Poet and statesman
Confucian Ideals. Wang Anshi was a writer, poet, and statesman. His educational background in the Confucian beliefs and experience in literature aided him in composing his reforms. He believed that the empire should unite in a manner similar to the ways practiced by the ancient kings. Ten years before Wang’s promotion to the position of Grand Councillor, he traveled to the capital, Kaifeng, to deliver a speech that has come to be called the “Ten Thou-sand Word Memorial,” in which he stated his philosophy of how China should be run. Although he believed that the key to operating a successful government was to exhibit Confucian ideals, he saw that China needed to have capable rulers who promoted these ideals for the overall betterment of the country.
Reformer. Wang served from 1069 to 1076 as Grand Councillor under Emperor Shenzong, who reigned from 1068 to 1085. During Wang’s lifetime barbarians continuously invaded China and made many demands upon the country, which placed stress on its leaders. He worked to make compromises with these enemies, and, as a result, a period of new reforms was established. He helped to introduce many political, social, economic, and educational changes in the structure of China. Some of the changes he implemented, which were known as “Wang Anshi Reforms,” were: ending tax immunities for large landowners, abolishing forced labor on public works in favor of cash payment of taxes, and establishing a state monopoly in buying and selling goods. These initiatives undermined the power of the large landholders. Wang also helped rearrange the political system, strengthen the military system, and channel excess money to the areas where it was needed. He established a new educational system in which local authorities operated schools, which all candidates for civil service examinations were expected to attend.
Life after Reforms. Wang’s reforms were deliberately sabotaged by rival civil servants. Some critics claimed he was destroying the traditional social structure, while others did not like the forced uniformity. Still others felt the reforms were being pushed too rapidly. He was compelled to resign in 1076, and he spent the remaining years of his life writing poetry and scholarly works. He died in 1086, a few months after the death of Emperor Shenzong.
John Winthrop Haeger, ed., Crisis and Prosperity in Sung China (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1975).
James T. C. Liu, Reform in Sung China: WangAn-shih (1021-1086) and His New Policies (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1959).
F. W. Mote, Imperial China, 900-1800 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999).