An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Wang Dao 王導

Jun 30, 2018 © Ulrich Theobald

Wang Dao 王導 (276-339), courtesy name Maohong 茂弘, was a high minister of the Eastern Jin period 東晉 (317-420). He hailed from Linyi 臨沂 (today in Shandong) in the princedom of Langya 琅琊 and belonged to an influential family with members like Grand Guardian (taibao 太保, see Three Dukes) Wang Xiang 王祥 (184-268) and the philosopher Wang Yan 王衍 (256-311).

During the rebellion of the Eight Princes, Wang Dao belonged to the military staff of Sima Yue 司馬越, the Prince of Donghai 東海 and so made the acquaintance of Sima Rui 司馬睿, Prince of Langya and the eventual Emperor Yuan 晉元帝 (r. 318-323), founder of the Eastern Jin. Wang Dao suggested to Sima Rui to leave the capital Luoyang 洛陽 (today in Henan) and return to his own estate in the east. Wang took over the military defense of Xiapi 下邳 (today's Suining 睢寧, Jiangsu).

In 305, regent Sima Yue launched a military campaign in north China and ordered Sima Rui to protect his residence in Jianye 建業 (today's Nanjing 南京, Jiangsu). In this function, Sima Rui had the supreme command of the armies of whole southern China, with the provinces of Yangzhou 揚州, Jiangzhou 江州, Xiangzhou 湘州, Jiaozhou 交州 and Guangzhou 廣州. At that time, Wang Dao was a highly trusted advisor of the Prince.

Yet the standing of Sima Rui in the southeastern region was not easy. He had to deal with the local gentry and it was not easy to cooperate with influential families like the powerful Gu 顧, Lu 陸, Zhu 朱, Zhang 張, Shen 沈 or Zhou 周 who despised the northern "countrymen" (cangfu 傖父) – particularly the refugees which sought shelter from the disturbances in the north. The arrogance of the southern magnates (see menfa 門閥) went so far that the regional inspector (cishi 刺史) of Jiangzhou, Hua Yi 華軼, ignored the orders of the Prince.

Wang Dao, in the function of Commander appeasing the east (andong sima 安東司馬) and his cousin Wang Dun 王敦 (266-324), the new regional inspector of Yangzhou, therefore tried to systematically build a common basis of confidence between the local elite and the Prince. Wang's own staff consisted exclusively of persons from the north, but he urged the Prince to establish close contacts with the southern elite and to win their hearts. On the 3rd day of the 3rd lunar month, xxx 修稧, the Prince toured the country and paid a visit to the most influential families. Wang Dao himself and his staff accompanied the Prince and so increased his retinue and stressed his importance. During his visit, the Prince invited his hosts to participate in administrative affairs. Gu Rong 顧榮 (d. 312) and He Xun 賀循 (260-319) responded positively, and recommended Ji Zhan 紀瞻 (253-324), Zhou Qi 周玘 (258-313) and Zhang Kai 張闓 xxx. In this way, Wang Dao had helped the Prince to win the acceptance of the southern gentry. The latter would eventually support Sima Rui when he took over the throne.

Wang Dao was during that time governor (taishou 太守) of Danyang 丹楊 and bore the title of General supporting the state (fuguo jiangjun 輔國將軍), later that of General appeasing distant regions (anyuan jiangjun 寧遠將軍).

In 317, after Emperor Min 晉愍帝 (r. 313-316) had been killed by the Xiongnu 匈奴 chieftain Liu Yao 劉曜 (d. 329), Sima Rui adopted the title of Prince of Jin 晉. The public was aware of the role which Wang Dao played for the Prince, and therefore gave him the honorific designation Zhongfu 仲父. A popular saying was "the Wangs and the Simas keep together the empire" (Wang yu Ma, gong tianxia 王與馬,共天下).

Sima Rui made Wang Dao Counsellor-in-chief (chengxiang 丞相) and *libationer-advisor of the army (junzi jijiu 軍咨祭酒, i.e. junshi jijiu 軍師祭酒). In 318, the Prince adopted the title of emperor, and Wang Dao was given the titles of General-in-chief of cavalry (piaoji da jiangjun 驃騎大將軍), with the epithet "unequaled in honour" (yitong sansi 儀同三司), and was bestowed the title of nobility of Marquis of Wugang 武岡侯.

