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A Portrait of Five Dynasties ChinaFrom the Memoirs of Wang Renyu (880-956)$

Glen Dudbridge

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199670680

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199670680.001.0001

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(p.192) Appendix A Li Fang’s Spirit Road Epitaph for Wang Renyu1

(p.192) Appendix A Li Fang’s Spirit Road Epitaph for Wang Renyu1

A Portrait of Five Dynasties China
Oxford University Press

(p.192) Appendix A

Li Fang’s Spirit Road Epitaph for Wang Renyu1

Twenty-five years since the August Song opened its glorious destiny, in the ninth year of succession by the Emperor Duly Destined, World Ruling, Wise in Culture, Valorous in War, Most Sage, Most Enlightened, Totally Filial,2 in the month after he performed the Suburban Sacrifice for the third time,3 [Wang] Yongxi 永錫, Assistant in the Palace Library and grandson of the late Master Wang of Taiyuan 太原, honorary4 Junior Preceptor of the Heir Apparent, bearing the career records of his eminent ancestor, addressed these words of lament to Li Fang 李昉 of Zhaojun 趙郡:

This my grandfather was renowned for generations as a man of wisdom, his service extended through several regimes, his seniority in office reached the second grade, he enjoyed the respect of the highest dignitaries, he maintained the finest standards of the Grand Secretariat. It is now nigh on thirty years since he passed away. Although his earthen grave is already established in the ancestral village, no carved plinth yet graces his fresh tomb. Mindful of the changes that come to pass in human affairs, causing name and renown to fade away—something in which the service of ancestors then falls short—I wish to set truly on record his worthy example, that his name may pass down in all perpetuity.

Honoured with this request by Pengqiu 蓬邱, [I, Li] Fang feel gratitude for my teacher’s gracious kindness in past times.5 Composing such prose is truly not the same as literary self-indulgence, and praising virtue is certainly not something to be tactfully avoided.6 And so, with all humble respect, I take up a brush and record the following:

(p.193) The ancestry of the Wangs is of distant origin. They maintained the lofty distinction of Goushi Mountain 緱氏山,7 matched the spiritual leadership of the River Huai 淮水.8 Some were renowned for their Confucian culture, some celebrated for the achievements of their family founders. Each generation added new lustre, nor did any lack worthy men. Pre-eminent among them was our Master, a potent symbol of human excellence. His given name was Renyu 仁裕, his style Denian 德輦. His forebears were of Taiyuan, but in a later generation migrated to Qin and Long 秦隴. Now they are natives of Tianshui 天水.9

During childhood years he lost the loving care of both parents and was raised to maturity by an elder brother and his wife. The Tang era had brought chaos and grief, acutely so in the region west of the pass. The traditions of ancestral sacrifice were lost and forgotten. Lacking the discipline of teachers and friends, he occupied himself solely with hunting and amusement. At the age of twenty-five he had not the slightest knowledge of book learning. But then he dreamed that his belly was laid open and his bowels washed clean, and he also perceived that the pebbles in the West River 西江 all had writing on them. In his dream he picked them up and swallowed them. And when he awoke his mental faculties had opened up to insight. He now eagerly exerted himself, begging his junior uncle for instruction in the Confucian scriptures. With one reading of the Songs and the Documents it was as though he were already familiar with them. Whenever there were deep and recondite points of interpretation he could write about them fluently and without need of correction. Within a year or more he had composed above twenty rhapsodies, with a strong grasp of the subtleties of portrayal. In consequence he was praised and respected far and wide in the local area.

The military commissioner of Qin zhou, [Li] Jichong 李繼崇 of the Longxi 隴西 line,10 came to hear of him and with courtesy of letter and gift summoned him as a retainer. Now came the time when the Wangs seized power and took possession of the two Chuan 川 commands.11 Longyou 隴右, on the frontier, was then cut off, and our Master consequently entered [the court of] Shu.12 He served under a series of high regional commanders and in succession became Director of the Bureau of Review under the usurper’s Department of State Affairs, Drafter in the Secretariat, Scholar in the Hanlin Academy.

