Wang Anshi (/ˈwæŋ ɑːnˈʃɪ/; [wǎŋ ánʂɨ̌];
Chinese: 王安石; December 8, 1021 – May 21, 1086) was a Chinese
economist, statesman, chancellor and poet of the
Song Dynasty who
attempted major and controversial socioeconomic reforms known as the
New Policies. These reforms constituted the core concepts of the
Song-Dynasty Reformists, in contrast to their rivals, the
Conservatives, led by the Chancellor Sima Guang.
Wang Anshi's ideas are usually analyzed in terms of the influence the
Rites of Zhou
Rites of Zhou or Legalism had on him. His economic reforms included
increase currency circulation, breaking up of private monopolies, and
early forms of government regulation and social welfare. His military
reforms expanded the use of local militias and his government reforms
expanded the civil service examination system and attempted to
suppress nepotism in government. Although successful for a while, he
eventually fell out of favor of the emperor.
2 Early career
3 Major reform
4 Wang’s downfall
8 See also
10 Works cited
11 Further reading
12 External links
During the Song Dynasty, the unprecedented development of large
estates, whose owners managed to evade paying their share of taxes,
resulted in an increasingly heavy burden of taxation on commoners. The
drop in state revenues, a succession of budget deficits, and
widespread inflation prompted the
Emperor Shenzong of Song
Emperor Shenzong of Song to seek
advice from Wang.
Wang Anshi came from a family of imperial scholars (進士 Jìnshì)
and was placed fourth in the imperial exam of 1042. He spent the first
twenty years of his career in the regional government of the lower
Yangtze region. During this period, he gained practical experience in
local governance. This experience guided his analysis in formulating
solutions to revitalize the ailing Song society.
Main article: New Policies (Song dynasty)
Wang Anshi from the Wan Xiao Tang, 1743.
Wang believed that the state has the responsibility to provide for its
people the essentials for a decent living standard: "The state should
take the entire management of commerce, industry, and agriculture into
its own hands, with a view to succoring the working classes and
preventing them from being ground into the dust by the rich."
Wang came to power as 2nd privy councilor in 1069. It was there
that he introduced and promulgated his reform policy (xin fa 新法).
There were three main components to this policy: 1) state finance and
trade, 2) defense and social order, and 3) education and improving of
governance. Some of the finance reforms included paying cash for labor
in place of corvee labor, increase the supply of copper coins, improve
management of trade, direct government loan to farmers during planting
seasons and to be repaid at harvest. He believed that foundation of
the state rests on the well being of the common people. To limit
speculation and eliminate private monopolies, he initiated price
control and regulated wages and set up pensions for the aged and
unemployed. The state also began to institute public orphanages,
hospitals, dispensaries, hospices, cemeteries, and reserve
The military reform centered on a new institution of the baojia system
or organized households. This was done to ensure collective
responsibility in society and was later used to strengthen local
defense. He also proposed the creation of systems to breed military
horses, the more efficient manufacture of weapons and training of the
To improve education and government, he sought to break down the
barrier between clerical and official careers as well as improving
their supervision to prevent connections being used for personal gain.
Tests in law, military affairs and medicine were added to the
examination system, with mathematics added in 1104. The National
Academy was transformed into a real school rather than simply a
holding place for officials waiting for appointments. However, there
was deep-seated resistance to the education reforms as it hurt
bureaucrats coming in under the old system.
Although Wang had the alliance of such prominent court figures as Shen
Kuo, imperial scholar-officials such as
Su Dongpo and Ouyang Xiu
bitterly opposed these reforms on the grounds of tradition. They
believed Wang's reforms were against the moral fundamentals of the Two
Emperors and would therefore prevent the Song from experiencing the
prosperity and peace of the ancients. The tide tilted in favor of the
conservatives due to renewed foreign conflict. He was even temporarily
removed from power and imprisoned in 1075.
