He Yan (Pingshu)
He Yan lived from 190 - 249.
He Yan was the son of a woman from the Yin family. His grandfather was He Jin, who was Grand General [da jiangjun] to Emperors Ling and Shao. Around 196, the widowed Lady Yin became a consort of Cao Cao. At an early age, He Yan gained a reputation for being extremely intelligent, and his later scholarly work would serve to reinforce this reputation. He was also known and respected as a talented poet. When he was of age, he married one of Cao Cao’s daughters, the Princess of Jinxian.
The Cao family raised He Yan as one of their own, and he acted as though he was a trueborn member of the family. This did cause some friction between He Yan and the true Cao children. His most notable rival, naturally, was Cao Cao’s second son (and eventual heir) Cao Pi. Cao Pi deeply resented He Yan’s position within his family and would not refer to him by name. Instead, he only called him, “The False Son.” 
In spite of the praise he received for his intellectual achievements, He Yan also gained a negative reputation. He was accused of being egotistical as well as a degenerate. He Yan often wore women’s makeup and was accused of sexual perversion.  He Yan was also known to be extremely vain. The scholar Fu Jia criticized him as being one who spoke of great things but was himself small-minded. Fu Jia further said that He Yan was good at debate and argument, but he lacked sincerity. Ultimately, Fu Jia feared what would happen if people heeded He Yan’s advice.
He Yan was also known to be a proponent and user of a drug known as five-mineral powder. He is quoted as saying, “Whenever I take five-mineral powder, not only does it heal any illness I might have, but I am also aware of my spirit and intelligence becoming receptive and lucid.”
He Yan’s most enduring achievement of scholarship was a commentary on the “Analects,” which became one of the Four Books that marked the foundation of the Confucian canon during the Song dynasty. This commentary was called “Collected Explanations of the Analects” [lunyu jijie] and is considered one of the two most influent texts of Confucian tradition. He Yan certainly did not write this text by himself. It included the work of other scholars of the Later Han and Three Kingdoms, including Kong Anguo, Bao Xian, Ma Rong, Zhou of Han, Chen Qun, Wang Su, Zhousheng Lie, and others. Until the Song dynasty, the interpretation by He Yan and his colleagues was considered the standard reading of the text. He Yan’s commentary is still praised along with that of Zhu Xi, who is widely regarded as the individual responsible for dictating the new school of Confucian understanding during the Song dynasty.
It is unclear exactly what He Yan’s own part in the “Collected Explanations” was. In the preface of the work, it says that it was compiled by five different editors: Sun Yong, Zheng Chong, Cao Xi, Xun Yi, and He Yan. It is generally accepted that He Yan was the editor-in-chief of this project and wrote much of the commentary himself, though this conclusion is difficult to substantiate.
He Yan is also known to have written a work called the “Treatise on Way and Power” [daode lun]. He intended to write a commentary on the [laozi]. However, He Yan changed his mind after discussing the matter with the scholar Wang Bi, deciding that the latter was more qualified to do so.
Aside from these works, He Yan and some of his colleagues did much to change the basic approach to classical study in Wei, bringing together texts that were previously thought to be mutually incompatible. In particular, he argued that Daoism and Confucianism were not rival schools of thought; they were in agreement. This position overturned a school of thought that had endured for centuries.
Apart from his fellow editors on the “Collected Explanation” He Yan was associated with a group of fifteen scholars who were called the Four Sages and Eight Masters. This group included the scholars Xiahou Xuan, Deng Yang, Zhuge Dan, Li Sheng, Bi Gui, and Ding Mi, as well as He Yan. In addition to the Four Sages and Eight Masters, three men named Liu Xi, Sun Mi, and Wei Lie were considered the Three Candidates; the others of the group did not respect them, but they were included because their father’s all held high positions in the court.
In spite of He Yan’s scholarly accomplishments, his group and others met with harsh condemnation from the Wei court. In particular, the respected minister Dong Zhao criticized them for being superficial. He alleged that forming friendships and associations was the primary concern of this group, not scholarship. Instead of concentrating on self cultivation, they focused their attention on befriending those who would give them power and prestige. They cared only for the praise of their colleagues and were unwilling to accept any criticism of their work; they praised those who agreed with them and attacked those who did not. Dong Zhao also alleged that they allowed their servants to assume titles like those of court officials. In a final harsh assessment, Dong Zhao said that these men were of worse moral character than Wei Feng and Cao Wei. Wei Feng held an important position under Cao Cao. However, in 219, he attempted to incite a revolt in the city of Ye, where Cao Cao’s family lived. After Sun Quan surrendered to Cao Pi in 221, Cao Wei was a private citizen who sent Sun Quan letters asking for rewards and honors and offering to represent him in the Wei court. Both of these men were executed by Cao Pi.
