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Wang Mang (王莽)


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Wang Mang was the emperor who usurped the throne at the end of the former Han and temporarily established his own dynasty (Xin?). He was a bright young man and brilliant Confucian scholar from a family well-connected to the court (they supplied empresses I believe). Though he was from a poorer side of the family he rapidly rose to power in the civil service. In the weak and decadent reign of the former Han emperors he gained power at first from behind the scenes and later as a blatant usurper to the throne.

His social reform policies were controversial. They included government monopolies on salt, iron, and other industries (or was this Sang Hung-Yang?) and also included market stabilization using granaries to release grain on the markets in times of high prices and vice versa in times of low prices. Apparently this inspired part of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal.

He also set up government loans and sub-market rates and mandated certain land distribution requirements. Whatever his intentions or the hoped for results, the reforms were administered poorly and he was murdered in a revolt which restored the Han emperors and began later Han.

My question is how is he viewed today in Chinese history? Most imperial historians reviled him. Is he looked on more favorably now?

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We can easily guess. The historical view in China is controlled by the government. The government used to be communist/nationalist, but the first part is mostly gone. Therefore the government looks at history through a nationalist lens.

Through such a lens Wang Mang is an annoying fly in the ointment of "the glory of the Han".

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  • 2 weeks later...

Ian, I'm curious about this poem. I've found a lot of references to the first line on the Internet, while the second one seems to appear in several variant forms.

I think it comes from a poem by Bai Juyi, but what does it mean? My attempt at translation is stuck at "The day the Duke of Zhou feared the rumours, when Wang Mang was a modest low-rank officer". Does that make any sense? :conf

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My question is how is he viewed today in Chinese history? Most imperial historians reviled him. Is he looked on more favorably now?

He's still a stupid. With all the greatest but tower-of-ivory reforms in recent history, Wang's stupid image has only been intensified.

I think most funny policy he did was to take away the nobility of tribes (for matching confucicus tradition), and apparently forced every of them to be chinese rivals.

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Jose:

There are several versions of this poem. I list one of them:

周公恐懼流言日,王莽謙恭下士時,若使當年身便死,一生真偽有誰知

The key is the last two sentences.

This poem is always sighed by someone who is being misunderstood or suspected of the motive in his action.

The first sentence was related to a historical story that happened at about 1,000 B.C. At the beginning of Western Zhou Dynasty, after the Emperor died, the succeeding Emperor was a kid and his uncle 周公 became the regent. However, the regency reigned for a long time and everyone gossiped that actually 周公 wanted to be the Emperor himself. But when the young Emperor matured enough, 周公 quit the regent and gave back the power to the Emperor.

The second sentence is related to 王莽. When 王莽 became the most powerful man, he was so humble to treat all the Confucian scholars very nice. When some court officials asked him to become the Emperor and established a new dynasty, he steadfastly refused numerous times and wept before the kid Emperor and swore allegiances for many times (But afterwards he changed face and poisoned the kid Emperor), By that time, almost everyone in Han Dynasty praised him as the most loyal and righteous man in the whole dynasty.

The poem is talking about how you should not judge a person from what he currently does but should judge him on his long term behavior.

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Thanks a lot for the explanation! :D

One of the difficulties for those of us attempting to learn Chinese is that the actual use of the language is so closely linked with China's culture and history. This can become frustrating at times, but it is also fascinating in itself.

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Jose:

By the way, I read again your translation and I found the meaning a little bit off.

周公恐懼流言日

You are right in translating the sentence as "The day the Duke of Zhou feared the rumours", but your translation of

王莽謙恭下士時

is somewhat off. In Classical Chinese, there is no clear delineation between noun and verb. So in this sentence, is used as a verb. It means "bow to treat = honor". And refers to the Confucian scholars.

So this sentence should be translated as

"At the time that Wang Mang humbly honored those Confucian Scholars",

若使當年身便死

is self-explanatory. "If they died in that year",

一生真偽有誰知

"Who would know if they are trustworthy gentlemen or hypocrites (over the duration of their lifespans)?"

Anyway, my translation is kind of clumsy.

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Wang Mang would belong to this thread, http://www.chinese-forums.com/viewtopic.php?t=1564, except that he is not a venerated loser.

There is a story (not sure if it is really true) of what the Red Eyebrows did to his corpse right after killing him. Wang supposedly had become very fat prior to being killed. After the rebels chopped off his head from behind while he was reciting a Confucian verse in the courtyard, one of them ripped open his robe, stuck a wick in his belly button, and lighted it. Supposedly Wang had become so fat that this human candle which his corpse had become remained lit for 10 days.

The moral of the story is that Wang had absorbed all the fat from the people.

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  • 3 weeks later...
TitTauGong

i think today, 王莽 is considered to be China's first socialist. he instituted land re-distribution and that meant taking land away from a lot of powerful warlords. that eventually led to his downfall.

he also invented the first ever fiat money.

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  • 2 weeks later...

So has the fate of China's first socialist been a lesson for reform-minded emporers, administrators and communist party officials today?

Do Hu and Wen have that poem scribbled somewhere to remind them whenever they think of ideas to run a mop through the party?

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