Chen Yuanda (died 316), courtesy name Changhong, was a Xiongnu minister of Han Zhao during the Sixteen Kingdoms period. Yuanda joined Liu Yuan during his establishment of his state in 304, becoming a mainstay in its early years. During the reign of Liu Cong, Yuanda was persistent in going against his emperor's wishes that many at the time were seen as inappropriate, usually revolving around his empresses. In 316, he and a group of ministers fought against the corrupted eunuch, Wang Chen, and his inner circle after they won over Liu Cong. However, following the death of his friend Liu Yi (劉易) as a result of the debacle, Yuanda killed himself out of despair.

Chen Yuanda
Imperial Secretary (御史大夫)
In office
315 (315)–316 (316)
MonarchLiu Yuan/Liu Cong
Personal details
Original nameGao Yuanda (高元達)

Early life and service under Liu YuanEdit

Chen Yuanda was born into the Rear Division of the Southern Xiongnu. His family name was originally "Gao (高)", but supposedly, due to his birth month bringing misfortune to his father, he was forced to change it to "Chen (陳)". Yuanda was orphaned at an early age and grew up poor in Jinyang. He took a liking for reciting books and worked on the farms to sustain himself. Yuanda was knowledgeable, but was never received an invitation to serve from anyone of note until he reached the age of 40.[1]

When Liu Yuan became the Xiongnu Worthy Prince of the Left, he sought out to recruit Yuanda into his ranks. However, Yuanda ignored his call and sent no reply. Liu Yuan broke away from the Jin dynasty in 304, declaring himself King of Han. It was around this time when someone asked Yuanda if he was worried now that Liu Yuan was king. Yuanda replied, "I know him well, and he also understands my thoughts. Within two or three days, the letter will arrive." Surely enough, Liu Yuan approached him again, offering him the position of Gentleman of the Yellow Gates. This time, Yuanda accepted his offer.[2]

Liu Yuan was delighted that Yuanda had joined him, but wished that he had done earlier. Liu Yuan told him that had he came earlier, Yuanda would have had a higher position than what he had now. However, Yuanda replied, "The ministers are divided by nature, and those who are rash for power will surely fall. If I had joined earlier, I fear that you may elect me as one of the Nine Ministers or as a Receiver of Words. This is not the division of ministers. How can a minister be worthy of such treatment! So suppress these emotions, and wait for that division to come. The king would have no slander, and the ministers would be free from the calamity of the outsiders." Liu Yuan was pleased by his response.[3]

Under Liu Yuan, Yuanda was a described as a loyal and trusted minister. He often gave advice to Liu Yuan and submitted private petitions that not even Liu Yuan's children knew its content.[4]

Service under Liu CongEdit

Construction of Huangyi HallEdit

Liu Yuan died in 310 and was succeeded by Liu He, although He was quickly assassinated and replaced through a coup by his brother, Liu Cong, that same year. Between 304 and 313, Yuanda grew to the position of Minister of Justice. In 313, Liu Cong made his Honoured Lady, Liu E as his empress. To honour her, Liu Cong built Huangyi Hall (䳨儀殿). Yuanda reprimanded Liu Cong for this, as Cong had already carried out many projects in the past. He states that now that Han was on the verge of replacing the Jin dynasty in the north, Liu Cong should present himself more frugally to the people and concentrate in spending the treasury on expelling the remaining Jin remnants. Liu Cong was insulted by Yuanda's rebuking, and ordered him to be executed.[5]

As Chen Yuanda was brought out for his execution, he passed through Xiaoyao Garden (逍遙園) in Lizhong Court (李中堂), another one of Liu Cong's courts. He was being led under the trees of the court's garden when somehow, Yuanda managed to chain himself to one of the trees with the chains around his hands. The attendants tried to free him, but Yuanda refused to let them do so. As Yuanda delayed his execution, many of Liu Cong's ministers pleaded his innocence to Liu Cong to prevent his execution. Liu Cong made no response but soon enough, Liu E took notice of the situation. Liu E submitted her husband a petition asking him to spare Yuanda from death.[6]

With both his ministers and wife siding with Yuanda, Cong eventually pardoned him. Upon meeting Yuanda, he said, "You ought to be the one fearing me, but right now it is me who is fearing you." The two men reconciled, and Liu Cong even went as far as renaming Xiaoyao Garden to Naxian ("Receiving the Worthies") Garden and Lizhong Court to Kuixian ("Shamed by the Worthies") Court due to the incident.[7]