Emperor Cao Rui agreed with Dong Zhao’s words. In 230, he issued an edict demanding that all officials undergo an examination. Those who were deemed shallow and superficial were to be immediately dismissed from office. Subsequently, Zhuge Dan, Deng Yang, and the others of their group who held official appointments were dismissed. As an aside, it is important to note that Dong Zhao’s memorial does not mention He Yan’s group in particular. Nor does Cao Rui’s responding memorial single out this group. Instead, both express a concern over the quality of that generation’s scholars in general. The main text of the ZZTJ does specifically mention the dismissal of Zhuge Dan, Deng Yang, and others, but it should not be interpreted that these were the only officials who were removed from office at this time, nor that all members of He Yan’s group were removed. The emphasis on certain individuals comes from their later prominence under Cao Shuang. That said, the Four Sages and Eight Masters did carry particular fame at that time, and it is certain that Dong Zhao and Cao Rui had these men in mind when issuing their complaints.
A change of fortune came for He Yan’s clique at the end of 238. On December 31 of that year, Cao Rui fell deathly ill. Because his heir, Cao Fang, was only eight years old, Cao Rui sought out officials to serve as guides for his successor. To this end, he made a woman of the Guo family his empress. On January 19 of 239, he made Cao Shuang Grand General [da jiangjun], director of military affairs, and Intendant of the Affairs of the Masters of Writing [lu shangshu shi]. Shortly after this, Cao Rui also commissioned the Grand Commandant [taiwei] Sima Yi to advise the future emperor. Cao Rui passed away shortly after that. Empress Guo was made Empress Dowager. Sima Yi was made Palace Attendant [shizhong], director of military affairs, and Intendant of the Affairs of the Masters of Writing [lu shangshu shi]. At this time, Cao Shuang was also made a Palace Attendant.
Initially, Cao Shuang consulted Sima Yi on all decisions. Cao Shuang was also very friendly with He Yan and his confederates. When he came to power, Cao Shuang gave those who were in office sudden promotions, and employed those who were previously removed from court affairs. This included He Yan, as well as Deng Yang, Ding Mi, and Li Sheng. After this, He Yan and his fellows attempted to remove Sima Yi from power by having Emperor Cao Fang make him Grand Tutor [taifu]. The Grand Tutor, while technically the highest official of the court, held no substantive power. This would strip Sima Yi of his authority as Grand Commandant [taiwei] and Intendant of the Affairs of the Masters of Writing [lu shangshu shi]. In theory, this would make Cao Shuang’s power unquestionable.
Sima Yi was indeed made Grand Tutor but the court was not as secure as He Yan hoped. The edict that appointed Sima Yi Grand Tutor also specified that he would retain his control over the military. Furthermore, Sima Yi had previously advanced the career of a man named Deng Ai, who was at that time a Gentleman of the Masters of Writing [shangshu lang]. This connection ensured that Sima Yi would be informed of any important edicts or memorials. While Cao Shuang still treated Sima Yi with respect, he excluded Sima Yi from all of the decisions that his faction made.
Cao Shuang bestowed high honors on his younger siblings. His brother Cao Xi was made General of the Capital Forces [zhongling jun]. Cao Xun was made General Who Guards the Military [wuwei jiangjun]. Cao Yan was also given rank. Cao Shuang’s other siblings all became imperial attendants and were given great rewards.
He Yan inserted himself into the highest levels of government. The Director of Personnel [libu shangshu], Lu Yu, was demoted, and He Yan took his position. This gave He Yan the authority to determine all appointments within Wei. In turn, this allowed He Yan to bring his friends and admirers into the highest levels of the court, which he was more than happy to do. With no oversight from senior officials, this gave He Yan phenomenal power. He Yan’s confederates, Deng Yang and Ding Mi were made Masters of Writing [shangshu]. Bi Gui was made Colonel Director of Retainers [sili xiaowei].
