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Persons in Chinese History - Xu Gan 徐幹

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Xu Gan 徐幹 (170-217), courtesy name Weichang 偉長, 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 the commandery of Beihai 北海 (close to modern Changle 昌樂, Shandong) and was in his youth through his family envolved in the factional disputes at the court, for which reason he had to flee and lived the austere life of a common man. The warlord Cao Cao 曹操 then employed him as clerk of the counsellor of the army supervisor under the Minister of Works (sikong junshi jijiu yuan 司空軍師祭酒掾), then court gentleman instructor for miscellaneous use ( 五官將文學). After several years of service to the Cao family, Xu Gan retired, and was rewarded with XXX 曹操特加旌命表彰. In 217 he died during an epidemy.
Xu Gan was famous as one who embodied the teaching of the "pure mystery" (qingxuan 清玄), a Daoist concept which during that time crept into the minds of (Confucian) scholars. Of his poems, just three are transmitted, the most famous being Shisi 室思 "Thoughts at home", in which he describes the desolate feelings of a wife whose husband is far away. This poems stands in the tradition of the Han period music bureau poetry (yuefu 樂府) and expresses very personal, yet quite universal emotions. In another poem, Da Liu Zhen 答劉楨, his friendship to Liu Zhen 劉楨 is described. More famous are Xu Gan's rhapsodies that were by Cao Pi 曹丕 (Emperor Wen 魏文帝, r. 220-226, of the Wei dynasty 曹魏, 220-265) praised as surpassing even that of Zhang Heng 張衡 and Cai Yong. The critic Liu Xie 劉勰, author of the Wenxin diaolong 文心雕龍, also highly commends on Xu Gan's rhapsodies, like Xuanyuan fu 玄猿賦, Louzhi fu 漏卮賦 or Ju fu 橘賦. These are all lost, but fragments of Qi du fu 齊都賦 have survived.
Of all prose writings produced by the Seven masters, Xu Gan's philosophical and political treatise Zhonglun 中論 is the longest. He explains in it the principles of arranging order and to nourish a moral character. In the second part the author focuses on the relationship between ruler and minister and matters of government. Xu basically follows Confucian conceptions, but is also influenced by Daoist and legalist thought. He points at critical errors in the administration of the time, but remains in a relatively moderate track. The Zhonglun can thus not be compared with the contemporary essay Changyan 昌言 "Clear words", written by Zhongzhang Tong 仲長統, who more openly criticized the social and political problems of the time.
Of Xu Gan's original collected works, with a length of 5 juan, not much has survived. The Ming period 明 (1368-1644) scholar Yang Dezhou 楊德周 and the Qing period 清 (1644-1911) collector Chen Chaofu 陳朝輔 assembled fragments to the book Xu Weichang ji 徐偉長集. Is is found in the series Huike Jian'an qizi ji 彙刻建安七子集. The treatise Zhonglun is preserved in a Ming period print reproduced in the series Sibu congkan 四部叢刊.

Source: Xu Gongchi 徐公持 (1986), "Xu Gan 徐幹", 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. 2, p. 1113.

June 8, 2016 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail
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