Biography (SGZ): Xun Yu (Wenruo)

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Xun Yu (Wenruo)
荀彧 (文若)
(AD 162–212)

San Guo Zhi Officer Biography
Pei Songzhi in Blue, Translator Notes in Green
Translated by
Proofread by Morgan Evans

Xun Yu, styled Wenruo, was a man from Yinghang in Yingchuan. His grandfather, Xun Shu, styled Jihe, was Prefect of Langling. During the reigns of Emperors Xun and Huan of Han, he was famous through the land. He had eight sons, who were known as the “Eight Dragons”. Xun Yu’s father, Xun Gun, served as Chancellor of Jinan, and his uncle Xun Shuang was Grand Minister of Works (1).

1: The Continued History of Han: Xun Shu was a brilliant person. Wang Chang and Li Ying treated him as their mentor, and he served as chancellor of Langling. He was nicknamed Master Superhuman.

Zhang Fan’s Annals of Han: Xun Shu was of great learning and lofty virtues, and being of the same mind as Li Gu and Li Ying he was good friends with them. He had promoted Li Zhao from a lowly position, and befriended Huang Shudu in his [Huang’s] childhood. He was selected as “Virtuous and Upright” and appointed a government position. Because his proposals belittled Liang [Ji] (I), he was sent off to serve as chancellor to the Marquis of Langling, and he died in office. He had eight sons: Jian, Gun, Jing, Shou, Xian, Shuang, Su, and Fu. Xun Shuang was styled Ciming, and was fond of learning ever since he was a child. By the time he was twelve, he knew thoroughly the Spring and Autumn Annals and the Analects. Being completely enthralled by his studies of the classics, he declined all summons for him to fill official positions for over ten years. When Dong Zhuo came to power, he summoned Xun Shuang again, and Xun Shuang tried to flee. However, the officers caught him in time. An edict was sent to his commandery appointing him Chancellor of Pingyuan. By the time he got to Yuanling (on his way to Pingyuan), he was further promoted to Superintendent of the Imperial Household. After three days on the job, he was made Chief Minister of Works. Xun Shuang, having started off as a commoner, attained the rank of one of the Three Dukes within 95 days. In Xun Shu’s prior area of abode, Xihao District, the prefect Yuan Kang announced that since [the legendary sage king] Gaoyang also had eight talented sons, the district was to be renamed Gaoyang District. Xun Jing was styled Shuci, and was also of great virtue. He was almost as famous as Xun Shuang, but he remained a recluse throughout his life

I: A powerful and corrupt officer who served through the reigns of Emperor Chong, Emperor Ling, and Emperor Huan.

Huangfu Mi’s Records of Unworldly Men: Someone asked Xu Zijiang, “Who is more virtuous, Jing or Shuang?” Zi Jiang replied, “Both are as precious stones. Ciming is bright on the outside; Shuci is smooth inside.”

When Xun Yu was a young man, He Yu of Nanyang took him to be an extraordinary person, and said of him, “He is one who may aid a hegemon!” (2)

2: Dian Lue: Palace Regular Attendant Tang Heng wished to give his daughter in marriage to Fu Gongming of Runan. Fu Gongming did not want to wed her, and recommended her to Xun Yu instead. Xun Yu’s father, Xun Gun, took her for Xun Yu on account of Tang Heng’s power. Thus Xun Yu came to be mocked by those who discussed personalities of the times.

I, Songzhi, your servant, make the following observation: According to the Annals of Han, Tang Heng died in the 7th year of the Yanxi reign of Emperor Huan. At that time, Xun Yu was no more than a year or two years old. By the time that Xun Yu was marriageable, Tang Heng was long dead. How can it be that they did it on account of Tang Heng’s power? Also, in the past, Zheng Hu was ridiculed because he opposed Qi’s [marriage proposal] (II), but Master Jun [Buyi] was praised for refuting the Huo’s (III). One was ridiculed because he missed the chance to make an ally, and the other was praised because he considered long term effects. There is no correlation between [turning down marriage proposals] and good or bad. [At Xun Gun’s time,] the eunuchs ran the court, and all within the Four Seas dared not to speak out against hem; Zuo Guan and Tang Heng sent people to their deaths by a mere word. There was a folk saying at that time, “Zuo covers up the heavens and Tang sits alone”—referring to their unmatched power. Those who acted in accordance with them, their families were saved; but those who opposed them were met with disaster in no time. Those were times where survival was the main priority, and where it is alright to suffer shame in waiting for the day of justice. When in the past Jiang Xu had marriage ties to the Wang family (IV), none considered him to have compromised his upright virtues. How, then, can Xun Gun’s assenting to this marriage be considered a bad thing?

II: Zheng Hu was the heir-apparent of Duke Zhuang of Zheng during the Spring and Autumn times. He repeatedly declined the Marquis of Qi’s offer of his daughter’s hand in marriage to him. Although his reasons were legitimate, he was ridiculed because the acceptance of the marriage alliance would secure his position against the other two princes in contention of the dukedom.
III: Jun Buyi, an officer of the Western Han, turned down a marriage offer from the powerful general Huo Guang. Ban Gu, the author of the History of Han, praised him for attaining a high position without relationships at work.
IV: Wang family: the family of Wang Mang, a powerful aristocrat at the end of the Western Han dynasty who eventually usurped the throne in AD 9.

In the first year of Yonghan [AD 189], Xun Yu was recommended as Filial and Incorrupt, and appointed Prefect of the Palace Guards (V). During the calamities incited by Dong Zhuo, he asked to be sent off as a local officer, and so he was re-appointed Prefect of Kangfu. Thus he abandoned his post, and after returning home, he said to the elders, “Yingchuan is a battleground all around. Once the realm falls into chaos, this will be the place for warfare. We should all leave here at once—do not linger!” However, his fellow villagers hesitated in following, since they loved their land. Around that time, Han Fu, Protector of Jizhou, who was from the same commandery, sent a cavalry unit to take in the emperor. Since no one would follow Xun Yu, he led just his family to Jizhou. By the time he arrived, Yuan Shao had already taken over Han Fu’s power, and he welcomed Xun Yu as a distinguished guest. Xun Yu’s younger brother Xun Chan entered Yuan Shao’s employment, and so did Xin Ping and Guo Tu, who were also of the same commandery. Xun Yu figured that Yuan Shao would be unable to achieve great things. Therefore, in the second year of the Chuping reign [AD 191], when the Great Progenitor [Cao Cao] was in Dongjun serving as General who Manifests Might, Xun Yu left Yuan Shao for him. The Great Progenitor was greatly pleased, and said, “This is my own Zifang (VI)!” Cao Cao made him a major. Xun Yu was 29 then.

V: A secretarial position, in charge of keeping the emperor’s stationery items as well as keeping track of secretarial expenses.
VI: Zifang is the style name of Zhang Liang, one of the most important advisors of Liu Bang, who helped Liu Bang unite the realm after the civil wars at the end of the Qin dynasty and establish the Han dynasty.

At that time, Dong Zhuo abused his power and ruled the world with tyranny. The Great Progenitor asked Xun Yu’s opinion about that. Xun Yu said, “Dong Zhuo has already reached the extreme in tyranny and thus is bound to end violently. There is nothing much he can do now.” Dong Zhuo sent Li Jue and others east of the Passes, and they pillaged and plundered their way to Yingchuan and Chenliu and back. Most of Xun Yu’s fellow villagers who remained home were killed. In the next year, the Great Progenitor was made designated Protector of Yanzhou, and afterwards he became General who Guards the East. During this time, Xun Yu often followed him around in the position of a major.

