Fang Keqin by Fang Xiaoru

Fang Xiaoru, “Account of conduct of my late father.” in his Fang Xuezheng xiansheng Xunzhi zhai ji 22/1-6. Translated by Sarah Schneewind, with help from Ye Baomin.
Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.


Fang Keqin (1326-1376) was the father of Fang Xiaoru (1357-1402).  When his father died, Xiaoru wrote this account of his life and official career. Normally, an “account of conduct” was sent to the Ministry of Personnel after an official’s death; in this case, that was probably not done, for reasons that will emerge.  Xiaoru sent the account to his teacher, Song Lian, asking Song to use it as the basis for an epitaph.  Song Lian (1310-1381), the dominant intellectual figure of his time, was a key advisor to the founder of the Ming dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang (1328-1398), who ruled as the Hongwu emperor (1368-1398) and was given the posthumous title of Taizu.  Song, who had selected Fang Xiaoru as his intellectual heir, indeed wrote the epitaph, commenting: “Xiaoru has been my student for a long time.  I personally know the details of my senior’s behavior and affairs.  Therefore I have written this narrative of his story.” Song’s epitaph followed Fang Xiaoru’s text to a large extent, but reorganized it and diverged from it in significant ways, as I have laid out in “Reduce, Re-use, Recycle: Imperial Autocracy and Scholar-Official Autonomy in the Background to the Ming History Biography of Early Ming Scholar-Official Fang Keqin (1326-1376),” Oriens Extremus 48 (2009): 103-152.

I have added section headings in italic type, paragraph numbers for reference and comparison among different versions, and  [text in brackets] for comprehensibility and to give extra information as needed. *Text between asterisks* was omitted by Song Lian in his epitaph, but not all such omissions are noted.  Dates have been converted from the Ming calendar.

 Request to Song Lian

Alas! with the death of my late father, I, the unfilial orphan, on April 2, 1377, took the coffin and buried him together with my deceased mother, Madame Lin, on a level place at Shenwan’s Tongshi mountain.

Further, because I fear that his flourishing virtue has not yet been recorded, so that there is nothing to clearly display it to coming generations, I have had a sick head and an aching heart, by day and by night.   This affair is of the utmost importance.  If I do not entrust to it to a gentleman whose words will certainly be preserved, then I will not be able to transmit [my father’s legacy].  [And the gentleman must be] one whom the world today regards as a teacher and as an intellectual leader, one whose words will be transmitted to later generations.  Only you, honorable master, are this way!  Moreover, I, the unfilial and worthless, have received permission to be your disciple, and my name blemishes your roster: because of this, without trying to evade your rebuke, and choking back my grief, I humbly kowtow and put forward my request.  Kneeling, I ask that you pity me and consider.


