Fàn Zhěn (范縝, hanyupinyin Fàn Zhěn) (c. 450 – 515) was a Chinese philosopher, politician, and writer. He was an atheist of the Southern Qi Dynasty, remembered today for his treatise Shén Miè Lùn (simplified Chinese 神灭论, traditional Chinese 神滅論, "On the Annihilation of the Soul").

Fàn was born into a poor family in today's Zhumadian, Henan province. He was a member of a cadet branch of the elite Fàn family, and became a high-ranking official thanks to his erudition. In response to the prevailing Buddhist movement of his time, he wrote Shen Mie Lun in 507, a treatise denying the ideas of reincarnation and body-soul dualism. A courtier tried to persuade Fàn to give up his opinion, in exchange for a higher official title, but Fàn refused. Emperor Wu of Liang, displeased with the subject of Fàn's work, made an imperial decree (敕答臣下神滅論) to criticize the treatise, and ordered 64 of his courtiers to answer Fàn back. 75 pamphlets were produced against Shen Mie Lun. Fàn did not surrender, though, and wrote back to hold fast to his opinion. The debate failed to disprove the dissertation, and Fàn Zhěn was exiled by the emperor as a heretic.[citation needed]

In Shen Mie Lun, Fàn writes a series of statements as responses to questioning, such as:

  • Question: "As to the annihilation of the soul, how do you know the soul is annihilated?" (神滅,何以知其滅也?) Response: "The soul is the body; the body is the soul. There is the body, there is the soul; when the body annihilates, so does the soul."(神即形也,形即神也。是以形存則神存,形謝則神滅也。)
  • Question: "The body does not have intellect on its own, yet the soul does have intellect. The state of having and not having intellect implies a difference; thus, the soul and the body must be distinct. To say they are one in the same is a fringe concept." (形者無知之稱,神者有知之名。知與無知,卽事有異,神之與形,理不容一,形神相卽,非所聞也。) Response: "The body is the substance of the soul; the soul is the effect of the body. That means the body refers to the substance, and the soul the effect. The body and the soul can not be distinct."(形者神之質,神者形之用,是則形稱其質,神言其用,形之與神,不得相異也。)
  • Question: "If their names are understood to be different, how are they one in the same?" (名旣已殊,體何得一?) Response: "The soul to the substance is like sharpness to a blade; the body to the effect is like a blade to its sharpness. The blade and its sharpness do not share the same name. However, there is no blade without its sharpness, and no sharpness without the blade. As there is no sharpness without a knife, it is impossible for a soul to exist without its body."(神之於質,猶利之於刃,形之於用,猶刃之於利,利之名非刃也,刃之名非利也。然而舍利無刃,舍刃無利,未聞刃沒而利存,豈容形亡而神在。)
  • Question: "Thought has no basis, and thus can exist depending on the eye. The eye has a basis, and thus need not depend on something else." (慮體無本,故可寄之於眼分;眼自有本,不假寄於佗分也。) Response: "How is it that the eye is claimed to have a basis and thought not? If the thought is not based on the body and can dwell in the body of a foreign other, it follows that A's feelings can dwell in B's body and C's nature in D's body. Is this in fact possible? No, it is not."(眼何故有本而慮無本;苟無本於我形,而可遍寄於異地。亦可張甲之情,寄王乙之軀;李丙之性,託趙丁之體。然乎哉?不然也。)
  • Question: "Since it is now established that the body and soul are indistinct, and that the soul is annihilated when the body expires, then when the Classic of Filial Piety refers to 'Establish ancestral temples so that the souls may feast from them', what is to be understood?" (形神不二,旣聞之矣,形謝神滅,理固宜然。敢問經云『爲之宗廟,以鬼饗之』,何謂也?) Response: "These are educative tracts. They are to encourage the hearts of filial sons and discourage impious behavior; thus is the meaning of 'letting the souls understand'."(聖人之教然也。所以弭孝子之心,而厲偷薄之意,神而明之,此之謂矣。)
  • Question: "That the ghost of Bo You wore armor and the ghost of Peng Sheng appeared as a boar is recorded in the ancient books, how can you hold that these records were created for educative purposes only?" (伯有被甲,彭生豕見,墳素著其事,寧是設教而已邪?) Response: "Strange events are vague and ambiguous. Many individuals died violent deaths, yet not all of them are said to have turned into ghosts. What makes Peng Sheng and Bo You anyhow special in that respect? Now man, now boar, it cannot be claimed with certainty that those were the princes of Qi and Zheng (referring to Peng Sheng and Bo You)."(妖怪茫茫,或存或亡,強死者衆,不皆爲鬼。彭生、伯有,何獨能然;乍爲人豕,未必齊、鄭之公子也。)


  • Zhōngguó Dà Bǎikē Quánshū [Encyclopedia of China] (in Chinese) (1st ed.). Beijing, Shanghai. 1993. ISBN 978-7-5000-7958-3.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)

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