|Xìng 姓:||Ōuyáng 歐陽(欧阳)|
|Míng 名:||Xiū 修|
|Zì 字:||Yǒngshū 永叔|
|Hào 號:||Zuìwēng 醉翁
Liùyī Jūshì 六一居士¹
|Shì 謚:||Wénzhōng 文忠²|
|1. late in his life|
|2. hence referred to as Ōuyáng
Ouyang Xiu (Traditional Chinese: 歐陽修; Simplified Chinese: 欧阳修; Wade-Giles: Ou-yang Hsiu) (1007 – September 22, 1072 ), literary name Tsui-weng courtesy name is Yongshu, also self nicknamed The Old Drunkard 醉翁, or The Retired Scholar of the One of Six 六一居士 in his old age, was a Chinese statesman, historian, essayist, and poet of the Song Dynasty. Ouyang Xiu is considered a prime example of the Chinese ideal of the multi-talented scholar official. Unable to afford traditional tutoring, Ouyang was largely self-taught. In 1030, he placed first in the imperial examinations and was appointed a judge at the western capital, Lo-yang. Throughout his career, his independent thinking, forthrightness and efforts at reform alternatively got him in trouble and won him respect.
In his prose works, Ouyang followed the example of Han Yu, promoting the Classical Prose Movement. Zuiweng Tingji (Regarding the Pavilion of The Old Drunkard: 醉翁亭记), a lyrical description of his pastoral lifestyle among the mountains, rivers and people of Chuzhou, is acclaimed as one of the highest achievements of Chinese travel writing. He wrote both shi and ci. His series of ten poems entitled West Lake is Good, set to the tune Picking Mulberries, helped to popularize the genre as a vehicle for serious poetry.
Ouyang Xiu was born in 1007 in Sichuan (Mote 1999), though his family came from present day Ji'an, Jiangxi. His family was a relatively humble family, not descended from one of the old great lineages of Chinese society. Ou-yang Hsiu’ father, a judge in Mien-yang, Szechwan province, died when he was three (Mote 1999), and his literate mother was responsible for much of his early education. The legend that his family was so poor that he learned to write with a reed in the sand is probably exaggerated, but Ouyang was unable to afford traditional tutoring and was largely self-taught. Han Yu( 韓愈), a literatus from the late Tang Dynasty, was particularly influential in his development.
In 1030, he placed first in the imperial examinations and was appointed a judge at the western capital, Lo-yang. He was already known as a brilliant young writer, and at Lo-yang he befriended the renowned essayist Yen Shu and the poet Mei Yao-ch'en. These friendships not only enhanced Ou-yang's status but, more important, reinforced his strong preference for the simplicity and clarity of the “ancient style.” Some years before, he had read the works of Han Yü, the great master of T'ang Dynasty literature, whose pure and easy “ancient style,” free of outworn metaphors and allusions, had greatly impressed him. Eventually, his leadership and advocacy of that style paved the way for a new literary movement.
He passed the jinshi degree exam in 1030 on his third attempt at the age of 22, and was appointed to a minor office in Luoyang, the old Tang Dynasty eastern capital. While there, he found others with his interest in the ancient prose of Han Yu (Mote 1999). Politically, he was an early patron of the political reformer Wang Anshi ( 王安石), but later became one of his strongest opponents. At court, he was both much loved and deeply resented at the same time. He maintained his reputation as an independent thinker.
In 1034, he was appointed a collator of texts at the Imperial Academy in Kaifeng( 開封) where be became an associate of Fan Zhongyan ( 范仲淹), the prefect of Kaifeng. Two years later, Fan was banished after criticizing the Chief Councilor and submitting proposals for reform in promoting and demoting officials. Ouyang than submitted a critique of Fan’s principle critic at court. While he earned a demotion to Western Hubei (Mote 1999) for his efforts, he won praise as a principled official and this led to his being a central figure in the growing reform faction. While serving in a low judicial position in Hupeh and Hunan provinces, he wrote the Hsin Wu-tai shih (“New History of the Five Dynasties”), a history of a period of political chaos lasting through almost the entire tenth century. Ou-yang's strong sense of justice inspired him to devote special sections to political outcasts such as martyrs, rebels, and traitors.
Threats from the Liao Dynasty and Xi Xia in the north in 1040 caused Fan Zhongyan to come back into favor. He offered Ouyang a choice position on his staff. Ouyang’s refusal won him further praise as a principled public servant who was not willing to take advantage of connections (Mote 1999). Instead, Ouyang was brought to the court in 1041 to prepare an annotate catalogue of the Imperial library. In 1043, he became an imperial counselor. Together, Ouyang and Fan spurred the Qingli Reforms. Fan submitted a ten-point proposal addressing government organization. Among other things, these included increasing official salaries, enforcement of laws, eliminating favoritism, and the reform of examinations to focus on practical statecraft (Mote 1999). The reformers were only in ascendancy for two years before the emperor rescinded these decrees of what became known as the Minor Reform of 1043.
