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Xun Shuang

Xun Shuang
Minister of Works (司空)
In office
189 (189) – 190 (190)
MonarchEmperor Xian of Han
ChancellorDong Zhuo
Minister of the Household (光祿勛)
In office
189 (189) – 189 (189)
MonarchEmperor Xian of Han
ChancellorDong Zhuo
Chancellor of Pingyuan (平原相)
In office
189 (189) – 189 (189)
MonarchEmperor Xian of Han
ChancellorDong Zhuo
Gentleman (郎中)
In office
166 (166) – 166 (166)
MonarchEmperor Huan of Han
Personal details
Xuchang, Henan
Died190 (aged 62)
Xi'an, Shaanxi
Resting placeXuchang, Henan
RelationsSee Xun family of Yingchuan
  • Xun Fei
  • Xun Cai
FatherXun Shu
OccupationPolitician, writer
Courtesy nameCiming (慈明)
Other nameXun Xu (荀諝)[1]

Xun Shuang (128–190), courtesy name Ciming, was a Chinese essayist, politician, and writer who lived during the Eastern Han dynasty of China. Born in the influential Xun family of Yingchuan Commandery (around present-day Xuchang, Henan), Xun Shuang, for most of his life, distanced himself from politics because he perceived the political arena to be corrupt and dangerous. He repeatedly turned down offers to serve in the government, and spent his time producing numerous writings and giving lectures. However, in late 189, he was forced to join the civil service and became an official. Within a span of only 95 days, he rose through the ranks quickly from his initial status as a commoner to the highly prestigious office of Minister of Works (司空). Prior to that, within the 95 days, he had held the appointments of Chancellor of Pingyuan (平原相) and Minister of the Household (光祿勳).[2] He died of illness in 190 while secretly making plans with Wang Yun, He Yong and others to eliminate the tyrannical warlord Dong Zhuo, who had hijacked and controlled the Han central government.


Xun Shuang's ancestral home was in Yingchuan Commandery (穎川郡; around present-day Xuchang, Henan). He was the sixth son of Xun Shu (荀淑), an official who served as the Prefect (令) of Langling County (朗陵縣) and as the Chancellor (相) to the Marquis of Langling County.[3][4][5] Xun Shu had eight sons, who were nicknamed the "Eight Dragons of the Xun Family" (荀氏八龍).[6][7]

Xun Shuang was fond of reading since childhood. He could fluently recite the Analects and Spring and Autumn Annals when he was just 11. The Grand Commandant (太尉), Du Qiao (杜喬), praised him and said he was worthy of becoming a teacher. As he was interested purely in scholarly pursuits, he distanced himself from politics by refusing to socialise with officials and turning down offers to serve in the government. The people in Yingchuan Commandery once said, "Among the Eight Dragons of the Xun Family, Ciming has no equal."[8]

In 166, after Zhao Dian (趙典), the Minister of Ceremonies (太常), nominated him to join the civil service, Xun Shuang was appointed as a Gentleman (郎中; a low-level official).[9] He wrote a long memorial to the imperial court, requesting that the government promote Confucianism, enforce Confucian rules of propriety more rigorously, lower taxes, and reduce an oversupply of maids in the imperial palace by freeing them and arranging for them to be married. He resigned after submitting his memorial.[10]

Xun Shuang tried to persuade other officials to leave the political arena to avoid getting into trouble. In 167, Emperor Huan issued a general amnesty. Li Ying, an official who was imprisoned during the first Disaster of the Partisan Prohibitions in 166, was pardoned, released and reinstated as an official.[11] Many officials wanted Li Ying to serve as Grand Commandant (太尉). However, Xun Shuang was worried that Li Ying would incur the jealousy of others due to his fame and popularity, so he wrote a letter to Li Ying to advise him to maintain a low profile to avoid trouble.[12]

During the second Disaster of the Partisan Prohibitions in 169, in order to evade the political turmoil, Xun Shuang first fled to the coastal regions and then headed south to the area near the mouth of the Han River (around present-day Wuhan, Hubei). He spent over ten years in southern China, where he produced numerous writings and gave lectures and earned himself a reputation as a highly learned Confucian scholar.[13]

In 184, after Emperor Ling lifted the restrictions on civil liberties and ended the second Disaster of the Partisan Prohibitions, Xun Shuang was again invited to serve in one of the top five offices in the government. Yuan Feng (袁逢), the Minister of Works, nominated Xun Shuang to join the civil service but Xun Shuang refused to become an official. When Yuan Feng died, Xun Shuang mourned him for three years and started a trend where officials would mourn the deaths of those who nominated them into office. Xun Shuang also criticised some popular practices which he deemed to be not in line with Confucian customs.[14]