In the first year of the Xingping reign [AD 194], the Great Progenitor attacked Tao Qian, and left Xun Yu behind to be in charge of domestic affairs. It happened that Zhang Miao and Chen Gong rebelled in Yanzhou and welcomed Lü Bu in secrecy. When Lü Bu arrived, Zhang Miao sent Liu Yi to bear a message to Xun Yu, saying, “General Lü is here to help Lord Cao to attack Tao Qian. Please grant him food and supplies immediately.” No one knew what to make of this. Xun Yu, though, knew that Zhang Miao was about to rebel, and so he made ready his troops and raised the city defences. He also sent an urgent message to summon Xiahou Dun, Grand Administrator of Dongjun. By that time, all the cities of Yanzhou had already allied with Lü Bu. Since the Great Progenitor took the majority of his forces to attack Tao Qian, there were few men left guarding the city. In addition to that, many of the higher-ranked officers in the city who had military commands were co-conspirators of Zhang Miao and Chen Gong. Once Xiahou Dun arrived, he immediately killed some tens of rebels that evening, and everyone calmed down. Then, Guo Gong, Inspector of Yuzhou, arrived beneath the city gates with some tens of thousands of men. Some said that he was one of Lü Bu’s accomplices, and all were in fear. Guo Gong asked for an audience with Xun Yu. Xun Yu was about to go out to meet him, but Xiahou Dun and others said, “Sir, you are in charge of this whole province. Should you go, your life would be endangered. Do not go.” Xun Yu replied, “Guo Gong has not been a close friend with Zhang Miao and the others. By his coming so speedily, he must not have decided on a plan of action yet. If I go talk to him before his mind is set, even if he doesn’t take in my words, at most he would stand neutral. However, if we doubt him right at the start, he might come up with a plan against us in anger.” Guo Gong, seeing that Xun Yu had no trace of fear, thought that Juancheng must be difficult to conquer. Therefore, he led his men and left. Xun Yu then consulted with Cheng Yu, and sent envoys to lobby [the governors of] Fan and Dong’e. As a result, he kept all three cities safe in the Great Progenitor’s absence. When the Great Progenitor returned from Xuzhou, he attacked Lü Bu at Puyang, and Lü Bu fled eastward. In the summer of the second year [AD 195], the Great Progenitor garrisoned at Chengshi. There was a great famine, and people cannibalized each other.

When Tao Qian died, the Great Progenitor was of the mind to first take Xuzhou and then capture Lü Bu afterwards. Xun Yu said, “In the past, the High Progenitor [Liu Bang] kept the lands of Guanzhong (VII) and Emperor Guangwu held fast to the Henei lands (VIII)—both were able to conquer the world because of the solidity of their power bases. They were able to defeat enemies when they advanced, and upon retreat they were able to put up strong defences. This is why they managed to achieve great things despite occasional failures. General, you have built up your headquarters in Yanzhou. When you went to pacify the troubled lands in Shandong, all the commoners welcomed you with all their hearts. Furthermore, the lands between the Yellow River and Ji River are the most strategically important lands of the realm. Even though they have been ravished in recent times, they are still easy to fortify. This is your own Guanzhong and Henei, and you must take control of it immediately. Now that we have routed Li Feng and Xue Lan, if we send a separate force to go east and attack Chen Gong, he will not dare to have designs upon our land. In the meantime, we can regroup our men to harvest the wheat, and by rationing carefully and storing up the grains, we will be able to defeat Lü Bu in one single strike. After we defeat Lü Bu, we can make an alliance with Yangzhou to go on a punitive campaign against Yuan Shu together. We will then be able to approach the Huai and Si Rivers.

VII: Guanzhong refers to the lands within the four Passes, in what is today’s Shaanxi province.
VIII: Henei refers to the lands north of the Yellow River.

“However, if we leave Lü Bu alone and go east [to Xuzhou], we won’t have enough troops to deploy if we leave too many men behind, but if we leave too few behind the commoners will be forced to defend the city rather than go about making their daily living. Lü Bu would take advantage of this and raid our land. Our popular support will be endangered, and only Juancheng, Fan, and Wei can be guaranteed to be safe. The rest of the land will no longer be under our control, and in this case, we will have lost Yanzhou. Should we also fail to take Xuzhou, then where would you, O General, call home? Furthermore, even though Tao Qian is dead, Xuzhou is not so easily lost to us. Remembering their defeat in former years, the people will unite out of fear and work to protect one another. Since all of them in the east are harvesting the grains already, [by the time we get there,] they would be waiting for you behind strong walls and cleared fields. You will not be able to overcome their defences, or obtain much by raiding the area. In no fewer than ten days, even an army of a hundred thousand would find itself in straits (3). The last time we attacked Xuzhou, we manifested our might and punished them heavily (4). The younger generation now, remembering the shame that came upon their predecessors, will definitely defend the city with all their lives. Since they will have no desire to surrender, there is no chance that we can defeat them as soon as we get there.

“Of course, there are cases where one needs to abandon one thing in order to take another. Sometimes it is advisable to trade in something big for something small. Sometimes it is advisable to trade in safety for danger. Sometimes, considering the immediate situation, it is advisable to not worry about one’s foundations not being secure. However, our current circumstances fall into none of these three classes. General, I beg of you to think carefully about it.” Thus the Great Progenitor desisted. He put much effort in the harvest, and then went to do battle with Lü Bu, having sent separate forces to conquer the various commanderies in the area. Lü Bu was defeated and forced to flee, and Yanzhou was pacified.

3: Considering how at that time Xuzhou had not been pacified and Yanzhou was in rebellion, I, Songzhi, your servant, am of the opinion that the mentioning of “an army of a hundred thousand” is indicative of their strength despite it being an exaggeration. Given this, we know that the claim that [Cao’s] army numbered less than ten thousand at Guandu is false.
4: Biography of Cao Man: Ever since the capital city suffered turmoil at the hands of Dong Zhuo, the commoners migrated eastward, and many of them took refuge around Pengcheng. When the Great Progenitor came to that area, he buried some tens of thousands of commoners—men and women—by the Si River, and the water could not flow past. Tao Qian led his troops to dig in at Wuyuan, and the Great Progenitor was unable to advance. And so he marched from the south side of Si River to attack the prefectures of Qiulü, Suiling, Xiaqiu, and slaughtered all within; even the chickens and dogs were annihilated. No more were people seen on the roads of the marketplaces.

In the first year of Jian’an [AD 196], the Great Progenitor defeated the Yellow Turbans. Emperor Xian of Han returned to Luoyang from Hedong. The Great Progenitor brought up the idea of taking in the emperor and relocating the capital city to Xu. Some said that the Shandong area was still in turmoil, and in addition, Han Xian and Yang Feng, who had recently brought the Son of Heaven back to Luoyang, would be hard to overcome since they could ally with Zhang Yang in the north. Xun Yu advised, “In the past, when Duke Wen of the state of Jin welcomed King Xiang of Zhou, the feudal lords acknowledged him. When the High Progenitor attacked east dressed in mourning garbs for Emperor Yi (IX), all within the realm turned their hearts to him. Since our emperor was first exiled, General, you were the first to raise a loyal force [to support the Han house]. It is only because of the turmoil in the Shandong area that you have not yet been able to go west of the Passes. Even so, you have sent commanders to be envoys to the emperor, braving many dangers. Though you are outside the capital holding out against chaos, your heart has ever been set on supporting the royal house. You have always aspired to bring order to the realm.

IX: Emperor Yi was a descendent of the noble house of Chu of the Warring States. Supported by Xiang Yu and his uncle Xiang Liang, Emperor Yi (or, the “Righteous Emperor”) was the nominal leader of the strongest anti-Qin faction at the end of the Qin dynasty. After the last emperor of the Qin was killed, Xiang Yu declared himself king and had Emperor Yi murdered. Thereupon, Liu Bang, who was in Hanzhong at that time, put on mourning garbs, denounced Xiang Yu, and marched eastward to attack him.

