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Persons in Chinese History - Wang Can 王粲

Periods of Chinese History
Wang Can 王粲 (177-217), courtesy name Zhongxuan 仲宣, was a writer and thinker of the late Eastern Han period 東漢 (25-220 CE) and one of the Seven Masters of the Jian'an reign period 建安七子. Wang Can is seen as the best of the Seven Masters, and his writings are rated as of equal quality as that of Cao Zhi 曹植. This is why both are occasionally mentioned together as the couple Cao-Wang 曹王. Wang Can hailed from Gaoping 高平 in the commandery of Shanyang 山陽 (today's Zouxian 鄒縣, Shandong) and was by the Confucian scholar Cai Yong 蔡邕 recommended for promotion. With the age of but 17 sui he was appointed Attendant of the Palace Gate (huangmen shilang 黃門侍郎). During the political turmoils of the decade he evaded the capital and went to Jingzhou 荊州 (central China), where he served the local powerholder Liu Biao 劉表. Later on he turned to the warlord Cao Cao 曹操 who made him clerk of the Counsellor-in-chief (chengxiang yuan 丞相掾) and then *director of strategic planning (junmou jijiu 軍謀祭酒). Emperor Wen 魏文帝 (r. 220-226) promoted him to the post of gentleman of the interior (shizhong 侍中) and bestowed on him the title of Marquis within the Passes (guanneihou 關內侯). Wang died during a military campaign to the southeast. Cao Zhi wrote an eulogy on him (Wang Zhongxuan lei 王仲宣誄).
As an intellectual of the time, Wang Can was of the opinion that mental tranquility (an shen 安身) as the most important good to achieve. It could be reached by giving up selfishness and by depending of frugality. All evils would be a product of egoism and greed. A person striving for selfish profit (zi si 自私) would not be able to perfect his self (cheng qi si 成其私), and greedy persons would not be able to appease their desires (ji qi yu 濟其欲). In this way, Wang Can combined Daoist simplicity and abstinence with the moral principles of Confucianism. Servants of the state would thus be subject to elegance and allegiance to superiors, and scholars would join cultivation with obedience to the law. Wang was convinced of his own talent, and in his essay Fang zhulian 仿連珠 compared himself with the ancient counsellor Guan Zhong 管仲.
Of the collected works of Wang Can, Wang Shizhong ji 王侍中集, only fragments survive that were collected by Zhang Pu 張溥 during the Ming period 明 (1368-1644). They include regular poems (shi 詩), rhapsodies (fu 賦) and prose writings. Some of his writings express the desire that the turbulent times of the day might end and the empire again become a united and strong units. The rhapsodies of Wang Can deviate from the conventional descriptive pattern of Han period rhapsodies and are written in a less didactic and more natural style. They can be compared to the early rhapsodies with their elegiac mood. The most important examples are Denglou fu 登樓賦 "Mounting the tower", Chuzheng fu 初征賦 "Setting out to war", Huai fu 槐賦 and Zhengsi fu 征思賦. Wang's prose writings belong to the excellent paradigms of Han period prose, like Anshen lun 安身論 "On calming the self" and Wuben lun 務本論 "On the root of things". His most important regular poem is Qi'ai shi 七哀詩 "The Seven Laments". Other important poems have the title Siqin shi 思親詩 or Congjun shi 從軍詩.
Among the lost writings are Qu fa lun ji 去伐論集 and the story collection Hanmo yingxiong ji 漢末英雄記.
A collection of his writings is also included in Yang Dezhou's 楊德周 Huike Jian'an qizi ji 彙刻建安七子集, Yu Shaochu's 俞紹初 Jian'an qizi ji 建安七子集 and Wu Yun's 吳雲 Jian'an zizi ji jiaozhu 建安七子集校注. A modern, annotated edition was published by the Zhongzhou guji press (1984), as Wang Can jizhu 王粲集注.


Sources: Xu Songchi 徐公持 (1986), "Wang Can 王粲", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo wenxue 中國文學 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 2, p. 881. ● Huang Banghe 黃邦和, Pi Mingxiu 皮明庥 (ed. 1987 ), Zhong-wai lishi renwu cidian 中外歷史人物詞典 (Changsha: Hunan renmin chubanshe), p. 27. ● Yi Xingguo 衣興國 (ed. 1988), Shiyong Zhongguo mingren cidian 實用中國名人辭典 (Changchun: Jilin wenshi chubanshe), p. 202. ● Jiang Feng 蔣風 (ed. 1990 ), Xinbian wen-shi-di cidian 新編文史地辭典 (Hangzhou: Zhejiang renmin chubanshe), p. 92. ● Chi Wenjun 遲文浚, Xu Zhigang 許志剛, Song Xulian 宋緒連 (ed. 1992), Lidai fu cidian 歷代賦辭典 (Shenyang: Liaoning renmin chubanshe), p. 1311. ● Li Binghai 李炳海 (1996), "Wang Can 王粲", in Feng Zhengke 馮克正, Fu Qingsheng 傅慶升 (ed.), Zhuzi baijia da cidian 諸子百家大辭典 (Shenyang: Liaoning renmin chubanshe), p. 69. ● Lin Fei 林非 (ed. 1997), Zhongguo sanwen da cidian 中國散文大辭典 (Zhengzhou: Zhongzhou guji chubanshe), p. 83.

June 1, 2016 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail
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