An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Zhong Yao 鍾繇

Jan 5, 2016 © Ulrich Theobald

Zhong Yao 鍾繇 (151-230), courtesy name Yuanchang 元常, was a high official of the early Wei period 曹魏 (220-265), and a famous calligrapher.

He hailed from Changshe 長社 in Yingchuan 穎川 (today's Changge 長葛, Henan) and was recommended as a filial and incorrupt person (xiaolian 孝廉), and appointed secretarial court gentleman (shangshu lang 尚書郎) and then magistrate (ling 令) of Yangling 陽陵. After a break due to illness he was appointed supervisor of law enforcement (tingwei zheng 廷尉正), then gentleman attendant at the palace gate (huangmen shilang 黃門侍郎).

When Emperor Xian 漢獻帝 (r. 189-220) fled from Chang'an 長安 Zhong Yao belonged to the imperial train, and was appointed palace aide to the Censor-in-chief (yushi zhongcheng 御史中丞), later palace attendant (shizhong 侍中) and Vice Director of the Imperial Secretariat (shangshu puye 尚書僕射), and then granted the title of neighbourhood marquis of Dongwu 東武亭侯.

When the warlord Cao Cao 曹操 took over the regency of the empire, Zhong Yao was again made palace attendant, then metropolitan commandant (sili xiaowei 司隸校尉) and commanded the troops protecting the metropolitan region around Chang'an. In this function he settled down landless people who had fled their home villages during the years of turmoil. For his careful administration Cao Cao praised him as the "Xiao He of the day" (Xiao He 蕭何 had been the first Counsellor of the Han dynasty), and had him appointed Chamberlain for Law Enforcement (dali 大理), then Counsellor-in-chief (xiangguo 相國).

When Cao Pi 曹丕 ( Emperor Wen of the Wei 魏文帝, r. 220-226), Cao Cao's son, proclaimed himself emperor, Zhong Yao was given the title of Defender-in-chief (taiwei 太尉), and given the title of Marquis of Pingyang Village 平陽鄉侯. Emperor Ming 魏明帝 (r. 226-239 CE) promoted him to Marquis of Dingling 定陵侯 and gave him the honorific title of Grand Mentor (taifu 太傅).

Zhong's posthumous title is Marquis Cheng 定陵成侯.

His calligraphy was inspired by earlier masters as Cao Xi 曹喜, Cai Yong 蔡邕 and Liu Desheng 劉德昇. Zhong picked out the strength from these masters and refined their methods and styles, particularly in the chancery script (lishu 隸書) and the standard script (kaishu 楷書). He was often compared with the Jin period 晉 (265-420) calligrapher Wang Xizhi 王羲之 (called Zhong-Wang 鍾王). No original calligraphy has survived, but a few pieces are transmitted as copies in calligraphy models. These are calligraphic interpretations of the texts Xuanshi biao 宣示表, Hejie biao 賀捷表 and Jian Jizhi biao 薦季直表.

Zhang Shunhui 張舜徽, ed. (1992). Sanguozhi cidian 三國志辭典 (Jinan: Shandong jiaoyu chubanshe), 663.