About Xiao Yan, Emperor Wu of Liang 梁武帝 蕭衍
Xiao Yan 蕭衍 (464–549), zi Shuda 叔達, Emperor Wu of Liang (r. 502– 549).
Xiao Yan's ancestral home was Nan Lanling 南蘭陵 (the Danyang 丹陽 area northwest of modern Changzhou). He was born in Tongxia 同夏 village of Moling 秣陵 county (near the Zhou Chu Terrace 周處臺, southeast of modern Nanjing). Xiao Yan was the third son of Xiao Shunzhi 蕭順之 (d. 492), who was distantly related to Xiao Daocheng 蕭道成 (427–482), the founding emperor of the Southern Qi dynasty. His mother was Zhang Shangrou 張尚柔 (d. 471) of the Zhang family of Fangcheng 方城 in Fanyang 范陽 (southwest of modern Gu'an 固安, Hebei). She died when Xiao Yan was eight years old.
In his youth, Xiao Yan distinguished himself with his oral eloquence and acrobatic skill. In his late teens he studied with the learned scholar Liu Huan 劉瓛 (d. 489). In 482, he married Xi Hui 郗徽 (468–499) from the distinguished Xi clan of Jinxiang 金鄉 of Gaoping 高平 commandery (modern Jinxiang, Shandong). In 484, Xiao Yan began his official career as an administrator in the law section in the princely establishment of the ten-year-old Xiao Zilun 蕭子倫 (479–494), Prince of Baling. He soon was appointed to the staff of the General of the Guards Wang Jian 王儉 (452– 489) where he served as master of ceremonies of the Eastern Headquarters. During this time Xiao Yan became a member of the so-called Eight Companions of the Prince of Jingling, Xiao Ziliang 蕭子良 (460–494).
In 489, Wang Jian died of illness, and Xiao Yan was assigned as instructor to Xiao Zhaoye 蕭昭業 (473–494), the eldest son of Xiao Changmao 蕭長懋 (458–493), who was named heir designate to Emperor Wu (482–493) in 480. During this time he served in the Western Headquarters located in Jiangling 江陵 (modern Jingzhou 荊州, Hubei). In 491, the Prince of Sui, Xiao Zilong 蕭子隆 (474–494), was appointed regional inspector of Jingzhou, which had its administrative seat in Jiangling. The young prince had a strong interest in literature and was a skilled writer. Mainly for this reason Emperor Wu assigned Xiao Yan and Xie Tiao 謝朓 (464–499) to his staff. Xiao Yan did not remain long in Xiao Zilong's service. In 492, he received word that his father Xiao Shunzhi was gravely ill. Before he could arrive home, his father had passed away.
The heir designate Xiao Changmao died suddenly on 26 February 493. On 15 May 493, Emperor Wu named Xiao Changmao's eldest son Xiao Zhaoye heir designate. In August of this same year, there were rumors that Emperor Wu was severely ill and had stopped breathing. Xiao Ziliang, who had been appointed regent, ordered Xiao Yan, Fan Yun 范雲 (451–503), and others to serve as commanders of the imperial escort. Some members of the court wished, in the event of the emperor's passing, to have Xiao Ziliang installed as emperor instead of Xiao Zhaoye. The emperor suddenly recovered, and Xiao Zhaoye's position as heir was secured. By this time the court power was now in the hands of Xiao Luan 蕭鸞 (452–498), the second son of Emperor Gao's older brother, and the future Emperor Ming (494–498). Emperor Wu passed away on 27 August 493, and Xiao Luan immediately installed Xiao Zhaoye on the imperial throne. Xiao Yan seems to have been allied both with Xiao Ziliang and Xiao Luan, and thus was able to survive this political struggle relatively unscathed.
