The Info List - He Yan

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He Yan
He Yan
(c. 195 – 9 February 249),[a] courtesy name Pingshu, was an official, scholar and philosopher of the state of Cao Wei
Cao Wei
in the Three Kingdoms period of China. He was a grandson of He Jin, a general and regent of the Eastern Han dynasty. His father, He Xian, died early, so his mother, Lady Yin, remarried the warlord Cao Cao. He Yan
He Yan
thus grew up as Cao Cao's stepson. He gained a reputation for intelligence and scholarship at an early age, but he was unpopular and criticised for being arrogant and dissolute. He was rejected for government positions by both emperors Cao Pi
Cao Pi
and Cao Rui, but became a minister during the rule of Cao Shuang. When the Sima family took control of the government in a coup d'état in 249, he was executed along with all the other officials loyal to Cao Shuang. He Yan
He Yan
was, along with Wang Bi, one of the founders of the Daoist school of Xuanxue. He synthesised the philosophical schools of Daoism and Confucianism, believing that the two schools complimented each other. He wrote a famous commentary on the Daode Jing
Daode Jing
that was influential in his time, but no copies have survived. His commentary on the Analects
was considered standard and authoritative for nearly 1000 years, until his interpretation was displaced by the commentary of Zhu Xi
Zhu Xi
in the 14th century.


1 Life

1.1 Death

2 Philosophy 3 Notes 4 References 5 Bibliography

Life[edit] He Yan
He Yan
was born in Nanyang, Henan.[2] His great-grandfather was a butcher, and his grandfather, He Jin, was a general and regent of the Eastern Han dynasty. His grandaunt was Empress He, the wife of Emperor Ling of the Eastern Han dynasty.[3][4] He Yan's father, He Xian (何咸), died at an early age.[2] The He family's political power was destroyed when a warlord, Dong Zhuo, occupied the Han capital of Luoyang. He Yan's mother escaped and gave birth to He Yan
He Yan
in exile.[5] When He Yan
He Yan
was about six, his mother was taken as a concubine by the warlord Cao Cao, after which she became known as "Lady Yin". After being adopted by Cao Cao, He was raised with the other princes of Wei, including Cao Cao's eventual successor, Cao Pi
Cao Pi
(r.  220-226). Cao Pi resented He for acting as if he were a crown prince, and referred to him by the name "false son" rather than his real name. He later married one of Cao Cao's daughters, Princess Jinxiang, who may have been one of He's half-sisters.[6] As a result of his adoption, He Yan spent a considerable amount of time with Cao Cao
Cao Cao
during his childhood.[7] At a young age, He Yan
He Yan
gained a reputation of being extremely gifted: "bright and intelligent as a god".[8] He had a passion for reading and study. Cao Cao
Cao Cao
consulted with him when he was confused about how to interpret Sun Tzu's The Art of War, and was impressed with He Yan's interpretation.[7] He Yan's contemporaries (both in Cao Wei
Cao Wei
and the Jin dynasty) disliked him, and wrote that he was effeminate, fond of makeup, dissolute and egotistical. The second Wei emperor Cao Rui (r.  226-239) refused to employ him because he believed that He was a "floating flower": well known for a life of flamboyance and dissipation. He was reportedly fond of "five-mineral powder", a hallucinatory drug.[8] He Yan
He Yan
was not able to achieve political prominence either under Cao Pi or Cao Rui. When Cao Rui died in 239, he left his adopted son, Cao Fang, then still a child, on the throne. Cao Shuang, a relative of the Cao family, took control of the government as regent. He Yan ingratiated himself into Cao Shuang's inner circle, eventually being promoted to Secretary of Personnel (吏部尚書) and bringing many of his friends and acquaintances into important positions. One of He Yan's friends promoted into office during this period was the influential philosopher Wang Bi.[8] Death[edit] He Yan
He Yan
retained control of most official appointments until 249, when the Sima family took control of the government in a coup d'état. After taking control of the government, the Sima family executed Cao Shuang and all members of his faction, including He Yan.[8] According to the Chronicles of the Clans of Wei, Sima Yi
Sima Yi
assigned He Yan the task of presiding as a judge in the trial of Cao Shuang. He Yan, who wanted to be acquitted, judged Cao Shuang very harshly in order to gain Sima Yi's favour, but Sima Yi
Sima Yi
added He Yan's name to the list of criminals to be executed at the last moment. At the time of He Yan's death, he had a five-year-old son whom Sima Yi dispatched soldiers to arrest. Before the soldiers arrived, He Yan's mother, Lady Yan, who was still alive, hid her grandson and threw herself at Sima Yi's mercy at the palace. She eventually convinced Sima Yi
Sima Yi
to pardon her grandson, and He Yan's son survived. Philosophy[edit] According to the Wei dynastic histories, He Yan
He Yan
enjoyed and had a great insight into the works of the Daoist philosophers Laozi
and Zhuangzi, and into the Book of Changes, from an early age. He wrote a famous commentary that was influential in his own time, the Commentary on the Daode Jing
Daode Jing
(Daode Lun), but no copies have survived. He was planning on writing a more detailed, interlinear commentary on the Daode Jing; but, after comparing his draft with a similar draft by a younger Wang Bi, He decided that his interpretation was inferior, and the Commentary that he eventually produced was more general and broad.[9] He Yan
He Yan
was a member of a committee that produced an influential and authoritative commentary on Confucian theory, the Collected Explanations of the Analects
(Lunyu Jijie), which collected, selected, summarised and rationalised the most insightful of all preceding commentaries on the Analects
that had been written by his time. He produced the commentary as a member of a five-member committee (the other four members of the committee were Sun Yong, Zheng Chong, Cao Xi and Sun Yi), but was given almost sole credit as the principal writer by subsequent Chinese scholars, and by the Tang dynasty
Tang dynasty
(618-907) He Yan's name was the sole author associated with the Collected Explanations. Modern scholars are unsure of what evidence led medieval Chinese scholars to believe that He was the sole author, or if he wrote the Collected Explanations out of interest or because he was ordered to by the Wei court, but continue to credit He Yan
He Yan
as the principal author out of convention. After He Yan
He Yan
presented it to the imperial court, the Collected Explanations was quickly recognised as authoritative and remained the principal text used by Chinese readers to interpret the Analects
for nearly 1,000 years, until it was displaced by Zhu Xi's commentary in the 14th century.[10] He Yan
He Yan
believed that Daoism
and Confucianism
complimented each other, so that by studying them both in a correct manner a scholar could arrive at a single, unified truth. Arguing for the ultimate compatibility of Daoist and Confucian teachings, He argued that "Laozi [in fact] was in agreement with the Sage" (sic).[11] By promoting the synthesis of Daoist and Confucian concepts, He became a principle advocate of the neo-Daoist school of Xuanxue (along with his friend and contemporary, Wang Bi).[12] As a scholar of Xuanxue, He was notable for exploring the theory of wuwei.[13] He was a prolific writer of poetry and wrote numerous miscellaneous essays on philosophy, politics, literature and history, some of which still survive.[14] Notes[edit]