Life & Career

  1. My late father’s taboo name was Keqin, his style-name was Qujin, his family name was Fang.His ancestors began with [Fang Gan, a Tang poet, known as ] Xuanying, a scholar living in obscurity in Tonglu.  In the early Song, the 15th generation ancestor, “Mr. 24,” first moved to Ninghai, Goucheng village. For generations [the family] practiced their ru [i.e. scholarly or Confucian] skills as a county family of propriety.  His great-grandfather, Zhonggui, was a prefectural nominee and metropolitan graduate.  He was knowledgeable and proper, and the educated respected him, calling him Mr. Lone-and-lofty.  His grandfather: Xiye.  His father Jiong was a teacher in Yin county.  They all were called “elders.”  His wife Madame Ye was the great-grandfather [sic: must be great-grand-daughter, as Song Lian writes] of Song Prime Minister Xi Jian.
  2. When my father was born he was already extraordinarily sedate.At 5 years old he could read books and punctuate them for himself.[1]  In his teens he had memorized the Five Classics and made essays with some unusual wordings.  The elders in the village cried out that he was unusual and called him a prodigy (lit. “divine youth” ).  When he was a bit older, he read the inherited writings of the Guan-Min school [i.e. the Neo-Confucian learning of Zhu Xi] and sighed: “This is what learning should be like!” So he cut away frivolous things and with his whole mind pushed the mysteries of life.  Closing his door, he studied without recognizing hunger or thirst, cold or heat.
  3. *At 18 or 19 years old he had abundantly completed his virtue and was an illustriousru.  Those taking instruction and people with questions/doubts lined up at his door.  My late father spoke with his mouth and wrote with his hand, with vivid gestures and detailed explanations of even the smallest matter, so that each got the answer he desired.   Originally, the county people from Song times had considered the chiseling of elegant prose to be learning.  None had discussed the Way of the Duke of Zhou and Confucius until my late father first taught them with the Changes, laying out and explaining its theory.  Gentry customs underwent a great change.*
  4. In 1344, Jiangzhe [province] held a great examination and my late father went there to be tested.  At the time, the authorities used taboo avoidance [rather than substantive content in the examinations] to eliminate and select gentlemen.  My late father spoke about important contemporary affairs and laid out each individual case of the sources of chaos and order of antiquity, saying that if one does it like this, then there will be order, and if not, certain defeat.  Those who saw looked at each other and stuck out their tongues and said “Extraordinary talent!  Extraordinary talent! Jia Yi[2] does not surpass him!”  They really did not dare to place my late father’s name [on the pass list].
  5. *My late father toured the old capital of the Southern Song [since he was in Hangzhou for the examination].  He wrote an essay and bought a ladle of wine [to make a libation] at the tomb of Yue Fei.[3]  He sang the “Shuli” ode and the tears streamed down his cheeks.[4]  Those who saw him thought that he was an extraordinary person.*
  6. *Just at that time, Mr. Dong Yi of Fanyang was the supervisor of Confucian schools in Qingyuan circuit.My late father studied with him. Mr. Dong formerly had considered himself to thoroughly understand the Classic of Changes.  My father discussed with him the great meaning of the Changes and Mr. Dong no longer thought quite so highly of himself, saying to my father “You really cannot be matched!”   For a long time he was embarrassed that [my late father] had been his student.*
  7. My father’s way from this time on was even clearer, and his will was even keener. Knowing that the Yuan dynasty was about to fall into chaos, he retreated further, and plumbed the depths of Principle, perfecting his knowledge to exhaustively understand its changing manifestations.  Even to the measurement of the waxing and waning of yin and yang; the enumeration of the names and matters of music and rites; the well-field and feudal systems;[5] the theories of ordering and drawing borders, all these he investigated and was able to explain them fully.  *More and more people sought instruction from him.*   
  8.  Just at that time, the eastern sea bandits arose in Jiangzhe.  The Branch Secretariat ordered Wujiang Vice-Prefect Jin’gangnü to fund the gathering of commoners into camps as naval soldiers.  My late father said: “This crisis is so severe, how can I not speak?”  So he visited Jin’gangnü and said, “The people who have become bandits, some are pressed by hunger and cold; some are driven away by their corvee duties.  Now these people are already riff-raff.  How can you make them leave their wives and children to be soldiers?  Isn’t that more or less leading them to become bandits?  This is what is called ‘causing banditry’, not ‘fighting banditry.’”  Jin’gangnü was angry and sent him away. After a while, the naval soldiers ended by killing the officials in charge of them along the road, and going to join the bandits. Jin’gangnü broke his foot in leaping from a wall to run away, and began to feel regret, saying: “I did not take the advice of Mr. Fang Keqin, and thus have come to this pass.”  Not long after this, Attendant Censor Zuodanashili came to the prefecture to discuss the pacification.  Vice Censor-in-chief Liu Ji[6] was his assistant.  My late father sent up a letter suggesting a plan of attacking and arresting them, as it was not right to be lenient.  Liu Ji wondered at my late father’s advice but could not employ it, so the prefecture and counties were overrun and the people suffered.  My late father became angry and feigned illness, and determinedly did not go out. He walked in the mountains and ravines, looking for pine to eat, sometimes abstaining from grains and refusing to eat.  He did not return for many days.
