Comprehensive Biography for Wang Bi

Join the Romance of the Three Kingdoms discussion with our resident Scholars. Topics relating to the novel and history are both welcome. Don't forget to check the Forum Rules before posting.
Kongming’s Archives: Romance of the Three Kingdoms
Three Kingdoms Officer Biographies
Three Kingdoms Officer Encyclopedia
Scholars of Shen Zhou Search Tool

Comprehensive Biography for Wang Bi

Unread postby DaoLunOfShiji » Sat Jun 02, 2018 12:22 am

Wang Bi, style Fusi (226-249)

The Wang clan were from Gaoping, in Qingzhou on the eastern coast of China. [1] They were a very well off clan and many of their members became prominent ministers and scholars through the years. The one to bring the clan to true prominence was Wang Gong. He served as Grand Commandant during the Later Han Dynasty, even establishing the Pure Ones political movement that were at odds with the eunuchs in the court. [2] This group would have many prominent members involved, eventually including relatives of Zhong Hui. [3] Wang Gong was very outspoken on the Eunuchs having too much power, and he was constantly suffering slander. While in office he was considered a respectful and honest man, seeking only the brightest men be appointed rather than those that buy their posts. [4] He had even desired to kill the eunuchs, though he was dissuaded. Eventually he fell ill and left his post in 140, only to pass away at home. [5]

Wang Gong had a rather famous son, Chang. During his youth he kept to himself, refusing to ever consort with anyone from any political faction. [6] When he was nominated as filial and incorrupt and requested to come to the capital, he initially refused due to poor health. However in 140 the general in chief at the time, Liang Shang, gave him a special recommendation. [7] Chang held many posts in the capital, rising up to Director of the Imperial Secretariat. He was counted among a group known as the “Eight Geniuses”. One of the more famous ones was Guo Tai, the man responsible for the Qingtan movement. This was known as Pure Talk, associated with the Pure One’s as before. Five of the Eight were killed in 169 when the Eunuchs struck out against the Pure One’s movement who were threatening the Eunuchs hold on power, however Wang Chang survived. More than likely due to the status of his family. However he passed away sometime around this time. [8]

Though Wang Gong brought the clan to prominence, it was Wang Chang who made the an intellectual power house. [9] He was responsible for training many scholars, the most famous being Liu Biao who hailed from Gaoping just as the Wang clan did. Because of his time spent under Wang Chang, Liu Biao himself became a very respected scholar and when chaos befell the central plains, many of the academics of the land sought Liu Biao’s court and academy. [10]

Wang Chang had a son of his own, and that would be Wang Qian. Though there doesn’t seem to be much recorded on him he was able to become the Chief Clerk for He Jin when he was made the General in Chief due to having a hot sister his sister being the Empress of the Eastern Han. He Jin, perhaps in a political move to earn the Wang clan’s loyalty, desired to wed his daughter to one of Qian’s sons. [11] However Wang Qian would not sully his clan’s reputation by ever marrying with the spawn of a man who did not earn a thing in his life, and so he declined. [12] Several years later he left office on account of illness, and passed away at home much like his grandfather. [13]

Wang Qian’s son is someone I adore very much, and it wasn’t until recently I discovered this person I assumed was several people all turns out to be the very same man. Wang Can. This man would be considered one of the greatest scholars of the Later Han. Can lived in Luoyang with his father when Dong Zhuo would move the capital to Changan in 190. Can was still very young at this time. [14]

Sometime in his early teens Wang Can would meet the famous Cai Yong. He came to Cai Yong’s home, which was said to be clogged by visitors and crowded constantly. When Cai Yong heard that Wang Can was at the door, evidently he put on his sandals without even checking if they were on the right feet and hurried to the door. Cai Yong brought him inside and the guests were flabbergasted. Wang Can looked like a weak child who would blow away in a light breeze. However Cai Yong cried out “This is Wang Chang’s grandson, his talents are exceptional, and mind are no match for his. The books and documents, letters and essays held by my family shall be eventually given to him.” Cai Yong gave him around 10,000 scrolls of his personal work. [15]

Sadly, however, things don’t have a good ending for their relationship. Dong Zhuo was killed by Wang Yun, and due to Cai Yong’s association with that former regime he was imprisoned and died there. [16] Wang Can was invited to serve in the government when he was 17, however after the death of his friend he put the 10,000 scrolls on several carriages and fled to Jingzhou. [17] Evidently this was the only library to escape the burning of Luoyang in 190. [18]