Issue with Liu Cong's empressesEdit

In a bizarre story that supposedly took place in 313, a shooting star had fallen to the ground around Pingyang and transformed into a mass of flesh. Liu Cong was disturbed by this and asked his ministers their opinion on what this meant. Yuanda told him, "Women are being shown too much favour; this is an omen of the downfall of the state." Liu Cong replied, "What you say is purely based on yin and yang. How does this relate to human affairs?" Coincidentally, after the incident, Liu E would die.[8]

In 315, Liu Cong made the controversial decision of having three empresses at once, them being Liu Guifei, Jin Yueguang and Jin Yuehua. Yuanda once again argued with him, telling him that it was against tradition to have more than one empress. Liu Cong was annoyed by this, so he secretly reduced Yuanda's power by moving him to a prestigious but also powerless position. However, many ministers protested this by offering to give their positions up to Yuanda, so Cong was forced to re-appoint him as Imperial Secretary. Later Jin Yueguang was caught conducting an immoral activity, so Yuanda sent a petition to Liu Cong in regard to it. Cong had no choice but to depose her. After her disposal, Yueguang killed herself out of shame. Cong was distraught by her death, and blamed Yuanda for causing this.[9]

Conflict with Wang Chen and deathEdit

The next year in 316, Liu Cong began to place an excessive amount of trust in his eunuch, Wang Chen. Wang Chen and his inner circle were despised by Liu Cong's minister as they continued to curry his favour while living lavishly and removing their rivals. Yuanda was involved in a group effort to submit a petition denouncing Wang Chen and his partisans. However, Liu Cong's trust in Wang Chen was ingrained, and Cong dismissed their attempts to win him over again.[10]

As the political discourse continued to take place that year, one of Yuanda's closest friend, Liu Yi died shortly after Liu Cong had denied his petition. Liu Yi death greatly affected Yuanda, who became depress as a result. Shortly after his friend's passing, Yuanda returned to his home, where he committed suicide. Many of the ministers mourned their deaths, and felt that the two men had been unfairly treated.[11]


