The Yanshi jiaxun 顏氏家訓 "Family instructions of Master Yan", shortly called Jiaxun 家訓, is a privately written book on a lot of philosophical topics. The 7 juan "scrolls" (today reduced to 2 juan) and 20 chapters long book was written by Yan Zhitui 顏之推 (531-591) with the intention to have it read as an educational handbook for his sons. Yan Zhitui, courtesy name Yan Jie 顏介, came from Linyi 臨沂 (nodern Linyi, Shandong) and obtained an excellent education by his father Yan Xie 顏勰 who had made some research on the Confucian Classics Zhouguan 周官 (Zhouli ) and Zuozhuan 左氏. With the age of twelve he became a disciple of Xiao Jiang 蕭絳, the Prince of Xiang 湘 of the Liang dynasty 梁 (502-557) who had become a Daoist. In 554 he was captured by the invading army of the Western Wei empire 西魏 (535-556) but managed to escape to the state of the Northern Qi 北齊 (550-577) from where he intended to return to his home in the south. But the Liang dynasty was in the meantime replaced by the Chen 陳 (557-589), and he could not do but stay in the north where he was able to obtain eminent offices under the Northern Qi, the Northern Zhou 北周 (557-581), and finally the Sui dynasty 隋 (581-618). He worked as a drafter in the Imperial Secretariat (zhongshu sheren 中書舍人), gentleman attendant at the palace gate (huangmen shilang 黃門侍郎) and governor (taishou 太守) of the commandery of Pingyuan 平原. Under the Northern Zhou he was 禦史上士, and under the Sui as a 學士 for the Heir Apparent.
Yan Zhitui had been educated in a Confucian manner and so became an expert in the various ritual and social obligations of the Confucian etiquette. Besides, he was also an excellent rider, a skill that was highly appreciated in his time. The 7 juan long book Yanshi jiaxun, finished in 589, was written as an instruction to his sons and grandsons, but except regulations for deportment in specified situations, the book also includes information on education in general, history, literature, linguistics, customs and habits and many aspects in contemporary society. The Yanshi jiaxun so provides a wide picture of life and activities of the upper class during the sixth century. Exiled in the north, the southerner Yan Zhitui displayed a refined taste in writing in the rugged northern environment. The book therefore became a very widespread text and a classic in private education. Later books on education like the anonymous Taigong jiajiao 太公家教 from the Tang period 唐 (618-907), Sima Guang's 司馬光 Jiafan 家範 from the Song period 宋 (960-1279), Sun Qifeng's 孫奇逢 Jiaozi jiaxun 教子家訓 from the Qing period 清 (1644-1911) or Zhu Bolu's 朱柏廬 Zhijia geyan 治家格言 are based on Yan Zhitui's book. The Yanshi jiaxun is also famous for its high literary quality.
In the author's eyes it was important that children started learning at an early point of time. Learning instead of hunting and gaming was the most important activity in life. For young children it was important to learn one skill perfectly, which would then be the base of one's life. Life was to be filled with a meaning (hui dang you ye 會當有業). The peasant had to plough the fields, the merchant to make profits, the craftsman to produce objects, the artist to train his skills, the warrior to use the bow and ride his horse, and the scholar to interpret the classic writings. Concerning marriage Yan Zhituo refused the aims at making financial profits by arranged marriage and stressed the importance to consider the reputation of a family instead.
Although educated in a traditional Confucian way, Yan Zhitui was a Buddhist believer, but also was a statesman with a good sense for practical politics. This flexibility is the reason why he found a job under each one of the different rulers. It was his experience in a time of trouble and final unification of the empire under the Sui that made him one of the most esteemed personalities of his time.
The most important commentaries are Wang Liqi's 王利器 Yanshi jiaxun jijie 顏氏家訓集解 and Zhou Fagao's 周法高 Yanshi jiaxun huizhu 顏氏家訓彙注. The Yanshi jiaxun is included in the reprint series Han-Wei congshu 漢魏叢書, Zhibuzuzhai congshu 知不足齋叢書, Baojingtang congshu 抱經堂叢書, Zishu baizhong 子書百種, Sibu congkan 四部叢刊 and Siku quanshu 四庫全書. The oldest surviving print dates from the Ming period 明 (1368-1644). There are also the Ming prints by Yan Ruhuai 顏如瓌, Yuan Zhibang 袁志邦 and Cheng Boxiang 程伯祥.
There is an English translation by Teng Ssu-yü (1968), Family Instructions for the Yen Clan. Leiden: Brill.
Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰 (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典, Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe, vol. 2, p. 1885.
Zhou Yiliang 周一良 (1992). "Yanshi jiaxun 顏氏家訓", in: Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史, vol. 3, p. 1367. Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe.
1. 序致 Xuzhi Introduction
2. 教子 Jiaozi Education of a son
3. 兄弟 Xiongdi Relationship among brothers
4. 後娶 Houqu Stepmother and stepbrothers
5. 治家 Zhijia Regulate your family
6. 風操 Fengcao Character and behaviour
7. 慕賢 Muxian Yearn for wisdom
8. 勉學 Mianxue Engage well in studies
9. 文章 Wenzhang Learn to write and to compose
10. 名實 Mingshi Make conform theory and practice
11. 涉務 Shewu Gain practical experience
12. 省事 Xingshi Be sparingly with words and deeds
13. 止足 Zhizu Be self-sufficient
14. 誡兵 Jiebing Study the art of war
15. 養生 Yangsheng Preserve your health
16. 歸心 Guixin Submit your heart to the righteous cause
17. 書證 Shuzheng Text sources for the Family Instructions
18. 音辭 Yinci Make sound your words
19. 雜藝 Zayi Miscellaneous arts (painting, shooting, divining, mathematics, medicine etc.)
20. 終制 Zhongzhi Complete the three-year mourning for your parents