When the general He Jin came to power as regent in mid-189 after Emperor Ling's death, the imperial court sent a carriage to fetch Xun Shuang to the imperial capital, Luoyang, to serve as an official again. He Jin was worried that Xun Shuang would decline the offer, so he nominated Xun Shuang to be a Palace Attendant (侍中). However, the nomination became void very soon because He Jin was assassinated not long later by the eunuch faction in the imperial court.[15]

Shortly after He Jin's death, the warlord Dong Zhuo hijacked and seized control of the central government. In late 189, he replaced Emperor Shao with Emperor Xian, who was actually a puppet ruler under his control. After Emperor Xian's enthronement, Dong Zhuo issued an order to Xun Shuang to serve in the government. Xun Shuang tried to escape but failed, so he had no choice but to follow the order and serve as the Chancellor (相) of Pingyuan State (平原國). While en route to Pingyuan State, he passed by Wanling County (宛陵縣), where he was appointed Minister of the Household (光祿勛). Three days after he assumed office, he was promoted to Minister of Works (司空). Within a span of only 95 days, he had risen through the ranks quickly from a commoner to one of the most prestigious offices in the Han government.[16]

While in office as Minister of Works, Xun Shuang tried to balance relations between Dong Zhuo and other officials. In 190, a coalition of regional officials and warlords started a campaign against Dong Zhuo in the name of rescuing Emperor Xian from being held hostage by Dong Zhuo. As Dong Zhuo prepared to evacuate Luoyang and move the imperial capital to Chang'an in the west, two officials Yang Biao (楊彪) and Huang Wan (黃琬) strongly objected to his decision and had a heated argument with him in the imperial court.[17] Xun Shuang was worried that Dong Zhuo would execute Yang Biao and Huang Wan for opposing him, so he pretended to openly chide Yang Biao and Huang Wan in front of everyone by saying, "You think the Chancellor of State (Dong Zhuo) feels happy about having to do this? The coalition from the east can't be defeated in just one day. That's why we should move the capital elsewhere and wait for an opportunity to strike back. The situation now is similar to that of Qin and Han.[a]" Dong Zhuo's anger subsided. Later, Xun Shuang privately told Yang Biao, "If you and the other excellencies continue to openly argue over such issues, you'll definitely get yourselves into trouble. That's why I choose to remain silent."[18]

Although Xun Shuang followed Dong Zhuo to Chang'an[19] and appeared to support him, he actually plotted to eliminate Dong Zhuo because he believed that Dong Zhuo's tyranny and cruelty would ruin the Han dynasty. He secretly contacted Wang Yun, He Yong and other officials to make plans to assassinate Dong Zhuo. However, he died of illness in 190 at the age of 62 before the plan materialised.[20]

Around the late 190s, after Xun Shuang's nephew, Xun Yu, was appointed acting Prefect of the Masters of Writing (尚書令), he had his uncle's remains transferred from Chang'an back to the Xun family's ancestral home in Yingchuan Commandery (穎川郡; around present-day Xuchang, Henan) for burial. He also arranged for He Yong to be buried beside Xun Shuang.[21]

See also


  1. ^ Xun Shuang was referring to how the Guanzhong region, where the city of Chang'an was located, previously served as a solid foundation for the Qin state and the Han dynasty when they set out to conquer the rest of China.



