Story about Ma Rong and Zheng Xuan


Zheng Xuan was born in Gaomi, Beihai(北海高密, today’s Laizhou county-level municipality under the administration of Yantai). At his young time, Zheng Xuan used to acted as a leader of Xiang(乡啬夫, a low-status official title of governmental official system of Han Dynasty in charge of tax, corvee and revenue. Xiang, was an low organ of government in ancient China. Before Tang Dynasty, Xiang consisted of 12,500 independent families), but later he was unwilling to go on and abandoned this job and returned to family to learn from local official in charge of education and cultivation. His father was annoyed very much and always admonished Zheng Xuan to return to the post but it was useless at all. Zheng Xuan went to Tai Xue(太学, the top academic institute of East Han Dynasty) and stayed there. He nearly learnt all classics of Confucianism such as Gongyang Edition of Spring and Autumn Annals.

And then, he turned to Zhang Gongzu(张恭祖) for Book of Songs, Zhuo-Qiuming Edition of Spring and Autumn Annals, Book of History also called Book of Official Statements, Book of Rites and so on. When finished, Zheng Xuan thought that there was nobody able to teach him in east area of Xiao Shan(崤山). He went westward with the help of Lu Zhi and learnt from Ma Rong(马融), who was a prominent authority of Confucianism in west area and even in whole Han Dynasty. However, Ma Rong was rather arrogant and self-important. Ma Rong had more than 400 students, but only 50 students more or less could directly learn face to face from him. Zheng Xuan stayed in Ma Rong’s school for three years but never met Marong, It is really interesting. Instead, Zheng Xuan learnt from one of the senior students of Ma Rong. But Zheng Xuan studied hard day and night. One day, Ma Rong summoned all his students together for some special tests. Ma Rong heard that Zheng Xuan was capable of calculation and prediction and met him separately. They communicated for a long time. And Zheng Xuan shared a lot of what he learnt and considered to be, which shocked and astonished Ma Rong deeply. He said to himself: this student was too talented to be taught. Many parts have preponderated over those of mine. He at last sighed and told his other students:”Mr. Zheng’s eastwardly departing surely takes away my Dao, the core of one’s most important knowledge system”(郑生今去,吾道东矣). Since then, Zheng Xuan’s students became more and more but Ma Rong’s students became less and less.

There was another relevant story concentrating on this change or transition of academic center from Ma Rong to Zheng Xuan. It is available in anther quite well-known story-centered classic themed with historic figures--- Shi Shuo Xin Yu(世说新语), whose author was Liu Yiqing(刘义庆). In this book, the subsequent of this story moved on. For retrieving the more and more serious situation, Ma Rong secretly sent many servants to stop Zheng Xuan’s eastward return. Zheng Xuan in advance got known the hostility of Ma Rong and also was conscious of he was in danger if he did not move away as quick as possible. He left to east area instantly. He heard the sounds of a large group of horses when he walked to a bridge. Zheng Xuan knew they were the servants of Ma Rong sent to stop his eastward department. He at one hid himself under the bridge where he standing in water for a long time. Ma’s servants did not found him and returned to inform Ma Rong they were not succeeded in finding Zheng Xuan. Ma Rong kept silently and turned back to his personal study. Suddenly, his students heard the sounds of breaking vases and furniture. After a while, Ma Rong joyfully walked out and told his students:”Zheng Xuan has died, because in line with my Zhan Bu(占卜, soothsaying via Book of Changes and warming turtle shell to see the cracks). The divination shows his condition: Heaven and Earth are both out of reach, and he is above water but below earth”. It is really funny, in fact, Zheng Xuan was under the bridge, and he surely is out of the reach of heaven and earth and under the earth but above the water, because he was standing in water under bridge!