Early Life. Born in 1186, Yang Huan was the descendant of a wealthy landlord who had settled in a village in northern China. Huan began studying the classics under the guidance of his mother, a moral and educated woman, who sold her jewelry to buy a library for the family. She had a great impact on her children, especially Huan. In 1200 he took the prefectural examination for the first time and passed it. His name was at the top of the list of winning candidates. His talent caught the notice of the authorities, and two years later the local government employed him as an accountant in the prefectural office. Huan worked industriously; his supervisor was impressed by his talents and excellent work and encouraged him to further his studies under a local Confucian scholar. Three years of working as an accountant gave Yang many experiences in the management of fiscal affairs, which was helpful when he later served the Mongols.
Official. In the fall of 1205 Huan took the department test at Chang’an; he passed and then took the palace examination in the Jin capital (modern Beijing) in 1206. There were 1,200 participants, but only 28 passed; Huan was one of the unsuccessful candidates. In 1220 he returned to Chang’an to make another attempt to pass the palace examination, but he failed again. In 1238 he retook the test with many younger students from his locality, after the Mongols restored the civil service examination. He topped the list of candidates in two subjects and was ranked first of the 4,030 students to have passed all levels of examinations. He was first appointed a member of the examining com-mission and then made the chief inspection commissioner of the Henan Tax-collection Bureau, a new department established after the collapse of the Jin state on the model of the fiscal and administrative office created in northern China by the Mongols. He suggested that the authorities proceed steadily and carefully to restore the economic health of the province. His program received a warm response and support from the Yuan court (1279-1368). Huan served in this position for twelve years until he resigned in 1251.
Scholar. During his service in the administration of Henan, Huan continued teaching. After returning home he built a pavilion and committed himself to studying and writing essays and poetry. He completed most of his writing in these last two years of his life. After a short sickness Huan died in 1255 at his place of birth. His literary accomplishments could be more easily evaluated in the area of historical scholarship through his two most important works, in which he tried to cope with the tough issue of the legitimacy of the many empires in Chinese history, according to the principle of the legitimate line of succession. He also wrote commentaries on the Four Books, emphasizing the significance of true learning for all candidates to administrative service, rather than the demand for celebrity and profits. He also composed treatises criticizing the removal of the classical Confucian tradition of the Tang intellectuals and Song (960-1279) neo-Confucianists from the schools.
Richard L. Davis, Wind against the Mountain: The Crisis of Politics and Culture in Thirteenth-century China (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996).
Herbert Franke, ed., Sung Biographies, four volumes (Wiesbaden: Steiner, 1976).
Igor de Rachewiltz and others, eds., In the Service of the Khan: Eminent Personalities of the Early Mongol-Yuan Period (1200-1300) (Wies-baden: Harassowitz, 1993).