Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/An Ch'i

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3633228Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period, Volume 1 — An Ch'iFang Chao-ying

AN Ch'i 安岐 (T. 儀周, H. 麓村, 松泉老人), b. 1683 (?), salt merchant and connoisseur of art, was the son of a Korean servant (or slave) in the family of the Manchu minister, Mingju [q. v.]. He therefore belonged to the latter's banner—the Plain Yellow. Mingju retired in 1688 from his post as chief Grand Secretary, but never lost his political influence, possibly owing to his great wealth. Part of this wealth he obtained by sending out trusted agents to buy salt at wholesale prices from the government salt monopoly at Tientsin and then retail it. He supplied his agents with capital and lent his influence to make them secure against government interference. In return he took interest on his capital and whatever perquisites his agents offered him.

An Ch'i's father, An Shang-i 安尚義 (T. 易之), sometimes known as An Shang-jên (仁) or An San (三), was such a merchant in the employ of Mingju. He made his residence in Tientsin, bought salt from the salt controller of Ch'ang-lu (長蘆, Tientsin Area), and retailed it under two aliases: Chin I (金義) and Ch'ien Jên (錢仁). Trading under fictitious names was essential since it was illegal for bannermen to be salt merchants. Though the identity of An Shang-i must have been known to many, no one dared to expose him for fear of reprisal. When An Shang-jên entered the business is not known, but by 1691 he felt so restricted in the territory allotted to him in Chihli that he took over from another merchant the right to sell salt in north-central Honan. By 1696 his territory included southeastern Honan and by 1703 also the central part of that province. These territories were formerly supplied by another salt merchant, Chang Lin 張霖 (T. 汝作, H. 魯庵, 臥松老衲, d. 1713), whose family had also obtained capital from Mingju and had long monopolized the trade. On becoming opulent Chang purchased official ranks and served from 1700 to 1701 as financial commissioner of Yunnan. Why he abandoned the salt business is not clear, but it may have been due to some determination of Mingju to transfer the right to another merchant. On the other hand, it is possible that Chang Lin himself considered it better for his official career if he abandoned his status as a merchant. But in 1701 he was cashiered and he retired to Tientsin where he tried to resume his former trade. He borrowed through the manager of one of the imperial farms a large sum of money (some 700,000 taels) with which he purchased the right to sell salt in eastern Chihli, in central Honan and in a part of Shansi. Because his capital came from the emperor's own purse, he was able to exclude other merchants—even more ruthlessly than An Shang-i whose capital came only from a minister.

About 1703 An Ch'i entered his father's business in Tientsin, probably after some financial arrangement had been made with Mingju. But in 1709 the An family became involved in a lawsuit. The family desired to expand the business southwest of Peking, but the agent who supplied that region, declining to be forced out of business, appealed to the governor, Chao Hung-hsieh (see under Chao Liang-tung), for justice. He pointed out that An Shang-i and An Ch'i had purchased from Chang Lin, for about 169,000 taels, the privilege of retailing salt in eastern Honan but that, being bannermen, they had no legal right to do so, even under aliases; for such privileges could be granted only by the government. Chang Lin had himself been involved in a law-suit and now testified against the Ans. After much delay An Shang-jên was brought before the bench early in 1710. Despite his denials, the charges were proven true. Governor Chao terminated the case by fining An Shang-jên about 169,000 taels and then released him. In the course of the trial he repeatedly informed the emperor that pressing the case might evoke reprisals owing to the fact that too many former officials of Chihli were involved. Thus An Shang-jên and An Ch'i continued to reside at Tientsin as salt merchants.

An Ch'i used part of his means to make an excellent collection of paintings and calligraphy, and in time became a connoisseur in these fields. Many of his items are said to have come from the collections of Hsiang Yüan-pien 項元汴 (T. 子京, H. 墨林, 1525–1590), Pien Yung-yü [q. v.], Liang Ch'ing-piao 梁清標 (T. 玉立, H. 蕉林, 1620-1691), and other famous collectors. The studio in which he housed his collection he called Ku-hsiang shu-wu 古香書屋. He was hospitable to men of letters who were always welcome in his country villa known as Ku-shui Ts'ao-t'ang 沽水草堂. Among those whom he befriended was Ch'ien Ch'ên-ch'ün [q. v.] who was at least twice (1715 and 1719) his guest. Ch'ien eulogized An on the latter's fiftieth birthday (about 1732).

In 1725, when Tientsin was raised from a garrison post (衛) to a department seat (州城), An Ch'i and his father volunteered to rebuild the city wall from their own funds. The salt censor at Tientsin, Mang-ku-li 莽鵠立 (T. 卓然, 1672–1736), reported the offer to Emperor Shih-tsung who promptly accepted it. The wall had a height of thirty feet (Chinese) and a circumference of about five li. It took six years to build, and during that time An Ch'i and his father not only financed it but made regular inspections of the progress of the work. It seems that An Ch'i spent his entire fortune on this public enterprise, and finally had to sell his collection of paintings to complete it. He recorded that during the construction he had to refrain from buying certain paintings which later haunted him in his dreams. Though the An family was celebrated for its philanthropic activities, it is difficult to believe that An Ch'i undertook the wall-building enterprise voluntarily. The intrigues that resulted finally in the succession of Yin-chên [q. v.] to the throne in 1722 may afford a clue. The An family had contributed much to the wealth of Mingju whose son K'uei-hsü [q. v.] was not only related to the emperor's opponent, Yin-t'ang [q. v.], but supported the claims of another of the emperor's antagonists, Yin-ssŭ [q. v.]. Though K'uei-hsü had been dead five years when Yin-chên ascended the throne the emperor bore such hatred toward him that he insisted an opprobrious inscription be carved on his tombstone (see under K'uei-hsü). As former servants of K'uei-hsü, the An family may well have been under threat or suspicion, in which case An Ch'i engaged in the enterprise to satisfy old grievances.

An Ch'i left an annotated catalogue of the paintings or examples of calligraphy he had seen or possessed, entitled 墨緣彙觀 Mo-yüan hui-kuan, 4 chüan. It was completed in 1742 and was probably printed at the same time. It was reprinted by Tuan-fang [q. v.] in 1900 and in 1909. This catalogue is highly prized by collectors for its detailed description of the items enumerated. At least one of the paintings formerly in An Ch'i's possession, entitled "Plums", and painted by Tsou Fu-lei 鄒復雷 of the Yüan dynasty, is in the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C.

[天津縣新志 T'ien-chin hsien hsin-chih 21之四/4a, 21之一/32a; T'ien-chin hsien-chih (1739) 18/14b, 7/1b; Têng Chih-ch'êng 鄧之誠, 骨董瑣記 Ku-tung so-chi 4/23b; Yü Shao-sung 余紹宋, 書畫書錄解題 Shu hua shu-lu chieh-t'i 6/37a; Ch'ien Wên-tuan kung nien-p'u (see under Ch'ien Ch'ên-ch'ün) 上/31b; Ch'ien Ch'ên-ch'ün, Hsiang-shu chai wên-chi 13/16a; 文獻叢編 Wên-hsien ts'ung-pien, nos. 2, 12; Liu Tê-kung 柳得恭, 灤楊錄 Luan-yang lu (in 遼海叢書 Liao-hai ts'ung-shu, first series) 2/10a; Lin-ch'ing [q. v.], Hung-hsüeh yin-yüan t'u-chi 3 上(康山柫槎); Yin-chên [q. v.], 硃批諭旨 Chu-p'i yü-chih, 莽鵠立, p. 19b.]

Fang Chao-ying