Fan Zhongyan – A Great Chinese Statesman and Poet

Fan Zhongyan memorial garden

Fan Zhongyan memorial garden

Fan Zhongyan (范仲淹, 989-1052), a Suzhou native, was a great statesman, philosopher, writer, educator, military strategist of the Song Dynasty.

His most memorable statements include:

Be the first to bear the burden for the world and the last to enjoy the fruit of collective achievement.

I’d rather speak up for the truth and die than keep silent and live.

He did not just preach it but practised his belief and was demoted even prosecuted several times for daringly speaking out against the dominating power for the interest of the majority of people in the nation.

Since his death, he has been viewed as a saint in China, along with Confucius and Mencius.

One of his direct descendants is Bo Xilai’s mother-in-law, a heroic lady in her own right.

This is part of a report to the emperor by Fan Zhongyan:

I heard Confucian knew how to keep a distance from cunning men, as those are not the people the sage would like to work with. They have no concern for the nation, hold no vision for the future, but relentlessly pursue their personal interest, and chase after fame and wealth. They would say what their boss likes to hear, desire what their boss fancies to obtain, praise what their boss wishes to honour and censure what their boss wants to condemn … by so doing, they win trust from their boss to the point that they get a free hand to conduct their own wretched business.

When these people gain access to power, the country will either be in trouble or meet a doomed fate.

Fortunately, there is an easy way to identify such creatures. If someone is forever agreeable with you and help you to screen out opinions that you don’t like to hear, there can be little doubt that this person must be a sinister schemer.

臣聞孔子遠佞人,言不可以共為國也。凡自古奸佞之人可辨也,皆不知大體,不懷遠慮,務於利己,貪富貴,固榮寵而已矣。必好甘言諂辭,以希人主之欲,主之所貴,因而賢之,主之所怒,因而罪之… 人主悅其不違於己,因而親之,以至於事失怨生而不聞也。

奸佞之臣信用,大則亡國,小則壞法度而亂生矣。

臣以為察奸佞之人,亦有術焉。主之所欲,皆順不違,又從而承奉先後之者,此奸佞之臣也。

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