Medieval representation of Yang Xiong
Like a number of the other great writers of the Han dynasty, Yang was from "Shu (modern "Sichuan province), specifically the area of Pi 郫 (modern "Pi County, Sichuan). Yang claimed that his family had moved south from the "state of Jin during its civil infighting in the 6th century BCE. As a youth Yang was an admirer and imitator of his elder Shu compatriot "Sima Xiangru and the "grand fu" style of the early Han period. His ability and success in fu composition earned him a summons to the imperial capital at "Chang'an to serve as an "Expectant Official", responsible for composing poems and fu for the emperor.
Yang's position required him to praise the virtue and glory of "Emperor Cheng of Han and the grandeur of imperial outings, but he was disturbed by the wasteful extravagance of the imperial court. Yang attempted to return the fu genre to a focus of "suasive admonition" (fèng 諷), which he believed was the original purpose of the earliest fu-type writings of "Qu Yuan, but his couched admonitions against extravagance went unnoticed and unheeded by Emperor Cheng.
Yang's most famous work, "Exemplary Sayings (Fa yan 法言) is a philosophical work modeled on the "Analects of Confucius (Lunyu), in which Yang criticizes fu writers for focusing on ornate, esoteric language while ignoring more important issues of morality. Yang's other works include "Great Mystery (Tai xuan 太玄), a divination text based on the "Classic of Changes (Yijing), "Justification Against Ridicule" (Jie chao 解嘲), one of the best known of the "fu of frustration" category of fu, and "Fangyan, a collection of regional dialectal terms from the various parts of China in his era.
Together with Sima Xiangru, Yang was one of the most famous and illustrious men of the entire Han dynasty. The "Book of Han devotes a full two-part chapter to both Yang and Sima, an honor surpassing that of even the most famous generals and ministers.
He did not believe human nature was inherently good as "Mencius (fl. 4th century BCE) had written, nor inherently bad as "Xunzi (c. 300–230 BCE) had written, but came into existence as a mixture of both. He was a close associate of the official and philosopher "Huan Tan (d. 28 CE), an "Old Texts realist who may have heavily influenced the works of "Wang Chong (27–c. 100 CE). Yang is also known for his protest against the verbosity of the "fu. He was hailed by Huan Tan as the "Confucius from the western parts".