Biography (SGZ): Fei Yi (Wenwei)

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Fei Yi (Wenwei)
費禕 (文偉)
(AD ?-253)

Sanguozhi Officer Biography
Pei Songzhi in Blue, Translator Notes in Green
Translated by

Fei Yi, styled Wenwei, hailed from Meng, Jiangxia. Orphaned at a young age, he lived with one Boren, an elder of his clan. Boren’s father’s sister was the mother of Liu Zhang, Governor of Yizhou.

Liu Zhang sent an envoy to bring Boren [into Shu], and Boren took Fei Yi along to Shu for his education. At that time, the First Sovereign [Liu Bei] took over Shu, and Fei Yi remained in Yi province. He became of the same fame as Xu Shulong of Runan and Dong Yun of Nanjun.

On one occasion, Xu Jing’s son died, and Dong Yun and Fei Yi wished to attend the funeral. Dong Yun asked his father, Dong He, for a carriage to take them there, but Dong He only gave him an open-back rustic rickshaw. Dong Yun’s unwillingness to ride this cart showed immediately on his face, but Fei Yi went ahead and got on the cart. When they arrived at the place of the funeral, they saw that Zhuge Liang and other noble people were there already with their splendid carriages. Dong Yun still looked uneasy, but Fei Yi was untroubled and acted as if all was normal. When the cart-pusher returned, Dong He asked him [about what happened] and found out about this. Thus he said to Dong Yun, “I had often wondered which of you and Wenwei is better of character, but from now on, I know for sure.”

When the First Sovereign announced his heir, Fei Yi and Dong Yun were both made guards of the crown prince, and were in time promoted to be attendants in the prince’s office. Fei Yi was made Gentleman in Attendance of the Yellow Gates, when the Latter Sovereign [Liu Shan] became emperor. When Prime Minister Zhuge Liang returned from the southern expedition, the officers all went to welcome him tens of li outside the city, and most of them were senior to Fei Yi either in terms of age or in rank. However, Zhuge Liang especially commanded Fei Yi to ride in the carriage with him. Everyone changed their opinion of Fei Yi after that.

Because he had just returned from the south, Zhuge Liang made Fei Yi Colonel who Illustrates Trustworthiness and sent him as an ambassador to Wu. Sun Quan was facetious of nature and his glib tongue knew no limits, and people like Zhuge Ke and Yang Dao were well-learned and keen debaters. They posed difficult discussion topics and pointed remarks, but Fei Yi was able to answer with elegant words and good arguments, and responded with good logic and reason. Not once was he overwhelmed (1). Sun Quan considered very highly of him, and said to him thus, “Sir, you are one of the most upright and virtuous man of the world. As thus, you will certainly become an indispensable minister of the Shu kingdom, and I fear that you would not have the opportunity to visit very often!” (2)

(1) Supplementary biography of Yi: Sun Quan would always arrange to have the best wine served to Fei Yi, and wait for him to be drunk before asking him about administrative business, and starting a discussion on current affairs. [Sun Quan] would discuss difficult topics one after another. Every time, Fei Yi would decline to answer, and excusing himself on the account of being drunk, he would return to his place of abode and write down replies to the questions one by one, omitting nothing.
(2) Supplementary biography of Yi: And so Sun Quan took the precious blade that he often kept in his hand, and gave it to [Fei Yi] as a gift. Yi replied, “I, your servant, am untalented – how can I deserve to be entrusted to let your command be known? However, this blade will be used to punish those who are insubordinate and to subdue rebels. My only wish is that Your Majesty will continue to accomplish great things, and to uphold the virtues of the Han. Though I be dull and weak, I will not let down the expectations the East holds for me.”

At his return Fei Yi was promoted to be an honourary palace attendant. When Zhuge Liang was in Hanzhong in the north, he requested for Fei Yi to be an advisor in his office [in Chengdu]. Fei Yi was also sent as an envoy to Wu on numerous occasions because of his ability to complete his mission satisfactorily. In the 8th year of Jianxing (AD 230), he was made Central Army Commissioner, and later became a major. At that time, army advisor Wei Yan and chief clerk Yang Yi hated each other, and every time they meet they ended up in an altercation. Sometimes Wei Yan would draw his sword and wave it at Yang Yi, and Yang Yi would weep freely. When this happens, Fei Yi would position himself between their seats, and separate them with admonishments. The fact that Wei Yan and Yang Yi’s talents were able to be used to their fullest during Zhuge Liang’s time was due to Fei Yi’s efforts in saving [their relationship]. After Zhuge Liang died, Fei Yi was made Army Advisor of the Rear. Later on, he replaced Jiang Wan as the Head of the Imperial Secretarial Office (3). When Jiang Wan returned to Fu from Hanzhong, Fei Yi was promoted to General-in-Chief and given full control of the Imperial Secretarial Office.

