David R. Knechtges

Mei Sheng 枚乘 (or Cheng), (d. ca. 140 b.c.e.), zi Shu

Ancient and Early Medieval Chinese Literature

Western Han writer.

Mei Sheng’s natal place was Huaiyin 淮陰 (modern Huaiyin, Jiangsu). Huaiyin was a fief that was given to the famous strategist Han Xin 韓信 in 201 b.c.e. It was abolished in 191 b.c.e. and made a part of the Wu kingdom. In 195 b.c.e. Liu Pi 劉濞, who was the son of an elder brother of Liu Bang, was enfeoffed as King of Wu (r. 195–154 b.c.e.). Mei Sheng served as gentleman of the palace at the court of Liu Pi. Liu Pi had long harbored a grudge against Emperor Jing (r. 157–141 b.c.e.). While the emperor was heir-designate, he killed Liu Pi’s son with a game board. Wu was the strongest and richest of the vassal kingdoms (it had abundant copper reserves). Liu Pi began secretly to plan a revolt against the central authority. Mei Sheng sent him several petitions trying to dissuade him from this plan.

When Liu Pi refused to accept Mei Sheng’s advice, Mei left for Liang. At Liang, Mei Sheng joined the court of Liu Wu 劉武 (r. 168–144), also known by his posthumous name of King Xiao 孝王. Liu Wu was the son of Emperor Wen (r. 180–157 b.c.e.) He was one of the favorites of both Emperor Wen and his mother Empress Dowager Dou 竇太后 (d. 135 b.c.e.). In January 154 b.c.e. Liu Pi led an insurrection of seven kingdoms against Emperor Jing. Depending on which source one consults, the revolt was put down within two or three months. Liu Wu remained loyal to the emperor, and even sent an army to delay the march of the rebel forces.

After the revolt of the seven kingdoms was suppressed, Liu Wu began to recruit writers and scholars to his court. Liu Wu collected numerous precious objects. He reputedly possessed as many gems and precious objects as the emperor himself. The Liang treasury contained nearly 100,000,000 in gold and cash. Liu Wu also made his capital of Suiyang 睢陽 (south of modern Shangqiu, Henan) into one of the largest and most beautiful cities in the empire.

Mei Sheng joined a group of distinguished writers who included Zou Yang 鄒陽 (fl. 150 b.c.e.), who also had served at Liu Pi’s court. The names of the other writers are Yang Sheng 羊勝 (fl. 150 b.c.e.) and Gongsun Gui 公孫詭 (d. ca. 149 b.c.e.), who like Zou Yang came from the Qi area. There were also a man from Wu: Zhuang Ji 莊忌 (fl. 157 b.c.e.), also known as Yan Ji 嚴忌, and Zhuang Fuzi 莊夫子. Sima Xiangru 司馬相如 (179–117 b.c.e.) from Shu came to this court somewhat later.

Shortly after Mei Sheng arrived in Liang, early in Emperor Jing’s reign, Mei was appointed chief commandant of Hongnong 弘農. However, Mei did not find this post to his liking, and he resigned on “grounds of illness.” He then returned to Liang. According to the Han shu (51.2365), “the Liang retainers all excelled in composing cifu, and Sheng was the best of them.” Mei Sheng remained in Liang for about ten years until Liu Wu died in 144 b.c.e. He then returned to his home in Huaiyin.

Emperor Wu (r. 141–87 b.c.e.) had known of Mei Sheng’s reputation ever since he was heir-designate. When he became emperor in 141 b.c.e., he sent a special carriage to carry the aged Mei Sheng to the capital. Mei died en route. The emperor then asked about Mei’s sons, but none of them had any literary skill. Sometime later, Mei Gao 枚皐 (fl. ca. 140 b.c.e.), a son of Mei Sheng’s concubine whom Mei Sheng took while living in Liang obtained employment at Emperor Wu’s court. Mei Gao was the most prolific fu writer of the Western Han.

