An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Shusun Tong 叔孫通

Mar 8, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald

Shusun Tong 叔孫通 (d. 189) was an official of the early Former Han period 前漢 (206 BCE-8 CE) and can be called the first Confucian at the court of the Han dynasty.

He hailed from Xue 薛 (modern Xuecheng 薛城, Shandong) and served as a scholar at the court of the Qin dynasty 秦 (221-206 BCE). After the rebellion of Chen Sheng broke out, he returned to his home town. He served the warlord Xiang Liang 項梁 and King Huai of Chu 楚懷王, yet when the latter was transferred to Changsha 長沙, he stayed in the east and offered his service to Xiang Liang's nephew Xiang Yu 項羽.

In 205, when the warlord Liu Bang 劉邦, the eventual founder of the Han dynasty, conquered the city of Pengcheng 捧程, Shusun Tong changed sides and followed Liu Bang. Liu Bang hated the Confucians as arrogant academicians, but Shusun Tong was nevertheless appointed erudite (boshi 博士) by Liu Bang after changing his robes from the traditional Confucian style to that of the region of Chu. He was also bestowed the title of Lord of the perpatuation of the grain altars (jisi jun 稷嗣君).

After the foundation of the Han dynasty, Shusun Tong studied the court protocol of the Qin dynasty and various older regulations and made some changes to create a valid protocol for the court rituals of the Han. He was also appointed Chamberlain for ceremonials (fengchang 奉常), in 198 he was made Grand Mentor (taifu 太傅) of the crown prince. When Liu Bang wanted to nominate the son of a concubine as the new crown prince, Shusun Tong resisted and thus ensured the accession of Liu Ying 劉盈 to the throne.

When the latter acceded to the throne (known as Emperor Hui 漢惠帝, r. 195-188) Shusun Tong was again appointed fengchang. During that time he compiled the statutes for the ancestral offerings of the Han dynasty. He died in office in 189.

Cang Xiuliang 倉修良, ed. (1996). Hanshu cidian 漢書辭典 (Jinan: Shandong jiaoyu chubanshe), 374.