Fan and Ouyang were considered to have formed a faction, which by definition was deemed subversive to the government. Ouyang wrote an essay defending associations of gentlemen scholars, pointing out that Confucius himself said that good persons in society would naturally flock together in furtherance of their own goals (Mote 1999). His courage and forthrightness earned the respect of the emperor, Jen Tsung, and he was commissioned to record Jen Tsung's daily life and to draft edicts. His frank opinions and severe criticisms of others created many enemies, however, and in 1045 he was accused and tried for having had illicit relations with his niece many years before, a charge to which his romantic life, during his days in Lo-yang, lent support. Although he was finally acquitted, his reputation was seriously impaired. He was demoted to a succession of magistracies in the provinces. After serving briefly in Chuzhou, Anhui in 1049, he was recalled to the court to serve in an advisory capacity. However, the death of is mother in 1052 forced him to retire for more than two years to carry out his filial obligations.
After a term as defense commander of the southern capital of Kuei-te, in Honan Province, he was recalled to court and appointed a Hanlin Academy academician. He was also charged with heading the commission compiling the New Tang History (Hsin T'ang shu) a task not completed until 1060 (Mote 1999). He was also sent as Song ambassador to the Liao on annual visits, and in 1057 he was placed in charge of the jinshi examinations, working on improving them in the process. He favored those who wrote in the “ancient style,” but failed those who employed literary embellishments; disgruntled candidates attacked him for imposing his own ideas of literature on the traditional examination system. He survived this assault, and the literary style which he championed by him set a new course for Chinese literature. He praised and promoted brilliant young writers such as Wang Anshi and Su Tung-p'o.
When the “New History” was finished in 1060, he was rapidly promoted to the highest councils of state, leaving a remarkable record in social, financial, and military affairs. In the early 1060s, he was one of the most powerful men in court, holding the positions of Hanlin Academician, Vice Commissioner of Military Affairs, Vice Minister of Revenues and Assistant Chief Councilor concurrently (Mote 1999). Ouyang’s power aroused jealousy. Upon the ascension of the Shenzong emperor in in 1067, the name of Wang Anshi came to the attention of the emperor. Ouyang’s enemies had him charged with several crimes, including incest with his daughter-in-law. Though no one believed this charge credible, it still had to be investigated, causing him irreparable harm. Increasingly isolated in the capital, he repeatedly asked to be relieved of his responsibilities. Instead, the new emperor sent him to serve as magistrate successively in Anhwei, Shantung, and Honan.
In Shantung he refused to carry out the reforms of his former protégé, Wang Anshi, particularly a system of loans to farmers at a low interest rate. In 1071, he was retired, five years before the standard retirement age, with the title of Grand Preceptor of the Crown Prince. He intended to make his permanent home in beautiful Anhwei, the place of his Old Drunkard Pavilion (Ts'ui-weng T'ing), but within months he died, on September 22, 1072 .
In his prose works, Ouyang followed the example of Han Yu, promoting the Classical Prose Movement. While posted in Luoyang, Ouyang founded a group who made his “ancient prose” style a public cause. He was traditionally classed as one of the Eight Great Prose Masters of the Tang and Song. Among his most famous prose works is the Zuiweng Tingji (Regarding the Pavilion of The Old Drunkard: 醉翁亭记, a description of his pastoral lifestyle among the mountains, rivers and people of Chuzhou. The lyrical work is acclaimed as one of the highest achievements of Chinese travel writing).
Ouyang led the commission compiling the New Tang History, which completed its work in 1060. He also wrote a New History of the Five Dynasties on his own, following his official service. His style resembled that of the great Han Dynasty historian Sima Guang. He also focused on ethical considerations in historical analysis (Mote 1999).
As a historian, he has been criticized as being overly didactic, but he played an important role in establishing the use of epigraphy (the study of inscriptions) as a historiographic technique. Epigraphy, as well as the practice of calligraphy, figured in Ouyang's contributions to Confucian aesthetics. In his Record of the Eastern Study he describes how literary-minded gentlemen might utilize their leisure to nourish their mental state. The practice of calligraphy and the appreciation of associated art objects were integral to this Daoist-like transformation of intellectual life. He also composed the New History of the Five Dynasties and New Book of Tang in 1053 and 1060 respectively.
His poems are generally relaxed, humorous, and often self-deprecatory; he gave himself the title “The Old Drunkard.” He wrote both shi and ci. His shi are stripped-down to the essentials emphasized in the early Tang period, eschewing the ornate style of the late Tang. He is best known, however, for his ci. His series of ten poems entitled West Lake is Good, set to the tune Picking Mulberries, helped to popularize the genre as a vehicle for serious poetry.
Despite his success in his various endeavors, he did not accumulate great landholdings and wealth, and only his third son attained the highest jinshi degree (Mote 1999).
He died in 1072 in present day Fuyang, Anhui. His influence was so great that even opponents like Wang Anshi wrote moving tributes on his behalf, referring to him as the greatest literary figure of his age.
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