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Xu Shao

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Xu Shao

Xu Shao
Born 150
Died 195 (aged 45)
Simplified Chinese 许劭
Traditional Chinese 許劭
Pinyin Xǔ Shào
Wade–Giles Hsü Shao
Style name Zijiang (traditional Chinese: 子將; simplified Chinese: 子将; pinyin: Zǐjiàng; Wade–Giles: Tzu-chiang)

Xu Shao (150–195), style name Zijiang, was a government official and character evaluator who lived in the Eastern Han Dynasty.

Early life and career

Xu Shao was a native of Pingyu (平輿), Runan (汝南), which is located northeast of present-day Ruyang County, Yuzhou, Henan. As a youth, he maintained a good reputation and was interested in the study of human relations. He was known for giving appraisals to people. His fame put him on par with others such as Fan Zizhao (樊子昭) and He Yangshi (和陽士). Xu Shao and Guo Tai (郭泰) were famous character evaluators at that time and their appraisals were highly valued among the scholar-gentry.[1]

Xu Shao started his civil career as an "Officer of Merit" (功曹) in his home commandery (Runan). Xu Qiu (徐璆), the commandery's Administrator (太守), treated him very respectfully. The other officials in the commandery office became more cautious and conservative in their manners when they heard that Xu Shao was going to be their colleague. When Yuan Shao was on his way home to Runan after resigning from his post of "Prefect of Puyang" (濮陽令), he rode in a carriage and was surrounded by many guards and attendants. Before entering Runan, he ordered his men to leave, saying, "How can I let Xu Zijiang see me like this?" He then travelled home in a single carriage.[2]

Appraisals of Chen Shi and Chen Fan

When Xu Shao went to Yingchuan (潁川; covering present-day southern and central Henan) commandery, he visited and mingled with many reputable men in the region, except for Chen Shi. Later, when Chen Fan's wife died, many people attended her funeral but Xu Shao did not show up. When asked, Xu Shao replied, "Taiqiu (Chen Shi) is too well-acquainted, it's difficult for him to be thorough; Zhongju (Chen Fan) is a serious person who hardly makes compromises. These are the reasons why I didn't visit them." Such was Xu Shao's evaluation of others.[3]

Appraisal of Cao Cao

When Cao Cao was still relatively unknown, he prepared expensive gifts and behaved humbly when he visited Xu Shao in the hope of receiving an appraisal from the latter. Xu Shao viewed Cao Cao with contempt and refused to evaluate him, but Cao later found an opportunity to threaten and coerce the latter into giving comments about him. Xu Shao said, "You're a treacherous villain in times of peace and a hero in times of chaos." Cao Cao was very pleased and he left.[4]

However, Sun Sheng's Yitong Zayu (異同雜語) recorded a different quote from Xu Shao. It mentioned that when Cao Cao asked Xu Shao to give him an appraisal, the latter initially refused but eventually relented and said, "You'll be a capable minister in times of peace, and a jianxiong[notes 1] in times of chaos." Cao Cao laughed when he heard that.[5]

Relationships with others

Xu Shao's granduncle was Xu Jing (許敬). Xu Jing's son was Xu Xun (許訓). Xu Xun's son, Xu Xiang (許相), became one of the Three Ducal Ministers by flattering the court eunuchs. Xu Xiang invited Xu Shao to meet him numerous times, but Xu Shao despised him for his unethical ways and refused to see him.[6]

Xu Shao was initially on good terms with Li Kui (李逵), who was from the same hometown as him and was known for his good moral conduct, but relations between them soured later. Xu Shao also could not get along with his cousin Xu Jing (許靖). These two incidents brought some damage to Xu Shao's reputation. Before falling out with each other, Xu Shao and his cousin Xu Jing were famous commentators and they would give comments on certain persons or topics on the first day of every month.[7]

Later life and death

Yang Biao (楊彪), the Excellency of Works (司空; one of the Three Ducal Ministers), once attempted to recruit Xu Shao to serve in his office but the latter refused. Later, when the Han imperial court wanted to recruit Xu Shao again, he declined, "Villains are rampant. The political scene is about to become chaotic. I intend to seek refuge in Huaihai (淮海) and keep my family safe." He then moved south to Guangling (廣陵; around present-day Yangzhou, Jiangsu). Tao Qian, the Inspector (刺史) of Xu Province, treated Xu Shao generously, but Xu felt uneasy and he told others, "Tao Gongzu (Tao Qian) appears to enjoy a good reputation but he is actually not sincere and faithful on the inside. He may treat me very well but his attitude towards me will worsen later. I'd better leave." He then headed further south to Qu'e (曲阿; present-day Danyang, Jiangsu), where he joined Liu Yao, the Inspector of Yang Province. Later, as Xu Shao predicted, Tao Qian had all his reputable guests arrested.[8]

When Sun Ce was on a series of conquests in the Wu region, Xu Shao and Liu Yao fled south to Yuzhang (豫章; around present-day Nanchang, Jiangxi). Xu Shao died there at the age of 46 (by East Asian age reckoning).[9]



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