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Persons in Chinese History - Kong Rong 孔融

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Kong Rong 孔融 (153-208), courtesy name Wenju 文舉, was a writer of the late Eastern Han period 東漢 (25-220 CE) and one of the Seven Masters of the Jian'an reign-period 建安七子. He hailed from the princedom of Lu 魯國 (today's Qufu 曲阜, Shandong) and was first a clerk under Minister of Education (situ 司徒) Yang Ci 楊賜. In 185 he was made attendant censor (shi yushi 侍御史), but soon withdrew from office because of differences with his superior. Later on he obtained a small post in the Ministry of Works (sikong fu 司空府), and was then promoted to the post of watch officer of the central army (zhongjun hou 中軍候), then leader of the court gentlemen brave as tigers (huben zhonglangjiang 虎賁中郎將). In 190 the potentate Dong Zhuo 董卓 demoted him to the post of court gentleman of consultation (yilang 議郎). Kong thereupon asked for the post of administrator (xiang 相) in the commandery of Beihai 北海, where the Yellow Turban rebellion 黃巾起義 devastated the land. In 195 Liu Bei 劉備 recommended him for appointment as regional inspector (cishi 刺史) of the province of Qingzhou 青州 (approx. modern Shandong). The region was in 196 attacked by Yuan Shao's 袁紹 son Yuan Tan 袁譚, and Kong Rong could not but flee. The warlord Cao Cao 曹操 decided to bring Emperor Xian 漢獻帝 (r. 189-220) to Xuchang 許昌, his residence, and entrusted Kong Rong with the supervision of the construction work, as Chamberlain for the Palace Buildings (jiangzuo dajiang 將作大匠). Later on he served as Chamberlain for the Palace Revenues (shaofu 少府). Kong often remonstrated against Cao Cao's arrogant behaviour, and was therefore dismissed. A new appointment as Superior Grand Master of the Palace (taizhong dafu 太中大夫) was soon dissolved, and Kong retired, but continued to criticize Cao Cao, who had him finally executed.
In his political attitude, Kong Rong proved that he was a traditional Confucian. This is also shown in his literary works, and it was acknowledged even by Cao Pi 曹丕 (Emperor Wen 魏文帝, r. 220-226, of the Wei dynasty 曹魏, 220-265), the son of Cao Cao. The connoisseur wrote in his critique Dianlun 典論 that Kong Rong's rhapsodies had the same quality as tht of Yang Xiong 揚雄 and Ban Gu 班固. Kong stressed the importance of education and the use of righteousness and humanity in government. These factors were as important as talent and professional ability. The composition of Kong Rong's phrases is rated as excellent, his use of words as elegant and rich, his metaphers and analogies outstanding. In his memorial Jian Mi Heng shu 薦禰衡疏 he recommends the young scholar Mi Heng 禰衡 for promotion, stressing his utmost loyalty and steadfast will. In a letter to Cao Cao, called Yu Cao Gong lun cheng xiao zhangshu 與曹公論盛孝章書, he advocated to use empathy in government, using arguments based on the Confucian Classics. His criticism towards Cao Cao and Cao Pi on various occasions made use of topoi from ancient stories and events of history to prove the inadequacy of political measures. Cao Pi therefore felt that the words of Kong's works were better than his logic (li bu sheng ci 理不勝詞), giving the impression of a play with words (yu za yi chao xi 乎雜以嘲戲).
Five of Kong Rong's poems have survived. Deep sorrows are found in his poem Linzhong shi 臨終詩 "Close to the end", as well as in Zhe yangliu xing 折楊柳行 "Breaking willow twigs", and show the influence of Han period music bureau poetry (yuefu 樂府). These two are five-syllable poems, but the three other have 6-syllables long verses. They describe the turmoils of the time and refer to historical events. Two poems recorded in the collection Guwenyuan 古文苑 bear Kong Rong's name, but it is more probably that these were products of Li Ling 李陵.
Kong's collected writings were originally 9-juan long, but they were lost. The Ming period 明 (1368-1644) collector Zhang Pu 張溥 reconstructed them on the base of fragments. His Kong Shaofu ji 孔少府集 is found in the series Han Wei Liuchao baisan jia ji 漢魏六朝百三家集. Other collections are Yan Kejun's 嚴可均 Quan shanggu Sandai Qin Han Sanguo Liuchao wen 全上古三代秦漢三國六朝文, Ding Fubao's 丁福保 Quan Han Sanguo Jin Nanbeichao shi 全漢三國晉南北朝詩 and Lu Qianli's 逯欽立 Xian-Qin Han Wei Jin Nanbeichao shi 先秦漢魏晉南北朝詩.

Source: Ni Qixin 倪其心 (1986), "Kong Rong 孔融", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo wenxue 中國文學 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chuabanshe), Vol. 1, p. 355.

June 8, 2016 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail
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