The Selfless Realm of Fan Zhongyan (Part 1 of 2)
Fan Zhongyan (989 – 1052 AD) was a very famous politician and writer during the Northern Song Dynasty (960 – 1127 AD). He wrote the everlasting profound quotes in The Yueyang Tower
: "Not pleased by external gains, not saddened by personal losses," and "Be concerned before the world starts worrying, be satisfied only after the world is content." Honest officials used these quotes as models for their lives. His morality and virtue have been admired throughout history.
Fan Zhongyan studied very hard when he was young. He read into the night every day. He learned classic Confucianism. He resolved to become "a true gentleman to serve and help the public," and that “If he couldn’t be a good official then he will be a good doctor instead.” As he grew older, he was greatly influenced by Buddhism. He worshiped gods and Buddhas. Confucianism's "benevolent people care about others, and this includes the whole nation" and Buddhism's "Buddha nature is to be benevolent and merciful to all sentient beings" influenced him a great deal. His notion to save the nation and his belief in being an upright and just official so that he could take good care of his people as if they were his children, originated from those principles. He saw his mission as saving people from hardships and caring for each life. In one of his poems, Fan wrote about his wish for the people to be living in an orderly, simple and peaceful world, just like during the times of ancient virtuous emperors Yao and Shun.
"Not pleased by external gains, nor saddened by personal losses." Fan Zhongyan said that one should set aside personal interests, and not to be pleased or saddened by personal gains or losses. He held official positions for several decades, but he always lived a simple life. He didn't even build himself a large house when he became the Prime Minister. Someone wanted to build a new house for him, but he said, "A person should pursue morality and justice. If he has morality and justice in his mind, he will be happy under any living conditions. So please don't talk about a new house for me anymore." Fan did not buy any land or property for his children either. He used his savings to establish schools, buy farmland to give to the poor, and conduct other charity work.
He was exiled several times for speaking up for justice but was not upset or saddened when it happened. His aspirations remained unchanged. "Leaving the capital three times" is a perfect example. In the seventh year of the Tiansheng Era (1029 AD), Fan Zhongyan was appointed Imperial Editor of the capital city. He wrote a letter criticizing the empress dowager's extravagance and wastefulness. For this, the empress dowager exiled him.
In the second year of the Mingdao Era (1033 AD), Fan Zhongyan was a Deputy Censor. However, he was exiled to Muzhou Prefecture by the Emperor for insisting on seeking justice for other people. In the second year of the Jingyou Era (1035 AD), Fan was promoted to Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Rites. Prime Minister at the time, Lu Yijian, was afraid that Fan would point out his mistakes and affect his authority, so Lu asked the Emperor to appoint Fan as Governor of Kaifeng Prefecture (today's Henan Province). Lu also sent people to warn Fan, "Since you are not a censor, do not waste your energy debating about state affairs." However, Fan Zhongyan remained concerned about the welfare of the country. He continued speaking up for the people and was never afraid of those in power. As he wrote in one of his letters to the Emperor, "I maintain a strong confidence in my beliefs and don't regret being exiled three times."