Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Ch'ien Fêng

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3635456Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period, Volume 1 — Ch'ien FêngKnight Biggerstaff

CH'IEN Fêng 錢灃 (T. 東注, H. 南園), Apr. 26, 1740–1795, Oct. 30, official, was a native of K'un-ming, Yunnan. After taking his chin-shih degree in 1771 he, for a time, pursued advanced studies in the Hanlin Academy, later serving as a corrector in the same institution until 1780 when he was sent to Kwangsi to conduct the provincial examination. The following year he was appointed a censor. Traditionally the censors were the "eyes and ears" of the emperor. Though officials of comparatively low rank, they nevertheless had the privilege of memorializing the emperor directly, and were expected to report on incompetent or corrupt officials. Ordinarily they played an important rôle in the administration of government in China, and were rewarded for honest exposure of official laxity or corruption. By 1780, however, Ho-shên [q. v.] had obtained such a dominating influence over the aging Emperor Kao-tsung, and was so abusing his power to enrich himself and his henchmen, that it was very dangerous for a censor to criticize him or his followers. Even the most conscientious censor hesitated to bring upon himself almost certain political annihilation, not to say possible death, by performing his duty. But Ch'ien Fêng was one of those courageous officials who place duty even above life. On two occasions he brought indirect charges against the Ho-shên machine which in Kao-tsung's younger days would have led to a thorough investigation and to a complete renovation of the government.

In 1782 Ch'ien preferred charges of embezzlement and extortion against two prominent members of Ho-shên's party—Kuo-t'ai 國泰 and Yü I-chien 于易簡 (T. 華平, younger brother of Yü Min-chung q.v.)—Governor and Financial Commissioner respectively of Shantung. Even Ho-shên was unable to prevent the conviction and execution of the culprits. But this indirect thrust at his power failed of its purpose, for although the Emperor knew of his favorite's efforts to save Kuo and Yü, he did not punish him. Ho-shên doubtless attempted to damn the censor in the eyes of the Emperor, but Ch'ien's courage and integrity were recognized and he was promoted to a deputy commissionership in the Transmission Office and later made director of education for Hunan. After several years in the latter post, a Ho-shên controlled governor finally succeeded, in 1789, in proving that Ch'ien had committed some minor infraction, and recommended that he be severely punished. But the Emperor, in consideration of his good record, recalled him to Peking. There for a time he was an assistant department director, and eventually was reinstated as censor. Still believing that it was his duty to speak out against the ever-increasing arrogance and rapacity of Ho-shên and his accomplices, Ch'ien presented a memorial giving detailed information concerning disunion within the Grand Council and concerning other forms of official laxity—an indirect but none the less obvious impeachment of Ho-shên. But the latter's hold over the Emperor was so firm that nothing significant resulted from this move. The Emperor however refused to be influenced against the censor and rewarded him with a post in the office of the Grand Council. In his new position Ch'ien Fêng labored with his accustomed vigor and conscientiousness, but he died shortly thereafter, owing, it is said, to the fact that Ho-shên assigned to him the most arduous duties of the Council. Ch'ien Fêng's collected prose and verse were printed separately, but in 1871 were re-edited and brought together under the title 錢南園先生遺集 Ch'ien Nan-yüan Hsien-shêng i-chi, 5 chüan.

Ch'ien Fêng was not the only fearless censor of his time. Ts'ao Hsi-pao 曹錫寶 (T. 鳴書, H. 劍亭, 容圃, 1719–1792), dared in 1786 to impeach Ho-shên indirectly by bringing charges against his servant Liu Ch'üan 劉全. Hsieh Chên-ting 謝振定 (T. 一齋, H. 薌泉, 1753–1809), a censor in Peking at the beginning of the Chia-ch'ing era, dared to arrest and flog the the brother of one of Ho-shên's concubines who was in the habit of driving his cart through the city at such speed as to endanger the lives of pedestrians. Finally, Yin Chuang-t'u 尹壯圖 (T. 萬起, H. 楚珍, 1738–1808), a sub-chancellor of the Grand Secretariat, dared in 1790 to charge that the treasures of practically all the provinces were empty and that the people were suffering—an indirect indictment of Ho-shên, of Fu-k'ang-an [q. v.], and of other members of the faction then in control of the country.

[1/328/4b; 2/72/34a; 3/100/19a; 4/56/16b; 7/21/4a; 16/9/6a; 20/3/00; 26/2/24a; 29/6/16b; Chao-lien [q. v.], Hsiao-t'ing tsa-lu and hsü-lu, passim; Yao Wên-tung 姚文棟, 軍機故事 Chün-chi ku-shih, 12–13, and pu-i 補遺 2–4; Portrait in 青鶴 Ch'ing-ho, vol. III, no. 23 (Oct. 16, 1935).]

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