欧阳修 Ouyang Xiu (1007 - 1072). Styled Yongshu. Assumed the name Zuiweng which means 'drunken old man'. In his later years took the name Liuyi Jushi which means the hermit or retired scholar of the six and the one1
Ouyang Xiu was from Luling, which is present day Ji'an City in Jiangxi
Province. Whilst Ouyang was still young, his father died, leaving the family in straitened circumstances. In the year 1030, the eighth year of the Emperor Renzong of the Song
Dynasty, Ouyang took and passed the jinshi
. He was then twenty-four years old3
. He chosen by the Governor Regent of the Western Capital 4
to serve as an official. He became friends with such literary figures of the 'ancient style' movement as Yin Zhu
and the poet Mei Yaochen
. Later he entered the court as an imperial censor [jian guan
] - that is one of the officials charged with admonishing
- he was a straight talker and bold with his advice. Because he took part in the 'Qingli New Governance' movement seeking political reform5
, he was the object of attack by his political enemies, and was banished from the court on numerous occasions. He later served as a scholar official in the Hanlin Academy6
, and as a junior member of the Privy Council, where he involved himself in the political affairs of the day. In the fourth year of the Xining era (1071) he resigned from his post as one of the tutors to the Crown Prince and retired to Yingzhou, where he built his 'Hall of the Six and One' on the shores of West Lake. He died here of an illness the following year
Ouyang Xiu was a leader of the reform movement in poetry and letters that took place during the Northern Song. He inherited and propounded the traditions of the 'ancient style' movement of Han Yu and Yang Zongyuan, beginning a reform movement in poetry and letters to oppose the tendencies in literary creation that followed the debauched style prevailing since the Five Dynasties, and the formalism of 'Xikun' style7. He advocated literature as a means of illuminating the Way to achieve practical ends, literature should "be targeted on the ills of the times, and not be used for empty words". Thus discussing the relationship between literature and the Way, he strongly emphasised the role of the Way, seeing the Way as like gold and jade, and literature as merely the glitter emitted by that gold and jade, "The one who has mastered the Way finds that writing come easily to them." [Noders take note!]. As for literary form, he opposed modeling on the works of those who'd come before, and advocated adopting the style that came naturally, and having a measure of creativity.
Here's two links to my translations of two of his shorter pieces (more to come if it looks like anyone gives a monkey's). His work should be available done by proper scholars who know what they're on about, but, hey, Everything is all about DIY literature:
The above is largely a translation of the biographical notes in the Ouyang Xiu section of [Tang Song ba da jia sanwen mingpian jianshang ] = Treasury of famous works by the Eight Great Prose masters of the Tang and Song by Chen Youbing, especially the criticism which I'm too ill-read to provide, supplemented from a couple of other sources, especially Gernet's 'History of Chinese Civilisation.
1 A style name [Chinese = 字 zi] was a name a Chinese gentleman would assumed about the age of twenty, based on the characters of their original name. The assumed name [Chinese = 号 hao] was a nickname a gentleman would give himself or be given expressing something about themselves. Ouyang's first choice seems to need no further gloss, his second he explains himself in an essay which I'll translate too if I can dig up a Chinese copy. Ouyang has a double character surname, which are quite rare in China.
2 The 进士 jinshi examination was a Confucian scholar's key to entry into the ranks of the civil service, mostly testing their ability to express an understanding of the Classical Canon in a series of prescribed styles such as the eight-legged essay (I kid you not). Deserves a write-up all of its own.
3 Note the Chinese fashion for giving an extra year to someone's age compared to the western method of reckoning. They count the time in the womb too I think.
4This has referred to several Chinese cities over time. In the Northern Song it was Luoyang. Their main capital was at Kaifeng
5This lead to the reforms instituted by Wang Anshi, a proto-socialist attempt at a more egalitarian and fair social order. This met the resistance of numerous vested interests.
6The Hanlin was the Imperial Academy in dynastic times.
7A Song dynasty style of poetry taking its name from Xikun Chouchang Ji by Yang Yi, noted for its ornate diction and jingling rhythm (it says here).