Fan Zhongyan was an outstanding writer of poetry and prose during the Northern Song Dynasty. On Yueyang Tower 岳陽樓記 is his most famous prose piece. This essay depicts the vastness Dongting Lake, describs the thoughts of banished officials and poets, and ends with a Confucian-esque admonition:|
"One should be the first to bear hardships and the last to enjoy comforts."
In the 1030s, while Fan served as the prefect of Kaifeng, he took young Ouyang Xiu as a disciple; a partnership that would become very important a decade later. However, after criticizing the Chief Councillor he was demoted to regional government. Fan was recalled in 1040 when the Liao and Western Xia once again threatened Song borders from the north. Fan, who had long favored a strong defense, was brought back to devise a response to the northern threat.
Fan was recalled in 1040 when troops of the Western Xia regime were harassing the northwest border. The Song troops suffered one defeat after another. Fan was then appointed the deputy military commissioner of Shaanxi, displayed outstanding military talent and a peace treaty was signed between the Western Xia regime and the Northern Song.
Thereafter at the court in Kaifeng, Fan, sought reform at the court. He presented a ten-point proposal for administrative reforms including reform of the recruiting system, higher pay for minor local officials to discourage corruption, and to ensure that officials were promoted more on the basis of their performance and character. However, his reforms met opposition from conservative ministers and the emperor rescinded them in 1045. Fan, together with Ouyang, were charged with forming a faction and he was demoted again.
His most famous work was Yueyang Lou Ji 岳陽樓記, composed on occasion of the reconstruction of Yueyang Lou under the governance of a friend of his. Yueyang Lou, a city gate by the side of Dongting Lake, was known as one of the three great towers in Southern China, due to their association with famous literary works (the others being Huanghe Lou 黃鶴樓 and Tengwang Ge 滕王閣). This commemorative Ji was written in prose, with extensive usage of phrases in four. It's most famous for the political ideal he expressed at the end, culminating in the oft-quoted 先天下之憂而憂，後天下之樂而樂 (Feel worried before Tianxia starts to worry, and feel happy after Tianxia has rejoiced.)
He was also known for his ci. Among the most famous are Su Mu Zhe 蘇幕遮 and Yu Jia Ao 漁家傲. Together with Su Shi, he was considered one of the founders of the haofang 豪放 school of ci.