Jia Yi

Jia Yi
Traditional Chinese 賈誼
Simplified Chinese 贾谊
Alternative Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 賈生
Simplified Chinese 贾生
Literal meaning "Scholar Jia"

Jia Yi (Chinese: 賈誼; Wade–Giles: Chia I; c. 200  169 BCE) was an early Chinese writer, scholar, and official during the Han dynasty, best known as one of the earliest known writers of fu rhapsody and for his essay "Disquisition Finding Fault with Qin" (Guò Qín Lùn 過秦論), which criticises the Qin dynasty and describes Jia's opinions on the reasons for its collapse. In particular, he is famous for his two fu, On the Owl (鵩鳥賦) and his Lament for Quyuan (吊屈原賦). He is also the author of the treatise Xinshu (新書), containing political and educational insights.[1]


Jia Yi was born about 200 BCE in Luoyang, though some sources suggest his birth may have been a year earlier in about 201 BCE.[2][3] As a youth Jia became well known in his home county for his literary skills and ability to recite the Chinese Classics.[2] His precociousness caught the attention of "Venerable Wu" (Wu gong 吳公), the local governor and a prominent Legalist scholar who had been a student of the Qin dynasty official Li Si.[2] Wu brought Jia onto his staff, and when he became Commandant of Justice in 179 BCE he recommended Jia to Emperor Wen of Han as a scholar of the Classics.[2] Emperor Wen made Jia a "professor" (bóshì 博士), and within one year had promoted him to Grand Master of the Palace (tàizhōng dàfū 太中大夫), a relatively high-ranking position at the imperial court.[2]

Upon assuming his new position, Jia began submitting proposals for institutional reformsincluding a proposal to require vassal lords to actually reside in their fiefs and not at the capitalbut was frequently opposed by a group of older officials who had been early supporters of Liu Bang, the founder of the Han dynasty, and who continued to hold important positions under Emperor Wen.[2] This old-guard faction, probably feeling that Jia was a threat to their own positions, protested when Emperor Wen was considering promoting Jia to a ministerial post, saying that Jia was "young and just beginning his studies, yet he concentrates all his desires on arrogating authority to himself, and has brought chaos and confusion to everything."[2] The emperor, bowing to the faction's pressure, gradually stopped seeking Jia's advice, and in 176 BCE exiled Jia to the southern kingdom of Changsha (roughly corresponding to modern Hunan Province) to serve as Grand Tutor to its young king Wu Chan (吳產; r. 178  157 BCE).[4][3][5][4]

Emperor Wen ended Jia's exile around 172 BCE by summoning him back to the imperial capital at Chang'an, ostensibly in order to consult him on matters of Daoist mysticism. The emperor appointed him to the position of Grand Tutor (tàifù 太傅) to Liu Yi, Emperor Wen's youngest and favorite son, who was said to have been a good student and to have enjoyed reading.[4] Liu Yi died in 169 BCE due to injuries he suffered in a fall from a horse. Jia blamed himself for the accident and died, grief-stricken, about one year later.[4]


Jia is best known for his essay "Disquisition Finding Fault with Qin" (Guò Qín Lùn 過秦論), in which Jia recounts his opinions on the cause of the Qin dynasty's collapse, and for two of his surviving fu rhapsodies: "On the Owl" and "Lament for Quyuan".[6] Since he wrote favorably of social and ethical ideas attributed to Confucius and wrote an essay focused on the failings of the Legalist-based Qin Dynasty (221206 BC), he was classified by other scholars in the Han Dynasty as a Confucian scholar (rujia).[3] Jia Yi was known for his interest in ghosts, spirits, and other aspects of the afterlife;[7] and, he wrote his Lament to Qu Yuan as a sacrificial offering to Qu Yuan,[8] who had a century-or-so earlier drowned himself after being politically exiled. Jia Yi's actions inspired future exiled poets to a minor literary genre of similarly writing and then tossing their newly composed verses into the Xiang River, or other waters, as they traversed them on the way to their decreed places of exile.[9]

See also


  1. Svarverud, Rune. Methods of the Way: Early Chinese Ethical Thought. Leiden: Brill, 1998.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Knechtges (2010), p. 417.
  3. 1 2 3 Loewe (1986), 148.
  4. 1 2 3 4 Knechtges (2010), p. 418.
  5. Di Cosmo (2002), 201202.
  6. Cutter (1986), p. 254.
  7. Murck (2000), p. 46.
  8. Hawkes (1985), p. 52.
  9. Murck (2000), p. 16.
Works cited
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