“The emperor and the imperial retinue have been denied their rightful place, and the Eastern Capital is in shambles. All men of righteousness worry about protecting our heritage, and even the commoners lament when they reminisce of the past. Precisely because of this, your support of the emperor and satisfying the people’s hopes will accord with the way of great harmony. Your upholding justice to bring warlords to submission will be in accord with the way of great intelligence. Your patronage of righteous men in order to attract talents [to your service] will be in accord with the way of great benevolence. Though there should be treasonous men in the world, it is clear that they would not be able to hinder us. Would Han Xian and Yang Feng dare to oppose us? If you don’t settle this in time, people from all around the realm will have seditious thoughts, and it will be too late for you to start worrying about that then.” The Great Progenitor forthwith went to Luoyang, and brought the Son of Heaven to make Xu the new capital. The emperor appointed the Great Progenitor as General-in-Chief, and promoted Xun Yu to be Imperial Counsellor and Chief of the Imperial Secretariat. He always stayed behind to maintain the important affairs (5), and even though the Great Progenitor was out with the army, he would consult with Xun Yu on everything relating to the military and to civil administration (6). The Great Progenitor asked Xun Yu, “Who would be able to advise me in your stead?” Xun Yu replied, “Xun You and Zhong Yao.” Before this, Xun Yu had recommended various strategists, including Xi Zhicai. When Xi Zhicai died, he recommended Guo Jia. Thus the Great Progenitor considered Xun Yu one who can discern talent in men. All whom Xun Yu recommended were up to their given tasks, with the exception of only Yan Xiang, Inspector of Yangzhou, and Wei Kang, Inspector of Liangzhou, who were both eventually defeated and killed (7).

5: Dian Lue: Xun Yu humbled himself and honoured the talented, and did not tire of sitting in the company of visitors. Though he was in a high official position, he never abused his power to carry out his own desires. There was a cousin of Xun Yu’s who was lacking in both talents and virtues, and someone spoke of him to Xun Yu, “If you, sir, become in charge of [human resources], can you not make so-and-so an imperial counsellor? Xun Yu smiled and said, “An officer is appointed in order to recognize good talent. If I do as you said, how would other people think of me?” This is but an indication of his regard of fairness and justice.

6: Dian Lue: Xun Yu was a very handsome man.

Also, Biography of Mi Heng of Pingyuan records: Mi Heng is styled Zhengping. In the early years of the Jian’an reign, he travelled northward to Xudu from Jingzhou. He thought highly of his own intelligence and was haughty and aloof. He always judged others, and would refuse to speak to those he deemed not of his peer. Thus everyone hated him. Privy Treasurer Kong Rong alone held his talents in high respect, and thus he submitted a letter to recommend him, saying, “He is virtuous of nature, and upright in character. His talents are most excellent. When he first started to learn to compose, all went up his halls to read his writing. He is able to recite orally things that he has seen just once; and he knows by memory everything that passes his ears. His character is in accordance of the Way, and his thoughts are those of the gods. [Sang] Hongyang was talented at mental arithmetic (X), and [Zhang] Anshi could recite much by memory (XI). Given what Mi Heng could do, those men’s talents are not to be marvelled at.” At that time, Mi Heng was 24 years of age. Though the city of Xudu was only newly built then, there was already a multitude of talented men. Mi Heng had once made a business card for himself and carried it on him, but eventually the ink was rubbed off and the words unreadable—he was unable to find someone to whom to give the card. Someone asked him, “Why don’t you seek employment from Chen Changwen [Chen Qun] or Sima Boda [Sima Lang]?” Mi Heng replied, “Would you have me work for those children of butchers and wine-sellers?” Others asked him, “Then, who is the best out of the people in Xu these days?” Mi Heng said, “There’s the big kid Kong Wenju [Kong Rong] and the young kid Yang Dezu [Yang Xiu].” They then asked, “Would people like Lord Cao, Master Xun [Yu], and Zhao the General who Terrifies Criminals be able to make a big impression on the world?" Mi Heng did not have many praises for Lord Cao; and seeing that Xun had good looks and Zhao had a large stomach, he answered, "[Xun] Wenruo can go help with the mourning at funerals with his good looks, and [Zhao] Zhichang can be a head chef for a large banquet." By that he meant that Xun was only handsome and nothing else, and Zhao could do nothing but eat meat. Thus he infuriated everyone. Knowing that people were not pleased with him, Mi Heng prepared to return southward to Jingzhou. Before he departed, all the other people threw him a farewell feast. They set up a tent by the south gate of the city, and said to each other, “Mi Heng is so insolent, that we should pay back by showing him disrespect. Let us not rise from our seats when he arrives.” When Mi Heng got there, everyone stayed seated. Thereupon Mi Heng started to wail loudly. They all asked him what the matter was, and he said, “I am walking amidst corpses and coffins. How can I not grieve?”

Mi Heng then went to see Liu Biao in the south. Liu Biao treated him with great respect. At that time, General Huang Zu was stationed at Xiakou, and his son, Huang She, was friends with Mi Heng. So Mi Heng went with him to Xiakou. Huang Zu was impressed by Mi Heng’s talents, and so every time they had guests seated together, he would make conversation with Mi Heng. One time, Mi Heng became arrogant, and responded to Huang Zu in cheeky colloquial speech. Huang Zu took it to be a personal insult, and in his ire he shot a glance at his lictors, instructing them to haul Mi Heng out. The attendants thus took him away and executed him.

X: Sang Hongyang, born of a merchant family, was famous for his abilities of doing mental calculations. Entering official service at the age of thirteen, he played a large role in Emperor Wu’s financial reforms.
XI: Zhang Anshi was an officer under Emperor Wu. Once, the emperor lost three cases of books on a trip, and Zhang was able to recite all the books by memory for the emperor’s reference.

I, Songzhi, your servant, observe that the main text does not note Xun Yu’s good looks, and that is why I included the passage from the Dian Lue and from the Mi Heng biography to illustrate the point. Furthermore, Pan Xu wrote on Xun Yu’s tombstone that Xun was “extraordinary of good looks”.

Zhang Heng’s Records of the Literati: Kong Rong had recommended Mi Heng to the Great Progenitor on various occasions, and the Great Progenitor wished to see him. However, Mi Heng held him in great contempt, and in his arrogance refused to go. Thus much gossip was spread around regarding this. When the Great Progenitor heard about it, he planned to embarrass him, and so he appointed him as a drummer-officer.

There was a great feast after the Ceremonies of the Eigth Month, and many guests were gathered. The proper rites were that whenever a drummer finished his piece, he had to remove his former attire and put on new garments. When it was Mi Heng’s turn, he played a piece named “Three Beats of Yuyang”. The way he beat the drum was extraordinary, and made a beautiful tone from the instrument. All the guests seated there were moved hearing his music. However, when he finished, he did not change his clothes. The other officers shouted at him, at which Mi Heng walked up to the Great Progenitor, removed his clothes a piece at a time, and stood stark naked in front of him for some time before slowly putting back on his pants and his cap. After that, he went back and continued drumming, without a trace of embarrassment on his face. The Great Progenitor broke into laughter and said to those around him, “I was originally going to insult Mi Heng, but it turned out that Mi Heng managed to insult me back.” To this day there is a piece called “Three Beats of Yuyang”, and it was composed by Mi Heng. Kong Rong severely admonished Mi Heng about the incident, and expressed to him the Great Progenitor’s wishes, with the intent of making Mi Heng go meet the Great Progenitor. Mi Heng agreed, “I will go on account of you.” So, in the tenth month, Kong Rong had an audience with the Great Progenitor and told him that Mi Heng requested an audience with him. It was only at sundown that Mi Heng appeared—in a robe of simple cloth and shoes of rough cloth. He sat by the gate of the Great Progenitor’s camp, and struck the ground with his staff, hurling insults at the Great Progenitor. The Great Progenitor ordered the external stables to quickly prepare three good horses and two horsemen. He then said to Kong Rong, “Mi Heng, that insolent fool! How dare he thus! If I were to kill him, it would just be like killing a sparrow or a rat. However, considering how this man has a vain reputation and some fame, I worry that people will say that I am intolerant should I kill him. I will thus send him to Liu Biao, and see what happens to him there!” Thereupon, he ordered the horsemen to take Mi Heng on a horse, and to escort him to Nanyang.

Fuzi: Mi Heng was argumentative in his speech and overly criticizing when discussing other people. On the day he went to see Liu Biao, Governor of Jingzhou, many people who affiliated themselves to Liu Biao came as well. Liu Biao was pleased and treated Mi Heng as an honoured guest. Mi Heng was full of praises for Liu Biao’s virtues, but spared nothing when he criticized those around Liu Biao. Thus they seized on his weakness and slandered against him [to Liu Biao], saying, “Mi Heng praised your benevolence, saying that it excels even that of Xibo of yore. However, he considered you indecisive, and said that it would be the reason why you will never be successful.” In reality, they were hinting that Liu Biao was not far thinking; the words were not from Mi Heng’s mouth. Liu Biao, not investigating more in this matter, distanced himself from Mi Heng and eventually sent him away. Mi Heng lost friendship with Liu Biao and was at his wit’s end while at Huang Zu’s; his body died, his name destroyed, and he became a laughingstock of the realm—it’s all because the slanderers understood his weakness.

