His Stubbornship: Prime Minister Wang Anshi (1021--1086), Reformer and Poet


After piloting an emperor the age of a college student through China’s most drastic government reforms before the modern era, Wang Anshi retreated to his Halfway Hill villa at Nanjing, where in late middle age he became one of the Northern Song dynasty’s three or four most innovative poets.
He redirected the craft of composing high-stakes policy papers into lighter-than-air evocations of clear-eyed grief, sensuous Buddhism, and intricate reactions to rain on the river or donkey-riding up Bell Mountain. Acrimony over his redesigned government, which he lived just long enough to see totally dismantled, remains relevant to Chinese politics and economics. Published during his thousand-year jubilee, this first full English biography since 1937 draws on Wang’s essays, poems, and his vivid, seldom-explored throne-room diary.

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Jonathan Pease (University of Washington Ph.D., 1986) has taught Chinese language and literature at Dartmouth College and Portland State University. Previous projects include biographies of Guo Pu and Wang Anguo, and an award-winning translation from Wang Anshi’s protégé Wang Ling.
Introduction and Acknowledgments
Dates, Names, Citations
List of Illustration
Foreword: The Stone Ox Grotto (ad 1080)

part 1: Service

1 Leaving Jiangxi (1021–1036)
 1 The Journey Out

2 Marriage—Yangzhou and Yin County (1037–1050)
 1 Meeting Zeng Gong, Passing the Jinshi
 2 Yangzhou
 3 Home Leave at Linchuan; Friendship with the Zengs
 4 The Qingli Reforms from a Distance; Leaving Yangzhou
 5 Yin County Magistrate
 6 Short Means Subtle: An Emerging Way with Words
 7 Epitaph

3 Hidden Mountains—Qianshan (1050–1054)
 1 Seeking from Wellsprings: Lord Bao’s Stream, the Stone Ox
 2 Seeking from Mountains: The Nine-Petalled Peaks
 3 Practical Knowledge from Monks
 4 Poetry of Public Conscience: Road Scoopers and Monopolizers
 5 Glimmerings of Green
 6 The Search Can Yield Data: the Baochan Caverns

4 The Herds Office, Changzhou Prefect, Jiangdong Judge (1054–1058)
 1 Into Ouyang Xiu’s Circle and the Herds Office
 2 Actual Duties in Kaifeng, 1055–1057
 3 Changzhou Prefect, Jiangdong Circuit Judge, 1057–1058
 4 “Nature Grew This Blackness on Me”

5 Kaifeng Again—Drafter of Edicts (1059–1063)
 1 High Aims: The “Ten-Thousand-Word Memorial”
 2 Fame through Verse: The Radiant Consort
 3 Sima Guang
 4 Official Assignments in Kaifeng, 1059–1063
 5 Kaifeng Life
 6 Anthologies and Quatrains
 7 Back to Jinling

6 Sages and Crooks—Wang’s Thought in His Early Forties (1063–1066)
 1 “Of Rites and Music”: What Makes a Sage?
 2 Oneness
 3 How Powerful Is Goodness?
 4 Mainstream or Outlier?
 5 Was Zanyuan Right?
 6 Out of Mourning

part 2: Reform

7 Shenzong Clears the Deck (1067–1068)
 1 Recruiting and Firing
 2 Summoned Out of Turn
 3 Wang’s Court Diary
 4 Finance and Murder: Wang vs. Sima Guang Again

8 Associate Councillor—the Reforms Begin (1069–1070)
 1 First and Second New Policies, Spring & Summer 1069: Finance Planning and Governmental Design Review
 2 The Dowagers Fight Back: Wang’s First Resignation, Summer 1069
 3 Third New Policy, Fall 1069: Equitable Transport System
 4 Fourth New Policy, and Second Resignation, Fall 1069: The Green Sprout Loans
 5 Popular Support and the “Three Not-Worths”
 6 Fifth New Policy, 1069: Shrinking the Imperial Clan
 7 Sixth and Seventh New Policies, 1069–1070: Farmland and Water Projects; the Baojia system
 8 Promoted to Grand Councillor, End of 1070; Exiles and Exits