While in power, He Yan proved that at least some of Dong Zhao’s criticisms were correct. He Yan used his authority to promote those who he found agreeable. His critics, on the other hand, were demoted and dismissed from office. Officials within the capital and the provinces bent themselves to He Yan’s desires in order to avoid punishment.
The scholar Fu Jia grew particularly concerned about He Yan and approached Cao Xi on the subject. He warned Cao Xi that, while He Yan seemed calm, he was actually quite a ferocious man, one who was given to avarice and ignored the fundamental principles of conduct. Fu Jia expressed his concern that because of He Yan, good and talented people would be too afraid to seek office and the state would suffer. He Yan learned of this and dismissed Fu Jia from office on a flimsy pretext.
Though Lu Yu was made Minister of Justice [tingwei],  He Yan and his supporters drove Lu Yu from the court’s inner circle. Bi Gui presented false charges against Lu Yu in a memorial and had him removed from office. However, there was a public outcry against this and Lu Yu was reinstated as Minister of the Household [guanluxun]. Sun Li, who had been appointed as Cao Shuang’s chief assistant by Cao Rui, was sent away from the capital to be Inspector [cishi] of Yang province because he would not endorse this behavior.
One positive consequence of He Yan’s reign was the restoration of the old calendar system. During the years of 237 – 239, a new calendar had been used, which caused considerable confusion. The old calendar was reinstated on the recommendation of He Yan’s faction.
In 243, Emperor Cao Fang received his coming of age ceremony. This ceremony marked him as an adult and was usually performed at the age of 20. Cao Fang was only 12. An early ceremony was relatively typical with a child emperor. Liu Xie [Emperor Xian] had his ceremony in 194, at the age of 14 On May 29 of the same year, Cao Fang was married to his first wife, Empress Zhen. She was the granddaughter of Zhen Yan, who was the older brother of Cao Pi’s own Empress Zhao (also called Empress Zhen), mother of Cao Rui. Because Cao Fang was adopted by Cao Rui and Cao Rui was the only son of Empress Zhao, there was no blood relation between Cao Fang and his first wife.
Cao Fang’s coming of age ceremony and his marriage were both a means for He Yan’s faction to present the 12-year-old ruler as an adult. Doing so helped them to deflect critics who claimed that they were monopolizing or usurping power. It allowed them to claim that the emperor was an adult and was making his own decision. While it is possible, given the intellectual abilities for which the Cao family was known, that Cao Fang was cognizant enough at age 12 to manage the affairs of the empire, it is considerably more likely that this was simply a maneuver by which He Yan and his fellows solidified their authority.
Also that year, an imperial relative named Cao Xiong sent a memorial to Cao Fang. In it, he reminded Cao Fang of the many occasions on which the emperor’s relatives had helped him retain power, and pointed out many times when the lack of that support network brought disaster. He lamented that the Cao relatives were not employed in any important offices and expressed his hope that they would be brought into the government to support the state. He Yan disregarded this memorial and did not employ Cao Fang’s relatives in high positions as Cao Xiong had hoped.
By 247, the power of He Yan and his supporters was virtually unrivaled and they had taken to making changes to the laws and regulations without any justification. These changes were considered irresponsible and unnecessary. The Grand Commandant [taiwei] Jiang Ji sent a memorial to Cao Fang warning him that He Yan and the others would bring harm to the state if they were not stopped. This same year, Sima Yi withdrew from court affairs.
Now 16 years old, Cao Fang, perhaps inspired by He Yan’s own famed sexual misconduct, began to associate himself with disreputable individuals and held frequent parties with them in the palace. He Yan, in a memorial, warned Cao Fang that he should keep such activities private. He advised that Cao Fang should only be seen with his ministers and that his celebrations should be held quietly. Meanwhile, he should inspect state documents and study literature. Cao Fang disregarded He Yan’s advice. Years later, in 254, the Grand General [da jiangjun] Sima Shi accused Cao Fang of immoral conduct that made him unfit to be emperor and urged that he be replaced.  Empress Dowager Guo subsequently issued an edict deposing Cao Fang on these grounds. 
As time wore on, He Yan and his party grew increasingly corrupt, particularly Cao Shuang. He emulated the food, drink, clothing, and carriages of the emperor. He filled his home with treasures that belonged to the state, including curiosities made in the Palace Workshop, instruments from the Palace Music Bureau, and weapons from the Palace Armory. He also built a special, elaborately decorated room underground where he held parties with He Yan and the others. Cao Shuang also took seven or eight of Cao Rui’s former consorts into his possession, along with many composers and musicians from the palace and 33 women from respected families. He also used an edict to send 57 women to the palace at Ye. Cao Xi sent several memorials remonstrating with Cao Shuang, but Cao Shuang ignored him.