7: Annotations to the Records of the Officers of the Sanfu Region: Yan Xiang, styled Wenze, came from Jingzhao. In his youth he was clever and well learned, and had great courage and wisdom. He went to Yangzhou to deliver the imperial command to attack Yuan Shu, in the position of Chief of the Censorate who Directs the Army. Yuan Shu died of illness right then, and thus Yan Xiang was promoted to Inspector of Yangzhou. In the 5th year of Jian’an, he was killed by Li Shu, the grand administrator of Lujiang whom Sun Ce appointed. He was 38 years old. When Zhou Qi, who was from the same commandery as Yan Xiang, wrote the Records of the Officers of the Sanfu Region, he feared that his contemporaries would misunderstand the text, and so he kept the book in secret and showed it only to Yan Xiang.

Wei Kang, styled Yuanjiang, was also from Jingchao. Kong Rong had once written to Kang’s father, Wei Duan, “The day before yesterday, Yuanjiang came to visit me. He is broad of learning, brilliant, accomplished; he had the air of a gentleman, big-hearted and upright. He has the potential to bring about great things in the world. Yesterday, Zhongjiang came as well. He is refined in character, pure and honest; his writing is clever, straightforward and sincere. He is one who can uphold the family name. I had no idea that two such pearls would come from such an old oyster. I do value them both greatly.”

Wei Duan, who was Governor of Liangzhou, was summoned to serve in the capital as Grand Coachman, and Wei Kang replaced him as Inspector of Liangzhou. Their contemporaries held them in high regard. In later times, [Wei Kang] was besieged by Ma Chao. He defended the city for a long tme, but no reinforcements arrived, and he was killed by Ma Chao.

Zhongjiang’s given name was [Wei] Dan. See Liu Shao’s biography.

Ever since the Great Progenitor brought the emperor into his power, Yuan Shao bore a grudge against him. Having newly annexed the lands north of the Yellow River, Yuan Shao’s power was feared by all under heaven. At that time, the Great Progenitor was just worrying about Lü Bu in the east and defending against Zhang Xiu in the south. When he found out that Zhang Xiu had defeated the Great Progenitor at Wan, Yuan Shao’s arrogance grew, and he wrote an extremely rude letter to the Great Progenitor. The Great Progenitor was infuriated, and behaved abnormally in his daily activities. Everyone thought that it was due to his having lost to Zhang Xiu. Zhong Yao asked Xun Yu’s opinion on the matter. Xun Yu replied, “Given the lord’s wisdom, he would not begrudge something that happened in the past. There must be another reason.” Forthwith, he went to ask the Great Progenitor about it. The Great Progenitor showed Yuan Shao’s letter to Xun Yu, and said, “I wish to attack this insolent man, but I am not strong enough. What should be done?”

Xun Yu said, “When one examines the tales of success and failure in history, one finds that should one have talented men to help him, though he be weak at first, he will become strong; should one not employ men properly, though he be strong at first, he will become weak. The history of Liu [Bang] and Xiang [Yu] is sufficient to illustrate this. Now, the only man who vies with you for the realm is Yuan Shao. He appears to be liberal but is grudging at heart, and suspects too much of the intentions of those he employs; you are fair and exacting, but you use people according to their abilities—this is your superiority in correct appreciation. Yuan Shao hesitates and is indecisive, and lacks initiative; you are decisive and can act promptly according to the situation—this is your superiority in policy. Yuan Shao is lax in his enforcement of military law, and though his troops be numerous he is unable to deploy them properly; you are firm in carrying out rewards and punishments according to the rules, and so though you are inferior in strength, your soldiers fight to the death for you—this is your superiority in the military. Yuan Shao relies on his pedigree and puts on airs of wisdom, and loves to gather about him people of renown; you treat everyone with kindness, taking them for their sincerity rather than the superficial; you are careful and frugal and yet generous with those who merited honour, thus you have in your employment loyal, upright, efficient, and honest men—this is your superiority in moral virtues. When you support the emperor with these four superiorities, upholding the honourable and waging war against the evil, who will not follow your banner? What can Yuan Shao do with all his strength in numbers?” The Great Progenitor was pleased by this speech.

Xun Yu then said, “If we don’t first take out Lü Bu, we will have a difficult time trying to take lands north of the Yellow River.”

That is true,” the Great Progenitor said, “However, the reason why I hesitate is because I fear that Yuan Shao would raid the lands within the Passes, incite the Qiang and the Hu barbarians to rebellion, and lure the forces in the Shu and Han River area to join forces with him. If that happens, I will have to hold out against five-sixths of the world with only the lands of Yan and Yu provinces. What should I do then?”

Xun Yu replied, “The military leaders within the Passes number by the score, but they are not united. Han Sui and Ma Chao alone are powerful among them. Seeing that we are doing battle in Shandong, they would definitely recruit troops to strengthen their power. However, if we calm them down with much benevolence, and send messengers to build peace with them, even though we cannot buy long-term peace, we can buy enough time for you, sir, to take over Shandong. Zhong Yao can be entrusted with the affairs of the west, and sir, you will have nothing to worry about.”

In the 3rd year of the Jian’an reign [AD 198], the Great Progenitor, considering that he had already defeated Zhang Xiu, captured Lü Bu in the east, and taken over Xuzhou, decided to go against Yuan Shao. Kong Rong said to Xun Yu, “Yuan Shao’s lands are vast and his troops are strong. There are intelligent strategists such as Tian Feng and Xu You to advise him; there are loyal officers such as Shen Pei and Feng Ji to administer for him; and there are martial champions such as Yan Liang and Wen Chou to lead his forces. He would be difficult to conquer!” Xun Yu replied, “Yuan Shao’s troops are numerous, but their discipline is lax. Tian Feng is bold but too blunt to his superiors. Xu You is greedy and undisciplined. Shen Pei is devoted but stupid. Feng Ji is determined but selfish. The latter two men are left to administer to domestic affairs. If someone from Xu You’s family violates the law, they would definitely not spare him. And if they don’t spare him, Xu You would give to treason. As for Yan Liang and Wen Chou, they are simple men of prowess, and can be captured in the first battle.” In the 5th year (AD 200), they were engaged in battle after battle with Yuan Shao. The Great Progenitor was holding Guandu against Yuan Shao’s encirclement. Food supplies having been exhausted, the Great Progenitor wrote to Xun Yu, asking him whether it was advisable to return to Xu and lure Yuan Shao to follow them. Xun Yu replied, “Though our army is low in supplies, we are nowhere near what it was like when Chu and Han were standing off between Yingyang and Chenggao (XII). At that time, neither Liu [Bang] nor Xiang [Yu] dared to retreat first, as he who retreated first would diminish in power. Now, my lord, you have held your ground against [Yuan Shao] with a force only one-tenth of his, and yet you have been able to block their advancement for over half a year. At this juncture, great changes are about to take place. This is the time to employ unexpected tactics—do not miss the chance!” The Great Progenitor desisted from returning, but rather sent a contingent to sneak attack a separate garrison of Yuan Shao’s, and had Chunyu Qiong and other generals beheaded. Yuan Shao retreated. Shen Pei arrested Xu You’s wives and children on the account of Xu You’s family trespassing the law; infuriated, Xu You defected. Yan Liang and Wen Chou were killed and beheaded on the battlefield. Tian Feng was executed because of his admonishments. Everything proceeded as Xun Yu had predicted.

XII: This refers to a major battle between Xiang Yu and Liu Bang, who later defeated Xiang Yu and established the Han dynasty.

