Ruan Ji was born into a traditional Confucianist
family of government officials in Wei-shih,
China.His father, Ruan Yu, was a minor poet and
government official under Cao Cao (Tsa’o Tsa’o),
a Wei warlord. Ruan Ji entered government service
in 239 and served the Wei dynasty until its
overthrow by Sima (Ssu-ma) I in 249. The coup
d’etat against the Wei dynasty was a turning
point in Ruan Ji’s life. Although his father and
grandfather had served the Wei dynasty, Ruan Ji
accepted nonpolitical posts under the new dynasty.
One scholar describes Ji’s efforts as a form
of “passive resistance in which he could ‘serve
Ruan Ji’s poetry was a groundbreaking extension
of his passive resistance. Some of his poems
are an expression of his deeply personal thoughts
and reflect his familiarity with Taoist philosophy.
In this poem, for example, he describes an immortal
“tortured” by his isolation and his apparent
search for the meaning of life:
Long ago there was an immortal man
who lived on the slope of Shooting
Mountain . . .
He could be heard, but not seen,
sighing sorrows and full emotion
self-tortured he had no companion
grief and heartbreak piled upon him
“Study the familiar to penetrate the
But time is short and what’s to be done?
Other poems are filled with biting political satire
and commentary and allusions to government figures
and events, many of which were so obscure
they could not be identified.
Ruan Ji served as a model for later poets who
lived during similar years of political chaos, and he
remains justly famous for his work.
A Work about Ruan Ji
Holzman, Donald. Poetry and Politics: The Life and
Works of Juan Chi, A.D. 210–263. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1976.