Liu Biao was elated when Wang Can arrived. Not only did he come bearing these incredible scholarly works, he was also from a famous family. A family that happened to produce Liu Biao’s former teacher. Biao desired to make him his son in law, however his ministers quickly threw this idea to the side and Wang Can was viewed as ugly and had improper behavior. Wang Kai, his cousin, was chosen instead. [19]

When Cao Cao had all the central plains under his control he set his sites on Jingzhou. Wang Can was among those who advised Liu Biao and his heir to surrender to Cao Cao, and for this he was appointed to Cao Cao staff and eneoffed as a marquis. [20] He proved loyal to Cao Cao as he was among those in 213 that requested he ascend to the Duke. [21]

Wang Can and Cao Pi both became very close friends, and when Can died in 217 due to a plague while on campaign against Wu, Cao Pi wept for him. [22] At his funeral, he remarked that Wang Can loved the braying of donkeys, and so he requests all the officials bray for him. [23] And so everyone made donkey sounds… I love history.

Two of Wang Can’s sons were implicated in the 219 revolt in Ye under Wei Fang, and they were executed. Wang Can was left with no heirs of his own, and so Cai Yong’s library, as well as all of Wang Can’s personal works were now in the ownership of his clansman Wang Ye. [24]

Wang Ye was the son of Wang Kai, the one that replaced Wang Can in marrying Liu Biao’s daughter. Cao Pi would allow him to succeed Wang Can’s fief. [25] Wang Ye shared a close friendship with Pei Hui, the uncle of the famous Pei Xiu and father to Pei Kai who became very beloved scholars in Wei and Jin. [26] He did not seem to have a very stellar career in Wei, but he did serve Cao Pi as the Supervisor of the Internuncios… which is a rank I had never heard of before. He himself would have two sons, Hong and Bi. [26]

A very sad state of affairs is that Wang Bi is one of those people that never got into the SGZ. Luckily there was He Shao who penned a biography for him, which Pei Songzhi appended onto the SGZ of Zhong Hui. And no more fitting place was there for it to be.

Wang Bi’s early life is actually remarkably similar to that of Zhong Hui and Xun Xu. His parents seemed to have played a role in teaching him, given how well read he was for such a young man this is entirely possible that he himself received the same teaching style that Zhong Yao and Zhang Changpu employed on Zhong Hui. As a child he was sharp witted and intelligent. Before even being 10 years old he was also an excellent debate and speaker, with an extreme knowledge on the works of Laozi. [27]

He Yan had heard about him while he was Director of Personnel, and he had sought to meet him. Wang Bi, who was no older than 14 at this point, left such an intense impression on He Yan who said “Confucius already said that young people should be treated with respect, because they might end up very learned. But with this Wang Bi it is possible to talk about problems as deep as the connections between the order of Heaven and that of men.” [28]

Wang Bi was eventually appointed to a post in government by He Yan, who had desired to creation a coalition of well off families, and those of upstart clans. Many of the brightest were directly under his tutelage, such as Wang Bi, Xun Xu, Pei Xiu and Zhong Hui. [29]

He Yan was a skilled debated and people surrounded him as they loved to hear his arguments. Wang Bi, who was still young, went to He Yan’s home which was filled with scholars of all ages debating. He Yan knew of Wang Bi’s ability to debate and so it is said that he presented a series of arguments that no one else was able to refute. He told Wang Bi that these are the ultimate arguments, and challenged him to break them. Wang Bi, without taking a moment to reflect, refuted every argument in an eloquent manner and the guests were all stunned. He Yan laughed joyously and thus named Wang Bi the master. The master being the one who would present arguments, and it is said that not a single person, including He Yan, could refute him. [30]

The age gap between He Yan and men like Zhong Hui and Wang Bi was nearly 30 years. He Yan always saw youth as the greatest treasure, and the young intellects were cherished by him. Rudolf G. Wanger states that it was He Yan’s intention to immortalize himself, not through his own works and views, but through those he would lift up and shine a light on. He treasured the genius of youth more than anything. [31]

He Yan was at one point compiling a commentary on Laozi, however before finishing it he went to see Wang Bi. While at Bi’s home, he expressed his views on the work and He Yan was stunned and didn’t even present his own views. With a smile on his face He Yan gave the reigns over to Wang Bi, while he made his own commentary on a separate work. [32]

As for Wang Bi’s political life, that certianly did exist. The regime of Cao Shuang’s is often criticized as incompetent or corrupt, however that isn’t entirily the case. He Yan made his admonishments of Cao Fang public for all to see, even criticizing the extravagance of the court and ousting corrupt officials. [33] Wang Bi himself would go directly to Cao Shuang, the head hancho, and speak on the Dao. His reasoning for this was to give advice on principle matters in the government. However Cao Shuang was utterly floored by this and had no response, other than to laugh. [34] You can’t blame a girl for trying.