In the 6th year (AD 201), the Great Progenitor went to gather grains at Anmin in Dongping. Being short on grains, he did not have enough in order to stand off against the north. Thus, he considered taking advantage of Yuan Shao’s recent defeat and attack Liu Biao. Xun Yu said, “Yuan Shao having been defeated, his men’s morale is down. We should conquer him once and for all, seizing this time of his desperation. If instead we turn our backs to Yan and Yu provinces and march far away to the Yangtze and the Han Rivers, Yuan Shao might regroup his remaining forces and attack us from the rear. In that case, you would be done for.” Thus the Great Progenitor arrayed his troops along the Yellow River again. Yuan Shao died of illness. The Great Progenitor crossed the River, and attacked Yuan Shao’s sons Yuan Tan and Yuan Shang. Gao Gan and Guo Yuan raided Hedong, and incited a commotion west of the Passes. Zhong Yao led Ma Teng and others and routed them—this is recorded in Zhong Yao’s biography. In the 8th year (AD 203), the Great Progenitor distinguished Xun Yu’s past accomplishments and memorialized to make him Marquis of Wansui Commune (8).

8: The Alternate Biography of Xun Yu records the Great Progenitor’s petition: “Your servant has heard that careful planning should deserve the highest merit, and strategic advice warrant priority in rewards; that accomplishments on the battlefield do not surpass those of the official courts, and even participating in many battles does not make one better than a central statesman. This is why the granting of Qufu was not after the granting of Yingqiu (XIII); Xiao He’s fief was granted before that of Lord Pingyang’s (XIV). Precious strategies and far-reaching schemes are valued by all from past to present.

“Xun Yu, Imperial Courtier and Prefect of the Secretariat, has accumulated many deeds and good works, and has never done nothing regrettable. As the world suffered from much chaos, the thoughts of loyalty and good government have always been on his mind. Ever since I, your servant, raised a volunteer force to fight insurgents all around the realm, I have fought side by side with Xun Yu, who persevered under the same aspirations as my own. All his proposed plans for hegemony, all his advice and strategies, have never failed upon application. The accomplishments of Xun Yu are what carried me to this current state. They are as all-encompassing as the clouds in the sky, and shine as brightly as the sun and the moon. As Your Majesty so kindly granted, Xun Yu has been able to be at my side advising me on important matters. He has worked with utmost loyalty, dedication, respect, and obedience, with such care as one who walks on thin ice. He strives to develop his talents and push himself to the extreme, in order to bring order to civilian affairs. That the realm regains peace and unity is due to Xun Yu’s merits. It is advisable that he should enjoy an exulted position, so that the one with the most merits can be acknowledged properly.”

XIII: Qufu was the fief granted to the Duke of Zhou, the most important politician and lawmaker of the Zhou dynasty. Yingqiu was the fief granted to Lü Shang (also known as Jiang Ziya), the main military strategist under King Wu of Zhou, who conquered the Shang dynasty and started the Zhou dynasty.
XIV: Lord Pingyang is Cao Shen, one of the most meritorious commanders who fought under Liu Bang, first emperor of Han. When Liu Bang ranked his followers in terms of merit, he put Xiao He, who drew up all the major plans and strategies for him, at the top of the list. This was done despite protestations from other officers saying that Cao Shen had more merit as he fought bravely battle after battle, his body covered with wounds.

Xun Yu insisted that he had never exerted himself on the field, and held the Great Progenitor’s petition back from the Emperor. The Great Progenitor thus wrote to Xun Yu, “Ever since we have served the country together in order to uphold the court, you have done much—supporting and advising me, recommending talented people to me, drawing up strategies and plans for me, sharing secret counsel with me. It is not the case that merit must come from the battlefield. I pray you to decline no more.” Thus Xun Yu accepted [the recommendation].

In the 9th year of the Jian’an reign (AD 204), the Grand Progenitor conquered Ye, and was made designated Protector of Jizhou. Some advised him, “It would be good to re-instate the Nine Imperial Districts system of the ancient times (XV). In this case, the district of Ji will encompass a lot of land, and all the realm will acknowledge your leadership.” The Great Progenitor was about to agree to it, when Xun Yu advised, “If we do this, then Ji District will have to include the lands of Hedong, Fengyi, Fufeng, Xihe, You, and Bing, annexing much land from other people. Recently, you have defeated Yuan Shang and captured Shen Pei, causing all within the Seas to tremble. Every man fears that his land would be taken, and thus they increase their troops on defence. Now, if we redraw the map and have their land belong to Ji District, they would all have thoughts of sedition. Furthermore, there are many who lobby the generals west of the Passes to close the Passes off [and be independent of the Central Lands]. Once they find out about our plans, they will think that we are going to annex their lands as well. Should they rise in rebellion, even those who were neutral may ally with them and cause trouble. In that case, Yuan Shang would be able to escape with his life, and Yuan Tan harbour thoughts of insurgence. Liu Biao would be able to keep his lands between the Yangtze and the Han River. It will then be difficult for us to unite the world. I beg of you, sir, to quickly lead your troops to take over the lands north of the Yellow River, and then rebuild the former capital. After that, press forward to Jingzhou, punishing them for not sending tribute to the emperor. Then, the world will understand your true aspirations, and men’s hearts will be put at rest. First bring unity and peace to the subcelestial realm, and then consider the reinstatement of the ancient system. This is the way to a long-lived dynasty.” The Great Progenitor thus put the Nine Districts idea to rest.

XV: In the Zhou dynasty, China was divided into nine administrative districts (or provinces). In the Qin and Han times, the number of administrative districts was increased due to the expansion of Chinese territory. The proposal to revert to the old system was not so much for the reorganization of local government; because the Chinese equated the governance of antiquity to good governance, it is more a gesture showing that Cao Cao was going to be a benevolent ruler like the sages of old.

At that time, Xun Yu often served as a military advisor. His older brother Xun Yan guarded Ye in the position of Colonel-Superintendent, and was in charge of military affairs of all of Hebei. When the Great Progenitor attacked Yuan Shang, Gao Gan sent a contingent in secret to sneak attack Ye. Xun Yan found out about it and had them all killed. For this, he was made a marquis (9).

9: Family Records of the Xun’s: Xun Yan, styled Xiuruo, was Xun Yu’s third-oldest brother. Xun Yu’s fourth-oldest brother, Xun Chan, styled Youruo, is discussed in Yuan Shao’s biography. When Chen Qun and Kong Rong were rating the personalities of the Ru[nan] and Yong[chuan] areas, Chen Qun said, “Xun Wenruo, Gongda, Xiuruo, Youruo, and Zhongyu are without match in the current world.” Xun Yan’s son, Xun Shao, attained the rank of Grand Coachman. His son Xun Rong, styled Boya, was of the same fame as Wang Bi and Zhong Hui, and he served as Prefect of Luoyang and a military advisor to the General-in-Chief. His debates with Wang Bi and Zhong Hui on the interpretation of the Book of Changes and the Laozi were widely circulated. Xun Chan’s son, Xun Hong, styled Zhongmou, was an Officer of the Crown Prince’s Study. At that time, there was a great debate, and Xun Hong took a different viewpoint from those of Zhong Yao’s, Wang Lang’s, and Yuan Huan’s. Emperor Wen [Cao Pi] wrote a letter to Zhong Yao, saying, “Yuan and Wang are the topmost talents of the realm, and they are fending for each other. Xun Hong is of great literary prowess and is one of the keenest debaters of all times. These are truly worthy opponents of yours and people to worry about.” [Xun Hong] died in the position of Gentleman-attendant of the Imperial Gates. Xun Hong’s grandnephew Xun Hui, styled Jingwen, was Counsellor to the Crown Prince. His name was also well known. He and Jia Chong together standardized official music. He also wrote the Comprehensive Annotations to the Book of Changes.

Zhongyu’s given name is Yue, and is the youngest son of Xun Jian, Chief of Langling, and also Xun Yu’s uncle’s older brother. Zhang Fan’s Annals of Han says praises Xun Yue for being humble, thoughtful, and tranquil, and for being capable at writing. In the early years of the Jian’an reign, he served as an Imperial Attendant of the Secretariat, and was commissioned to condense the History of Han. He thus wrote the Records of Han, thirty chapters in total, in which he used historical events to illustrate good and bad and provide proper references. The book was widely circulated.