In 247, He Yan and Cao Shuang exiled the respected official Sun Li over a minor disagreement, though he was later brought back to serve as Inspector of Bing province in 248.
He Yan held the scholar Guan Lu in great esteem and enjoyed discussing the Book of Changes with him. Guan Lu was supposedly a fortune teller and, at He Yan’s request, cast a prediction for him and interpreted a dream he had. Guan Lu told him the dream meant that he had few friends and many enemies, and that he used his power too lightly. Guan Lu warned He Yan that if he did not change his ways, he would not live much longer. Guan Lu’s words were closer to the truth than he probably realized, as Sima Yi was plotting to take back power at that very time.
On February 5 of 249, Cao Fang, Cao Shuang, Cao Xi, and Cao Xun, and Cao Yan left the city to pay their respects to Cao Rui. On that day, Sima Yi emerged from retirement. Bearing a command from Empress Dowager Guo, he sealed the city gates, occupied the Imperial Arsenal, and took up position on the bridge outside of the city. He sent a memorial to the emperor charging Cao Shuang with various crimes and demanding that he relinquish his authority. After some indecision, Cao Shuang agreed to surrender his position. He was then placed under house arrest.
On February 9, a man named Zhang Dang was arrested for giving Cao Shuang women from the palace. After he was arrested, Zhang Dang told authorities that He Yan, Cao Shuang, and the others had been conspiring against the throne. He Yan was subsequently executed along with Cao Shuang, Zhang Dang, Deng Yang, Ding Mi, Bi Gui, Li Sheng, and Huan Fan. Their families were also executed.
Though He Yan’s family came from humble origins, he was raised as royalty. He was considered one of the brightest scholars of his age, and his commentary on the “Analects” was considered the standard for 1,000 years. He was also an accomplished poet and a very skilled debater. However, He Yan was vain and his conduct was ungoverned. He engaged in drug use and was known as a sexual degenerate. He came to power through disreputable association and abused his authority to promote his followers and silence his critics. He altered the laws and regulations to suite his own desires and participated in the excess and corruption of his fellows. Ultimately, he was overthrown and his relatives were slaughtered. It is a shame for a bright scholar to meet such an end – and even worse for his family to share his fate – yet it is a fitting death for a corrupt minister who abused the state’s authority for his own gain.
The work cited as "Gradner" is“Zhu Xi’s Reading of the Analects: Canon, Commentary, and the Classical Tradition” by Daniel K. Gardner
 Gardner, 3
 Some sources say that He Jin was his father, not his grandfather. However, ZZTJ Jingchu 3, 7 says that He Jin was his grandfather, and Gardner’s “Analects” agrees.
 Fang’s note 19.2 of Jiaping 1
 Gardner, 10-11; also Fang’s note 19.2 of Jiaping 1
 Gardner, 10-11; also Fang’s note 19.2 of Jiaping 1
 Fang’s note 19.2 of Jiaping 1
 Zhengyuan 1, 13
 Gardner, 26
 Gardner, 1-2
 Chinese sources are reluctant to identify this particular scholar, leading to the commonly held belief that Zhou of Han was a woman.
 This is the same Chen Qun who served as an adviser to Cao Cao, Cao Pi, and Cao Rui.
 Wang Su was the son of Wang Lang, who was Minister of Works [sikong] under Cao Pi and Minister Over the Masses [situ] under Cao Rui. He was the father of Empress [posthumous name; also called Wang Yuanji], who was the wife of Sima Zhao and mother of Sima Yan, Emperor Wu of Jin.
 Gardner, 8
 Gardner, 3
 Gardner, 6
 Gardner, 2
 This may have been the same Cao Xi who was the younger brother of Cao Shuang, both of whom are sons of the great general Cao Zhen.
 There are several famous men named Xun Yi. I believe this one was Xun Jingjin, the fouth son of Xun Yu. He was praised by Chen Qun and Sima Yi and was well known for debating the classics with Zhong Hui. (According to Xun Yu’s sanguozhi biography)
 Gardner, 9
 Gardner, 13
 Gardner, 13
 As far as I can determine, the full membership of this group is unknown, and it is probable that He Yan’s fellow editors were also part of this clique.