(3) Supplementary biography of Yi: At that time, many things were happening both inside and outside the borders, and the offices were bogged down with numerous administrative affairs. Fei Yi, having an extraordinary memory, needed only to skim through the documents and reports. He only needed to look briefly at something to understand the ideas in it. He read many times the speed of normal people, and neither would he forget what he read. Most of the time, he would attend to official business only in early morning and late afternoon, and during the time in between he would receive guests, feast and play, gamble and play chess, enjoying all the good things in life. Though this is so, he has never neglected any piece of his work. When Dong Yun replaced Fei Yi as Head of the Imperial Secretarial Office, he tried to imitate Fei Yi’s lifestyle. However, within ten days, a backlog of work built up. At this, Dong Yun sighed and said, “What a difference there can be in the talents of each person! I can never attain his level. Though I busy myself with official business all day, I still cannot attend to everything.”

In the 7th year of Yanxi (AD 244), the Wei army approached Xingshi. Fei Yi was given the jie authority and sent to defend against them with a force. Lai Min, Grandee of the Imperial Household, came to see Fei Yi off, but invited Fei Yi for a game of Weiqi. Although feathered urgent documents (I) were being brought in and sent out non-stop, the troops were all in full armour, and Fei Yi’s own carriage was ready to go, Fei Yi played the game with Lai Min most attentively and showed neither anxiety nor tiredness in his face. Lai Min said, “I was just testing your reaction! You are indeed a trustworthy man and the one who can crush the invaders.” Once Fei Yi arrived [at Hanzhong], the enemy retreated. For that he was granted the title of Marquis of Chengxiang. (4)

(I) Feathers were pasted onto the envelope of a document to signify its urgency.
(4) Yan Ji’s Tongyu says: When Sima Yi had Cao Shuang killed, Fei Yi presented the following argumentation to reason out who was right and who was wrong in the matter. Viewpoint A assumes that Cao Shuang and his brothers were men of ordinary caliber, and only because they were scions of the imperial house were they given the responsibility of advising the [young emperor]. However, they were arrogant and assumed luxuries and power beyond their station, befriending improper people, building up their own faction to plot against the kingdom. Therefore, when Sima Yi led a force against them in punitive action and eliminated the lot at once, he showed that he was worthy of the task entrusted to him and his action was in accordance with the hopes and wishes of the people.
Viewpoint B takes Sima Yi to be discontent at the former Cao lord’s not giving power solely to him, as well as Cao Shuang’s interfering with his business. Shi shi bu zhuan, and thus he secretly harboured a grudge against him. Therefore, he did not give Cao Shuang’s group admonishment or warning beforehand, and on one day slaughtered them all, taking them off guard. In this case, he was not doing something that a gentleman would do to preserve the kingdom.
Now, if we assume Cao Shuang had been plotting against his lord, and his treasonous plans were already in motion. On the day the mutiny happened, Cao Fang was in the hands of Cao Shuang and his brother. When Sima Yi and his sons put a force together behind closed gates and turn it in Cao Fang’s direction, Cao Fang’s safety was surely compromised. Can this really be a loyal minister acting for the good of his lord? Reasoning from this, it is clear that Cao Shuang was not guilty of great evils. If Sima Yi really considered Cao Shuang to be guilty of extravagance and arrogance, it would suffice for him to execute him according to the law. However, he exterminated even his infant children, branding them with the name of disloyalty, effectively wiping out Zidan’s [Cao Shuang’s] line. Also, He Yan’s son was a nephew of the Wei ruler, and even he was killed. Sima Yi was assuming too much power and behaving improperly.

Jiang Wan resolutely resigned from his provincial administrative duties and passed them on to Fei Yi, and Fei Yi took on the post of Governor of Yizhou [on top of his original post]. The accomplishments and fame Fei Yi was equal to none but Jiang Wan in the kingdom (5). In the 11th year (AD 248), he garrisoned in Hanzhong. When Jiang Wan and Fei Yi were stationed outside the capital, [Liu Shan] would ask for their opinion for all things pertaining to awards, promotions, punishments, or demotions, before proceeding with those actions. This was an indication of how much he trusted them.

(5) Supplementary biography of Yi: Fei Yi had the virtue of being humble and living simply, and gathered no wealth in his household. He had his children dress in simple cloth and eat of plain foods. No mounts nor carriages were to follow them when they went about. In everything they were as the commoners were.

Later on, in the summer of the 14th year (AD 251), he returned to Chengdu. Diviners in Chengdu said that there would be no position for a prime minister in the capital city, and thus Fei Yi returned north to Hanshou during the winter. In the 15th year of Yanxi (AD 252), [the court] commanded Fei Yi to establish his own office. On new year’s day of the 16th year, Fei Yi held a party, and among the guests was Guo Xun, who had defected from Wei. Fei Yi drank freely in merriment, and when he was quite intoxicated, Guo Xun stabbed him to death.

Fei Yi was given the posthumous title of Respectful Marquis, and his son Fei Cheng was his heir and was made Gentleman in Attendance of the Yellow Gates. Fei Cheng’s younger brother, Fei Gong, was married to a princess (6). Fei Yi’s eldest daughter was made a consort of Crown Prince Xuan.

(6) Supplementary biography of Yi: Fei Gong became an attendant in the Imperial Secretarial Office, and his name was know to all in the land. He died at a young age.

Copyright © 2004
Translated from Chen Shou’s Records of the Three Kingdoms annoted by Pei Songzhi