The Great Progenitor gave his daughter in marriage to Xun Yu’s eldest son, Xun Yun. She was later named Princes of Anyang. Although both Xun Yu and Xun You held high positions, they were both humble and frugal. They gave away most of their salaries to their friends and relatives, and left little for themselves at home. In the 12th year of Jian’an (AD 207), one thousand households were added to Xun Yu’s fief, making a total of two thousand households (10).

10: Alternate Biography of Xun Yu: The Great Progenitor wrote another petition, saying, “In the past, Yuan Shao invaded the lands close to the capital, and I did battle with him at Guandu. My troops were few and my grains have been exhausted, and I was thinking of returning to Xu. I wrote to Xun Yu asking for his opinion, and he would not agree with me. Instead, he listed the reasons in favour of us remaining there, and resumed discussion on renewed attacks. Thus he rekindled your servant’s aspirations and brushed away his foolish worries. Thus we launched a strong attack on the insurgents, and completely destroyed all his followers. Xun Yu’s keen observation of the situation and prediction of victory is most uncommon in this world. Then, after Yuan Shao was defeated, I was also out of supplies. Thus I thought that the North could not be taken at that time and it would be better for me to conquer Liu Biao in the south. Xun Yu stopped me again, and spoke to me of the pros and cons. At that, I deployed the victorious troops and managed to conquer the evil clans, and pacified the northern four provinces. If I had retreated at Guandu, Yuan Shao would definitely press onward and create a precarious situation. There would be no quick victory for us. Then, if I had marched south, leaving behind Yan and Yu provinces, it would have both been difficult for me to gain from the expedition, and been likely for me to lose my home base. Xun Yu’s two counsels changed certain destruction to certain survival, and brought me out from disaster to good fortune. His strategies are extraordinary, his merits unmatched; I, your humble servant, cannot equal him. The former emperors valued the accomplishments by those who plan and delegate, but reward only lightly those who fought on the fields; the sages of yore elevated the importance of strategy and viewed fighting and taking cities as inferior. The rewards that were granted Xun Yu in the past do not match his extraordinary contributions; I beseech that the rewards be reconsidered, and the number of households in Xun Yu’s fief be increased.”

Xun Yu declined the recommendation vociferously. The Great Progenitor wrote back to him, saying, “Sir, the strategies that you gave me were not limited to the two items that I have memorialized. And yet you keep putting yourself down—are you wishing to be like Master Lu Lian (XVI)? The sages who attained the zenith of virtues do not value this. In the old days, Jie Zitui (XVII) once said, “Taking someone’s possession is considered theft.” Now, the plans you’ve made to bring the populace to order and to raise me to prestige number in the hundreds (XVIII). I have only listed two of these plans, and yet you refused to take credit for them. You are indeed taking humility too far!” The Great Progenitor wished to memorialize for Xun Yu to take the position of one of the Three Lords, but Xun Yu made Xun You decline the offer forcefully. He declined over ten times before the Great Progenitor desisted.

XVI: Lu Lian is the same as Lu Zhonglian. During the Warring States, the strong state of Qin besieged the capital of the state of Zhao. An envoy was sent to Zhao asking Zhao to recognize the Qin king as emperor over the realm. Lu Zhonglian, a native of Qi State who was passing by Zhao, cleverly defeated the envoy in a debate and caused Qin to withdraw from the area. Lord Pingyuan of Zhao wanted to reward Lu Zhonglian, but Lu insisted on declining the rewards, and eventually he left the city in secret and was never seen again.
XVII: A loyal officer of Duke Wen of Jin of the Spring and Autumn period.
XVIII: The idea is that Cao Cao owes Xun Yu his position, and if Xun Yu were not rewarded, Cao would be seen as guilty of theft—taking Xun Yu’s honours as his own.

The Great Progenitor was about to launch an attack against Liu Biao, and asked Xun Yu for strategies. Xun Yu said, “Now that the central lands are pacified, the southern lands know that they have been surrounded. You should make a big show of force going towards Wan and Ye, but send a separate force to travel lightly and swiftly ahead in order to take them unawares.” The Great Progenitor set off. It happened that Liu Biao died of illness then. When the Great Progenitor went straight for Wan and Ye as Xun Yu suggested, Liu Zong, son of Liu Biao, led his whole province to surrender.

In the 17th year of Jian’an, Dong Zhao among others advised the Great Progenitor that he should be promoted to be a duke and given the Nine Honours in order to acknowledge his achievements. The Great Progenitor asked for Xun Yu’s opinion secretly. Xun Yu’s thoughts were since that the Great Progenitor had started off by raising a volunteer force to uphold the dynasty, he should be sincere in his loyalty and steadfast in his humility. A true gentleman should show benevolence virtuously to all people, and not do this [assume great honours for himself]. Therefore, the Great Progenitor bore a grudge against him. When he marched off to fight against Sun Quan, the Great Progenitor petitioned to have Xun Yu go reward the army at Qiao. He kept Xun Yu there as a military advisor to the Prime Minister, in the position of a Jie-bearing Imperial Household Grandee and Honorary Palace Attendant. When the Great Progenitor arrived at Ruxu, Xun Yu was left behind in Shouchun on account of illness. There, he died of grief at the age of 50. He was given the posthumous title of the Respectful Marquis. In the subsequent year, the Great Progenitor became Duke of Wei (11).

11: Annals of the Wei House: The Great Progenitor sent a food box to Xun Yu. When Xun Yu opened it up, he found it to be empty. Thus he took poison and died. In the 2nd year of the Xianxi reign, Xun Yu was granted the title of Grand Commandant posthumously.

Alternate Biography of Xun Yu: Since Xun Yu served in the position of Prefect of the Secretariat, he wrote many letters discussing official affairs. Upon his deathbed, he had them all burnt. This is why not all his marvellous strategies and secret advices are known to the world. In those days, frequent warfare ravished the land, and many of the systems needed revival. Xun Yu had once said to the Great Progenitor, “In the past, King Shun (XIX) delegated Yu, Ji, Xie, and Gaoyao to supervise the populace, and they educated the people at the same time as leading them to war. When the High Progenitor [Liu Bang] first began, war had just started to thunder through the lands, and yet all his people were well taught. This was due to Shu Suntong’s teaching the rites and propriety even during the times of warfare (XX). There are also stories of Lasting Progenitor (XXI) [Liu Xiu] throwing down his spear to talk about the arts, and stopping his horse to discuss the Way. A gentleman would not violate the principles of benevolence even during the short time of a meal. Sir, if you now settle military affairs in the far-off places, and promote literary culture in within the realm, you can cause violence to cease and the proper ways to be promoted in the land; the troubles of the states will be alleviated while the Six Rites will be practised—this is the way how Ji Dan (XXII) was able to bring order to the land when he ruled Zhou. You have accomplished much in virtuous deeds and military merits; if you can also be accomplished in writing and publication, you will have fulfilled Confucius’ ideal of ‘teaching and writing’. You will also have the propriety be encouraged in our times, and have your name praised by future generations. Wouldn’t that be magnificent? But if you wait until the military affairs are over before publishing writings in order to educate the people, we would have lost time. It would be best if we get all the talented men and well-educated scholars to annotate the classical texts and to edit the historical records and biographies, so that we preserve the learnings of past and present and remove the burdensome elements from them. Then we can take one set of sagely learnings and promote the education of propriety, and gradually educate the people, turning their hearts to do good. In this way, we achieve both political hegemony and the propagation of the Way.” There were many times such as this when Xun Yu spoke nonchalantly to the Great Progenitor about the ways of proper government. The Great Progenitor always accepted his advice gratefully. Xun Yu was complete in all virtues and good conduct, and did not apply himself to things unless they were proper. His name was honoured by all under heaven, and there was none who did not look up to him as a role model—all the brilliant and talented men within the seas admired him. Prince Sima [Yi] would always say that having seen and heard all sorts of events in these scores of years, he saw no such sagely person as Master Xun. Of all the people recommended by [Xun Yu], there were the great talents of the world such as Xun You, Zhong Yao, and Chen Qun, who managed internal affairs, and Prince Sima [Yi], who managed external affairs; there were also famous people of the realm such as Chi Lü, Hua Xin, Wang Lang, Xun Yue, Du Xi, Xin Pi, and Zhao Yan—more than ten people in all who all eventually became important officers. Furthermore, he did not have just one standard by which he recommended people: people such as Xi Zhicai and Guo Jia had been ridiculed by the world, and Du Ji was aloof and wrote little. And yet [Xun Yu] was able to recognize them for their intelligence and strategic knowledge and recommend them, and each of them eventually made a name for himself. Xun You later became Prefect of the Secretariat of Wei, and he also recommended many virtuous and talented people. The Great Progenitor said, “The two Prefects Xun’s [Xun Yu and Xun You] evaluation of people proves to be more and more true in time. I shall never forget what they say.” Zhong Yao was of the opinion that ever since Master Yan has died, Xun Yu alone was only one man who encompassed all virtues and who never repeated a fault (XXIII). Someone asked Zhong Yao, “Sir, you have so much respect for Master Xun, that you compare him to Master Yan and say that you are nowhere near his level—would you elaborate on that?” Zhong Yao said, “The wise lords treat their ministers as a teacher, and the second tier of lords treat their ministers as friends. Though the Great Progenitor was as intelligent as could be, he still consulted with Master Xun on all important affiris. This is the old idea of treating one as a teacher or a friend. In comparison, all that people like us could do is to take orders and act on them, and sometimes we don’t even fulfil the commands. Could I not say then that I am very far behind from [Xun Yu]?”

