Biography of Fan Chung-yen
Bith Date: 989
Death Date: 1052
Place of Birth:
Occupations: politician, reformer
The Chinese statesman Fan Chung-yen (989-1052) initiated the first important Sung reform program. He was famous for defining the ideal Confucian scholar as "one who is first in worrying about the world's troubles and last in enjoying its pleasures."
Fan Chung-yen was born into an old scholar-official family of modest importance which had settled in Soochow in the 9th century. When Fan's father died in 990, his mother remarried and took her infant son along to her new home in Shantung, where he was given the new family surname, Chu. At the age of 21 he was shocked to learn of his true father's identity and left the Chu family. In 1017 he received official permission to resume his original surname. Intense family feeling remained a strong motive force throughout Fan's life, as exemplified by the well-known charitable estate he later established for the Fan clan.
After study in Ying-t'ien, Honan Province, Fan obtained the highest academic degree (chin-shih) in 1015 and was assigned to a succession of provincial posts. In 1026 he resigned from his last post to perform the obligatory mourning for his mother. Called to the Sung capital for the first time in 1028, he was forced to return to the provinces the following year after incurring the displeasure of the empress dowager Chang-hsien, mother of the emperor Jen-tsung. Fan served in the capital again in 1033 and in 1035-1036 but was sent back each time after defeat by his arch political opponent, Lü I-chien.
Fan was serving in disgrace in the southeast when he was transferred to the northwest to participate in a war against the Tangut state of Hsi-Hsia. Although he had no military experience, he distinguished himself in the training and deployment of troops, the restoration of destroyed fortifications, the establishment of military colonies, and negotiations with Ch'iang tribesmen. He and his associate Han Ch'i were opposed to the Peace of 1043, but Fan's military success led to his first appointment as a high-ranking official and gave him an opportunity to initiate reforms.
The main thrust of Fan's efforts was in the reform of the bureaucracy. He replaced officials (especially in local government), limited the privilege of the well-connected to enter the bureaucracy without examination, changed the content and the procedure of the examinations, and raised the caliber of local officials through increased rigor in promotions and supervision. He reformed office land-holdings to improve the economic situation of officials, and his wider economic interests were revealed in proposals for land reclamation, irrigation, and other projects to increase agricultural productivity. As a provincial official, too, Fan was concerned with economic matters and even implemented work relief projects.
Although Fan's reforms were modest, the opposition was strong. Fan was dismissed in 1044, and most of his reforms were rescinded the following year. Fan again served in various provincial posts and did not return to power. His reforms became the precursors of the more ambitious program of Wang An-shih.
- For Fan's reforms see James T. C. Liu's "An Early Sung Reformer: Fan Chung-yen" in John K. Fairbank, ed., Chinese Thought and Institutions (1957) as well as Liu's Ou-yang Hsiu: An Eleventh-Century Neo-Confucianist (1967). An important study of a different aspect of Fan's activities is Denis Twitchett's "The Fan Clan's Charitable Estate, 1050-1760" in David S. Nivison and Arthur F. Wright, eds., Confucianism in Action (1959). Recommended for general background is James T. C. Liu and Peter Golas, eds., Change in Sung China: Innovation or Renovation? (1969).