Wang Yan 王衍, the Later Ruler of Shu, loved literature and excelled in shi poetry. [Our Master] was the object of his special intimacy. Hardly a day passed without their feasting, socializing and versifying together. But the Later Ruler’s addiction to pleasure grew daily more serious; good government and instruction were much damaged. Our Master repeatedly set forth principled advice, did whatever loyalty and integrity (p.194) required, but once that close relationship was broken no rescue was possible, and with ceremonial bearing of the coffin [Shu’s] surrender was accepted.13

Upon the fall of Shu he entered the court [of Later Tang] and was appointed Administrative Assistant to the Military Commissioner of the Xiongwu 雄武 [Army].14 With the familiar surroundings and social delights of his old village, ‘the pleasure of going home’ did indeed ‘satisfy his desire’.15 Once his appointment came to term he returned to his country home in Hanyang,16 intending to end his days there. He composed a collection of five hundred poems entitled Home to the hills (Gui shan ji 歸山集) in five juan as an expression of his true purpose. But before long Master Wang Sitong 王思同, the chief commander of Nanliang 南梁,17 prevailed upon him on the strength of their long friendship to accept an appointment. A privy memorial [to the throne] secured for him the post of Administrative Assistant to the Military Commissioner of Xingyuan 興元. He had no choice but to accept the commission, even though this was not his own true purpose.

When [Wang Sitong] became regent of Haojing 鎬京,18 [Wang Renyu] served as Counsellor to the Regent. At this time the Prince of Lu 潞王, military commissioner of Qi 岐,19 had possession of strong fortresses and was aiming at dynastic rebellion. He covertly sent a secret agent for the purpose of joining forces with Wang [Sitong]. Wang was in a state of indecision, uncertain whether or not to agree, acutely troubled by hesitation and doubt. He summoned Master [Wang Renyu] to discuss what to do. The Master said: ‘We should serve our ruler with total loyalty and our father with total filial duty. How can you abandon the principles of loyalty and filial duty?’ Master Wang [Sitong] rose abruptly to his feet with the words, ‘I will lay down my life for the royal house!’ Upon which he put the Qiyang 岐陽 emissary20 to death and rushed to the posting station to submit a memorial of loyal rectitude and upright sentiment. All who heard of this judged him to be high-minded. But presently the royal armies changed sides and paid allegiance to the Prince of Lu as their leader. Master Wang [Sitong] did indeed die in that emergency,21 and the same fate befell even his officers.

The Prince of Lu sent out an order that anyone who captured Wang [Renyu] should not kill him. So he was brought alive into military custody. The Prince of Lu had long heard of the Master’s reputation and was delighted to meet him face to face. He fully entrusted to him all duties of documentary drafting. The Master made this personal declaration: ‘It was with my encouragement that my commander rejected your pact. (p.195) I beg to be put in the cooking pot, and hope to die soon.’ His words were frank, and his looks severe. The Prince of Lu thought this a stalwart performance. He had him ride in the rear carriage, following the imperial war chariot. All instructions, regulations, decrees and edicts issued from Wang’s hand. When a prior announcement was needed to reassure the capital city, [Wang] composed it impromptu on the spot. Reading it through, the Prince of Lu gave its content the highest praise.

When [the Prince] came to the throne22 [Wang Renyu] prepared to ascend to the solemn interior of the Jade Hall, to serve as counsellor in the Proclamation Chamber, but was promptly excluded by the privy ministers and sent out as commissioner’s agent in Wei‐Bo 魏博. His appointment was changed to administrative assistant at Bian zhou 汴州.23 Some months later he was summoned to take the office of Director of the Criminal Administration Bureau within the Department of State Affairs. He was called to the Hanlin Academy and became a Scholar, a recognition of his previous service.

When dynastic power first passed to the Jin he resumed his original office, then had a slight promotion to be Director of the Left Office [of the Department of State Affairs], then in turn became Left Grand Master of Remonstrance, Supervising Secretary and Left Policy Advisor.

