣我耳!」嘏難曰:「能盛功名者,識也。天下孰有本不足而末有餘者邪?」粲曰:「功名者,志局之所獎也。然則志局自一物耳,固非識之所獨濟也。我以能使子等為貴,然未必齊子等所為也。」) Xun Can Zhuan annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 10.
  10. ^ (粲常以婦人者,才智不足論,自宜以色為主。驃騎將軍曹洪女有美色,粲於是娉焉,容服帷帳甚麗,專房歡宴。歷年後,婦病亡,未殯,傅嘏往喭粲;粲不哭而神傷。嘏問曰:「婦人才色並茂為難。子之娶也,遺才而好色。此自易遇,今何哀之甚?」粲曰:「佳人難再得!顧逝者不能有傾國之色,然未可謂之易遇。」痛悼不能已,歲餘亦亡,時年二十九。) Xun Can Zhuan annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 10.
  11. ^ (粲簡貴,不能與常人交接,所交皆一時俊傑。至葬夕,赴者裁十餘人,皆同時知名士也,哭之,感慟路人。) Xun Can Zhuan annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 10.
  12. ^ (粲,字景倩,洵弟子也。父濯,揚州秀才,早卒。粲幼孤,祖哀之,名之曰愍孫。 ... 幼慕荀奉倩為人,孝武時求改名粲,不許;至明帝立,乃請改為粲,字景倩。 ... 其外孫王筠又云:「明帝多忌諱,反語袁愍為『殞門』,帝意惡之,乃令改焉。」) Nan Shi vol. 26.