Han Yu’s “Za shuo” 雜說 (Miscellaneous Discourses) A Three-Tier System of Government

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Mei Ah Tan



This article highlights the significance of the “Za shuo” 雜說 (Miscellaneous discourses) series for the study of Han Yu’s 韓愈 (768–824) political ideology, which proposes a three-tier system of governance that is made up of the emperor, the feudal lords, and the bureaucrats. The emperor is the pinnacle of the system; he collaborates with his ministers to devise state policies in the inner palace. The feudal lords protect the emperor in the regional areas. The bureaucrats form the machinery of the government and implement its policies. Challenging current scholarship, which treats each of Han Yu’s essays independently, the article proposes a new interpretation of them as a whole It argues that the three essays “Long shuo” 龍說 (Discourse on the dragon), “Yi shuo” 醫說 (Discourse on physicians), and “Ma shuo” 馬說 (Discourse on horses) form an organic unit that provides internally consistent counsel to the ruler for his governance, and that a fourth essay, “Ti Cui Shanjun zhuan” 題崔山君傳 (Foreword to the biography of Cui Shanjun), is likely an interpolation. Through unearthing the true meaning of this series, the article also narrows down its time of composition, which has traditionally been left unspecified. This article also reveals Han Yu’s attitude toward the revived concern over the enfeoffment of princes in medieval China and toward his political ideology, which is not purely Confucian. The article thus is a contribution to the study of both political history and literary creation in the mid-Tang era.

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