Saturday, September 20, 2008

Wang Can

Wang Can was a politician, scholar and poet during the late Eastern Han Dynasty in ancient China. He contributed greatly to the establishment of laws and standards during the founding days of the Principality of Wei – predecessor to the later Cao Wei Dynasty – under Cao Cao. For his literary achievement Wang Can was ranked among the Seven Scholars of Jian'an .

Wang Can was also renowned for his photographic memory. The '''' describes an incident where Wang Can was watching a game of . Someone accidentally knocked into the board and scattered the pieces. Wang Can then placed the pieces back to their original positions based on memory.


A local of Guangping Commandery , Wang Can was born in a family of high-ranking bureaucrats. His greatgrandfather and grandfather were among the Three Excellencies under and respectively.

When the warlord Dong Zhuo usurped power in 190, placing in the throne the puppet , Wang Can was merely thirteen years of age. A year later, Dong Zhuo moved the capital from Luoyang to the more strategically secure Chang'an. Wang Can then headed for the new capital, where he settled down for the next three years. During his stay in Chang'an, Wang Can's talent was recognized by the prominent scholar and calligrapher Cai Yong . The young Wang Can was also offered several posts, all of which he turned down.

In 194, Wang Can went to to seek a position under the governor Liu Biao. However, Liu Biao did not favor Wang Can as the latter looked pallid and sickly. After the death of Liu Biao in 208, his son was persuaded by Wang Can to surrender to Cao Cao.

Wang Can's talent was finally exploited under his new lord. In 213, Cao Cao was enfeoffed the Duke of Wei and given ten cities under his fiefdom, which was named the State of Wei. Wang Can was then entrusted with establishing a new system of laws and standards to replace the old one, which had largely fallen into disuse. In late 216, Wang Can followed Cao Cao on his fourth southern campaign against Sun Quan. He died on the way due to sickness in the spring of 217.

Literary achievement

Wang Can was an established poet. Along with six other poets of his time, their poems formed the backbone of what was to be known as the jian'an? style . They were collectively called the Seven Scholars of Jian'an .

The civil strife towards the end of the Eastern Han Dynasty gave the jian'an poems their characteristic solemn yet heart-stirring tone, while lament over the ephemerality of life was also a central theme of works from this period. In terms of the history of Chinese literature, the jian'an poems were a transition from the early folksongs into scholarly poetry.

The representative work by Wang Can was the ''Poem of Seven Sorrows'' , a five-character poem lamenting the suffering of the people during the years of war.

? Jian'an was the for the period from 196 to 220.

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