Towards the end of the Jin dynasty powerful officials took control, and dynastic governance was shared among many. There was a succession of poor harvests, as well as incessant warfare. Territory and land were forcibly occupied by regional warlords, while neither ritual and musical leadership nor military action came forth from the Emperor. The Master grieved that good order had fallen into destruction and disarray. He submitted papers and documents setting forth advice. Repeatedly he bowed before the palace gates to offer the strongest possible views on current affairs.24 But when a river breaks out in spate it cannot be blocked in with handfuls of soil; once a great tree has toppled it cannot be controlled with a single rope. So it came to pass that barbarian forces flared up fiercely,25 and the sacred vessels of Jin then changed hands. He had no way to act upon the sound principles in his breast: it is truly heartbreaking to read his valedictory address to the throne.

Gao zu of the Han, in obedience to the Trinity’s loving decree, saved the world from its desperate plight.26 No sooner had he mounted the throne than China was at peace. A month after taking control of the Empire he appointed the Master vice-minister in the Ministry of Revenue under the Department of State Affairs, to serve as Academician with Imperial Remit.27 The following year he received an appointment within the Imperial residence, taking charge of the examinations. On the day that his notice of appointment came through, general opinion was unanimous that now the most deeply learned, even among orphans and common folk, would all achieve (p.196) careers. His examination service at an end, he was transferred to be Minister of Revenue, with the Imperial Remit as before. The following year he was released from those duties on grounds of ill health, and then made Minister of War.

When Tai zu of Zhou came to the throne28 [Wang Renyu] advanced to become Junior Guardian of the Heir Apparent, in honour of his celebrated worthiness and in recognition of his long-standing virtue.

In the third year of Xiande 顯德, on the 19th day of the seventh month,29 he died in his sickbed at his private residence in the Eastern Capital’s 東京 Baoji Ward 寶積坊. He was aged 77 years. The court was suspended and funeral allowances were bestowed, all in accordance with superior grades of ritual. By imperial decree he received the posthumous title Junior Preceptor to the Heir Apparent.

The first day of the eighth month that same year30 was the date selected for his temporary burial in Chizhong Village 持中村, Kaifeng County. In the seventh year of Kaibao of the Great Song, on the 18th of the third month,31 with the powerful protection of the Imperial Library,32 his coffined body was returned for burial in Changdao 長道 County, Qin zhou,33 where he received the first ancestral sacrifice in his forebears’ graveyard. This fulfilled what he had always intended.

[Wang] Yue 約, Administrative Supervisor in Yang zhou 洋州 [prefecture], was the Master’s great grandfather. [Wang] Yifu 義甫, Administrative Assistant on the Cheng zhou 成州 [military commissioner’s] staff and posthumously Vice-Director of State Farms, was the Master’s late grandfather. [Wang] Shi 實, Administrative Supervisor in Jie zhou 階州 [prefecture] and posthumously Junior Mentor of the Heir Apparent, was the master’s late father. Lady Yuan 元, Countess of Henan, was the Master’s late mother. Yang 楊 of Hengnong 恒農 was the Master’s former wife and Lady Ouyang 歐陽, Countess of Bohai 渤海, his later wife. Both predeceased the Master.

[Wang] Renwen 仁溫, Surveillance Circuit Judge on the Qin zhou [military commissioner’s] staff, and [Wang] Renlu 仁魯, Granaries Section Administrator in Qin zhou [prefecture], were the Master’s two elder brothers. [Wang] Fugui 傅珪, Administrative Assistant on the Cheng zhou [military commissioner’s] staff, and [Wang] Fupu 傅璞, Magistrate of Changdao County in Qin zhou, are the Master’s two sons. The wife of Dang Chongjun 黨崇俊, Collator, the wife of Liu Xiang 劉湘, Assistant Director of Palace Administration, and the wife of Xue Sheng 薛昇 of Hedong 河東 are the Master’s three daughters. [Wang] Quanxi 全禧, Magistrate of Xichang 西昌 in Mian zhou 綿州, and [Wang] Yongxi, Assistant in the Palace Library, are the Master’s two grandsons.