XIX: A legendary sage king of the prehistoric times. The Yu in the list of ministers would later be the first king of the Xia dynasty.
XX: Shu Suntong was a scholar who served under Liu Bang. Liu Bang came from lowly beginnings and was originally contemptuous of scholars. However, once he became emperor, he started to dislike the lack of respect and proper behaviour of his commanders in his presence, and so Shu codified the list of proper rites and etiquette for him. For this, Shu was put in charge of all matters of rites and etiquette in the empire.
XXI: Han Shizu—“Lasting Progenitor of Han”—is often known by his other title, “Emperor Guangwu of Han”, or, “Guangwu Di”.
XXII: Ji Dan—also known as the Duke of Zhou, the famed minister who codified the proper rites and put civil affairs to order in the early years of the Zhou dynasty.
XXIII: In Analects 6:2, Confucius lamented the death of his disciple Yan Hui, who “never took out his anger on another person, and never repeated a fault.”

Spring and Autumn Annals of Emperor Xian: Upon Dong Cheng’s execution, Empress Fu wrote to her father, Fu Yuan, saying that the Minister of Works [Cao Cao] killed Dong Cheng and the Emperor was about to avenge him. When Fu Yuan received the letter, he showed it to Xun Yu. Xun Yu, contemptuous of the affair, kept it to himself for a long time and did not speak of it. Fu Yuan showed the letter to Fan Pu, his wife’s younger brother. Fan Pu took the letter, sealed it, and presented it to the Great Progenitor. Thus the Great Progenitor heightened his guard in secret. Some time after that, Xun Yu started to worry about the matter being exposed, and decided to reveal it [to Cao Cao] himself. Thus he requested to go to Ye as an envoy, and there he urged the Great Progenitor to marry his daughter to the Emperor. The Great Progenitor said, “We have Empress Fu in the courts now, so how can my daughter be married to the Emperor? Furthermore, I was recognized for my insignificant achievements, and yet I hold the position of Prime Minister already. How can I try to improve my position through my daughter on top of that?” Xun Yu replied, “Not only is Empress Fu childless, she is evil and violent of nature. In the past she wrote repeatedly to her father, saying despicable things. She can be deposed on this account.” The Great Progenitor said, “Then why did you not inform me of this earlier?” Xun Yu, shocked inside, said, “I have already told your highness of it.” The Great Progenitor then said, “This is not a small matter. There is no way I would have forgotten about it.” Xun Yu, shocked again, said, “Perhaps I actually didn’t tell your highness! It happened when your highness was standing off against Yuan Shao at Guandu, and I must have feared that it would add to your worries for internal affairs, and thus I did not tell you.” The Great Progenitor said, “Then why didn’t you tell me after Guandu?” Xun Yu could not come up with an answer, and could only apologize repeatedly. For this, the Great Progenitor bore a grudge against Xun Yu. However, he put up a front of tolerance, and no one in the world knew of his inner thoughts. Then, when Dong Zhou suggested [Cao Cao] to be promoted to Duke of Wei, Xun Yu disagreed, and was going to voice his opinion to the Great Progenitor. He was sent to comfort the troops with gifts and a letter bearing the imperial seal. After the banquet and rites are over, Xun Yu stayed behind. The Great Progenitor, knowing that Xun Yu was going to speak of the promotion, bowed and sent him away. Xun Yu, therefore, did not get to speak his mind. He died in Shouchun. Deserters from Shouchun went and told Sun Quan that the Great Progenitor ordered Xun Yu to kill Empress Fu, and that Xun Yu, refusing to comply, committed suicide. Sun Quan had the news be known in Shu. When Liu Bei heard about it, he said, “The calamities will not cease for as long as the old traitor lives!”

I, Songzhi, your servant, observe the following: the Annals of Emperor Xian say that Xun Yu requested to be an envoy to Ye because he wanted to expose the Empress Fu affair, and lied to the Great Progenitor that he had told him about it already. It was not just that what he said not backed up by evidence. When he made the excuse about Guandu being a greater worry, the transition between the two replies is deeply lacking in logic. Even an ordinary man would not fall so low, so why can such a sagely man be tarnished by such a thing? All tales of this sort are taken from folk legends. It can be said that this is a gentleman’s language twisted to libel against a gentleman! Of all the falsehoods written by Yuan Wei, this is the most despicable.

His son Xun Yun inherited his noble title, and attained the rank of General of the Interior of Tiger Might. Earlier on, Emperor Wen [Cao Pi] and the Marquis of Pingyuan, Cao Zhi were contending for being heir, and Emperor Wen treated Xun Yu with much humility and respect. However, when Xun Yu died, Xu Yun became friendly with Cao Zhi and did not get along with Xiahou Shang. Therefore, Emperor Wen despised Xun Yun. Xun Yun died young. His sons Xun Han and Xun Yi () were treated well because they were nephews of the emperor. Xun Yun’s younger brother, Xun Yu (俁), was Chief of the Censorate. Xun Wu’s younger brother, Xun Shen was advisor to the General-in-Chief. All of them were men of fame, and all died young (12).

12: Records of the Xun Family: Xun Yun’s style was Changqian, Xun Yu’s style was Shuqian, and Xun Shen’s style was Manqian. Xun Yu’s son Xun Yu (寓) has Jingbo as his style name.

Shiyu: Xun Yu [Jingbo] enjoyed fame in the capital city in his youth along with Pei Kai, Wang Rong, and Du Mo. He served they Jin dynasty and attained the rank of Imperial Secretariat. His name was well known. His son Xun Yu (羽) also reached the rank of Imperial Secretariat.

Xun Shen’s younger brother, Xun Yi (), was Chief Minister of Works during the Xianxi reign [of Jin] (13).

13: Spring and Autumn Annals of Jin: Xun Yi, styled Jingjin, was considered an extraordinary person even in his youth by Chen Qun, husband of his elder sister. He was broad of learning and comprehensive of knowledge, and his ideas were always carefully thought-out. When Prince Sima [Yi] met Xun Yi, he was impressed by him, and said, “ This is the son of Master Xun. Recently I’ve also met Yuan Kan, who’s the son of Yueqing [Yuan Huan].” Xun Yi was promoted to be Imperial Attendant of the Cavalry. He served under the Jin house, and reached the rank of Grand Commandant, holding the title of Duke Kang of Linhuai. He had once debated against Zhong Hui’s idea of “The Changes have not two forms”, and he was known for that.