While Wang Bi writing his Commentary on the Zhuoyi, in which he made fun of Zheng Xuan who was a very important scholar. He remarked that Zhen Xuan was “an old fuddyduddy” and is “completely without brains”. Later that night he awoke to the sound of footsteps outside, which stopped right at the door. Wang Bi opened it and suddenly a figure appeared and spoke, “You are so young, how dare you poke holes into my writings and pick at my phrases, going so far as to make fun of this old man?” He looked furious, and suddenly vanished. It was the ghost of Zheng Xuan. Wang Bi was shocked and terrified, eventually falling ill and dying. [35] This story is obviously an anecdote, not to be taken as fact. It reflects the kind of environment these scholars had. They were arrogant men that thought the previous commentators were without thought in their writings. The Shishuo Xinyu clearly disagrees with them, though Wang Bi’s writings would become standard for thousands of years. Sima Guang's commentary states that these men had little respect for the classics. [36]

Meanwhile the Wang Bi Beizhuan clearly states that that political climate in 249 became so toxic that Wang Bi withdrew from politics. He fell ill later that year in fall and died at the age of 23, leaving behind no sons although he did have a daughter. He was buried outside of Luoyang. [37] The Jinshu notes that Sima Shi was distraught over the loss of Wang Bi, crying out at his funeral “Heaven destroys me!” [38]

And thus ends the story of Wang Bi. His family was truly as prominent as they come in scholarly and political fields. Their importance rivaled that of the Xun and Zhong. His predecessors were men of incredible talent, along with some humorous stories involving donkey sounds. Wang Bi himself was a prodigy not unlike the other supreme talent that rose under the regime of Cao Shuang which had been responsible for a revitalization of learning and literary achievement. He earned the respect and admiration of many, and even the greatest scholars of the age would bow to him. He Yan, a man whose words you may still read in their near entirety to this very day, words that stood as a standard for nearly 1,000 years, threw his own work aside as it was no match for what Wang Bi could present. Sima Shi, a man who was politically opposed to him, even lamented the loss of this great intellectual. While serving in the government he does not seem to have the most spectacular career, however he did his best to advise Cao Shuang even if it was to no avail. However here I sit 1,800 years after Wang Bi died and I am still able to read the same words he penned back then. As I am no philosopher much of it goes right over my head, but the idea that this 23 year old created something that has lasted longer than the Roman Empire is truly spectacular. Wang Bi was a fascinating guy.