^ a b Cao Fang's biography in the Sanguozhi recorded that Cao Shuang and his associates – Ding Mi (丁謐), Deng Yang, He Yan, Bi Gui, Li Sheng and Huan Fan – were executed along with their extended families on the wuxu day of the 1st month of the 1st year of the Jiaping era of Cao Fang's reign.[1] This date corresponds to 9 February 249 in the Gregorian calendar.


^ ([嘉平元年春正月]戊戌,有司奏収黃門張當付廷尉,考實其辭,爽與謀不軌。又尚書丁謐、鄧颺、何晏、司隷校尉畢軌、荊州刺史李勝、大司農桓範皆與爽通姦謀,夷三族。) Sanguozhi vol. 4. ^ a b 三国志 一晋 陈寿 著 栗平夫 武彰 译 中华书局 P2-52 魏帝纪第一, 三国手册 逸安 著 中国古籍出版社 P186-191,曹操大事年表 ^ Gardner 10 ^ 闲云野鹤王定璋 著 四川教育出版社 P129 ^ 魏末传“晏妇金乡公主, 即晏同母妹.” ^ Gardner 10-11 ^ a b Fang Shiming, (2006).方诗铭论三国人物 上海古籍出版社 P225-226 ISBN 7-5325-4485-0 ^ a b c d Gardner 11 ^ Gardner 13 ^ Gardner 8-10, 15, 17 ^ Gardner 13-14 ^ 闲云野鹤王定璋 著 四川教育出版社 P129-130 ^ 闲云野鹤王定璋 著 四川教育出版社 P130-133, 魏晋玄学新论徐斌 著 上海古籍出版社 P122-124,128-135 ^ 何晏著述考高华平, 文献 (季刊)2003年10月第4期, Page69-80


