Fan Zhongyan: the People's Well-being before All Else
Fan Zhongyan came from an impoverished family background. He enjoyed few familial joys in his childhood and hardly had enough food or decent shelter. He often took up lodging in Liquan Temple, working hard at his lessons, never resting for a moment. To lessen the burden on his family and to save time, every day he cooked a pot of rice gruel. When the food cooled down and hardened, he divided it equally into four with a knife, for two meals a day: two pieces for breakfast; and two for supper, plus salted vegetables to go with it.
In 1015 Fan was awarded the title of jinshi, after leading in the imperial examination. Later he was appointed Silicanjun in the Guangde Prefecture (today's Guangde, Anhui Province) embarking on a political career, which lasted over 40 years.
In 1021 Fan Zhongyan was sent to Taizhou Prefecture (now Taizhou City, Jiangsu Province) to work as Salt Administrator there. On taking up office, he at once went on an inspection tour of the sea walls and the local salt-making sites. The walls were dilapidated from years of disrepair. Not only had salt production been adversely affected, but farmlands and local houses had flooded whenever the sea waves had surged, leaving the locals to roam as refugees from famine. To address this, he submitted a report to his superiors, suggesting the construction of a long dyke along the sea coasts of Tongzhou, Taizhou, Chuzhou and Haizhou prefectures. After his proposal had been approved, in the autumn of 1024, Fan Zhongyan led tens of thousands of peasant laborers to the coast, undertaking a large-scale dyke project. Not long after, the project came to completion; and the dyke, winding its way across hundreds of li, ensured, from the havoc of the sea, production in salt fields as well as farmlands and houses. The grateful people felt so obliged to him, they named the dyke, the "Dyke of Fan."
Fan Zhongyan had a strong aversion against wicked people and wicked deeds, and was renowned for being candid and outspoken. During the ten years of his career as a court official, he was demoted and banished from the capital three times for telling the truth before the emperor, and offending influential interest groups in power.
In 1028 Fan Zhongyan was elevated to an official post responsible for the sorting and editing of the royal library collection, actually working as a royal literary servant. This position gave him an opportunity to gain easy access to the emperor himself as well as top court secrets. It was an admiring post. As long as Fan was obedient and tactful, promotion would not be difficult. Fan Zhongyan, however, preferred not to be "sophisticated." He raised opposition to the fact that, although Renzong was already 20 years of age, all decision-making power, whether political or military, still remained in the hands of Empress Dowager Liu. He appealed for the handover of state power from Liu to Renzong. Soon an edict was issued, expelling Fan Zhongyan from the capital and demoting him to the post of magistrate of Hezhong Prefecture (today's Yongji County, Shanxi Province).
Three years later, Empress Dowager Liu died. Emperor Renzong, cherishing the memory of Fan's loyalty and honesty, summoned him back to the capital and appointed him Yousijian, whose duty was to make criticisms regarding court affairs. In 1033 the emperor was taken in by the slander against the empress, cooked up by Lu Yijian, the Prime Minister, and decided to depose her. Fan Zhongyan, however, was a man who called things by their correct names; and he appealed to the emperor to change his decision. As a result, he was again demoted to the post of magistrate of Muzhou Prefecture (next to today's Tonglu County, Zhejiang Province).
A few years later, Fan was transferred to become magistrate of Suzhou Prefecture. On account of his merit in hydraulic works, he was again summoned back to the capital, and elevated to the positions of Daizhi of Tianzhangge and of magistrate of Kaifeng Prefecture. Lu Yiwei, the Prime Minister, was despotic in his methods, and practiced nepotism. Fan Zhongyan, in the presence of the emperor, informed against Lu's practice of appointing people by favoritism. However, at that time Renzong had already placed all of his trust in Lu. Therefore, Fan Zhongyan was demoted a third time, and posted to Raozhou Prefecture as magistrate. In 1052 he died on the way to his new office in Yingzhou Prefecture.