[1] Rafe de Crespigny, Biographical Dictionary of the Later Han to Three Kingdoms
[2] Rafe de Crespigny, Biographical Dictionary of the Later Han to Three Kingdoms
[3] Rafe de Crespigny, Biographical Dictionary of the Later Han to Three Kingdoms
[4] Rafe de Crespigny, Biographical Dictionary of the Later Han to Three Kingdoms
[5] Rafe de Crespigny, Biographical Dictionary of the Later Han to Three Kingdoms
[6] Rudolf G. Wagner, The Craft Of a Chinese Commentator Wang Bi on the Laozi
[7] Rudolf G. Wagner, The Craft Of a Chinese Commentator Wang Bi on the Laozi
[8] Rudolf G. Wagner, The Craft Of a Chinese Commentator Wang Bi on the Laozi
[9] Rudolf G. Wagner, The Craft Of a Chinese Commentator Wang Bi on the Laozi
[10] Rudolf G. Wagner, The Craft Of a Chinese Commentator Wang Bi on the Laozi
[11] Rudolf G. Wagner, The Craft Of a Chinese Commentator Wang Bi on the Laozi
[12] Rudolf G. Wagner, The Craft Of a Chinese Commentator Wang Bi on the Laozi
[13] Rudolf G. Wagner, The Craft Of a Chinese Commentator Wang Bi on the Laozi
[14] Rafe de Crespigny, Biographical Dictionary of the Later Han to Three Kingdoms
[15] Rudolf G. Wagner, The Craft Of a Chinese Commentator Wang Bi on the Laozi
[16] Rafe de Crespigny, Biographical Dictionary of the Later Han to Three Kingdoms
[17] Rudolf G. Wagner, The Craft Of a Chinese Commentator Wang Bi on the Laozi
[18] Rudolf G. Wagner, The Craft Of a Chinese Commentator Wang Bi on the Laozi
[19] Rudolf G. Wagner, The Craft Of a Chinese Commentator Wang Bi on the Laozi
[20] Rudolf G. Wagner, The Craft Of a Chinese Commentator Wang Bi on the Laozi
[21] Rudolf G. Wagner, The Craft Of a Chinese Commentator Wang Bi on the Laozi
[22] Rudolf G. Wagner, The Craft Of a Chinese Commentator Wang Bi on the Laozi
[23] Rudolf G. Wagner, The Craft Of a Chinese Commentator Wang Bi on the Laozi
[24] Rudolf G. Wagner, The Craft Of a Chinese Commentator Wang Bi on the Laozi
[25] Rudolf G. Wagner, The Craft Of a Chinese Commentator Wang Bi on the Laozi
[26] Rudolf G. Wagner, The Craft Of a Chinese Commentator Wang Bi on the Laozi
[27] Pei Songzhi, annotation to Chen Shou's biography on Zhong Hui, He Shao, Wang Bi Beizhuan
[28] Rudolf G. Wagner, The Craft Of a Chinese Commentator Wang Bi on the Laozi
[29] Rudolf G. Wagner, The Craft Of a Chinese Commentator Wang Bi on the Laozi
[30] Liu Yiqing, Shishuo Xinyu
[31] John Makeham, He Yan, Xuanxue and the Editorship of the Lunyu jijie
[32] Pei Songzhi, annotation to Chen Shou's biography on Zhong Hui, He Shao, Wang Bi Beizhuan
[33] Chen Shou, Cao Fang's Sanguozhi biography
[34] Pei Songzhi, annotation to Chen Shou's biography on Zhong Hui, He Shao, Wang Bi Beizhuan
[35] Liu Yiqing, Shishuo Xinyu
[36] Achilles Fang, Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Sima Guang, Zizhi Tongjiang
[37] Pei Songzhi, annotation to Chen Shou's biography on Zhong Hui, He Shao, Wang Bi Beizhuan
[38] Rudolf G. Wagner, The Craft Of a Chinese Commentator Wang Bi on the Laozi
"I take Heaven and Earth to be my dwelling, and my rooms are my coat and pants; so what are you gentlemen doing in my pants?"
User avatar
DaoLunOfShiji
Academic
 
Posts: 171
Joined: Wed Aug 02, 2017 3:26 pm
Location: "A genius like Cao Zhi, as martial as Cao Cao."

Re: Comprehensive Biography for Wang Bi

Unread postby Jia Nanfeng » Sat Jun 02, 2018 12:44 am

I must admit I knew very little about Wang Bi before now outside of the ol' ghost story! Thanks for introducing me. :mrgreen:

I wonder what Chinese character translates to "fuddyduddy"... :lol:
Have a question about a book or academic article before you buy it? Maybe I have it!
Check out my library here for a list of Chinese history resources I have on hand!
User avatar
Jia Nanfeng
Assistant
 
Posts: 120
Joined: Sun Oct 22, 2017 6:30 pm

Re: Comprehensive Biography for Wang Bi

Unread postby Dong Zhou » Sun Jun 03, 2018 3:11 pm

Nice to know more of the Wang clan and Wang Bi shows a good reflection on the new scholars attitudes towards ye olde
“You, are a rebellious son who abandoned his father. You are a cruel brigand who murdered his lord. How can Heaven and Earth put up with you for long? And unless you die soon, how can you face the sight of men?”
User avatar
Dong Zhou
A-Dou
A-Dou
 
Posts: 15758
Joined: Sun Apr 10, 2005 12:32 pm
Location: "Now we must die. May Your Majesty maintain yourself"

Re: Comprehensive Biography for Wang Bi

Unread postby Zyzyfer » Mon Jun 04, 2018 3:27 am

This was great and really informative, thank you.
Gamefaqs: KongZhou
Steam: heinous_won
User avatar
Zyzyfer
Scholar of Shen Zhou
 
Posts: 3250
Joined: Thu May 08, 2008 1:17 pm
Location: South Korea


Return to Sanguo Yanyi Symposium

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Bing [Bot], Google [Bot] and 5 guests

Copyright © 2002–2008 Kongming’s Archives. All Rights Reserved