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Ouyang Xiu: His Life

Ouyang Xiu (1007-1072): His Life

1007    Born in Mingyang, province of Sichuan on June 21. His father was working as a bureaucrat for the imperial army.  Ouyang’s family hometown was in the province of Jiangxi, city of Jizhou, and the village of Jishui. The Ouyang family had lived in the area for three generations before he was born.

1010   His father died in Taizhou, province of Jiangsu. His mother, who was then twenty-nine years old, took him to live in his paternal uncle’s house in Suizhou, Hubei. The uncle did not have a government job, so they lived in rural poverty. The household’s only income was from a small piece of land and the uncle’s tutoring of local students. This uncle was Ouyang’s first teacher, and with him, Xiu learned to read many old books.

1023   Ouyang took his first imperial examination, a county-level test in Suizhou. His poetry and literary skills were good enough to pass the test, but he failed because of his lack of complements for the imperial government.

1026   He took the test for a second time, and this time Ouyang passed. His first government position was to conduct and record the various Confucian and seasonal rites.

1030   Now at the age of twenty-three, in January Ouyang passed the next level imperial exam, this time receiving the highest score. Two months later, in March, he traveled to the capital city of Luoyang where he scored fourteenth on the national exam. His reward was a job as a state secretary in the capital, close to, or within the palace.

1031   By now Ouyang was in charge of several workers. His voice and writing style had emerged. He married the daughter of a local, but rich and well-connected family.

1034   In this year, Ouyang had finished his current assignment.  By custom and practice he had to be reappointed to a another position, most often in another city and province. His grade level was upgraded to the position of Inspector, having to report back to the capital his inspections of local governments. At this time Ouyang remarried, as his first wife died, probably during childbirth.

1036   Because of internal political struggles, and trouble with a high level minister, Ouyang was sent into the rural hinterlands. First assigned to Yaozhou in Hubei, a few months later he was reassigned again to Yichang.

1037   Ouyang’s second wife died. He remarried again, this time to his third and final wife. They lived in a very small village, noted only for being a seasonal ferry crossing for the imperial army.

1040   In June, Ouyang and his wife returned to the capital. By October his position was as teacher and tutor for the crown prince. Ouyang’s first child was born, Ouyang Fa.

1041   He was leader of a group of scholars who made revisions to many historical texts. They also compiled a collection of literary classics.

1043   Now at the age of 37, Ouyang received another promotion, this time as one of the high level ministers, as what could be described as inside the Justice Department. He experienced struggles with another political group over the issues of making government policies.

1044   To make peace in the palace, Ouyang was sent away from the capital to a position in the province of Hebei.

1045   The leader of this rival faction, Fang Zhongyin, in turn was sent away from the capital. Ouyang was also reassigned, this time to Chuzhou, in Anhui. A second son was born, Ouyang Yi. At this time Ouyang created his well-known nickname, Zui Weng, which means Drunk Old Man. He had a pavilion built for him, bearing this new name, in the city of Chuzhou.

1048   The family moved to Yangzhou for another assignment. Ouyang had another building erected for himself. This structure still stands today, and was called the Buddhist Education Hall.

1049   Ouyang was reassigned again, this time to the city of Yingzhou, in Anhui Province. Here he encountered the beautiful West Lake. Ouyang wrote many poems describing and praising this lake and the people around it. He wanted to remain here for the rest of his life. But this was not to be.

1050   In July, Ouyang was sent to Shangqiu, in Henan Province.

1052   Now at the age of 45, Ouyang’s mother died. Thus began his expected three years of mourning.

1054   Given a position back in the capital of Kaifeng, he also received an honorary title like our Poet Laureate. He lead a small group of preeminent scholars to once again correct and revise ancient history books. For the rest of Ouyang’s life, he served within the highest levels of the imperial government.

1056   Ouyang was next appointed as a foreign emissary to travel into the distant border regions of the empire. In the far northwest he represented the imperial government with the small ethnic and nation states of the Xidong people. After a few months, he returned and wrote a book about his travels and observations.

1057   Ouyang was assigned to be an imperial text examiner. Some of the examinees were of the highest rank, such as the famous poet Su Dongpo, and many others of ability and reputation. Ouyang, of course, gave Su very high marks.

1060   Ouyang compiled a large collection of writings. It consisted of 250 scrolls. He was promoted again, this time to one of the highest levels in the governmental bureaucracy.

1061   He was appointed to the rank just below the emperor. His honorary title was “Lai Guo Gong”.

1063   The emperor, Renzong died. He was replaced by Yingzong, one of the princes who was supported by Ouyang. More honors were given to him.

1065   Ouyang now became tired of politics and all of it’s intrigue and infighting. He opposed the growing power of the emperor’s father.

1067   Emperor Yingzong died. Prince Taizi replaced him and became known as Shenzong.   Ouyang was sent into the province of Anhui to recruit new talent to serve in the imperial court.

1068   Ouyang wrote his first of several resignation letters to the emperor. All but one of them were ignored. He was reassigned to a position in Qingzhou, Shandong Province. Instead of reporting, he ignored the imperial edict. Ouyang went to his new home in Yingzhou, where his beloved West Lake was located.

1070   Redirected to a position in Taizhou, in Henan, Ouyang named another prominent building. His self-appointed nickname was now “Liu Yi Ju Shi”, which literally means “More Than Six Scholar”. It became his Daoist name, and more realistically means “A Little More Than Half”.

1071   One of Ouyang resignation letters was finally accepted. He returned home to Yingzhou and died shortly thereafter on July 23rd. In the following years, he was honored with more titles, including Crown Prince Tutor, and others.


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