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Xiahou Xuan 夏侯玄

Jul 1, 2013 © Ulrich Theobald

Xiahou Xuan 夏侯玄 (208-254), courtesy name Taichu 太初, was a high official in the empire of Wei 曹魏 (220-265) during the Three Kingdoms period 三國 (220-280).

He was a son of general Xiahou Shang 夏侯尚 and inherited his title as Township Marquis of Changling 昌陵鄉侯. In the age of 20 sui he was appointed cavalier attendant gentleman of the Yellow Gate (sanji Huangmen shilang 散騎黃門侍郎) but was soon charged guilty because he had insulted Mao Ceng 毛曾, a younger brother of Empress Mao 毛后, consort of Emperor Ming 魏明帝 (r. 226-239 CE), who therefore degraded him to commandant in the Palace Guard (yulin jian 羽林監).

When Cao Shuang 曹爽 became regent under Emperor Cao Fang 曹芳 (r. 239-254) Xiahou Xian was again installed in his former posts and even promoted to cavalier attendant-in-ordinary (sanji changshi 散騎常侍) and army supervisor (zhonghujun 中護軍). Later on he was promoted to General Conquering the West (zhengxi jiangjun 征西將軍) and was entrusted with the military administration of the provinces of Yongzhou 雍州 (modern Shaanxi) and Liangzhou 涼州 (modern Gansu).

When General Sima Yi 司馬懿 assassinated Cao Shuang, Xiahou Xuan, Li Feng 李豐 and Zhang Qi 張緝 planned to kill the powerful military leader, but their conspiration was unveiled and the three were executed on the Eastern Market. Xiahou Xuan's family was extinguished for three generations (yi sanzu 夷三族).

Xiahou Xuan was known in his youth as one of the four "intelligent men" (sicong 四聰. The others were Zhuge Dan 諸葛誕, Deng Yang 鄧颺 and Tian Chou 田疇) of his age, and the bibliographer Yuan Hong 袁宏 (Mingshizhuan 名士傳) calls his name side by side with eminent Confucian scholars like He Yan 何晏 or Wan Bi 王弼.

The thinker Xiahou Xuan was an adherent of the School of the Mystery that flourished in the third century. He believed in Laozi's 老子 proposition that the universal "Way" (dao 道) took nature as a model, and accordingly everyone attempting to find the right way, had to find out the natural course of things. The sage therefore acted in accordance with nature. Xiahou Xuan believed in the theory of Dao's origin in a primordial "voidness" (wu 無) that was thought to be the origin of all ten thousand things.

Of his collected writings, nothing but a few fragments have survived.

Zhang Shunhui 張舜徽, ed. (1992). Sanguozhi cidian 三國志辭典 (Jinan: Shandong jiaoyu chubanshe), 342.
Gao Riguang 高日光 (1996). "Xiahou Xuan 夏侯玄", in xxx Zhuzi baijia da cidian 諸子百家大辭典 (Shenyang: Liaoning renmin chubanshe), 73.