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Wang Anshi

Wang Anshi (王安石) (1021 - 1086) was a China|Chinese economist, statesman and poet of the Song Dynasty (960-1279)|Song Dynasty who attempted some controversial, major socio-economic reforms. His courtesy name was Jiepu (介甫), and sobriquet Oldman Half-a-Mountain (半山老人 Banshan Laoren).

At that time, the unprecedented development of large estates, whose owners managed to evade paying their share of taxes, resulted in an increasingly heavy burden of taxation falling on the peasantry. The drop in state revenues, a succession of budget deficits, and widespread inflation prompted the emperor to seek advice from Wang.

Wang believed that the state was responsible for providing its citizens the essentials for a decent living standard: "The state should take the entire management of commerce, industry, and agriculture into its own hands, with a view to succoring the working classes and preventing them from being ground into the dust by the rich."

Accordingly, under his direction the state initiated an agricultural loans measure to relieve the farming peasants of the burden of interest extracted from them by moneylenders, and to thereby prevent a consequent lack of capital from impeding agricultural development. To destroy speculation and break up the monopolies, he initiated a system of fixed commodity prices; and he appointed boards to regulate wages and plan pensions for the aged and unemployed. Wang An-shih also revamped the state examination system so that less emphasis was placed on literary style and memorization of the Chinese classic texts and more on practical knowledge, irking the Confucian scholar gentry and state bureaucracy. These reforms were known as the "new laws."

However, famous scholar-officials like Su Dongpo and Ouyang Xiu bitterly opposed these reforms on grounds of tradition. They believed Wang's reforms were against the moral fundamentals of the Two Emperors and would therefore prevent the Song from experiencing the prosperity and peace of the ancients. The tide tilted in favor of the conservatives due to renewed foreign conflict.

Modern observers have noted how remarkably close his theories were to modern concepts of the welfare state and planned economy.

In addition to his political achievements, Wang Anshi was a noted poet. He wrote poems in the Shi (poetry)|shi form, modelled on those of Du Fu.

He was traditionally classed as one of the Eight Great Prose Masters of the Tang and Song Dynasty|Song.

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