  9. *But he was even more focussed on teaching young students, lecturing on the great moral relations of ruler and minister, father and son, to move them. Those who heard understood in their hearts, and some even wept.  At this time the people of other districts often put on caps with pheasant feathers [as an emblem of courage], and carried daggers and swords, following the powerful and noble to rob and steal.  Only in the district where he lived did not a single person join the chaos.  If any neighbor in the district had a dispute someone would lead them both to my late father for judgment.  My late father would teach them about ritual and yielding, and many came to feel regret.  Some came with goods to thank him, but he definitely would not accept them.*
  10. When the circuit [intendent] was looking for a private secretary to serve him he approached my late father to propose it.My late father excused himself as unwilling, saying “I have been refusing grain for a long time now.  I am not up to dealing with human affairs.”  *In every essay he wrote, he expressed his sympathy with the people and his worry about the world.   Gentlemen said that my late father regulated his behavior as purely and correctly as Tao Qian[7], that he predicted the times and affairs as accurately as [Han statesman] Jia Yi, and that his natural endowment was so balanced and strong that he need not suffer by comparison with Cheng Bozi.[8]  Those who knew thought it was thus.*
  11. In the winter of 1367, the Great Ming army occupied the prefecture and county.My late father wrote a letter about the reasons for the rise and extinction of dynastic states and wanted to go to headquarters to present it. The parts: select wise talent, pacify the people’s hearts,  exterminate strongmen, eliminate forcible corrupt demands, and illuminate moral transformation through teaching (jiaohua).  *In outline: the people’s hearts-and-minds (xin 心) are the basic energy of the dynasty-state, and jiaohua  is the tool by which one harmonizes and nourishes that basic energy.  If one does not put talent into office, then jiaohua will not be carried out.  If one does not eliminate troublesome demands, then the people’s hearts will not be settled.  Losing the people’s  hearts yet winning the empire, slighting jiaohua yet seeking to govern:  I cannot presume to know how to do this. –  He wrote several thousand words along these lines.*
  12. In 1370 (Hongwu 3), the prefecture selected him as a county school teacher.  Every day, my late father taught the Way, educating the students.  Day and night he distinguished and analyzed, with unremitting effort.  More than a hundred students came, carrying their bookbags, from the four directions, seeking to hear him.  Everyone learned something.  *The students did not care to privately call him by his surname, so they used the literary name he had chosen: Yu’an.*   My late father, because his mother was getting on in years, gave up his position and returned home.  And so many of the students also went home that the whole school was empty. *Whether from near or far they gradually scattered and left.  Down to today, when speaking of the flourishing of the way of the teacher, people always mention my late father.*
  13. In the fourth year (1371), an official of the branch secretariat, Mr. Yuan Hong, with a letter and money came seeking him.My father escaped to another county.  The prefectural official visited the house, and asked all of his various connections about where he was.  *My father had no choice but to come out.*
  14. At the time he was already 46 years old.When he got to the capital, he called on censor in charge of these matters twice, asking to be excused on account of his mother’s age.  The official asked him about government and said in surprise, “Today the various prefectures are lacking officials and the master has happened to come to the court.  How could I dare to conceal a worthy?”  And sent him to the Ministry of Personnel to take an exam on the Changes. He ranked second, so was granted a cap and belt [15.][9] and made Prefect of Jining [in Shandong], with the prestige title “Grand Master for Court Precedence.”
  15. He was at that post for three years and in the provincial evaluations was graded best of the six prefectures.
  16. In the spring of the eighth year (1375) he went to court.  The [Hongwu] emperor considered him good at ruling people, rewarded him with a feast, and had the Ministry [of Personnel] send him back to his former post.  When he (Fang) was about to go back, he (the Hongwu emperor) praised him, saying things like “For governance to be complete, I must employ and promote you.”  My late father bowed in thanks and withdrew, and in the third month he again went to his post.
  17. In the fifth month, because the magistrate of Cao county[10] Cheng Gong had once been beaten for not doing his job properly and hated my father, he sent up a letter discussing the matter.  It was ordered that one Censor Yang look into it.  As it happened, Yang was an old crony of Cheng’s.  Fearing that Cheng had lodged a false accusation, he changed into the clothing of a commoner and secretly inquired [among the people] about any errors of my father’s.  But after two months, he got nothing on him, so he arrested a soldier serving in the prefectural yamen and tied him up. He interrogated him by flogging until his skin was gone, but there was not one thing they could ask him about.  Yang was afraid and with his clerk plotted to falsely accuse my father of privately using two hundred catties of charcoal and rushes from the storehouses.  At the time it was the tenth month and we had not yet lit the fires, and the rushes were to roof the public buildings and walls: really there had been no private use.  *[But they] forced the soldiers to accuse my late father.*    My late father did not argue with them, so he was found guilty and exiled to Jiangpu.[11]
  18. The year was up and he was about to be released to go home.Just at that time the affair of the blank forms came up, and the clerk again accused him, implicating him.[12]
  19. On December 5, 1376, he therefore died in the capital, having enjoyed only 51 years.