9 Nation Rich, Army Strong—Grand Councillor (1071–1072)
 1 Wang’s Plan for the Borders
 2 Eighth New Policy, Spring 1071: Civil Service Recruitment
 3 Ninth New Policy and Wang’s Third Resignation, 1071: Service For Hire
 4 Tenth and Eleventh New Policies, 1072: State Trade System, Horse Breeding System
 5 Isolate the Xi Xia, Convert Their Neighbors
 6 Forcing Shenzong to Choose: Fourth Resignation, Summer 1072
 7 The Kitan Problem; Doubts about State Trade
 8 Victory, Danger, and the Twelfth New Policy, 1072: Land Survey and Equitable Tax

10 Trouble at the Gate (1073)
 1 Aftermath of the Gate Incident: Wang’s Fifth Resignation, Spring 1073
 2 Thirteenth New Policy, Spring 1073: The Scriptural Interpretations Bureau; Lü Brothers Rising
 3 Water Projects, 1073–1074
 4 Fourteenth New Policy: The Guild Exemption Tax; Tibetan Slaughter and a Belt of Jade
 5 More Wars?
 6 How to Manage Scoundrels

11 Watcher on the Ramparts (1074–1075)
 1 Watcher on the Ramparts: Sixth Resignation and Furlough, Summer 1074
 2 The Śramaņa and the Deva
 3 Fifteenth New Policy, Fall 1074: Self-Assessment System; Zheng Xia’s Exile, Wang Anguo’s Disgrace
 4 Back to Kaifeng, Spring 1075

12 Payback—Wang’s Second Term (1075–1076)
 1 The Siege against Lü Huiqing: Third through Tenth Month, 1075
 2 Not Provoking and Not Tempting the Kitans, 1072–1075
 3 Demoting Lü’s People While Rebuffing the Conservatives, Late 1075
 4 Vengeance of Yongzhou, Spring 1076

part 3: Retirement

13 Halfway Hill (1076–1084)
 1 Building Banshan
 2 Thinking Back
 3 News from Kaifeng
 4 Green

14 Ghosts
 1 Phoenix Hill
 2 Ink on Walls
 3 Decompression
 4 Donkey in the Pines—Unexpected Friends
 5 Lord Xie’s Mound
 6 White Rooster

15 Words
 1 Characters as Aggregates
 2 Larger Significance
 3 Passion or Duty?

16 Company
 1 Su Shi Banished, 1079; Other Purges
 2 “To Simmer with Regret,” 1080
 3 The Other Side of Sixty
 4 Journey to Earthworks Hill, 1081
 5 “Uniting and Dispersing;” Letters from Daughters and from Lü Huiqing
 6 Zeng Gong Bows Out, 1083
 7 “A Tile Smashed Up My Head”: Chan in Late Middle Age, 1074–1084
 8 “This Me That Is Is the Me That Was”: Art at Dinglin
 9 Rafting Upstream

17 Walk Where It Is Cool
 1 “Easy Spring Wind Greens That Southern Shore”: Jinling’s Physical World
 2 Lamplight in the Rain
 3 Understatement: Southside Paths, Scolding the Spring Wind
 4 “Shove the Postern”: Couplet Construction
 5 “Cherish Its Swirling Light”: Voyages through Saṁsāra
 6 Walk Where It Is Cool: Distillation
 7 “Tower Thee Slender, Spring Night So Short”: Lyrics

18 Sand-Grains in the Sea
 1 The Mountain Crumbles, 1084
 2 Later

Afterword: Fox Power

Appendix 1: Family Trees

Appendix 2: Friends and Associates

Appendix 3: Poem Locator
Scholars of Chinese history, politics, or literature.