An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Zhufu Yan 主父偃

Sep 16, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald

Zhufu Yan 主父偃 (d. 126 BCE) was a high official of the mid-Former Han period 前漢 (206 BCE-8 CE).

He hailed from Linzi 臨淄 (modern Zibo 淄博, Shandong) and studied the stories of the coalition advisers (zonghengjia 縱橫家) of the Warring States period 戰國 (5th cent.-221 BCE), as well as the Confucian Classics Yijing 易經 "Book of Changes" and Chunqiu 春秋 "Spring and Autumn Annals" and other philosophical writings.

He was introduced to Emperor Wu 漢武帝 (r. 141-87 BCE) by general Wei Qing 衛青 and submitted a memorial with eight political plans, including suggestions for administrative law, and a plan to attack the steppe federation of the Xiongnu 匈奴. He very quickly climbed the ladder of official career and rose from court gentleman (langzhong> 郎中) and receptionist (yezhe 謁者) to the office of Ordinary Grand Master (zhong dafu 中大夫). As a member of Emperor Wu's unofficial inner cabinet (zhong waichao 中外朝), Zhufu Yan suggested weakening the various princes by introducing vain titles instead of granting them territories. Emperor Wu welcomed this plan and proclaimed the famous Tui'enling 推恩令 "Edict concerning the renouncing [of investiture] and the benevolent [bestowing of titles]".

Zhufu Yan also suggested fusing the lands of the rich gentry and to transfer them into the capital region in order to control their wealth. Another plan of Zhufu Yan was the establishing of the commandery of Shuofang 朔方 in the north as a shield agains the raids by the Xiongnu.

In 127 he was appointed counsellor (xiang 相) to the Prince of Qi 齊. He was arrested and executed as being resonsible for the suicide of the prince (he had discovered that the Prince had a sexual relation with his sister) and because of corruption.

The imperial bibliography Yiwen zhi 藝文志 in the official dynastic history Hanshu 漢書 lists a book Zhufu Yan shu 主父偃書. It is lost.

Tian Renlong 田人隆 (1996). "Zhufu Yan 主父偃", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Part Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 3, 1614.