Mei Sheng is best known for his long fu titled “Qi fa” 七發 or “Seven Stimuli.” Although there is no way to date the piece precisely, it certainly is earlier than any of the extant poems of Sima Xiangru. The piece, which is presented in a story frame like that of the Warring States persuasion, begins with a long prose section that introduces the dramatis personae: the heir designate of the kingdom of Chu, who is suffering from an illness brought on by excessive indulgence, and his guest, a scholar from Wu, who offers to suggest a cure for the young man’s ailment. The scholar informs him that since his illness is the result of overindulgence, a medical treatment would be ineffective. The only way the prince can be cured is if he listens to the suasive force of “essential words and marvelous doctrines” (yaoyan miaodao 要言妙道). The guest then proceeds to enumerate a series of seven enticements that ostensibly are designed to rouse the crown prince from his sickbed. The first six enticements are versified descriptions of various pleasures that the guest invites the prince to enjoy. They include in order: (1) music, (2) a banquet, (3) a chariot race, (4) an excursion to a scenic place, (5) a hunt, (6) a view of the spectacular tidal bore of the Qu River of Guangling. At the conclusion of each of these tantalizing descriptions, the guest asks the prince if he wishes to rise from his bed and participate. After the first four enticements, he replies that he is too ill to rise. The fifth enticement, a stirring description of a hunt, almost succeeds in reviving him. After hearing of the tidal bore that even has curative powers, the prince remains as sick as before. Thus, it takes the final enticement, the promise to introduce the prince to the “essential words and marvelous doctrines” 要言妙道 of great sages and philosophers, to rouse him from his sickbed.

The Xijing zaji attributes Mei Sheng with “Liu fu” 柳賦(Fu on the wil-low), and the Guwen yuan records under his name a long piece titled “Liang wang Tuyuan fu” 梁王菟園賦 (Fu on the Hare Park of the King of Liang). Some scholars have questioned the authenticity of both pieces. The Yutai xinyong credits him with nine gu shi 古詩 (ancient poems). His authorship of these pieces has also been questioned.

Mei Sheng is also known for his two petitions that he presented to Liu Pi attempting to dissuade him from plotting an insurrection against the imperial throne. However, the authenticity of the second petition has been questioned.

The monographs on bibliography in the Sui shu and the two Tang histories record a collected works for Mei Sheng in two juan. This was lost in the Song.

David R. Knechtges


  • Collection

  • Ding Yan 丁晏 (1794–1875), ed. Mei Shu ji 枚叔集. Han Wei Liuchao mingjia ji 漢魏六朝名家集. 1911; rpt. Xuxiu Siku quanshu, 1303.

  • Studies

  • Kōzen Hiroshi 興膳宏. “Kyūei bunjin no tōjō—Bai Jo ni tsuite” 宮廷文人の登場枚乘について. Bungaku 45.11 (1977): 1443–59.

  • Gong Kechang 龔克昌. “Sanfu zuojia Mei Sheng—Han fu yanjiu zhi yi”—散賦作家枚乘漢賦研究之—. Wen shi zhe 160 (1984): 67–72.

  • Gong Kechang 龔克昌. Han fu yanjiu, 56–67.

  • Gong Kechang. “Prose-fu Writer Mei Sheng.” In Studies on the Han Fu, 114–31.

  • Cao Daoheng and Shen Yucheng, Zhongguo wenxuejia dacidian, 268–69.

  • Works

  • a. “Qi fa” 七發 (Seven stimuli)

  • Xu Shiying 許世瑛. “Mei Sheng ‘Qi fa’ yu qi monizhe” 枚乘七發與其摹擬者. Dalu zazhi 6.8 (1953): 11–17.

  • Yu Guanying 余冠英. “Qi fa jieshao” 七發介紹. Wenxue zhishi (1959: 10): 19–20.

  • Wu Xiaoru 吳小如. “Mei Sheng ‘Qi fa’ Li Shan zhu dingbu” 枚乘七發李善注訂補. Wen shi (April 1963): 129–37.

  • Knechtges, David R. and Jerry Swanson. “Seven Stimuli for the Prince: the Ch’i-fa of Mei Ch’eng.” MS 29 (1970–71): 99–116.

  • Ho, Kenneth P.H. “The Seven Stimuli of Mei Sheng.” The Chu Hai Journal 11 (1980): 205–16.

  • Xu Zongwen 徐宗文. “‘Qi fa’ san wen” 七發三問. Xuzhou shifan xueyuan xuebao (1986: 3): 55–59.

  • Ho, Kenneth P.H. 何沛雄. “‘Zixu’ ‘Shanglin’ yu ‘Qifa’ de guanxi” 《子虛》《上林七發的關係. Wen shi zhe (1988: 1): 46–49.