  1. ^ (爽字慈明,一名諝。) Houhanshu vol. 62.
  2. ^ (爽字慈明,幼好學,年十二,通春秋、論語,耽思經典,不應徵命,積十數年。董卓秉政,復徵爽,爽欲遁去,吏持之急。詔下郡,即拜平原相。行至苑陵,又追拜光祿勳。視事三日,策拜司空。爽起自布衣,九十五日而至三公。) Han Ji annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 10.
  3. ^ (祖父淑,字季和,朗陵令。當漢順、桓之間,知名當世。) Sanguozhi vol. 10.
  4. ^ (續漢書曰:淑有高才,王暢、李膺皆以為師,為朗陵侯相,號稱神君。) Xu Han Shu annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 10.
  5. ^ (張璠漢紀曰:淑博學有高行,與李固、李膺同志友善,拔李昭於小吏,友黃叔度於幼童,以賢良方正徵,對策譏切梁氏,出補朗陵侯相,卒官。) Han Ji annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 10.
  6. ^ (有子八人,號曰八龍。) Sanguozhi vol. 10.
  7. ^ (八子:儉、緄、靖、燾、詵、爽、肅、旉。[音敷。]) Han Ji annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 10.
  8. ^ (幼而好學,年十二,能通春秋、論語。太尉杜喬見而稱之,曰:「可為人師。」爽遂耽思經書,慶弔不行,徵命不應。潁川為之語曰:「荀氏八龍,慈明無雙。」) Houhanshu vol. 62.
  9. ^ (延熹九年,太常趙典舉爽至孝,拜郎中。) Houhanshu vol. 62.
  10. ^ ([臣聞之於師曰:「漢為火德,火生於木,木盛於火,故其德為孝, ... 嚴督有司,必行其命。此則禁亂善俗足用之要。]奏聞,即弃官去。) Houhanshu vol. 62.
  11. ^ (六月庚申,大赦天下,悉除黨錮,改元永康。[時李膺等頗引宦者子弟,宦官多懼,請帝以天時當赦,帝許之,故除黨錮也。]) Houhanshu vol. 7.
  12. ^ (及陳蕃免太尉,朝野屬意於膺,荀爽恐其名高致禍,欲令屈節以全亂世,為書貽曰:「乆廢過庭,不聞善誘, ... 任其飛沈,與時抑揚。」) Houhanshu vol. 67.
  13. ^ (後遭黨錮,隱於海上,又南遁漢濵,積十餘年,以著述為事,遂稱為碩儒。) Houhanshu vol. 62.
  14. ^ (黨禁解,五府並辟,司空袁逢舉有道,不應。及逢卒,爽制服三年,當世往往化以為俗。時人多不行妻服,雖在親憂猶有弔問喪疾者,又私謚其君父及諸名士,爽皆引據大義,正之經典,雖不悉變,亦頗有改。) Houhanshu vol. 62.
  15. ^ (後公車徵為大將軍何進從事中郎。進恐其不至,迎薦為侍中,及進敗而詔命中絕。) Houhanshu vol. 62.
  16. ^ (獻帝即立,董卓輔政,復徵之。爽欲遁命,吏持之急,不得去,因復就拜平原相。行至宛陵,復追為光祿勳。視事三日,進拜司空。爽自被徵命及登台司,九十五日。) Houhanshu vol. 62.
  17. ^ (明年,關東兵起,董卓懼,欲遷都以違其難。乃大會公卿議曰:「高祖都關中十有一世,光武宮洛陽,於今亦十世矣。案石包讖,宜徙都長安,以應天人之意。」百官無敢言者。彪曰:「移都改制,天下大事,故盤庚五遷,殷民胥怨。昔關中遭王莽變亂,宮室焚蕩,民庶塗炭,百不一在。光武受命,更都洛邑。今天下無虞,百姓樂安,明公建立聖主,光隆漢祚,無故捐宗廟,棄園陵,恐百姓驚動,必有糜沸之亂。石包室讖,妖邪之書,豈可信用?」卓曰:「關中肥饒,故秦得并吞六國。且隴右材木自出,致之甚易。又杜陵南山下有武帝故瓦陶竈數千所,并功營之,可使一朝而辨。百姓何足與議!若有前却,我以大兵驅之,可令詣滄海。」彪曰:「天下動之至易,安之甚難,惟明公慮焉。」卓作色曰:「公欲沮國計邪?」太尉黃琬曰:「此國之大事,楊公之言得無可思?」卓不荅。) Houhanshu vol. 54.
  18. ^ (司空荀爽見卓意壯,恐害彪等,因從容言曰:「相國豈樂此邪?山東兵起,非一日可禁,故當遷以圖之,此秦、漢之埶也。」卓意小解。爽私謂彪曰:「諸君堅爭不止,禍必有歸,故吾不為也。」) Houhanshu vol. 54.
  19. ^ (因從遷都長安。) Houhanshu vol. 62.
  20. ^ (爽見董卓忍暴滋甚,必危社稷,其所辟舉皆取才略之士,將共圖之,亦與司徒王允及卓長史何顒等為內謀。會病薨,年六十三。) Houhanshu vol. 62.
  21. ^ (及彧為尚書令,遣人西迎叔父爽,并致顒屍,而葬之爽之冢傍。) Houhanshu vol. 67.