An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Yu Liang 庾亮

Jul 1, 2018 © Ulrich Theobald

Yu Liang 庾亮 (289-340), courtesy name Yuangui 元規, was a high minister of the Eastern Jin period 東晉 (317-420) and served several young emperors as regent. His family hailed from Yanling 鄢陵 (today in Henan) in the commandery of Yingchuan 潁川. Yu Liang was the older brother of Yu Wenjun 庾文君, the consort of Emperor Ming 晉明帝 (r. 322-325), and older brother of Yu Bing 庾冰 (296-344) and Yu Yi 庾翼 (305-345).

He was at first secretary of the western section (xicao yuan 西曹掾 of Sima Rui 司馬睿, the eventual founder of the Eastern Jin dynasty (Emperor Yuan 晉元帝, r. 317-322), and was at good terms with the Heir Apparent, his brother-in-law. When the latter ascended to the throne, Yu Liang was appointed Secretarial Supervisor (zhongshu jian 中書監), yet because he was at odds with the Director of the Imperial Secretariat (shangshu ling 尚書令), Wang Dun 王敦 (266-324), he declined.

In 325, he took over the Secretariat and acted as co-regent with Wang Dao 王導 (276-339) for the six-sui old Emperor Cheng 晉成帝 (r. 325-342). Yu's sister, Empress Dowager Yu 庾太后, supervised the court audiences (linchao 臨朝), but affairs were decided by Yu Liang. He was thus one of the important kinsmen of empresses (waiqi 外戚) of the Jin period. He held the noble title of Neighbourhood Marquis of Duting 都亭侯.

Under Liang's regency, the central government tried systematically to counterbalance the two Wangs. Wang Dun thereupon rose in rebellion but was defeated by Su Jun 蘇峻 (d. 328), who in turn was rewarded with high military commands. In this way, Yu Liang had created a new danger for the central government, and tried to deprive Su Jun of his military strengh. In 327, Su allied with Zu Yue 祖約 (d. 330) and turned against the dynasty. The two rebels sacked the capital Jiankang 建康 (today's Nanjing 南京, Jiangsu) and forced the court to flee to Xunyang 尋陽 (Jiujiang 九江, Jiangxi). Yu Liang called for the support of generals Wen Jiao 溫嶠 (288-329) and Tao Kan 陶侃 (259-334), who defeated the two insurgents.

In order to avoid discourses about his competence, Yu Liang decided to leave the court and took over the position of regional inspector (cishi 刺史) of the province of Yuzhou 豫州, but resided in Wuhu 蕪湖 not far from the capital.

After Tao Kan's death, Yu Liang took over the command of the armies of six provinces of central and western China. He planned to attack Wang Dao from Wuchang 武昌 (Echeng 鄂城, Hubei), but general Xi Jian 郗鑒 (269-339) warned him to do so, to avoid new turmoils.

The death of the Jie 羯-Xiongnu 匈奴 leader Shi Le 石勒 (r. 319-333), ruler of the Later Zhao 後趙 (319-350) empire, seemed to offer a chance to reconquer northern China, but again, Xi Jian resisted a large-scale campaign.

With the death of Wang Dao in 339, Yu Liang returned into the central government and took over the nominal posts of Minister of Education (situ 司徒), regional inspector of Yangzhou 揚州 and supervisor of the imperial secretaries (lu shangshu shi 錄尚書事). Liang himself did not acceed to the respective positions, but had his brother Yu Bing made Secretarial Supervisor.

Yu's posthumous honorific title is Marquis Wenkang 文康侯 "The Civilized-Strong". He was posthumously conferred the prestigious title of Defender-in-chief (taiwei 太尉).

Yu Liang was famous for his expertise in philosophical discourses and supported the flourishing of the Daoist "School of the Mystery" (xuanxue 玄學). Even if his political thought was traditionally Confucian in deploring the social disorder of his times, Yu Liang admired the aim of seeking the mystery of the world and the way to become a "perfect man" (zhiren 至人). Zhong Rong 鐘嶸 (d. 518), author of the poetry critique Shipin 詩品, linkened the "outbalanced measure" (pingdian 平典) of Yu's writings with the He Yan's 何晏 (190-249) Daodelun 道德論.

His inclination to Confucianism can be seen in his comparison of rites and ceremonies (li yi 禮義) with the funcamental function of the city moat, his lament that the Shijing 詩經 "Book of Songs" and the Shangshu 尚書 "Book of Documents" were in disorder, and his will to elucidate rites, ritual music, and schooling.

Yu's biography says he had written books with a size of 21 juan, but not much survives of his collected writings Jin Taiwei Yu Liang ji 晉太尉庾亮集. His memorial Rang zhongshu ling biao 讓中書令表 is included in the anthology Wenxuan 文選, and his Confucian commentary Shi dianji Kongzi wen 釋典祭孔子文 in the Tang-period 唐 (618-907) encylcopaedia Yiwen leiju 藝文類聚. Of his poems in the "mysterious style" (xuanyanshi 玄言詩), not a single one is preserved.

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