  • Cao Dazhong 曹大中. “Lun Qi fa fei wei jie gaoliang zhi zi er fa” 論七發非為戒膏梁之子而發. Qiusuo (1989: 6): 94–99.

  • Zhao Kuifu 趙逵夫. “‘Qi fa’ ti de lanshang yu Han fu de yuanyuan” 《七發體的濫觴與漢賦的淵源. Xibei minzu xueyuan xuebao (Zhexue shehui kexue ban) (1992: 2): 96–102, 124.

  • Zhao Kuifu 趙逵夫. “‘Qi fa’ yu Mei Sheng shengping xintan” 《七發與枚乘生平新探. Nanjing daxue Zhongwen xi 南京大學中文系, ed., Cifu wenxue lunji, 144–62; Xibei shifan daxue bao (Shehui kexue ban) 36.1 (1999): 1–8.

  • Bi Wanchen 畢萬忱. “Shilun Mei Sheng ‘Qi fa’” 試論枚乘七發》. Wen shi zhe (1990: 5): 32–34.

  • Yuan Mu 元木. “Dui ‘Qi fa’ ‘guan tao’ yijie jige zhushi de shangque” 七發》“觀濤” —節幾個注釋的商榷. Hebei shifan daxue xuebao (1992: 2): 30–31.

  • Chien Tsung-wu 簡宗梧. “Mei Sheng ‘Qi fa’ yu Handai guiyou wenxue zhi fahuang—lun ‘Qi fa’ wei guiyou wenxue zhi shuotie” 枚乘七發與貴遊文學之發皇七發》為貴遊文學之說帖. Liang Han wenxue xueshu taolun wenji 兩漢文學學術討論文集, ed., Furen daxue Zhongwen xi 輔仁大學中文系, 331–57. Taipei: Huayan chubanshe, 1995.

  • Xu Ming 徐明. “Lun Mei Sheng ‘Qi fa’ de mingyi, shicheng ji dui houshi de yingxiang” 論枚乘七發的命意師承及對後世的影響. Tianfu xinlun (Chengdu) (1997: 3): 62–65; rpt. Fuyin baokan ziliao, Gudai, jindai wenxue yanjiu (1997: 7): 55–59.

  • Cheng Yu-yu 鄭毓瑜. “Lianlei, fengsong yu shiyu tiyan de chuanyi—cong ‘Qi fa’ de liaoji xiaoneng tanqi” 連類諷誦與嗜欲的傳譯七發的療疾效能談起. Qinghua xuebao 36.2 (2006): 399–425.

  • Translations

  • von Zach, Die Chinesische Anthologie, 2: 607–17.

  • Scott, Love and Protest, 36–48.

  • Frankel, The Flowering Plum, 186–211.

  • Mair, Victor H. Mei Cherng’s “Seven Stimuli” and Wang Bor’s “Pavilion of King Teng.” Chinese Poems for Princes. Studies in Asian Thought and Religion, Volume 11. Lewiston/ Queenston: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1988.

  • b. Petitions to King of Wu

  • Studies

  • Shih Chih-mien 施之勉. “Mei Sheng jian Wu wang shu fei chu houren jiatuo bian” 枚乘見吳王書非出後人假託辨. Dalu zazhi 4.3 (1952): 91, 99.

  • Chung, Eva Yuen-wah. “A Study of the Shu (Letters) of the Han Dynasty (206 b.c.–a.d. 220), ” Ph.D. diss., University of Washington, 1982, 267–87, 675–95.

  • Translations

  • von Zach, Die Chinesische Anthologie, 1: 729–34.

  • Chung, “A Study of the Shu (Letters) of the Han Dynasty, ” 465–76.

  • Owen, Anthology, 130–33.

  • c.  “Liang wang Tuyuan fu” 梁王兔園賦 (Fu on Hare Park of the King of Liang)

  • Study

  • Zhao Kuifu 趙逵夫. “Guanyu Mei Sheng ‘Liang wang Tuyuan fu’ de jiaoli zuozhe zhu wenti” 關於枚乘梁王兔園賦的校理作者諸問題. Wenxian (2005: 1): 64–72.

Mei Sheng” Brill’s Chinese Reference Shelf. Brill Online, 2018. Reference. . 20 Oct 2018 < >