Wang Dao's cousin Wang Dun, who held high positions in the local government and the military administration in central China (as regional inspector of Jingzhou 荊州), decided in 322 to turn against the Jin dynasty. Liu Wei 劉隗 (273-333) therefore suggested to the emperor to extinguish the house of Wang. In order to avoid this disaster, Wang Dao took two dozen of male relatives with him and each morning, when the court audience began, humbly asked for pardon for the rebellion of his cousin. Sima Rui accepted and spared him and on his deathbed even made Wang Dao regent for his young successor Emperor Ming 晉明帝 (r. 323-325). Victory over Wang Dun even yielded for Wang Dao the title of Commandery Duke of Shixing 始興郡公.

Wang Dao continued his regency after Emperor Ming's passing away– together with Yu Liang 庾亮 (289-340), the uncle of Emperor Cheng 晉成帝 (325-342). The functions which Wang Dao held were palace attendant (shizhong 侍中), Minister of Works (sikong 司空, actually a honorific title), commander commissioned with a warrant (jiajie 假節), supervisor of the imperial secretaries (lu shangshu shi 錄尚書事), and Secretarial Supervisor (zhongshujian 中書監), from 322 Director of the Imperial Secretariat (shangshu ling 尚書令) and Minister of Education (situ 司徒).

In 328, Su Jun 蘇峻 (d. 328) rose in rebellion and conquered the capital. After the suppression of their uprising, Wen Jiao 溫嶠 (288-329) suggested to transfer the capital to Yuzhang 豫章 (today's Nanchang 南昌, Jiangxi), while others opted for Guiji 會稽 (Shaoxing 紹興, Zhejiang). Yet Wang Dao insisted of not transferring the imperial capital in order to bring back peace and stability. He held the highest military command (dudu zhongwai zhujun shi 都督中外諸軍事) and was given the highest honorific title of Grand Mentor (taifu 太傅).

Wang Dao was known as a modest, sincere and cooperative person. The survival of the Jin dynasty in times of hardship was not the least Wang Dao's merit. It is said he was excellent in "pure talks" (qingtan 清談), the philosophical discourses of the time, and advocated the "three principles" (sanli 三理), namely a voice not expressing lament nor joy (sheng wu ai le 聲無哀樂), nourish your life (yangsheng 養生), and to use language to express thoughts precisely and coherently (yan jin yi 言盡意, a concept introduced by Ouyang Jian 歐陽建, 268-300). Like Ouyang Jian, Wang Dao was critical towards the ivory-tower discussions of the "School of the Mystery" (xuanxue 玄學) and argued that their talks were "not useful in the present age" (kong fei dang jin suo yi 恐非當今所宜).

Even if it was common during that time to select officials according to their family status (see nine-rank system), Wang Dao laid great stress on education. Learning was the fundament for every talent (qu cai yong shi, xian xian ben zhi yu xue 取才用士,咸先本之于學).

Of Wang Dao’s writings with a length of 11 juan, only four short texts have survived.

His posthumous title was Wenxiangong 文獻公 "The Cultured-Dedicated".

Chen Ying 陳瑛, Xu Qixian 許啟賢, ed. (1989). Zhongguo lunli da cidian 中國倫理大辭典 (Shenyang: Liaoning renmin chubanshe), 57.
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), 17.
Huang Huixian 黃惠賢, ed. (1997). Ershiwushi renming da cidian 二十五史人名大辭典 (Zhengzhou: Zhongzhou guji chubanshe), Vol. 1, 146.
Li Binghai 李炳海 (1996). "Wang Dao 王導", in Feng Kezheng 馮克正, Fu Qingsheng 傅慶升, ed. Zhuzi baijia da cidian 諸子百家大辭典 (Shenyang: Liaoning renmin chubanshe), 86.
Xiong Tieji 熊鐵基, Yang Youli 楊有禮, ed. (1994). Zhongguo diwang zaixiang cidian 中國帝王宰相辭典 (Wuhan: Hubei jiaoyu chubanshe), 570.
Yang Tingfu 楊廷福 (1992). "Wang Dao 王導", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 3, 1190.
Jiaoyu da cidian bainzuan weiyuanhui 《教育大辭典》編纂委員會, ed. (1992). Jiaoyu da cidian 教育大辭典, Part 9, Zhongguo gudai jiaoyu shi 中國古代教育史 (Shanghai: Shanghai jiaoyu chubanshe), Vol. 2, 207.
Zhang Huizhi 張撝之, Shen Qiwei 沈起煒, Liu Dezhong 劉德重, ed. (1999). Zhongguo lidai renming da cidian 中國歷代人名大辭典 (Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe), Vol. 1, 95.