Xun Yi’s younger brother, Xun Can, was styled Fengqian. He Shao’s biography of Xun Can writes: Xun Can was styled Fengqian. All his older brothers discussed the ways of Confucian philosophy, but Xun Can alone enjoyed talking about Tao. He would often argue from Zigong’s saying that Confucius’ thoughts on human nature and the way of Heaven cannot be known (XXIV), that the six books in the Canon (XXV) are only the dredges of what the Sages had said. His brother, Xun Yu, tried to stump him, saying, “The Book of Changes says, ‘The sages created the symbols of the hexagrams in order to express their ideas completely, and attached the commentary text beneath the hexagrams in order to express completely all that could be said (XXVI).’ So how can you say that [the ideas of the sages] cannot be heard or seen?’ Xun Can replied, “The Truth is so elusive that it cannot be illustrated by physical things or symbols. Though they say that symbols are created in order to express ideas completely, the symbols themselves cannot attain that which is beyond ideas. Though commentary texts are attached to the symbols in order to express all that could be said, these are not words that can describe the true nature of things. As such, the ideas beyond the symbols and the words that describe the true nature are still hidden, unattainable.” None of the debaters there could formulate a counterargument. He would also remark that his father, Xun Yu, was not as good as his cousin Xun You. Xun Yu was upright in character, and held fast to the proper ways and instructed others, while Xun You did not care about his appearances, but behaved carefully and kept to himself—this was the basis on which Xun Can praised Xun You. His older brothers were all infuriated, but none could come up with a rebuttal. In the early years of the Taihe reign, Xun Can went to the capital city in order to converse with Fu Gu. Fu Gu was learned in the philosophy of names and patterns, while Xun Can liked the mystical and the surreal (XXVII). Though the ultimate root of their ideologies were the same, there were times when they clashed and did not get along with each other. Pei Hui, in order to mend the relationship, went between the two houses to settle their disputes. Eventually, Xun Can became friends with Fu Gu, and Xiahou Xuan also became close to them. [Xun Can] would often say to Fu Gu and Xiahou Xuan, “Walking in this world, you would surpass me in rank and fame, but your wisdom is beneath mine.” Fu Gu disputed him and argued, “That which nets one rank and fame is wisdom. How can it be that the foundation is deficient but the result exceeding?” Xun Can said, “Rank and fame is rewarded on the basis of one’s aspirations. Aspiration is its own thing, and wisdom alone does not get you [to high positions]. I can help you people reach an exulted position, but I may not be able to match what you attain.”

Xun Can had always said that the intelligence of a woman was not important—only beauty mattered. The daughter of Cao Hong, General of the Elite Cavalry, had good looks, and so Xun Can asked for her hand in marriage. He gave her fancy makeup, clothes, and beddings, and enjoyed feasts and good times only with her. A few years later, the wife died. Before the funeral, Fu Gu went to console Xun Can; Xun Can was not crying but his expression showed a deep grief. Fu Gu asked him, “It is difficult to find a woman who has both great talents and great beauty. But my friend, the one you married was lacking in talents though she was pretty. It is easy to meet such a woman. Why do you grieve so much?” Xun Can said, “Such a beauty cannot be found again! Although she who is deceased cannot be said to have beauty that can topple a nation, it is not true that such a woman can be easily met.” He was unable to contain his grief, and died in a little over a year. He was twenty-nine years old. Xun Can was of a lofty character, and could not associate himself with the average person—all his acquaintances are extraordinary men of the times. On the eve of his burial, less than twenty people attended—all famous men of the era. Their crying for him moved all passer-bys.

XXIV: This is quoted from the Analects 5:12.
XXV: The six books in the Confucian Canon are: the Book of Odes, Book of History, Book of Rites, Book of Changes (the I-ching), Book of Music, and the Spring and Autumn Annals.
XXVI: This quote is taken from the Book of Changes, “Xici Part 1” (周易:繫辭上).
XXVII: Fu Gu’s specialty was the standard Han dynasty Confucian philosophy, the basis tenet of which is that the Truth can be attained through a proper understanding of language and the patterns of both the physical realm and human society. Xun Can, on the other hand, was one of the main thinkers in the Wei-Jin Mysticism camp, which refuted the idea that language, patterns, and symbols form an end unto itself. He maintained that Truth cannot be imitated by either language or symbols, or transmitted by them; rather, Truth is beyond human expression and must be simply understood in the mind.

Xun Yun’s son Xun Han inherited the honorary rank of Imperial Cavalry Attendant, and was later promoted to be Marquis of Guangyang district. He died at the age of 30, and his son Xun Jun inherited his position (14).

14: Family Records of the Xun’s: Xun Jun, styled Wenbo, served as the Right Inspector of the Imperial guard. He died early. Xun Jun’s son Xun Song was Family Records of the Xun’s. Spring and Autumn Annals of Jin praises Xun Song for having high aspirations and good conduct since his youth, his love for literature, and his filial piety, propriety, and kindness. Xun Song was most diligent in his official position, and attained the rank of Left and Right Imperial Household Grandee, and was granted permission to set up an office in the style of the Three Lords. Xun Song’s son, Xun Xian, styled Lingze, was pure, peaceful, and talented. He was given a princess in marriage and a high position in his youth. When he was 28 years old, he was made General of the Interior of the North, Inspector of Xu and Yan Provinces, and given jiajie privileges (XXVIII) to control military affairs in Xu, Yan, and Qing Provinces. He served in that position for ten years, and retired due to illness. He died at home. He was given the posthumous rank of General of the Intrepid Cavalry. Xun Xian’s grandson, Xun Bozi, is the current Chief of the Censorate.

XXVIII: Part of the prerogative of someone who’s granted jiajie is that they are allowed to execute military officers up to a certain rank without first securing permission from the emperor.

Xun Yi reached the position of Captain of the Imperial Guard, and upon his death he was granted the posthumous titles of Marquis of Purity and General of the Elite Cavalry. Xun Yi’s son Xun Kai was his heir. Xun Yi’s wife was the younger sister of Prince Jing [Sima Shi] and Prince Wen [Sima Zhao], and the two princes were both fond of Xun Yi. In the Xianxi reign [of Jin dynasty], five ranks of nobility were recognized. Because of Xun Yi’s contribution to the former dynasty, Xun Kai was renamed Viscount of Nandun (XXIX) (15).

XXIX: The changing of the feudal nobility rank system deserves some explanation. During the Zhou dynasty, aristocrats were ranked in a 5-tiered system: gong > hou > bo > zi > nan, similar to the European 5-tiered system. The Qin and Han government eliminated the last three titles, but expanded the hou rank (which otherwise corresponds to a marquis) into many different levels, resulting in hou as more of a generic nobility title, better translated as “lord”. Keeping with the older system, many translators, including myself, decide to translate the Han hou as “marquis”. This by no means implies that a Han/Three Kingdoms “marquis” is higher in rank than the bo, zi, and nan in other dynasties. The 5-tier system was restored in the Jin dynasty, and so Xun Kai’s renaming as a Viscount (zi) doesn’t signify a demotion; it was actually a promotion.

15: Family Records of the Xun’s: Xun Kai served as an Honorary Imperial Courtier during the reign of Emperor Wu of Jin [Sima Yan].

Yu Bao’s Annals of Jin: The Emperor Wu [Sima Yan] sent the Imperial Courtiers Xun Yi and He Qiao to the Eastern Palace in order to assess the crown prince (XXX). Xun Yi reported that the crown prince was improving much in both virtues and knowledge, but He Qiao said that his highness’ capabilities were as before.

XXX: That is, Sima Zhong, who was mentally retarded. Sima Yan was understandably very concerned about it, and often checked up on his abilities.

Sun Sheng says “…sent Xun Xu” instead, but the rest of the text is identical. Your servant, Songzhi, notes that by the time He Qiao was an Imperial Courtier, Xun Yi was long dead. At the same time, Xun Xu was second-in-command in the departments, and was neither in the same rank as He Qiao nor called an Imperial Courtier. Thus both accounts had it wrong. Considering the particular time and rank involved, I suspect that the person in question should be Xun Kai. Xun Kai’s older brother, Xun Dan, was privy treasurer. His younger brother, Xun Kui, was General who Protects the Army, and was named General-in-Chief of the Chariots and Cavalry after his death.

Copyright © 2004
Translated from Chen Shou’s Sanguozhi with Pei Songzhi’s annotations