Alas, how painful! 


 Activities as prefect

At first when my father received the mandate for Jining he regarded it as an extraordinary act of grace, [in return for which] he could not do other than to exert all his strength.

  1. When he arrived at the post he wrote signs and hung them along the public highway, announcing the imperial court’s intention of nourishing the people *and the Way of filiality, younger-brotherliness, loyalty and trustworthiness.*If a commoner (min 民) had something that was unsettling him [or, something unfair], he could visit the prefectural yamen and speak to him personally.  He prohibited the clerks from yelling at them [the petitioners].  Every day he led the elderly gentlemen to sit and discuss, and asked them about everything (lit., about “getting and losing”).
  2. The prefectural school officials were lacking and the Confucian temple was in ruins.  My late father invited a metropolitan degree holder of the former dynasty to be the  teacher.   There were no students, so he selected some to fill the places.  He employed Buddhist monks to repair the temple halls and excavate the area in front of the temple to be the half-pond.[13]  He razed a Buddhist building to add porches and wings.  He made the land behind the temple into an archery range and made bows and arrows and set up a target.  Every day he observed the school and *led the students in reciting their lessons.  At the start, in the prefecture, because of the [long period of] fighting, people did not know about studying. My late father personally acted as the teacher,*  punctuating texts for them *and attending to their deportment.  He lectured on the Way of the inner sage and the outer king, and after a short time they were transformed. Confucian clothing appeared everywhere.*  In the prefecture and counties there were several hundred schools, registering two thousand students.
  3. Originally, there was an imperial edict that if the people opened up waste land [for agriculture] it would only be taxed after three years.The clerks, with an eye to fast rewards, did not wait until the time was up to collect [the taxes] and furthermore assigned corvee labor duty according to [the taxpayers’ total holdings of] fields.  The people increasingly lost interest, and did not open up additional fields.  *My late father knew the reason, so he send down an order announcing the former edict,* and he made a pact with the people that [corvee loads] would be assigned according to the number of adult males [in each family].  He made up a register of documents  ordering the people by number of adult men and land-holdings into upper, middle, and lower classes, and the lower category was [further] distinguished into three.  So each time tax [demands] were issued they were set from above, and the clerks had no way to ply their corrupt practices.  *He frequently went out in person to encourage and oversee [the people].  When he met the old, he urged them to teach the young; the young he ordered to use their strength in the fields.  All were happy, as if he were a parent.  When he first took up his post, even if there was a very bad harvest, the people had to yield it up to other prefectures.  My late father earnestly soothed and did not dare to trouble them.*
  4. At the end of that year, armor and uniforms were being transported to Yan [i.e. theBeijingarea]. At the time there was an order that anyone who allowed people doing corvee to use boats would be executed [because they were wanted for the military transport], so the neighboring prefectures made people use ox-carts to carry out the business.  Heaven rained and snowed, and the oxen lay in heaps, on the verge of death.  The Jining people requested to use boats to go to their corvee duties, but the various sub-officials feared that order would be hard to change.  Then my late father said, “I cannot refuse to break the law when I know that it is a case of following what is good for the people.”  So they used boats for transport.  He reported everything about it to the Shandong branch secretariat and the branch secretariat did not raise any questions.   *Later, in other prefectures [using] wheeled vehicles, when it rained or snowed, or was foggy, more than half of them would be destroyed, and the people even bought carts and oxen to supply [the corvee transport demand] but they still could not satisfy it.*    Eight or nine out of every ten families saw their productive base broken.   *But the people of [Jining] prefecture, using boats, suffered no harm.  They pointed to Heaven, saying “He who gave the people life was Prefect Fang.”*
  5. The prefectural granary’s grain was exhausted, and the province ordered people to transport grain 700lito Jingzhou.[14]  The people suffered from the inconvenience.  The grain transport guards from Huai’an came through Jinan, and their way lay straight through the prefecture’s borders.  My late father thought it would be convenient for them to go to the prefectural granary and from Jinan transport the grain to Jingzhou, changing the route.  But when he reported this to the province, the province would not follow the suggestion.  But word passed up to the Ministry of Revenue, and the Ministry of Revenue memorialized and got permission [to do as Fang suggested].  The great ministers of the province were *greatly* embarrassed.
  6. It used to be that when the city wall was in disrepair, it would be rebuilt by soldiers. The military commander, presuming upon the strength of an important person [with whom he had a relationship], in the fifth and sixth month requisitioned more than 10,000 commoners to build it.  The people could not get their farm work done and wailed with grief as they went to work.  The sound could be heard for several li, and from dawn until dusk it did not stop.  My late father was so sad and angry that he did not eat.  He said, “The people are troubled and there’s no help.  For what purpose have I been placed here?”  He secretly notified the Secretariat.  The masses [of officials] thought they would get in trouble and did not dare put their names to it; only my late father wrote about it.  Prime Minister Hu [Weiyong][15] reported it [to the Hongwu emperor], and on the same day an edict put a stop to it.  Before that, it had not been raining.  My late father, in undress and with bare feet, went to pray at the various shrines.  With tears falling, he lay at the shrines and vowed that if it did not rain he would not stop.  When the edict arrived and the people happily cried out and scattered [to their homes], it poured with rain.  That year the five grains all ripened.  The people’s song said: “What stopped our corvee?  It was His Honor’s power.  What ripened our grain?  It was His Honor’s grace.  Let His Honor never leave.  He is us people’s father and mother.”  From this time, he prayed three times for three harvests and they all had good yields.
  7. In the fifth year in the summer (1372) the neighboring counties had locusts.My late father *pitied them and sent a letter to the God of Soil,*  altered his diet, examined his sins,  *and burned incense all night beseeching*   Heaven. Suddenly there was heard in the air a humming sound.  When illuminated, it was all flying locusts.  In the fall, in all four directions outside [his jurisdiction] there was famine; only in the prefecture was there a complete ripening.  *People thought it strange.*
  8. *My father felt the need to eliminate harm to the people as [others feel] hunger and thirst. If there was a troublesome matter he could not work out to a conclusion, he would at once give up wine, meat, and sex.* Whenever suing parties brought miscellaneous affairs for him to settle, if it was a big matter he would beat them into being ashamed, if it was a small matter he would lecture and dismiss them.  He did not keep the accusation documents [after a case was settled].  He was especially careful about the jail, checking every month and every day to be sure people were not just stuck there; and, if there were cases that were not all cleared up or resolved, he would [just] make and eat some rice gruel [while he kept working on them].