Chen, Shou (3rd century). Records of the Three Kingdoms
Three Kingdoms
(Sanguozhi). Gardner, Daniel K (2003). Zhu Xi's Reading of the Analects: Canon, Commentary, and the Classical Tradition. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-12865-0.  Pei, Songzhi (5th century). Annotations to Records of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguozhi zhu).

v t e

Prominent people of Cao Wei


Cao Pi Cao Rui Cao Fang Cao Mao Cao Huan

Empresses and noble ladies

Empress Wuxuan Duchess Cao Empress Wenzhao Empress Wende Empress Mingdao Empress Mingyuan Empress Huai Empress Zhang Empress Wang Empress Bian (Cao Mao's wife) Empress Bian (Cao Huan's wife)

Princes and royal figures

Cao Ang Cao Biao Cao Chong Cao Gan Cao Gong Cao Gun Cao Hui Cao Jian Cao Ju (Prince of Fanyang) Cao Ju (Prince of Pengcheng) Cao Jun (Duke of Fan) Cao Jun (Prince of Chenliu) Cao Li Cao Lin (Prince of Donghai) Cao Lin (Prince of Pei) Cao Mao Cao Rui Cao Shuo Cao Xie Cao Xuan Cao Xun Cao Yan Cao Yong Cao Yu Cao Zhang Cao Zhi Cao Zicheng Cao Ziji Cao Zijing Cao Ziqin Cao Zishang Cao Zizheng


Cao Shuang Sima Yi Sima Shi Sima Zhao Sima Yan

Civil officers

Bao Xun Bi Gui Cang Ci Chang Lin Chen Jiao Chen Qun Cui Lin Deng Yang Dong Zhao Du Ji Du Xi Fu Jia Fu Xuan Fu Xun Gao Rou Gaotang Long Guan Ning Han Ji He Kui He Qia He Yan Hu Zhi Hua Xin Huan Fan Huan Jie Jia Chong Jia Xu Jiang Ji Li Feng Li Sheng Liang Xi Liu Shao Liu Ye Liu Yi Lu Yu Pang Yu Pei Qian Pei Xiu Sima Fu Sima Zhi Su Ze Wang Chen Wang Guan Wang Lang Wang Jing Wang Su Wang Xiang Wang Ye Wei Ji Wei Zhen Wu Zhi Xiahou He Xiahou Hui Xiahou Wei Xiahou Xuan Xin Pi Xing Yong Xu Miao Xu Shu Xu Xuan Xun Yi Yang Fu Yang Jun Yu Huan Zhang Hua Zhang Ji (Derong) Zhang Ji (Jingzhong) Zheng Hun Zhong Yao Zhong Yu

Military officers

Cao Hong Cao Ren Cao Xiu Cao Zhen Chen Tai Deng Ai Du Yu Fei Yao Gongsun Yuan Guanqiu Jian Guo Huai Hao Zhao Huang Quan Jia Kui Liu Jing Lü Qian Man Chong Meng Da Niu Jin Qian Hong Qian Zhao Qin Lang Sima Wang Sima Zhou Sun Li Tang Zi Tian Xu Tian Yu Wang Chang Wang Ji Wang Jun Wang Ling Wang Shuang Wang Zhong Wei Guan Wen Ping Wen Qin Wen Yang Wei Guan Xiahou Ba Xiahou Dun Xiahou Mao Xiahou Shang Xu Chu Xu Huang Xu Zhi Yang Hu Yang Qiu Yin Li Yu Jin Zang Ba Zhang He Zhang Liao Zhang Te Zhao Yan Zhong Hui Zhou Tai Zhu Ling Zhuge Dan Zhuge Xu

Other notable women

Wang Yuanji Xiahou Hui Xin Xianying Yang Huiyu Zhang Chunhua

Other notable figures

Budugen Du Kui Guan Lu Huangfu Mi Huchuquan Kebineng Liu Hui Ma Jun Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove Wang Bi Xun Can Pei Xiu Zhou Xuan Zhu Jianping

Authority control

WorldCat Identities VIAF: 50310566 LCCN: no88006557 ISNI: 0000 0000 8228 6399 GND: 12955670X SUDOC: 11796