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Persons in Chinese History - Ruan Yu 阮瑀

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Ruan Yu 阮瑀 (d. 212), courtesy name Yuanyu 元瑜, was 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 Weishi 尉氏 in the commandery of Chenliu 陳留 (today in Henan) and was a disciple of the Confucian scholar and writer Cai Yong 蔡邕. Although he lived as a private scholar, he was invited by the warlord Cao Cao 曹操 for a post as chancellor of military affairs in the Ministry of Works (sikong junshi jijiu 司空軍師祭酒). In this function he was responsible for the compilation of military commands (xiwen 檄文). Later on he was appointed clerk of the granaries section of the Counsellor-in-chief (chengxiang cangcao yuan 丞相倉曹掾). In drafting official documents, Ruan Yu was as good as Chen Lin 陳琳. Accordign to an anecdote, Ruan was once, while sitting on horseback, drafting an order for Cao Cao during a military campaign. Even under such conditions the text was so excellent that the warlord did not have to alter any word. A surviving example of his proficiency is the document Wei Cao Gong zuo shu yu Sun Quan 為曹公作書與孫權. The spirit of the words is moving smoothly and the phrases developing naturally that it was "a joy" to read his texts, as Cao Pi 曹丕 (Emperor Wen 魏文帝, r. 220-226, of the Wei dynasty 曹魏, 220-265) once said.
In the dozen of surviving poems Ruan Yu described the sufferings of the common people, like in Jia chu bei guo men 駕出北郭門行. His poems were thus inspired by the music bureau poetry (yuefu 樂府) of the Han period. In two poems called Yong shi shi 詠史詩, he discussed the fierce fights for power at the top level of the central government of the time, and sadly lamented about the decline of the dynasty. It can be said that Ruan's poems are the most sad ones of the Seven Masters. This is certainly true for Qi'ai shi 七哀詩, Yuanshi 怨詩, and one without title (shiti 失題, beginning with the verse Bai fa sui jie duo 白髮隨櫛墮). In his essay Wenzhi lun 文質論 "On text and substance" Ruan Yu argued that prose texts be honest and sincere (dunpu 敦樸), and that the mental substance of a text was more important than the use of elegant or extraordinary words. This short essay can thus be called a brief contribution to literary theory.
The original of the collected works of Ruan Yu, with a length of 5 juan, are lost. The Ming period 明 (1368-1644) scholar Zhang pu 張溥 collected surviving fragments and published them with the title Ruan Yuanyu ji 阮元瑜集. They are found in the collectaneum Han Wei Liuchao baisanjia ji 漢魏六朝百三家集.


Source: Xu Gongchi 徐公持 (1986), "Ruan Yu 阮瑀", 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. 670.

June 8, 2016 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail
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