Wang Fan's Execution

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Wang Fan's Execution

Unread postby Dong Zhou » Sun Dec 30, 2018 7:49 am

Yesterday I reread late Wu officers Wang Fan’s SGZ, posted this on tumbler and thought some here might like it

Long story short, noble minister of Wu executed by evil Sun Hao after banquet due to Sun Hao being super evil. No doubt he was an honest, eloquent man and a great mind but I think I can see why Sun Hao might have had issues with him.

Sun Hao as a boy saw what happened when things got unstable and how bloody the Wu court could be. Or how disloyal, after all he got throne over the natural successor. How fragile hold on power could be. He also was dealing with a gentry whose power was crippling Wu’s ability to be an effective state and seems to have been rather sensitive about his authority and paranoid. Possibly related to all of the above.

Wang Fan was a noted mathematician who had, according to Generals of the South, helped create Wu’s calendar and advanced mathematical science. He was considered eloquent and refined. He had been an envoy to Shu, served in good rank before Sun Hao took throne.

So why did Wang Fan fall out with Sun Hao and lead to his death?

1) “ At the beginning of the reign of Sūn Hào, he returned as a Regular Attendant, with the same office as Wàn Yù. Yù had known Hào for a long time, but was a common person recently come to power, and said that Fán had made light of him. “

Allegedly mocked a friend of Sun Hao’s, I do hope that Wan Yu being from more common stock wasn’t the grounds of which Fan mocked the man and says more about the Wu writers then Fan. None the less, won’t have warmed Hao to him.

2) Other of Sun Hao’s friends slandered Fan. Not much Fan can do about that unfortunately.

3) “Fán by nature was of high and noble character who could not calmly bear follow certain orders, and so at times would stubbornly refuse some, and over time he accumulated criticisms.”

So Fan decided which orders he would obey. Warlords are well known for loving when officers pick and choose what orders they will obey. Why didn’t Sun Hao send gift-baskets and a thank you note? Sun Quan would have! In all seriousness you can’t take office and then pick and choose what your going to do, what orders suit and what do not, a one off disobedience couched in right way could be done in certain circumstances but this seemed to happen more then once with Wang Fan.

Sun Hao had every reason to be annoyed at this blatant show of gentry power and insult to Wu authority and it i hard to see what warlords would tolerate constant disobedience. Whatever Fan’s intentions with his disobedience (it may have been really bad orders, it may not have been), that was the effect he was having.

4) There are two versions of the death. Main SGZ version goes along lines of: At a banquet for Wu’s returned envoy from Jin, Fan got so plastered with drink he fell over. So Sun Hao had the drunk man taken out, the sgz says Sun Hao was suspicious and displeased, I can certainly see the displeased part that senior member of court had been a bit embarrassing. Yet Hao took no action beyond removing the drunk where he could sober up and stop embarrassing everyone. Fan asked to return at a time the SGZ declares “ but the effects of the wine could not have ended“, Sun Hao was so evil he... let him. The monster. Wang Fan is described as “ yet Fán’s expression was very dignified and his movements were composed.” Having been too drunk to stand earlier. From a man with a history of disobeying orders.

If Sun Hao was indeed suspicious that Fan was being disrespectful when he had Fan removed, this seemed to confirm that the drunkenness had been faked and he was now showing up completely back to normal. The entire court had just witnessed Sun Hao’s officer have to leave for being drunk then seemingly turn out... not to be drunk. Sun Hao does come across as sensitive to his authority and I can this being the final straw of disobedience and contempt of authority that broke the camel’s back. Wang Fan was taken out and beheaded despite protests, his body never buried and family exiled.

Maybe Wang Fan was unfortunate, maybe he took enough water to sober up, maybe he was a good drinker but given Sun Hao’s noted sensitivity/paranoia and Fan’s own history of disobedience, maybe not returning would have been wise. Maybe Wang Fan thought he could get away with this as he had done with many flouting of orders.

The alternative is by the Jin scholar Yu Pu’s local history the Jiāngbiǎozhuàn where Sun Hao hosts banquet, again lots of high profile guests, as he considers moving capital. He asks Wang Fan who came up with a great respond: “Fán thought long without answer”. Sun Hao asked him a major question and got no reply, Fan didn’t have a history of loyalty to Sun Hao to point to for the silent treatment and Sun Hao may well have read this as another deliberate act of disobedience. The annotation adds more gruesome details to what happened with Wang Fu’s body afterwards, I suspect there may have been some embellishment as time passed.

5) Either way (I prefer the SGZ proper), the death did not go down well. Some protested at the time and Chancellor Lù Kǎi later rebuked Sun Hao with unusually hard terms “Regular Attendant Wáng Fán is reasonable and logical within the Palace, understands the Heavens and all things, and serves the Court loyally to exhaustion, is a crucial support for the State Altars, a dragon that came to our Great Wú! In the past he served our Imperial Jǐng [Sūn Xiū], offered comment on all things, and Jǐng praised his excellence and sighed that he was remarkable. But Your Majesty Descending the Throne was angry at his bitter remarks, hated his frank answers, beheaded him in the Palace Hall, and threw his body away [without burial]. Within the commandaries all are pained in heart, and one should make note of all the sorrowful mourning.”

Bar exaggeration (I doubt the common people really cared), Wang Fan’s death was a blow for Wu. Wang Fan would have had brought prestige to declining Wu as he advanced mathematics and astronomy, no doubt Sun Xiu did admire Wang Fan (though if he commented on political and miliatry matters, that has been lost to time), Wu lost a very bright man at the age of 39. However even if Sun Hao hated or was angry at Wang Fan’s unrecorded remarks, Sun Hao didn’t touch him for that. He allowed Wang Fan 1-2 years of apparently giving him unrecorded flack (possibly Lu Kai was using the death to complain about other matters?) and tolerated disobedience before that very public banquet showing. The gentry may not have liked losing one of their own, a great scholar, the disrespect shown to be his body but also possibly the signal being sent by the execution. Sun Hao was not going to tolerate, when Wu was in trouble due to long decline, this level of disobedience and disrespect much more.
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Dong Zhou
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