Ji Yan (Three Kingdoms)
Ji Yan (died 224), courtesy name Zixiu, was an official of the state of Eastern Wu during the Three Kingdoms period of China. An impulsive and impetuous man, he thought highly of himself and liked to assume the moral high ground to criticise and disparage others. While serving in the selection bureau (the equivalent of a present-day human resources department), he came up with radical ideas to reform the bureaucracy by demoting or dismissing officials based on assessments of their moral character. His ideas proved to be highly unpopular as he incurred much resentment from his colleagues, who accused him of being unprofessional and biased. When his colleagues Lu Xun, Lu Mao and Zhu Ju advised him to change his offensive behaviour, he ignored their well-meaning advice. In 224, he committed suicide after he was removed from office on allegations of unprofessional conduct.
|Master of Writing in the Selection Bureau (選曹尚書)|
? – 224
|Courtesy name||Zixiu (子休)|
Ji Yan was from Wu Commandery, which is around present-day Suzhou, Jiangsu. Through the recommendation of Zhang Wen, he came to serve in the Eastern Wu government and was appointed as a Gentleman in the Selection Bureau (選曹郎; the equivalent of a present-day human resources officer). Over time, he rose through the ranks and became a Master of Writing in the Selection Bureau (選曹尚書).
Ji Yan had a tendency to offend people not only because of his straightforward and impetuous character, but also because he thought highly of himself and liked to assume the moral high ground to criticise and disparage others. In particular, he liked to highlight others' faults and spread news of scandalous incidents involving others, just to make himself seem better and show how critical he could be. In his view, there was a serious problem of human resources mismanagement in the bureaucracy as many officials were unsuitable for their jobs because they were either administratively incompetent or morally corrupt. He thus came up with radical ideas to reform the bureaucracy according to the way he desired: he wanted to conduct a thorough assessment of all personnel to separate the virtuous from the corrupt, and then demote or dismiss them accordingly. If his ideas were implemented, over 90 percent of all the staff would be affected and many who failed the "morality test" would end up being demoted to jun li (軍吏), one of the lowest positions in the bureaucracy. Because of his radical ideas, Ji Yan incurred much resentment from several officials, who accused him of being unprofessional and biased.
Sometime between 222 and 225, Ji Yan and Zhang Wen made accusations against Sun Shao, the Imperial Chancellor. It is not known what exactly Sun Shao was accused of. When Sun Shao requested to be removed from office, the Eastern Wu emperor Sun Quan pardoned him and ordered him to continue serving as Imperial Chancellor.
At least three officials – Lu Xun, Lu Mao and Zhu Ju – warned Ji Yan on separate occasions and advised him to stop his offensive behaviour. Lu Mao advised Ji Yan to forgive others for their past transgressions and focus on praising them for their virtues and contributions instead. He also urged Ji Yan to promote and strengthen a civil culture that might be beneficial to Eastern Wu's future development. Zhu Ju voiced his concerns that the abrupt demotion/dismissal of so many officials would cause instability in the government, and urged Ji Yan to refrain from penalising officials for their transgressions and allow them to remain in office to make amends for their mistakes. He also suggested to Ji Yan to praise the honest and hardworking officials and give encouragement to the underperforming ones. Ji Yan ignored all their well-meaning advice.
Although Ji Yan's radical ideas drew flak from his colleagues, there was one Xu Biao (徐彪)[a] who supported him. In 224, the Eastern Wu emperor Sun Quan had Ji Yan and Xu Biao arrested and removed from office based on allegations of unprofessional conduct. Both of them committed suicide later. Zhang Wen was implicated in the incident not only because he recommended Ji Yan to the Eastern Wu government, but also because he was a close friend of Ji Yan and Xu Biao; he was first arrested and imprisoned, but was later pardoned and sent back to his hometown, where he died six years later.
- Sima (1084), vol. 70. sfnp error: no target: CITEREFSima1084 (help)
- (豔字子休，亦吳郡人也，[張]溫引致之，以為選曹郎，至尚書。) Sanguozhi vol. 57.
- (溫薦引同郡暨豔為選部尚書。) Zizhi Tongjian vol. 70.
- (時尚書曁豔盛明臧否，差斷三署，頗揚人闇昧之失，以顯其讁。) Sanguozhi vol. 57.
- (豔性狷厲，好為清議，見時郎署混濁淆雜，多非其人，欲臧否區別，賢愚異貫。彈射百僚，覈選三署，率皆貶高就下，降損數等，其守故者十未能一，其居位貪鄙，志節汙卑者，皆以為軍吏，置營府以處之。而怨憤之聲積，浸潤之譖行矣。) Sanguozhi vol. 57.
- (豔好為清議，彈射百僚，覈奏三署，率皆貶高就下，降損數等，其守故者，十未能一；其居位貪鄙，志節汙卑者，皆以為軍吏，置營府以處之；多揚人闇昧之失以顯其謫。) Zizhi Tongjian vol. 70.
- (張溫、曁豔奏其事，邵辭位請罪，權釋令復職， ...) Wu Lu annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 47.
- (初，曁豔造營府之論，[陸]遜諫戒之，以為必禍。) Sanguozhi vol. 58.
- (同郡陸遜、遜弟瑁及侍御史朱據皆諫止之。) Zizhi Tongjian vol. 70.
- (瑁與書曰：「夫聖人嘉善矜愚，忘過記功，以成美化。加今王業始建，將一大統，此乃漢高棄瑕錄用之時也，若令善惡異流，貴汝潁月旦之評，誠可以厲俗明教，然恐未易行也。宜遠模仲尼之汎愛，中則郭泰之弘濟，近有益於大道也。」) Sanguozhi vol. 57.
- (瑁與豔書曰：「夫聖人嘉善矜愚，忘過記功，以成美化。加今王業始建，將一大統，此乃漢高棄瑕錄用之時也。若令善惡異流，貴汝、潁月旦之評，誠可以厲俗明敎，然恐未易行也。宜遠模仲尼之汎愛，近則郭泰之容濟，庶有益於大道也。」) Zizhi Tongjian vol. 70.
- (據以為天下未定，宜以功覆過，棄瑕取用，舉清厲濁，足以沮勸，若一時貶黜，懼有後咎。) Sanguozhi vol. 57.
- (據謂豔曰：「天下未定，舉清厲濁，足以沮勸；若一時貶黜，懼有後咎。」豔皆不聽。) Zizhi Tongjian vol. 70.
- (吳錄曰：彪字仲虞，廣陵人也。) Wu Lu annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 57.
- (競言豔及選曹郎徐彪，專用私情，愛憎不由公理，豔、彪皆坐自殺。溫宿與豔、彪同意，數交書疏，聞問往還，即罪溫。) Sanguozhi vol. 57.
- (於是怨憤盈路，爭言豔及選曹郎徐彪專用私情，憎愛不由公理；豔、彪皆坐自殺。溫素與豔、彪同意，亦坐斥還本郡以給廝吏，卒於家。) Zizhi Tongjian vol. 70.