  9. It used to be that the spring and autumn taxes [in grain] measured in the hu [a measure of 50 sheng][16] were levelled off with a ruler by the soldiers, who let their hands go high or low [to collect more or less grain using the same measure].  Or for several weeks in a row they would not [open the granary to] collect [so that people travelled there in vain].  It got the point that people called the granary a “pitfall.” My late father ordered the people themselves to hold the levelling ruler.  The soldiers just folded their hands and did not dare to make a peep.  When they were going to collect the grain, they announced the time to the people in writing. People competed to turn in their taxes, gathering in groups.  Sometimes, [my late father] went to the granary at night, without daring to go to his bed.  The people trusted him and were happy.  He did not send out even one clerk, yet the taxes were always completed before those of other prefectures.
  10.  The two provinces of Jiangxi and Zhejiang *received an edict ordering*  transport of more than 1,000,000 [(no unit given)] of grain through 3,000 li of Jining’s land and water.  My late father watched over them as if they were his own people, not permitting them even the smallest resentment or unhappiness.  It was usually the system that for every hu [50 sheng] they would separately add 4 sheng to make up for the grain that rotted [along the way].  My late father, pitying them because the road was so long and wretched, suggested to the court that it forgive [the extra].  The people of the two provinces were moved to tears.  When he reached the court and the capital, several tens of people crowded bowing before his horse saying “This was our old father when we were transporting grain!”
  11. It used to be that the taxes in the subprefectures and counties were collected by soldiers and lictors[17], and they frequently would make insatiable demands.  My late father announced [a system of] “trusty-tallies” and affixed stamps to levy taxes, which all were required to use.  The records of the trusty-tallies were recognized by a stamp set in the middle and divided, but some of the subordinate officials would manipulate the date to come up with wicked plans for profiting through bribes.  My late father personally stored them and personally released them all at one time.  By this means, the clerks’ corruption was completely stopped.  He also sent this system down to the subprefectures and counties.  The clerks and soldiers were kept from harming the people all because of the trusty-tallies and the order to collect them.
  12. For this reason the people’s whole strength went into agriculture and sericulture, and people came into his jurisdiction with their children strapped to their backs.In [Hongwu] 4 (1371), there were only 30,000 households, paying a bit more than 10,000 dan [one million sheng] of taxes.[18]  In the eighth year (1375), the taxes reckoned by dan had increased to 144,700, and the number of households had increased to more than 60,000.  The jails of the two subprefectures and ten counties were not clogged with prisoners; the prefectural jail was almost empty.  The people had grain stored up, and there were no starved corpses in the fields. Chickens, dogs, cattle, and goats were scattered in the grassy meadows. [The people] were wealthy and numerous; [their resources] were abundant.  It was really like a world of perfect peace.
  13. My late father, in making offerings to the gods, did his best to follow ritual. The altars to Soil and Grain, Mountains and Streams,[19]and various altars within the jurisdiction were kept up and decorated. Things like the sacrificial vessels and sacrificial clothes and ritual baths he personally made.  Around the outside wall he forested it with famous trees, doing everything in accordance with the rules.  Nothing was neglected.
  14.  The water post-station originally was inside the West gate.  It was low and soggy; residing there was not healthy.  My late father figured out how to get enough lumber, and, waiting until the slack time of farming, then on the south side of the southern wall, built spacious and private houses furnished with all the necessities: nothing was missing.  In the winter cold, the river ices over and the postal boats do not travel, so he had [the postal workers] cut wood to make fire or dig out the earth for caves to preserve ice.  Thus their extra strength was collected for some useful work.  Such fine planning and thinking out of details is far beyond what most people can compass.
  15. The Si river runs through the prefectural city, going through to the Huai and the Yangtze to the south and leading to the Yellow and the Ji to the north.  The lay of the land is high-draining.[20]  Stones were dragged over as water-gates, but sometimes they are overflowed.  Two such water-gates, Lü Bridge and Jujube Wood, broke every year, and the stones [washed down and] blocked up the middle of the river, making difficulties in the boat channel.  He gave the men at the water-gates the task of roping the broken stones to manage them and building the gates with bricks, ash, and miscellaneous earth to complete them.
  16. Because grain was stored in silos [thatched with] reeds, fire frequently caused disasters.  My late father taught the people to build kilns and made 100 bays of tiled houses.  He strictly enforced fire orders and registered commoners’ housing so that they and those serving as officials would mutually rescue and succor each other.  Fire disasters ceased.
  17.  My late father while in office never once took his ease.  Even if there was no business, at the end of the day, in his cap and belt he would sit in the hall and order the various clerks to learn about the Songs and Documents and the laws.  *He did not fail to do this even in the height of summer or the severe winter.*
  18.  Public documents piled up on the table – the crowd arguing noisily – in half a word he would settle it.   [An example:] The great general and Duke of Wei, Xu [Da], and the Duke of Cao, Li [Wenzhong], were leading a million horses and men to Yan. [21]  They stayed in the prefecture a bit long.  The important officials and powerful clerks demanded grain and fodder.   Fighting with each other over who would be supplied first, they stood before my father yelling at each other.  My late father easily settled the awards so that everyone was satisfied.  The whole army said he was capable.
  19.  The Yongjia lord Zhu Liangzu[22] with a naval force of several hundred boats was campaigning northwards.  Just at that time, the river dried up and the boats got stuck and couldn’t move. In great anger he ordered my late father: “Get five thousand people out here immediately to dredge this river!  If you don’t, I’ll have you punished according to martial law!”  At the time the day was nearly dusk and my late father could not bear to trouble the people.  He withdrew and prayed to Heaven.  In the night, at the third drum, there was a great rain.  By early dawn the river had risen several feet and the boats could leave.  No one dared to speak of it.
  20.  My late father, in governing, put jiaohua first, and was able to win through virtue.  The assistant magistrates at first were sometimes haughty and rude.  My late father treated them with great sincerity and they all felt ashamed, submitted, and wanted to be his disciples.  Some warriors and fierce generals did not act according to ritual, but after a long time they became trustworthy and loving.  *All the clerks he hired had good native qualities and little showiness and he personally set a good example for them, so that they would enter goodness.*
  21.  He did not delight in [those who?] seek fame and once said “Those who work for fame must make people fear them [“plant danger”].  To “plant danger” one must hurt other people.  To hurt others in order to profit myself: I cannot bear to do it.”
  22.  In front of the prefectural courtyard, he did not line up clubs and fetters, and the leather whips hung in the porch [rather than close at hand in the courtroom], to express that he would not wantonly punish people.  *Those who had transgressed he admonished with moral principle in order to make them ashamed.  At first they doubted him; then they submitted; then they trusted him.  This is hard to achieve!*
  23.  At the point when because of an official dispute he was transferred south, the people cried and shouted, filling the road, *as if they were losing a close relative*, and several hundred people walked following him more than a hundred li.    *The young students of the prefecture who had earned the first-level degree, when they heard that my father had died, marched in funeral procession outside the gate and cried until they lost their voices.*

