Wang Anshi's Reforms
Wang Anshi (1021-1086), styled Jiefu, literary name in later years being "Half Mountain," was from Linchuan (in today's Jiangxi Province). Wang was awarded the academic title of jinshi in 1042, the 2nd year of the Kaiyuan reign. When Renzong and Yingzong were in power, he assumed a series of official ranks both at the local and central level, thus arriving at a deeper understanding of the social realities, political flaws and crises faced by the country. Gradually a set of political and economic principles began to form in his mind. Once, in a proposal submitted to Emperor Renzong, he came up with ideas for implementing reforms.
After the death of Emperor Renzong, Yingzong was the country's sovereign for four years. Later, Zhao Xu, Song Emperor Shenzong, succeeded. The young emperor was ambitious and capable. Seeing the country was in decline, he was eager to smooth over the difficulties the court had encountered. In 1069 Shenzong had a one-to-one meeting with Wang Anshi, asking him for proposals regarding the running of the country. Wang answered confidently: 'If the country is to be revived, the present habits should be discarded and new regulations and systems put into effect. "
In 1069 the Song Emperor Shenzong decided to press ahead with new laws in a comprehensive way. He appointed Wang Anshi as Canzhengzhishi (Vice Prime Minister), whose duty was to see that new laws were properly implemented; he also selected a number of young talented officials as Wang's assistants.
Wang Anshi's reforms mainly included the enactment of Crop-Cultivation Credit Law, Corvee Law, Farmland Rating and Regulated Tax Law, Agro-Irrigation Law and Household Management Law. The adoption of these laws consolidated state power, increased its revenue and lessened the people's burden, and thus enjoyed wide support among peasants, handicraft workers, small merchants and small and middle landlords. However, some aristocrats, bureaucrats and big landlords and merchants were dead set against the new laws, seeing them as an infringement against their vested interests.
Even Wang's learned, prominent friend Sima Guang also opposed his reforms, and over this the two friends fell out. Some princes and aristocrats slandered the new laws before Empress Dowager Cao, the emperor's grandmother, and Empress Dowager Gao, his mother. The two began to bear a grudge against Wang Anshi, and put pressure on Shenzong to abort the new laws.
In 1074 the Central Plains were hit by famine. Someone by the name of Zheng Xia painted a picture entitled Refugees from Famine. The painting was presented to Shenzong, who became very saddened at the sight of it. Some courtiers who were prejudiced against the reforms seized the opportunity, exclaiming in the presence of Shenzong, "The new laws have made a mess of the entire country!" The same year, Wang Anshi was dismissed from office and sent back to Jiangzhou Prefecture. In adverse circumstances, the new laws met with great obstacles in their implementation and were nearly abolished more than once.
In the 3rd month of 1085, Song Emperor Shenzong died, and the Crown Prince, Emperor Zhezong succeeded at the age of only 10. Empress Dowager Gao took over sovereign administration on his behalf. She appointed Sima Guang (1019- 1086) as Prime Minister, and formally abolished the new laws. This evoked strong emotions in Wang Anshi's heart, and he passed away about a month later, at the age of67.