Xiao Luan soon deposed Xiao Zhaoye and his successor Xiao Zhaowen 蕭昭文, and had himself installed as emperor on 5 December 494. Xiao Luan sent Xiao Yan north to Shouyang 壽陽 (modern Shou county, Anhui) to dissuade the regional inspector of Yuzhou, Cui Huijing 崔慧景 (438– 500), from launching an attack against him. As a reward for Xiao Yan's service, Xiao Luan appointed him vice director of the Secretariat, General Who Tranquilizes the North, cadet on the staff of the heir designate, and gentleman attendant at the palace gate. In November 495, the Northern Wei invaded the lower Han River valley. Xiao Yan led one of the Qi armies in a successful expedition to repel the invaders. Xiao Yan returned to the capital where he was appointed palace cadet in the household of heir designate. He also was put in charge of the garrison at Shitou cheng 石頭城, the main fortress in the capital area.
By this time, Xiao Luan was increasingly suspicious of Xiao Yan's ambitions. Xiao Luan died of illness on 1 September 498. Shortly before he passed away, Xiao Luan appointed Xiao Yan regional inspector of Yongzhou, which had its administrative seat in Xiangyang (modern Xiangfan, Hubei). Once he arrived in Yongzhou, he began formulating plans to raise an army and rise up against the Qi ruler Xiao Baojuan 蕭寶卷 (493–501), who is better known by his posthumous title of Donghun hou 東昏侯 (Marquis of Eastern Darkness). Xiao Yan tried to enlist his elder brother Xiao Yi 蕭懿 (d. 500) to join him, but he refused. In the tenth lunar month of 500, Xiao Baojuan executed Xiao Yi, and Xiao Yan's fifth brother Xiao Rong 蕭融. On 15 December, Xiao Yan openly rebelled against the Qi regime from his base in Yongzhou. Xiao Yan and his ally Xiao Yingzhou 蕭穎冑 (453–501) arranged to have the eighth son of Xiao Luan, Xiao Baorong 蕭寶融 (488–502), named as the rightful “emperor.” He was installed on the throne in Jiangling on 14 April, 501. Xiao Yan's forces marched toward the capital, and eventually entered the imperial palace. They killed Xiao Baojuan on 31 December 501.
On 5 February Xiao Yan took charge of all military matters within the capital. On 17 February he was named counselor-in-chief and Duke of Liang. On 2 March Xiao Yan was granted the title of Prince of Liang. He also proceeded to kill most of the remaining members of the Qi imperial house. On 20 April Xiao Baorong abdicated to Xiao Yan. Xiao Yan formally ascended the imperial throne of the Liang on 30 April 502. On 2 May Xiao Yan ordered Xiao Baorong killed at his residence in Gushu 姑孰 (modern Dangtu, Anhui).
Xiao Yan is known by his posthumous title of Emperor Wu. He reigned for forty-eight years. One of his first acts was to install five of his brothers as princes. On 24 December 502 he named Xiao Tong 蕭統 (501–531) heir designate. He also declared that he would govern the realm according to Ruist teachings. In June 503, a new law code was issued. In 505, he appointed professors for the five Classics and ordered the construction of a Confucius temple. In 508, he established the national university.
Xiao Yan had a strong interest in the rites. In 502, he commissioned Xu Mian 徐勉 (466–535) to oversee the compilation of a set of commentaries on the Five Li 五禮: Ji li 吉禮 (rites for auspicious occasions), Xiong li 凶禮 (rites for inauspicious occasions), Jun li 軍禮 (military decorum), Bin li 賓禮 (etiquette for guests), and Jia li 嘉禮 (rites of goodness). The project took eleven years, and in 525, the Wuli yi zhu 五禮儀注 (Protocols for the five rituals) in 1,176 juan was presented to the imperial court. A number of famous scholars participated at various stages in its compilation including Shen Yue 沈約 (441–513), He Tongzhi 何佟之 (449–503), Zhou She 周舍 (471–524), Fu Geng 伏㈶ (462–520), Zhang Chong 張充 (449–512), and Ming Shanbin 明山賓 (443–527).