Alas! Aiya!

    His moral rectitude

  1.  My father was filial and loving, fulfilling his duties to the utmost.  As teacher and prefect his voice was low and his face agreeable.  He only feared that he would not measure up.
  2.  When the pirates in disorder plundered villages and burned houses, my late father personally carried his mother into the mountains on his back to escape, *and did not even turn around to look back at his wife and two sons.*   Both his heels were bleeding, but he felt no distress.   *When he left home to serve in office, he worried about his mother, and at first faced south and bowed [in her direction], and was unhappy all day long. If it happened that there was an unusual food, he would immediately start crying “If my mother has not tasted it, how can I eat it?” and he would hang it up and reject it until it was rotten and stinky in the end.*
  3.  In dealing with his younger brother, he instructed him like a teacher and taught him like a father, and this never changed his whole life long.
  4.   *In dealing with friends he was kind, and he loved to give alms to those facing difficulties.  When he was living in Jining,*   the southern officials (lit., “caps”) who passed through he always supplied with wine and grain.  *Those from his native prefecture he treated more generously, and those from the same county more generously yet.  If they said they were cold, he gave them clothing; if they said they were hungry he gave them food.*      Those who could not walk, he ordered boats to take them.
  5.   A man *of his native place* was made vice-magistrate of Laiwu [county, in Jining prefecture] and wanted to receive his mother, but he said he did not have the means.  My late father gave him his salary for a whole month.[23]  When a fellow official was arrested for some cause and had nothing to wear or eat, my father bought cloth every year to supply him, every day ordered him to eat with him, and on some nights invited him home to drink.  He did this for a full three years, as if it were just one day.[24]
  6.  His monthly salary of 20 dan [2,000 sheng of grain] was all scattered among his friends.[25]  He was not a bit niggardly, yet supplied himself very poorly.  He did not dress in silks or wear fancy silk jacket and breeches but dressed just like a commoner [lit., “a cotton-clothed”].  At the time someone disparaged my late father.  My late father said “My way should be like this.”  He did not eat meat twice in one day; some days, if there was no business, he would fast, saying: “I may not eat without having earned my salary.”
  7.  Every night he prayed and told Heaven everything he had done.
  8.  When he first arrived, a hu of grain could be sold for three taels (liang) of silver.  My late father set aside all the leftovers from his daily food in the office to give the soldiers food.  Someone asked my late father to consider his family’s livelihood.  My late father replied: “Putting the state first – that is right.  How could I aim at profit?” [26]
  9.  *The place where he lived was tumble-down, and a clerk asked to fix it up, but he would not allow it, saying, “Do not trouble the people on my account!”  Instead, he used his own salary to buy reed mats to make a screen, just enough to block the wind out. Scattered to the left and right of his bed were various books.  Anyone entering his room would get the impression that no one lived there.  He was in office five years with only one son [Xiaoru himself] and one serving-lad.  At the time people said my late father could not manage, but he was content.*
  10.  The prefect of Yanzhou [the prefecture just to the south of Jining] went through [Mr. Fang’s] serving-lad to present two papayas.  My late father beat the lad several tens of strokes and ordered the prefectural clerk to return them.[27]  
  11.   A countryman of his, magistrate of a county in another prefecture, sent a letter pressing on him a scalded goose [as a bribe], but my late father refused and cut off contact.[28]   *Some thought this was too extreme, but my father said, “I am not trying to buy fame; my character is just such that I do not delight in anything outside my allotted portion.”*
  12.  *Any little firewood or fodder he came by he traded for grain* and did not take a single penny from anyone.   Every time he toured the counties he supplied his own means, unwilling to take even a cup of soup.  *When he left office he was very poor, and traded his horse to walk, and his luggage was extremely scant, so that the onlookers sighed.*

Alas! Aiya!