The Master kept the energies of heaven and earth in harmony together. He enjoyed a great reputation for literary composition. His good faith and righteousness were applied to all his friends, his humanity and filial service extended to all his kin. Never, (p.197) from one year’s end to another, was the sound of cursing heard in his ladies’ chambers, nor throughout his life did servants feel the lash of rod or whip. There we can see what kind of man he was. Whenever time was right and place was fair he would lead out his pupils and call in his companions to enjoy pipes and strings at the front, zithers at the back. On one side he kept his writing equipment, on the other his drinking vessels. Contented and happy, he never let family matters concern him. No-one in his generation could rival his open mind and lofty disposition. Composition of prose and poetry was his particular strength—he could versify on any subject from travelling to women’s chambers. His brilliance in music and skill in calendrical astronomy could likewise not be equalled.

Some time ago, when he was in charge of the Examination Schools, a total of twenty-three candidates achieved the jinshi degree,34 and at that time there were [among them] the late Master Wang Pu 王溥, Junior Preceptor of the Heir Apparent and minister of State;35 Xu Zhongxuan 許仲宣, currently Left Grand Master of Remonstrance in the Chancellery and Administrative Assistant in the Tax Bureau;36 and Master Li Yun 李惲, Minister of Revenue.37 All would earn fine reputations and rise to the highest levels of government. But it was Master Wang [Pu] the Junior Preceptor who held the very highest renown of the age and rose to occupy the top grade. Within five years his position had reached the level of first minister. I myself, coarse and ignorant as I am, was also among those mustered: in the Jade Hall I was given seniority among literary officials, in the Yellow Tower (huang ge 黃閣) I assisted the highest ministers. To be there when a sage can be met—what a boundlessly fortunate conjunction that is! To be born from the egg and then grow wings—how can this be repaid in years of maturity? Those others who rose to the Censorate or the Department of State Affairs, who at court moved within the offices of Remonstrance, or at large served on the staff of regional governors—they were all famous scholars of the age.

The works he wrote during his lifetime—The Qinting compilation;38 The Jin River collection; Account of a journey to Luo[yang]; the collection Home to the hills; Account of a journey to the South; A journey to the South-east, Collected writings under imperial seal; One hundred poems on China and the Barbarians; The West River collection—amounted to 685 chapters. But he also composed Explanations and verifications of hexagrams in the Zhou Yi, in three chapters; twenty-two rotating mirror inscriptions; poems and rhapsodies [written] as diagrams.39 All are handed down in transmission. In recent times [Bo] Letian 白樂天40 alone could match the quantity of his writings and the breadth of their circulation.

(p.198) Woe indeed! He ranked among the Three Solitaries,41 his renown spread far within the Four Seas. He enjoyed a length of years to rival the Duke of Zhou,42 he inherited the teaching model of Confucius himself.43 He kept an illustrious reputation to the end of his days and might be said to have received a full measure of blessings. Yet he lived in an age of chaos, not in a time of prosperity. In vain was his mind full of plans for high national policy: the living souls received no succour or peace. This was not due to anything regrettable on the Master’s part: it was the misfortune of his times.

From my humble background [I, Li] Fang have risen high, and heavy responsibilities lie upon me. As I fill a position in the solemn temple, how can I be forgetful of where I came from? The pattern of all fine writing and excellence lies with him and with no other. Where will that valiant spirit, in fear and trembling, have settled now? The grass on his tomb will spread and flourish for all time. Shedding tears, I wield the brush to write this inscription:

  • Magnificent, our Junior Preceptor!
  • In life he cleaved to spiritual power.
  • Not before five-and-twenty
  • Did he embark on literary study.
  • His bowels were washed within a dream,
  • And swallowed pebbles displayed a miracle.
  • The writings of ancient sages
  • He memorized with one reading.
  • While the fortunes of Tang declined and came to rest,
  • His huge renown spread far and wide.
  • Within the Four Seas disorder prevailed,
  • And the Nine Provinces fell into disarray.
  • Rites and music collapsed in ruins,
  • Civilized letters were totally cut off,
  • If the stream had no bridge,
  • If the boat had no oar,
  • Who could make the crossing?
  • It was our Junior Preceptor alone.
  • Using his mighty brush to create fine writing,
  • He towered above his times.
  • A royal writ registered him eligible for service,
  • And he practised management, undertook official duties,
  • A model for the ruling elite,
  • A guiding example in scholarship.
  • (p.199) The most virile talent of his age,
  • With a fine reputation in seven royal courts,
  • He was active among the Nine Ranks of officials,
  • And moved among the Three Corps of gentlemen.
  • Achieving exalted rank through civilized letters,
  • He was not lacking in recognition.
  • Adorning himself with virtue,
  • He could attract unseen support at all times.
  • Sincere in his generosity to others,
  • He kept a mild temperament within.
  • Leading his own life with rectitude,
  • He served his ruler with loyalty.
  • He was earnest in practising modesty and deference,
  • And placed the highest value in ritual teachings.
  • Within the Grand Secretariat
  • He maintained a pure and equable demeanour.
  • Alas!
  • Our enlightened age has the misfortune
  • That this wise man has departed.
  • A ripple in the water never returns:
  • Who will be heir to that fine reputation?
  • He had the long years of Panxi,
  • But did not gain the same standing.
  • In vain was his virtue higher than the ancients’:
  • His services were not employed in his own age.
  • Dimly stretches out the long night
  • Within his dark hall in its ancient mound.
  • Rank grow the grasses on that tomb,
  • By moonlit night and chilly frost.
  • Though mulberry fields be turned into sea,
  • His excellent fame shall forever spread wide.


(1) A rubbing of the original inscription is reproduced in Beijing tushuguan cang Zhongguo lidai shike taben huibian 北京圖書館藏中國歷代石刻拓本彙編 (Zhengzhou: Zhongzhou guji, 1989–91), vol. 37, 189, noting that the stele stands in Lixian, Gansu province. Published transcripts appear in Longyou jinshi lu 隴右金石錄, in Shike shiliao xinbian 石刻史料新編, Song 宋 A, 7b–11b; Chong zuan Qinzhou zhili zhou xin zhi 重纂秦州直隸州新志 (1889; repr. Beijing: Xueyuan, 2003), 20.1a–6b; Quan Song wen 全宋文, comp. Zeng Zaozhuang 曾棗莊 and Liu Lin 劉琳, vol. 2 (Chengdu: Ba-Shu, 1988), 46.25–9; Pu Xiangming, Yu tang xian hua ping zhu, pp. 349–54. All contain errors.

(2) This was Tai zong 太宗, who succeeded as emperor on Kaibao 9/10/guichou [20 October 976]. The ninth year of his reign was thus 984. His full imperial title is significantly different in Xu zi zhi tong jian chang bian 續資治通鑑長編, comp. Li Tao 李燾 (Beijing: Zhonghua, 1979–95), 17.387.

(3) This sacrifice took place on 16 December 984 [Yongxi 1/11/dingmao]: Xu zi zhi tong jian chang bian 25.589.

(4) Zeng 贈: the title was conferred on him after death.

(5) As a graduate under the aegis of Wang Renyu in 948, Li Fang counted as a pupil: cf. Chapter 1, p. 31, and pp. 32–3.

(6) I.e. the writer should readily accept such a privileged task without false modesty.

(7) In Yanshi 偃師 county, Henan 河南. This was the site on which, according to ancient legend, the immortal Wang Zijin 王子晉 made an appearance riding a crane: see Shui jing zhu shu 15.1319–20.

(8) Cf. Jin shu 65.1760, referring to Wang Dao 王導 (276–339), a senior minister under several emperors of the Jin dynasty, who, on crossing the Huai River, was said to have ordered a divination performed. It read: ‘Auspicious, no sign of ill fortune. Only when the Huai ceases to flow will the Wangs die out’. Their clan went on to flourish, proving the divination correct.

(9) On the family’s connection with this region, see Chapter 1, pp. 8–11.

(10) On Li Jichong, see Chapter 1, pp. 13–14.

(11) There had been military commissioners of East and West Chuan 川 in the Jiannan 劍南 province since 757. This now, in 907, became the Shu kingdom.

(12) On these events, see Chapter 1, pp. 14–15.