  1. ^ (陳元達,字長宏,後部人也。本姓高,以生月妨父,故改云陳。少面孤貧,常躬耕兼誦書,樂道行詠,忻忻如也。至年四十,不與人交通。) Book of Jin, Volume 102
  2. ^ (元達少有志操,淵嘗招之,元達不答。及淵爲漢王,或謂元達曰:「君其懼乎?」元達笑曰:「吾知其人久矣,彼亦亮吾之心;但恐不過三、二日,驛書必至。」其暮,淵果徵元達。元達事淵,屢進忠言,退而削草,雖子弟莫得知也。) Zizhi Tongjian, Volume 85
  3. ^ (既至,引見,元海曰:「卿若早來,豈為郎官而已。」元達曰:「臣惟性之有分,盈分者顛。臣若早叩天門者,恐大王賜處於九卿、納言之間,此則非臣之分,臣將何以堪之!是以抑情盤桓,待分而至,大王無過授之謗,小臣免招寇之禍,不亦可乎!」元海大悅。) Book of Jin, Volume 102
  4. ^ (在位忠謇,屢進讜言,退而削草,雖子弟莫得而知也。) Book of Jin, Volume 102
  5. ^ (俄拜為後,將起皇儀殿以居之,其廷尉陳元達切諫,聰大怒,將斬之。) Book of Jin, Volume 96
  6. ^ (娥時在後堂,私敕左右停刑,手疏啟曰:「伏聞將為妾營殿,今昭德足居,皇儀非急。四海未一,禍難猶繁,動須人力資財,尤宜慎之。廷尉之言,國家大政。夫忠臣之諫,豈為身哉?帝王距之,亦非顧身也。妾仰謂陛下上尋明君納諫之昌,下忿暗主距諫之禍,宜賞廷尉以美爵,酬廷尉以列土,如何不惟不納,而反欲誅之?陛下此怒由妾而起,廷尉之禍由妾而招,人怨國疲,咎歸於妾,距諫害忠,亦妾之由。自古敗國喪家,未始不由婦人者也。妾每覽古事,忿之忘食,何意今日妾自為之!後人之觀妾,亦猶妾之視前人也,復何面目仰侍巾櫛,請歸死此堂,以塞陛下誤惑之過。」聰覽之色變。) Book of Jin, Volume 96
  7. ^ (任顗等叩頭流涕不已。聰徐曰:「朕比年已來,微得風疾,喜怒過差,不復自制。元達,忠臣也;朕未之察。諸公乃能破首明之,誠得輔弼之義也。朕愧戢于心,何敢忘之!」命顗等冠履就坐,引元達上,以劉氏表示之,曰:「外輔如公,內輔如后,朕復何憂!」賜顗等穀帛各有差,更命逍遙園曰納賢園,李中堂曰愧賢堂。聰謂元達曰:「卿當畏朕,而反使朕畏卿邪!」) Zizhi Tongjian, Volume 88
  8. ^ (有流星出牽牛,入紫微,光燭地,墜于平陽北,化爲肉,長三十步,廣二十七步。漢主聰惡之,以問公卿。陳元達以爲「女寵太盛,亡國之徵。」聰曰:「此陰陽之理,何關人事!」聰后劉氏賢明,聰所爲不道,劉氏每規正之。己丑,劉氏卒,諡曰武宣。自是嬖寵競進,後宮無序矣。) Zizhi Tongjian, Volume 89
  9. ^ (左司隸陳元達以三後之立也,極諫,聰不納,乃以元達為右光祿大夫,外示優賢,內實奪其權也。於是太尉范隆、大司馬劉丹、大司空呼延晏、尚書令王鑒等皆抗表遜位,以讓元達。聰乃以元達為御史大夫、儀同三司... 聰宮中鬼夜哭,三日而聲向右司隸寺,乃止。其上皇后靳氏有淫穢之行,陳元達奏之。聰廢靳,靳慚恚自殺。靳有殊寵,聰迫于元達之勢,故廢之。既而追念其姿色,深仇元達。) Book of Jin, Volume 102
  10. ^ (太宰劉易及大將軍劉敷、御史大夫陳元達、金紫光祿大夫王延等詣闕諫曰:「臣聞善人者,乾坤之紀,政教之本也。邪佞者,宇宙之螟螣,王化之蟊賊也。故文王以多士基周,桓靈以群閹亡漢,國之興亡,未有不由此也。自古明王之世,未嘗有宦者與政,武、元、安、順豈足為故事乎!今王沈等乃處常伯之位,握生死與奪於中,勢傾海內,愛憎任之,矯弄詔旨,欺誣日月,內諂陛下,外佞相國,威權之重,侔於人主矣。王公見之駭目,卿宰望塵下車,銓衡迫之,選舉不復以實,士以屬舉,政以賄成,多樹奸徒,殘毒忠善。知王琰等忠臣,必盡節于陛下,懼其奸萌發露,陷之極刑。陛下不垂三察,猥加誅戮,怨感穹蒼,痛入九泉,四海悲惋,賢愚傷懼。沈等皆刀鋸之餘,背恩忘義之類,豈能如士人君子感恩展效,以答乾澤也。陛下何故親近之?何故貴任之?昔齊桓公任易牙而亂,孝懷委黃皓而滅,此皆覆車於前,殷鑒不遠。比年地震日蝕,雨血火災,皆沈等之由。願陛下割翦凶醜與政之流,引尚書、御史朝省萬機,相國與公卿五日一入,會議政事,使大臣得極其言,忠臣得逞其意,則眾災自弭,和氣呈祥。今遺晉未殄,巴蜀未賓,石勒潛有跨趙魏之志,曹嶷密有王全齊之心,而復以沈等助亂大政,陛下心腹四支何處無患!復誅巫咸,戮扁鵲,臣恐遂成桓侯膏肓之疾,後雖欲療之,其如病何!請免沈等官,付有司定罪。聰以表示沈等,笑曰:「是兒等為元達所引,遂成癡也。」寢之。) Book of Jin, Volume 102
  11. ^ (太宰易又詣闕上疏極諫,聰大怒,手壞其疏。三月,易忿恚而卒。易素忠直,陳元達倚之爲援,得盡諫諍。及卒,元達哭之慟,曰:「『人之云亡,邦國殄悴。』吾旣不復能言,安用默默苟生乎!」歸而自殺。) Zizhi Tongjian, Volume 89