  His personal appearance and demeanor

  1.  My father’s face was as white as jade; his beard and brows were luxuriant and beautiful.  He did not laugh or chat casually.  He did not look from side to side.  His movements and countenance as he moved around all accorded with the rites and laws.
  2.  He dealt in sincerity, not show.  In dealing with people he did not blow hot and cold because of a short or long [acquaintance].  Once a topic of conversation had been established, he understood it through and through.
  3.  Everything he said was based in orthodoxy.  Later, he had even better command of and familiarity with the Way of character and fate. Glory and disgrace, benefit and harm he viewed as one.  Near the end he knew he could not save himself.  But when he gave up his life, the color of his face did not change.

Alas! How painful!


 His legacy

  1.  My father’s learning was clear, pure, and correct.  To pass on Zhu Xi’s [learning] he took as his own responsibility.  His will became ever deeper and more far-reaching.  Whenever there was a timely opportunity and he was in a position to do so, he wished to promote [Zhu Xi’s learning] to purify other people; otherwise, he wished to escape as a hermit into the hills and gardens to transmit his calling through books – all to instruct later generations.  He was unable to complete either of these [aims]: Heaven snatched away his years.   Oh, Heaven!  Oh, Heaven!  How can it be believed?  The pain of the several orphans cannot be ended and our sin cannot be measured. For many of my late father’s writings he kept no draft.  The Wumanji [his collected works] in several chapters is stored in the home.
  2.  [His wife was] Madame Lin, taboo name Ji.  She was the best of all our relatives at the womanly way. She died fifteen years before him, on October 21, 1363.  She had two sons, Xiaowen and Xiaoru, and one daughter.  He married a sucessor wife, Madame Wang, taboo name Zai, who gave birth to one daughter and had not yet completed the first month after childbirth when she died.  Concubine-mother nee Deng brought her up.  Madame Deng gave birth to one son, called Xiaoyou.


 Conclusion: more on his legacy and the problem of transmittal.

My late father’s way was to model timeliness on the Changes, take governance from the Documents, esteem reverence from the Rites, and embody harmony from the Music.  He made his speech elegant with the Odes; he ordered affairs with the Springs and Autumns.  The depth, height, breadth, and greatness [of his learning] cannot be measured or known.  But in his family, there was transformation to good habits; in office he achieved the task of enriching the common people.  He manifested it in administering affairs and wrote about it in his essays.

None of the worthies and upright officials of antiquity was better than he.  But of the people of antiquity, some like this have been transmitted, and some also have not been transmitted.  Those who were transmitted necessarily either occupied a high position, or had descendents, or they established their words – thus they were transmitted.  Those who were not transmitted, either their position was lowly so others did not know [about them], or their descendents did not know [how] to praise them, so they just were not transmitted.  In this case, my late father’s position was not illustrious when he died.  He died after just a few years, so those who knew him were few.  But in the next ten years, won’t there be even fewer who know about him? And in the next hundred years is it possible that anyone will still know about him?   Although there is me, this unfilial orphan, still existing, my years are tender and my position is humble and my words do not yet have credibility in the world; my deeds have not yet gone out to the four directions.  Who then can transmit him/his learning?  There may be someone to do it in the future, but I cannot be sure that such a one could do it.

For this reason, I cannot but be sad, and have anxiously planned to ask you, honorable sir.   If you would mourn the dead and sympathize with the living and give him an epitaph, not only will the several orphans not dare to forget [our debt to you], but also our late father, responding to your virtue, beneath the earth will not rot.

Respectfully submitted.

To top

[1] Classical Chinese texts (including this one) are normally unpunctuated, and figuring out where the phrases and sentences end is part of the process of understanding them.

[2] A great statesman of the Han period.

[3] A great Song patriot who fought the Jurchen Jin, a Northern dynasty that preceded the Yuan.

[4] The Shuli Ode, Mao #65, from the Classic of Poems, is said to express longing for a lost dynasty.  The first stanza runs:  “There was the millet with its drooping heads/ There was the sacrificial millet into blade./ Slowly I moved about,/ In my heart all-agitated./ Those who knew me,/ Said I was sad at heart./ Those who did not know me,/ Said I was seeking for something./ O distant and azure Heaven!/ By what man was this [brought about] ?” Source: Chinese text initiative, accessed February 22, 2011.

[5] The well-field system was an ideal system promoted by Mencius, in which each of 8 families had a plot of land and all jointly worked a central plot to feed their lord, so that the land was divided up like the character for well, 井.  The “feudal” or fengjian system had been practiced by the Zhou dynasty, in revered antiquity, before the Qin empire imposed the centralized bureaucratic jun-xian or “prefectures and counties” system.

[6] Liu Ji (1311-1375) earned a provincial degree under the Yuan dynasty in 1326 and served in several posts, fighting against various rebels of the late Yuan period, but he was twice fired and even imprisoned for disputes with superior officials, and retired to his home town in 1357 in despair.  There he wrote, among other works, a series of essays propounding his own view of the ideal government.  In 1359, Zhu Yuanzhang summoned him along with Song Lian and other scholars, and he became a key political and military advisor to the nascent Ming.  Dictionary of Ming Biography 932ff.

