Fang Xiaoru — An Intelligent Scholar, A Tragic Minister, and A Sincere Believer
Fang Xiaoru (1357 — 1402), courtesy name Xizhi or Xigu, was a well-established scholar of the Ming Dynasty, a respected teacher and influential official of the Jianwen Emperor, and a sincere and loyal believer that sacrificed for what he believed in.
Fang Xiaoru's Calligraphy "Mo An Ji" — Taipei Palace Museum
Brilliant Scholar and Respected Royal Teacher
Fang Xiaoru was born into a scholarly family. When he was little, his father, a benevolent and capable governor, got involved in the Pre-stamped Documents Case (concerning corruption and abuse of authority) and was executed.
These tragic encounters and poverty life after his father’s death didn’t beat him down; on the contrary, Fang Xiaoru became more famous as a wunderkind for his exceptional talent and outstanding works of literature.
When he was 25, the Hongwu Emperor (1328 — 1398) highly appreciated his integrity and brilliance and assigned Fang to teach at the national Confucianism college.
Later, prince Zhu Chun (1371 — 1423), the King Xian of Shu, highly admired Fang Xiaoru and invited him to teach his sons.
Fang Xiaoru got promoted and obtained more respect through his brilliant talent.
Carved Lacquer Pen of the Ming Dynasty — Zhejiang Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Legit, Young Emperor Taking Down of Powerful Kings
Hongwu Emperor, the founder of the Ming Dynasty, used to have a perfect heir, his first son Zhu Biao (1355 — 1392).
Unfortunately, Zhu Biao passed away at a young age; hence, his first son Zhu Yunwen was nominated as the new crown prince.
After Hongwu Emperor passed away, Zhu Yunwen (1377 — ?) ascended to the throne, respected as Jianwen Emperor or Emperor Huizong of Ming.
The new emperor summoned Fang Xiaoru to the new government, assigned him important political positions, and respected him as a teacher.
Since then, Fang Xiaoru has assisted and served the new emperor and pledged his loyalty until the end of his life.
Under the suggestions of some trusted officials, Jianwen Emperor started to remove power from the Ming kings, most of whom were his uncles.
Royal Nine-tasselled Crown (Jiu Liu Mian), Unearthed From Tomb of Prince Zhu Tan, the Tenth Son of Hongwu Emperor, Uncle of Jianwen Emperor — Shandong Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
The incident of Jingnan and the Shifting of Authority
However, those kings didn't like being removed from their half-independent fiefs.
Zhu Di (1360 — 1424), the fourth son of the Hongwu Emperor, rebelled; this was the Incident of Jingnan.
After four years of intense wars, Zhu Di's army occupied Ming's capital, Nanjing, and executed or captured large numbers of the Jianwen Emperor's essential officials, including Fang Xiaoru.
Jianwen Emperor burnt down the royal palace and disappeared forever.
Some said he sacrificed during that fire; others believed he escaped through the palace's secret passages and lived in seclusion afterward.
Stone Dragon Stigma of the Relic of The Royal Palace in Nanjing (Built 1366 — 1392) of the Ming Dynasty — Nanjing Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Many officials and generals then surrendered to Zhu Di because he had some outstanding accomplishments regarding military and governance. Besides, he was one of the sons of the late Hongwu Emperor.
This Incident of Jingnan, for many people, was contention over the throne inside the royal family.
Hence, they were still serving the same royal family and the same Ming empire; it was nothing about betrayal.
Afterward, Zhu Di ascended to the throne as Yongle Emperor, migrated the Ming capital city to Beijing, built the Forbidden City there, expanded territory, and brought people stable and prosperous lives.
His ruling period, when the Ming Empire kept developing and flourishing, was honored as the Great Reign of the Yongle Emperor.
Forbidden City in Beijing That Was Built Under Yongle Emperor's Command.
Fang Xiaoru's Eternal Loyalty to Jianwen Emperor
From Fang Xiaoru's perspective, however, Jianwen Emperor legally inherited the crown from his grandfather. He didn't do anything wrong except for having trusted an incapable general to command his army in the Incident of Jingnan.
Besides, the Jianwen Emperor didn't have enough time to implement his policies since the rebel war outburst only one year after he ascended to the throne.
Hongwu Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang, the founder of the Ming Dynasty, was a brilliant and outstanding monarch in the history of China; he must have carefully and thoughtfully considered his grandson's talent and personality before letting him inherit the empire.
In conclusion, young Zhu Yunwen was a kind and competent crown prince and a legit and capable emperor who had his throne taken by his uncle through wars, illegally and cruelly.
What's more, Zhu Di erased most of the Jianwen Emperor's records; hence, it was pretty controversial concerning his personality and talent.
A Sincere Believer and His Tragic Martyrdom
So, Fang Xiaoru believed that Zhu Di was a traitor who didn't honor his father's will and a rebel who put society in chaos.
Fang Xiaoru refused to surrender for being Jianwen Emperor's respected teacher, close friend, and important minister.
Fang's stubbornness and disrespect made Zhu Di feel insulted and outraged.
In the end, more than 800 people with a relationship with Fang Xiaoru were executed before him, including all of his relatives and students.
But Fang Xiaoru still refused to surrender.
Ivory Tablet (Hu Ban) that Higher Rank Officials Hold When they Met with the Emperors in the Ming Dynasty — Ningxia Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Then he was dismembered to death, cruelly, after suffering thousands of cuts.
In another version, only Fang Xiaoru and his brothers were executed; his wife and four kids committed suicide before Fang was captured.
It is still controversial regarding how many people were executed because Fang Xiaoru refused to comply with Zhu Di.
What can be confirmed is that most of his articles were banned and destroyed. Many of his masterpieces disappeared, though some people risked their lives to hide and preserve some of his works secretly.
Lotus Shaped Purple Glaze Writing Brush Wash of the Ming Dynasty — Capital Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
In the history of China, Fang Xiaoru was famous for his remarkable achievements in literature and ideology, absolute loyalty, and tragic ending.
He was sometimes criticized for being stubborn and pedantic and had caused so many people close to him to die, but he was also respected for his pure fidelity and brave martyrdom.
He was a true believer who sacrificed for what he believed in.
As for the sad tragedy that happened to so many people, Fang Xiaoru was not the only one that should be blamed.
Jade Board of Ming Dynasty Decorated with Mountains and Rivers' Pattern — Shanghai Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
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