An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Bu Shi 卜式

Sep 27, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald

Bu Shi 卜式 was a minister of the mid-Former Han period 前漢 (206 BCE-8 CE). He hailed from Henan 河南 (modern Luoyang 洛陽, Henan) and had made a fortune as a sheep breeder.

During the time when Emperor Wu 漢武帝 (r. 141-87 BCE) undertook several campaigns against the steppe federation of the Xiongnu 匈奴, Bu Shi submitted a memorial to the throne in which he offered to contribute funds for the borderland campaigns. While all other rich families tried hiding their money, Bu Shi was the only one freely offering his money to refill the purse of the government. He also presented 200,000 of cash to the governor of Henan that he wanted to be distributed among landless people.

Emperor Wu thereupon offered him the post of a gentleman of the interior (langzhong 郎中), but the benefactor refused to take over a post in the central government. As an alternative, Emperor Wu conferred upon him the task to supervise the grazing ground in the imperial park of Shanglin 上林苑. After less than one year the expertise of Bu Shi had made the imperial herd fat and healthy. Bu Shi thereupon explained to the emperor that it was his task to make the people likewise full and content.

Another story says that when the Southern Yue 南越 rebelled and the Western Qiang 羌 invaded the borderlands, Bu Shi asked that his family might serve in the army marching against the rebels. Emperor Wu rewarded him with the post of magistrate (ling 令) of Houshi 緱氏 and then counsellor to the Prince of Qi 齊. Bu Shi proved to be an excellent manager of local administration and was bestowed the title of Marquis within the Passes 關內侯.

Later on he was promoted to the office of Censor-in-chief (yushi dafu 御史大夫). His critical stance towards the state monopoly on the marketization of salt made him less highly estimated by the emperor, and he was transferred to the purely honorific office of Grand Mentor of the Heir Apparent (taizi taifu 太子太傅).

Cang Xiuliang 倉修良, ed. (1996). Hanshu cidian 漢書辭典 (Jinan: Shandong jiaoyu chubanshe), 6.
Zhang Ke 張克, Huang Kangbo 黃康白, Huang Fangdong 黃方東, ed. (1991). Shiji renwu cidian 史記人物辭典 (Nanning: Guangxi renmin chubanshe), 416.