History Lessons

Fan Zhongyan

Plan for times ahead

Fan Zhongyan

Fan Zhongyan (989–1052) was a prominent politician and literary figure in the Song dynasty.

This was a time when corruption in the government, as well as enormous war expenditures, was depleting the coffers of the state treasury at an alarming rate.

To deal with the problem, the Qingli Emperor summoned Fan from Shaanxi to the capital and named him Deputy Chief Minister.

Fan presented a 10-point proposal covering various aspects of government administration, including reforms to the recruitment system and higher pay for minor local officials to discourage corruption. The emperor, eager to make changes, quickly gave his approval.

The reforms were implemented. However, they met with opposition from conservative ministers who felt the system did not need overhaul; they were also worried that reforms would threaten their powerbase.

As protests grew, the emperor began to waver in his resolve and eventually rescinded the reforms.

The failure of Fan’s reforms seem not to have diminished his legacy: he is remembered as a wise man thwarted by vested interests.

His much-quoted motto is: “Feel worried before the world starts to worry, and feel happy after the world has rejoiced.”

It’s meaning: a successful ruler must stay 10 steps ahead, and never relax, even when things are going well.

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