[7] Tao Yuanming (365–427),  whose famous poem “The Return” celebrates his refusal to sully himself by holding office alongside men of whom he disapproved.

[8] i.e., Cheng Hao (1032–1085), the elder of the brother founders of Neo-Confucianism, known more for his inner strength and purity than, like his brother Cheng Yi, for stern morality.  I am indebted to Peter Ditmanson for this explanation.

[9] Where the breaks in paragraphs seem odd it is because of the analysis of this and other versions, as laid out in “Reduce, Re-use, Recycle.”

[10] In Shandong, but not in Jining, so this is not clear.

[11] Right across the river from Nanjing.

[12] Taizu found out that many officials had been sending forms that were pre-approved with their stamp, but had no amount filled in, to accompany tax payments, because they did not know how much grain would be lost to accident along the way to the capital; he saw this as a sign of gross corruption and thousands of people were executed in the affair.

[13] This is a ceremonial crescent of water one crosses by bridge into the school.  The national school in the capital has a round pond with a building on an island.  You can see this in Beijing today.

[14] One li is roughly one-third of a mile.

[15] He Weiyong (c. 1335?-1380) served as Prime Minister from 1377 until 1380, when the Hongwu emperor executed him and thousands of others on suspicion of high treason.

[16] A sheng is .99 of a quart.  I convert measures to sheng, for it is convenient to be able to think roughly about quarts. Mr. Bruce Tindall assures me that a quart is also about the same size as a litre, if readers prefer to think metrically.


[17] Some kind of runner or other employee of the government whose talents lay more on the side of force than literacy.

[18] A dan (or shi) is equal to 2 hu, or 100 sheng, or 99 quarts, or 3.1 bushels.

[19] These two were altars imposed by the Ming state.

[20] I am not sure what this means and do not really understand what is going on here, so the translation is tentative.  The next paragraph is not entirely clear to me, either.

[21] Xu Da (1332-1385) was one of the earliest adherents of Zhu Yuanzhang, part of the “Fengyang gang” of Zhu’s homeboys.  Li Wenzhong (1339-1384) was Zhu’s nephew, adopted by him as a son.  Both were invested as dukes in 1370, and together they campaigned northwards in 1372 in one final attempt to capture the remnants of the Yuan royal entourage that has escaped across the Gobi desert.  Dictionary of Ming Biography p. 885.

[22] Zhu Liangzu was implicated in the Hu Weiyong affair and executed in 1380. Dictionary of Ming Biography  641.

[23] Song Lian’s epitaph records the man’s name: Chen Chuan.  Song also changes the gift of the month’s salary to: “He gave him five ‘thousand’ in cash 錢五千to help him.”  One ‘thousand’ cash might be as little as 600 actual coins in cash (in Song times; Stephen West, personal communication, February 2011) so this could mean as little as 3,500 cash.  The monthly salary was 20 dan, or 40 hu (see paragraph 49), and each hu was worth about 3 taels of silver (see paragraph 51), so the monthly salary was worth about 120 taels of silver.  The value of copper coins with respect to silver, which was not coined, fluctuated because of many factors, but a coin (qian) was approximately one-tenth of a tael, according the the Hanyu da cidian, so the monthly salary was worth approximately 1,200 cash: apparently less than Song Lian says.  In any case, Chen probably ate grain rather than selling it, if the gift was in grain; and if it was in money it was probably really paper money since the court was promoting and using paper money at this point.  – If any reader finds errors in my calculations of grain measures and money, I would be very happy to be corrected!   Please contact me!

[24] Song Lian adds an anecdote here that was frequently copied into later biographies: Fang Keqin not only drank with the unnamed man, but graciously forgave him when he had taken a drop too much, saying that he himself did so at times.

[25] We have been told that Prefect Fang brought up population and production to the point where each household was paying about 2.4 dan in grain taxes annually.  His monthly salary was 20 dan, so his yearly salary was 240 dan, equal to the tax payment of 100 households out of 144,700.   Xiaoru mentions that at the outset – when each household was paying only one-third of a dan in taxes, so his salary was equal to the tax payment of 727 out of 30,000 households – one hu of grain (equal to half a dan) was worth 3 taels of silver, so a dan would have been worth 1.5 taels and his annual salary would have been worth 360 taels of silver, roughly a tael a day.

[26] Song Lian adds that he did this because someone had told him that the soldiers were short of food, and he adds that “every month he took 10 dou as food, and the extra was all stored in the granary.”  This seems designed to directly counter the accusation that he was embezzling grain from the granary.   A dou is 10 sheng or one-tenth of a dan.  This would mean that Fang Keqin was taking only one-twentieth of his salary of 20 dan  per month.

[27] Song Lian reduces the beating to ten strokes.

[28] Song Lian’s epitaph makes it clear that this was an attempt at bribery, and places the magistrate in Raoyang
To top