Xiao Yan also had a strong interest in Buddhism. Known as the Huangdi pusa 皇帝菩薩 (Emperor Bodhisattva), he four times (in 527, 529, 546, and 547) performed the rite of dāna or she shen 捨身 (donating the body) to the Tongtai si 同泰寺 (Tongtai temple) in Jiankang. Xiao Yan also has been credited with as early as 7 May 504 of renouncing Daoism and performing the rite of pusa jieyi 菩薩戒儀 or “Bodhisattva prātimokṣa.” However, some scholars have argued that Xiao Yan performed this Buddhist rite only once, on 22 May 519. Xiao Yan is attributed with writing between 512 and 519, the Zaijia chujia shou pusa jiefa 在家出家受菩薩戒法 (Bodhisattva prātimokṣa for laity), part of which has survived among the Dunhuang manuscripts. Beginning in 517, he also presided over some twenty-one “wuzhe dahui” 無遮大會 (unrestricted assemblies) that were attended by Buddhist monks, nuns, and lay persons. Xiao Yan often lectured on Buddhist topics. He also wrote one fu on Buddhism, the “Jing ye fu” 凈業賦 (Fu on pure karma).
Throughout most of his reign, Xiao Yan observed a personal lifestyle of frugality and restraint. His palace rooms were not lavishly decorated. Each day he ate only one meal of vegetables and drank three goblets of wine. He also diligently attended to his imperial duties and often read official correspondence from early morning until late at night. He also selected a number of men from lower gentry status as high ministers. These included such men as Xu Mian, Zhou She, and Zhu Yi 朱异 (483–549).
Xiao Yan launched a number of military expeditions against the northern states. The first northern campaign began in 506 and resulted in a number of victories over the Northern Wei forces in southern Shandong, northern Jiangsu, and central Anhui. However, in October 506 the Wei forces defeated the Liang army led by Xiao Yan's brother Xiao Hong 蕭宏 (473–526) at Luokou 洛口 (east of modern Huianan 淮南 city, Anhui). The Liang army remobilized under the leadership of Wei Rui 韋叡 (442–520) and Cao Jingzong 曹景宗 (457–508), who on 1 May 507 defeated the Wei army at Shaoyang Island 邵陽洲, which was located in the Huai River northeast of modern Fengyang 鳳陽, Anhui. In January, the Liang general Ma Xianpin 馬仙琕 (n.d.) defeated the Wei army led by Lu Chang 盧昶 (n.d.) and seized control over the strategic area of Qushan 朐山 (southwest of modern Lianyungang 連雲港 city, Jiangsu). From 514 to 516, Xiao Yan ordered the construction of a large dam at Fushan 浮山 (north of modern Mingguang 明光, Anhui) to provide irrigation for the area of Shouchun 壽春 (modern Shou county, Anhui). Two dams were built, but both collapsed, and the project was finally abandoned in October 515.
During the 520s, Xiao Yan continued to launch military campaigns against the Wei armies. In the autumn of 524 the Liang armies invaded Wei territory along the Huai River in the east and the Han River in the west. One of the goals of these campaigns was to recapture Shouchun, which had been in Wei hands since the Southern Qi. A Liang force led by Xiahou Dan 夏侯亶 (d. 529) took Shouchun on 4 January 527. Gaining control over this area allowed the Liang to repair the dam at Suyu 宿預 (south of modern Suqian 宿遷, Anhui).
Beginning in 528, a number of the members of the Northern Wei ruling family defected to the Liang. In May and June the Liang general Chen Qingzhi 陳慶之 (484–539) escorted Yuan Hao 元顥 (d. 529), a first cousin of the Northern Wei emperor Xuanqu (r. 499–515), north to install him as emperor. Chen's forces were able temporarily to occupy Luoyang in mid-June 529, but were driven out by a Wei army in August of that same year. However, after the division of the north between the Eastern Wei and Western Wei in November of 534, the Liang was able to negotiate a cessation of hostilities for the next decade.
However, by the 540s Xiao Yan was becoming increasingly senile and less able to handle the political and military problems that faced the dynasty. In 547, a general of Jie 羯 ethnicity from the Eastern Wei, Hou Jing 侯景 (503–552), offered to defect to the Liang, bringing with him all the territory that was under his control. Xiao Yan accepted Hou Jing's offer. The result was that the Eastern Wei attacked the Liang. By the next year (548), Hou Jing had to flee to the south. When it seemed likely that Xiao Yan was about to hand Hou Jing over to the Eastern Wei, Hou Jing turned against the Liang. He attacked Jiankang in December 548. The city fell on April 24, 549. Xiao Yan died on 12 June 549, perhaps of starvation. He was eighty-six years old.
