Han Yu 韩愈

The head of eight prose masters in Tang and Song Dynasties


Chinese Name: 韩愈

English Name: Han Yu

Other Names: Han Libu 韩吏部, Han Changli 韩昌黎, Han Wengong 韩文公

Born: 768

Died: December 25, 824


Advocate the movement of ancient Chinese 倡导古文运动

Main Works:

Teachers say 师说

Learn and understand 进学解

Han Yu 韩愈
Han Yu 韩愈

Brief Biography of Han Yu

Han Yu, an official in the Mid-Tang Dynasty, was a writer, thinker, philosopher, politician, and educator. He was the initiator of the ancient prose movement in the Tang Dynasty and was honored as the head of the “eight masters of the Tang and Song Dynasties” by later generations.

Han Yu (768 – December 25, 824), courtesy name Tuizhi 退之, was born in Heyang 河阳, Henan 河南 (now Mengzhou City 孟州市, Henan Province 河南省). He called himself “Jun Wang Changli 郡望昌黎”, and was known as “Han Changli 韩昌黎” and “Mr. Changli 昌黎先生”.

In the 8th year of Zhenyuan 贞元(792), Han Yu became the first scholar. He served as a Jiedu promotion officer 节度推官 and an official supervising imperial history 监察御史. Later, he was demoted to Yangshan 阳山 for discussing matters. In the 12th year of Yuanhe 元和 (817), he served as the marching commander of Pei Du 裴度, the prime minister, and participated in the pacification of the Huaixi rebellion 淮西之乱. Later, he was demoted to Chaozhou 潮州 for admonishing the Buddha’s bones.

In his later years, he served as the Minister of the Ministry of officials, known as “Han Libu 韩吏部”. In the 4th year of Changqing 长庆 (824), Han Yu died of illness at the age of 57. He was posthumously presented to the Minister of rites, with the posthumous title of “Wen 文”, so it was called “Han Wengong 韩文公”. In the first year of Yuanfeng 元丰 (1078), he was granted the title of Changlibo 昌黎伯 and was worshipped in the Confucian temple.

Han Yu 韩愈
The statue of Han Yu 韩愈塑像

Han Yu and Liu Zongyuan 柳宗元 are called “Han Liu 韩柳”, and they have the names of “literary giant 文章巨公” and “hundred generations of Wenzong 百代文公”. Later generations called him together with Liu Zongyuan, Ouyang Xiu 欧阳修, and Su Shi 苏轼 as the “four masters of ancient articles 千古文章四大家”. His prose writing theories, such as “the unity of literature and Taoism 文道合一” and “the obedience of words 文从字顺”, are of great guiding significance to future generations. A collection of Han Changli 韩昌黎集 was handed down.

Personal Life and Major Contributions

A difficult childhood

Han Yu was born in the 3rd year of Dali 大历 (768). His grandparents were all officials in the imperial or local governments, and his father Han Zhongqing 韩仲卿 was then secretary general. Han Zhongqing died when he was three years old. He was raised by his brother Han Hui 韩会.

Han Yu 韩愈
Hanyu memorial hall 韩愈纪念馆

In the 12th year of Dali (777), Han Hui was demoted as the governor of Shaozhou because of Yuan Zai 元载’s involvement and died of illness in Shaozhou 韶州 not long after he took office. After the early death of Han Hui, Han Yu first went back to his hometown in Heyang 河阳 with his widowed sister-in-law to bury his brother, but he could not live for long. He had to flee to Xuanzhou 宣州 in the south of the Yangtze River with his widowed sister-in-law Zheng. Han Yu spent this period in hardship. He thought he was an orphan. He studied hard since childhood and did not need praise and encouragement from others.

The way of imperial examination

In the second year of Zhenyuan 贞元 (786), Han Yu left Xuancheng and went to Chang’an alone. During this period, Han Yu went to Hezhong prefecture (that is, Puzhou 蒲州, now Yongji 永济, Shanxi Province 山西省) to go to his brother Han Yan 韩弇 to get the recommendation of Hun Yu 浑瑊, the governor of Hezhong, but nothing was gained.

In the autumn of the third year of Zhenyuan (787), Han Yu went to Chang’an after obtaining the qualification of township tribute. In the same year, Han Yu lost his home in Chang’an. He had nothing to depend on for his life. Then came the bad news that his brother Han Yan 韩弇 died unexpectedly. At the end of this year, he had a chance to meet Ma Sui 马燧, the king of Beiping 北平王, and got his help.

From the third to the fifth years of Zhenyuan (787-789), Han Yu took the imperial examination three times and failed. In the 5th year of Zhenyuan (789), he returned to Xuancheng 宣城.

Han Yu 韩愈
Teachers say 师说

In the 8th year of Zhenyuan (792), Han Yu took the entrance examination for the fourth time and finally ranked first. The following year, his sister-in-law, Mrs. Zheng, died, and he returned to Heyang to mourn for her for five months.

In the 11th year of Zhenyuan (795), he left Chang’an, returned to Heyang County through Tongguan 潼关, and then went to Luoyang 洛阳, the eastern capital.

Literature achievements

Han Yu 韩愈, a proponent of the ancient movement, advocated inheriting the two Han essay traditions. Han Yu’s articles are magnificent, thorough, and logical and he was regarded as the top of the “eight great prose masters of the Tang and Song dynasties 唐宋八大家”.

Du Mu juxtaposes Han Yu’s articles with Du Fu’s poems, which is called “Du Shi Han Bi 杜诗韩笔”; Su Shi called him “the decline of the Eight Dynasties”. The ancient prose movement initiated by Han Liu 韩柳opened up the development path of ancient prose since Tang Dynasty.

Han Yu 韩愈
Liu Zongyuan 柳宗元

Han Yu’s poems strive for novelty, emphasize imposing manners, and have originality. Han Yu used prose as poetry, introduced new ancient language, rules, and techniques into the poetry circle, enhanced the expressive function of poetry, expanded the field of poetry, and corrected the mediocre poetic style since Dali 大历 (766-780).

In the aspect of feudal ideology and morality, he also made unique achievements, vigorously advocated Confucianism, assumed the role of inheriting Confucian orthodoxy, and became the pioneer Neo-Confucianism in the Song and Ming Dynasties.

Video: National Treasure Archive 20140613 Celebrity in the Central Plains-Han Yu, a “Proud Scholar”

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