(13) The surrender of Shu to the Later Tang took place on 15 December 925 [Tongguang 3/11/bingchen], with the Later Ruler in white mourning dress, accompanied by his establishment of officials, bearing an empty coffin and begging for their lives: Zi zhi tong jian 274.8945–6.

(14) The command was based at Qin zhou: see Xin Wudai shi 57.662, 60.720.

(15) ‘Pleasure of going home’ 歸與; cf. 歸與歸與 in Lun yu, ‘Gongye Chang’ 公冶長 21; ‘satisfy his desire’ 適我願兮: a line from Shi jing 詩經 94, ‘Ye you wan cao’ 野有蔓草.

(16) Earlier name of Changdao County: Chapter 1, p. 20, n. 64.

(17) The Xingyuan command: see Chapter 1, p. 15, n. 48. On Wang Sitong’s appointment there, see pp. 20–2.

(18) Archaic name for the Western Capital, once the Tang capital Chang’an.

(19) This was Li Congke 李從珂 (885–937), a member of the Later Tang royal house, who received the Fengxiang 鳳翔 command in 932 and the title Prince of Lu in 933: Jiu Wudai shi 46.627. Fengxiang (here ‘Qi’) was to the west of Wang Sitong’s current command in the Western Capital: Jiu Wudai shi 65.869.

(20) The Prince of Lu’s emissary from Fengxiang.

(21) See Chapter 1, p. 23.

(22) On 21 May 934: Jiu Wudai shi, 46.630.

(23) See Chapter 1, p. 24.

(24) Palace gates: literally ‘gates of heaven’.

(25) A phrased adapted from Shi jing 177, ‘Liu yue’ 六月: ‘The Xianyun [tribes] flare up fiercely’ 獫狁孔熾. The Khitan war lasted from 943 to 946.

(26) This was Liu Zhiyuan 劉知遠, who declared himself emperor in 947/2, entered Kaifeng in 947/6, and died in 948/1. His Han dynasty lasted less than four years. The Trinity was Heaven/Earth/Man.

(27) Hucker writes (no. 463): ‘A title and duty assignment granted as a supplement to one’s regular position, enabling one to become a secretarial confidant of the Emperor…most commonly granted to Academicians.’

(28) On 9 February 951. This was Guo Wei 郭威, put on the throne by the imperial army.

(29) 27 August 956.

(30) 7 September 956.

(31) 13 April 974.

(32) The significance of the Palace Library’s involvement is clear from the opening paragraph above, identifying Wang’s younger grandson Yongxi as an Assistant in the Palace Library (confirmed again below in the list of kinsmen which follows). The practical tasks of his grandfather’s burial fell on his shoulders.

(33) The county town of Changdao 長道 stood south of Tianshui, and the site now lies in Li County 禮縣, Gansu Province, where the stone stele bearing this inscription still stands.

(34) On his examination service in 948, see Chapter 1, p. 31 and n. 106.

(35) Wang Pu (922–82), already deceased at the time of writing, had been the top graduate that year.

(36) Xu Zhongxuan (930–90): Song shi 270.9269 notes, ‘holding his original appointment he served provisionally in the Tax Bureau’ (權度支).

(37) Li Yun (916–88): Song shi 482.13943–4 gives the appointment not as Da Sinong 大司農, but as Sinong qing 司農卿, Chief Minister of the Court of the National Granaries.

(38) Qinting: see Chapter 1, n. 26.

(39) These last two items were submitted to the throne in 955: see Chapter 1, p. 32.

(40) Bo Juyi 白居易 (772–846), another most prolific author. Li Fang’s observation thus spans a full century in time.

(41) Three Solitaries san gu 三孤, dignitaries who were junior only to the Three Dukes san gong 三公.They held the posts of Junior Preceptor, Junior Mentor, and Junior Guardian to the Heir Apparent, the first of which was posthumously held by Wang Renyu.

(42) The reference is to Panxi 磻溪, the place (near the modern city Baoji in Shaanxi province) where the Duke of Zhou 周公 was said to have angled for fish before meeting recognition by King Wen 文王.

(43) The reference is to Queli 闕里, the home village of Confucius, where he instructed his disciples.