Like many Chinese officials of the era, Wang's career experienced many
ups and downs, but the beginning of the end came in 1074. A famine in
China drove many farmers off their lands. Their circumstances
were made worse by the debts they had incurred from the seasonal loans
granted under Wang’s reform initiatives. Local officials insisted on
collecting on the loans as the farmers were leaving their land. This
crisis was depicted as being Wang’s fault. The empress dowager was
also an opponent of Wang. Wang wanted to resign, but the emperor still
supported him, giving him high honors and an appointment to Jiangning
He was recalled by the emperor the following year, but now he was seen
as vulnerable and was openly attacked from groups of conservatives.
Wang returned to Nanjing, which he preferred to Kaifeng. He wrote and
engaged in scholarship through to his death in 1086.
With Shenzong's death in 1085, Wang was ousted and the New Policies
were rolled back - some temporarily, some permanently.
In addition to his political achievements,
Wang Anshi was a noted
poet. He wrote poems in the shi form, modelled on those of Du Fu. He
was traditionally classed as one of the Eight Great Prose Masters of
the Tang and Song (唐宋八大家).
A well-known man-of-letters,
Wang Anshi produced many outstanding
essays and poems.
Green in the spring winds
the south bank of the Yangtse
When will the bright moon
light my journey home
The above are his very reputed lines. One of eight famous literati of
Wang Anshi was known for writing with succinctness
and profundity. He laid stress on literature's social function and
that writings should serve a purpose. His essays "A Visit to Baochan
Mountain" and "In Reply to Official Censor Sima's Letter" are widely
read by posterity.
Chinese politicians and historians have continued to look back on the
Wang Anshi as either principled and measured or misguided
The twentieth-century Chinese warlord
Yan Xishan cited the reforms of
Wang Anshi to justify his use of a limited form of local democracy in
Shanxi. Yan believed that the focus and intent of Wang's reforms was
to strengthen the
Song dynasty by persuading ordinary Chinese to give
the dynasty their active support, instead of merely serving it. The
system of "democratic" government that Yan justified via the
Wang Anshi was mostly focused on improving Yan's own
popularity without holding any real power, and never became an
effective alternative to military dictatorship. On the other hand,
the popular scholar
Lin Yutang cast Wang as the equivalent of
communist totalitarian government in his biography of Wang's adversary
History of the Song Dynasty
Chancellor of China
^ hence referred to as Wáng Jīnggōng 王荊公
^ hence referred to as Wáng Wéngōng 王文公
^ "Wang An Shi". Collins English Dictionary.
^ D.B. Boulger (1881). History of China. pp. 388–.
^ Man and the universe. Japan. Siberia. China. Carmelite House. 1907.
^ Patricia Buckley Ebrey, Paul Jakov Smith 2016 p.237. State Power in
^ Mote ch. 6
^ Nourse, Mary A. 1944. A Short History of the Chinese, 3rd edition.
Wang Anshi Chinese author and political reformer
Britannica.com". britannica.com. Retrieved 2015-10-23.
^ Mote p. 139
^ "Ethics of
China 7 BC To 1279 by Sanderson Beck Song Dynasty
Renaissance 960-1279". san.beck.org. Retrieved 2015-10-23.
^ Mote p. 140
^ Mote p. 141
^ Mote p. 141-42
^ Gillin 42
^ Yutang Lin. Gay Genius: The Life and Times of Su Tungpo. New York:
John Day, 1947; rpr. Hesperides 2008 ISBN 978-1-4437-2217-9.
Mote, F.W. (1999). Imperial China: 900-1800. Harvard University Press.
pp. 122, 138–142.
Gillin, Donald G. Warlord: Yen Hsi-shan in Shansi Province
1911–1949. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. 1967.
Anderson, Gregory E., To Change China: A Tale of Three Reformers",
Asia Pacific: Perspectives, 1:1 (2001).
Wang Anshi at
LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
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Prime Minister of China
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Prime Minister of China
Eight Great Literati of Tang and Song Dynasties
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