 Taihe 4, 2; the main text of the ZZTJ does not specifically mention He Yan as a member of this group, though Gardner does (Gardner, 11).
 Dong Zhao was a close personal adviser to Cao Cao and was highly prized by Cao Pi and Cao Rui. At the time of his memorial, he was Acting Minister Over the Masses [situ].
 Taihe 4, 3
 Jian’an 24, Q
 Huangchu 2, 32
 Taihe 4, 4
 Jingchu 3, 7 says that Bi Gui was Inspector [cishi] of Bing province in 239, so not every member of He Yan’s clique was dismissed.
 Jingchu 2, 37
 Jingchu 3, 5
 Jingchu 2, 38
 Jingchu 2, 47; under the Later Han, the Grand General [da jiangjun] ranked above the Three Excellencies, making him the highest official in the court. The main text of the ZZTJ only says that Cao Shuang was made Grand General. Fang’s note 5.2 of Jingchu 3 lists his other honors.
 Jingchu 3, 1
 Jingchu 3, 2
 Jingchu 3, 5
 Fang’s note 5.2 of Jingchu 3. A Palace Attendant [shizhong] was a special adviser to the emperor. The Intendant of the Affairs of the Masters of Writing [lu shangshu shi] had special authority to examine the documents of the Imperial Secretariat.
 Jingchu 3, 6
 Jingchu 3, 7
 Jingchu 3, 8
 de Crespigny, “Later Han Civil Administration”
 Jingchu 3, 9
 Fang’s note 9 of Jingchu 3
 Deng Ai’s sanguozhi biography
 Jingchu 3, 11
 This may have been the same Cao Xi who helped edit the “Collected Explanations” with He Yan.
 Jingchu 3, 10
 Jingchu 3, 12
 Fang’s note 12 of Jingchu 3
 Gardner, 11
 Jingchu 3, 12; the Masters of Writing [shangshu] made up the Imperial Secretariat and oversaw all memorials to the throne and edicts from the emperor. Their direct access to the emperor gave them a great deal of power. The Colonel Director of Retainers [sili xiaowei] was the head administrator of the capital province of Sili. In another province, his title would be Inspector [cishi] or Governor [mu].
 Jingchu 3, 13
 Jngchu 3, 14
 The Minister of Justice [tingwei; also called the Grand Judge or Commandant of Justice] was one of the Nine Ministers, the highest officials of the court beneath the Three Excellencies.
 Jingchu 3, 15; the Minister of Household [guanluxun] was another of the Nine Ministers
 Jingchu 3, 16
 Jingchu 3, 24
 Fang’s note 24 of Jingchu 3
 Zhengshi 4, 1
 de Crespigny’s note 2 of Xingping 1
 Xingping 1, A
 Zhengshi 4, 3
 Zhengshi 4, 11; while one could certainly argue that, had more of the imperial relatives been in power, the Sima family would not have been able to dethrone the Cao family, it is also important to remember that Sima Yan employed his relatives in most of the high offices of government and this led to the factional struggle known as the War of Eight Princes, which led to the destruction of Western Jin and the loss of most of northern China to foreign groups.
 Zhengshi 8, 3
 Zhengshi 8, 6; this passage also accuses He Yan’s faction of removing the Empress Dowager Guo to the Yongning Palace to keep her out of court affairs, but the historian Hu Sanxing believes that this is a falsehood to slander He Yan’s party.
 Gardner, 11 mentions the rumors about He Yan’s sexual depravity
 Zhengshi 8, 8
 Zhengshi 8, 9
 Zhengyuan 1, 22
 Fang’s note 22 of Zhengyuan 1; Achilles Fang claims that Empress Dowager Guo was coerced into issuing this command. While that is possible, there is simply no way to prove such a claim. Given that this allowed Empress Dowager Guo to replace Cao Fang with a young emperor of her choosing, this incident certainly benefited her.
 Zhengshi 9, 7
 Fang’s note 7.7 of Zhengshi 9
 Zhengshi 9, 9
 Zhengshi 9, 11
 Zhengshi 9, 12
 Zhengshi 9, 14
 Jiaping 1, 1
 Jiaping 1, 2
 Jiaping 1, 4
 Jiaping 1, 9
 Jiaping 1, 10
 Jiaping 1, 11