When Mencius said, "sometimes because of poverty," his meaning was that you should not let your parents suffer poverty along with you. If your parents are suffering from hunger and cold, then you have not been filial. Therefore, people worked for the government because of "family poverty and aged parents."
When Tao Yuanming was around twenty-nine years old, he worked as State Officer of Rites due to family poverty and aged parents. However, he could not tolerate the restrictions that came with being a government official, so he soon resigned and returned home. That was the first time.
Regarding his second and third times, there are various accounts. According to
A Year-by-Year Biography of Tao Yuanming by contemporary scholar Lu Qingli, he served during the Long'an years of Eastern Jin Emperor An. In the third year of Long'an, when Tao Yuanming was thirty-five years old, there was a rebellion at Guiji in Jiangsu province.
A man named Sun En led a revolt against the government. Before this incident, there had already been many skirmishes. Emperor Xiao Wu, who preceded Emperor An, was killed by one of his concubines. Emperor Xiao Wu's wife was Empress Wong. A disagreement between Empress Wong's younger brother and the frontier officers caused one revolt. The corruption and fighting among the government ranks resulted in great suffering for the common people.
Consequently, not long after the death of Emperor Xiao Wu, a violent rebellion by the common people, led by Sun En, broke out along the coast of Guiji, Jiangsu.
Meanwhile Huan Xuan, whom we mentioned in the last lecture, had become a warlord. He had originally been the governor of Jianzhou. The people holding the post of provincial governor changed quite often. When Tao Yuanming was in his twenties, the Jiangzhou governor was Wang Ningzhi; when he was thirty-five, the governor was Huan Xuan. Although Huan Xuan's power was already considerable, he wished to expand his power, so he killed the governor of Jingzhou, Yin Zhong-kan, and appointed himself the governor of both Jiangzhou and Jingzhou.
Tao Yuanming's hometown was in Chaisang county of Jiangzhou. At that time, Huan Xuan's ambition to usurp the governorship was not yet evident; he simply had a great deal of military power. Huan Xuan had submitted a proposal to Emperor An, saying that he had enough military power and was willing to put down Sun En's rebellion. There were a few other people with military strength. One was Liu Laozhi, and another was Liu Yu, who later usurped the throne. Both of them had considerable military might. Combining the power of the two, Huan Xuan successfully subdued Sun En's rebellion.
According to A Year-by-Year Biography of Tao Yuanming by Lu Qingli, Tao Yuanming was the person who submitted the military plan to the emperor on behalf of Huan Xuan, the governor of Jiangzhou at the time. Emperor An's capital was at Jiankang, so Tao Yuanming went there to submit the proposal asking for authorization to subdue Sun En.
We mentioned earlier that either political ideals or family financial pressure may be the motivation for a man to seek a government position. The first time Tao Yuanming worked for the government, it was because his family was poor and his parent was elderly. How about this time? He was probably motivated by his political ideals, for he considered Sun En a rebel. He could have thought, "If I submit this proposal to the emperor for Huan Xuan to subdue the rebellion, I will be helping to bring peace to the country, and that's a good deed." This incident probably helped Tao Yuanming define his ideals. However, after Huan Xuan subdued Sun En, Huan Xuan's own power increased tremendously and he aspired to take over the throne.
In the first year of the Yuanxing reign period of Emperor An, Huan Xuan led his troops to conquer Jiankang. He captured Emperor An and made him a political puppet. Tao Yuanming was thirty-eight years old and was no longer working for Huan Xuan.
Meanwhile Liu Yu was also expanding his military power. Liu Yu's position was the general of defense. According to Tao Yuanming's biography, Tao had worked as the defense strategist, that is, a military advisor who handles the paper work.
When Liu Yu was the general of defense, Tao Yuanming worked for him as his strategist.
Why did Tao Yuanming want to join Liu Yu and be his strategist? Because Huan Xuan had rebelled. He had worked for Huan Xuan when Sun En was rebelling, but now Huan Xuan himself was a rebel. Liu Yu wanted to subdue Huan Xuan, so Tao Yuan-ming joined him as a defense strategist to fight Huan Xuan. That was the third time he served as a government official.
There was a fourth time. However, each time he did not stay long. I think Tao Yuanming had his ideals and wanted to work for the peace of the country during that period of constant fighting. But each time he accepted a position, he would be discouraged, so he would only work for short period of time before resigning. Then, when he saw another opportunity, he would venture forth once more, only to be disappointed yet again, resign, and return home.
To be continued