According to Xiao Yan's biography in the Liang shu, his collected writings consisted of 120 juan. This presumably only includes his poetry and prose. However, the monograph on bibliography lists four separate collections: a Liang Wudi ji 梁武帝集 (Collected works of Emperor Wu of Liang) in 26 juan, a Liang Wudi shifu ji 梁武帝詩賦集 (Collection of the poetry and fu of Emperor Wu of Liang) in 20 juan, a Liang Wudi zawen ji 梁武帝雜文集 (Diverse writings by Emperor Wu of Liang) in 9 juan, and a Liang Wudi bieji mulu 梁武帝別集目錄 (Catalogue of the separate collected writings of Emperor Wu of Liang) in 2 juan. It also lists his “Jing ye fu” in 3 juan, and a “Wei qi fu” 圍棋賦 (Fu on chess) in 1 juan. These together amount to only 61 juan, and thus some of Xiao Yan's writings must have been lost by the early Tang. Both Tang histories record only a Liang Wudi ji in ten juan. This was lost in the Song. Later collections are all reconstructions. Lu Qinli collects 106 of Xiao Yan's poems in Xian Qin Han Wei Jin Nanbeichao shi, and Yan Kejun preserves over 240 of his prose writings in Quan shanggu Sandai Qin Han Sanguo Liuchao wen.
Xiao Yan wrote a large amount of poetry—he has over ninety poems extant. Some of Xiao Yan's poetry reveals a strong influence from the popular song tradition known as the “Music of Wu” (Wu sheng 吳聲) and “Western songs” (Xi qu 西曲). Xiao Yan's imitations of popular songs show the extent to which the popular song tradition had influenced literati poetry. He has a whole series of “Ziye sishi ge” 子夜四時歌 (Ziye songs for the four seasons) as well as two “Ziye ge” 子夜歌 (Ziye songs). These are all frankly erotic pieces probably written in the voice of a woman. During the Southern Qi period, Xiao Yan exchanged poems with distinguished writers. For example, ca. 496–497 Xiao Yan composed “Zhi Shitou shi” 直石頭詩 (Poem composed upon taking up a post at Stone Fortress). Xie Tiao wrote a matching poem for this. After Xiao Yan accepted the Buddhist precepts, he wrote a poem about his religious conversion, the “Hui sanjiao shi” 會三教詩 (Poem on combining the Three Teachings).
Most of Xiao Yan's extant prose consists of edicts and proclamations he issued as emperor. Although he was a skilled writer, it is possible that some if not all of these pieces were written by literary men at his court. One court piece that Xiao Yan probably composed himself was “Command Chastizing He Chen.” He Chen 賀琛 (ca. 482–550) had presented a petition criticizing state policies. Taking offense at He's audacity, Xiao Yan dictated a strongly worded reply. The language of Xiao Yan's rebuke of He Chen is more straightforward and informal than the usual imperial edict. Xiao Yan was also an accomplished fu writer. His “Jing ye fu,” which is variously dated 511 or 515, has a long preface in which Xiao Yan recounts his early life when he “slaughtered and cooked multitudinous creatures,” ate meat and did not appreciate the taste of vegetables. He then tells of his renouncing the eating of meat and abstaining from sex for over forty years. In the main text of the fu Xiao Yan writes about the need to restrain desire and sensual pleasure to reach the stage of quietude and purity. Another of his famous fu is “Xiao si fu” 孝思賦 (Fu on filial devotion and recollection [of one's parents]). He wrote this piece just after completing the construction of the Aijing and Dazhidu monasteries in 515. In the preface Xiao Yan expresses extreme regret that because of his involvement in urgent state matters during the Southern Qi he was unable to care for his mother and father or even properly mourn for them. In the main part of the piece Xiao Yan states that what chiefly distinguishes humans from animals is their strong emotional attachment to those who brought them into the world, and their ability to mourn for them after they have passed away.
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Study and translation
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b. “Dongdu fayuan wen” 東都發愿文 (The vow of the Eastern Capital)
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