Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Hsü Tzŭ

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HSÜ Tzŭ 徐鼒 (T. 彝舟, H. 亦才), May 11, 1810–1862, Sept. 2, official and historian, was a native of Liu-ho, Kiangsu. Born in a home of moderate means, he received his early training from his father, Hsü Shih-lin 徐石麟 (T. 穆如, H. 軼陵, d. 1840, age 70 sui), a well-known teacher of the classics. Known as an exceptionally brilliant student, Hsü Tzŭ obtained the chü-jên degree in 1835. One year later he was engaged to teach in the capital at the home of Shih Chih-yen 史致儼 (T. 容莊, H. 望之, 1760–1838), president of the Board of Punishments, and owner of a large library. Hsü Tzŭ made intensive use of Shih's collection. He met many literary celebrities, exchanged views with them on scholarly subjects, and thus laid the foundation for much of his future writing. On the death of Shih Chih-yen in 1838, Hsü accompanied the Shih family back to their ancestral home in Yangchow, continuing to serve as the family tutor. During his sojourn in that city he wrote assiduously, but his stay was soon cut short by the decease, in 1840, of his father. Thereafter he taught in his native place, devoting much of his time to study and writing. Early in 1845 he again set out for the capital and obtained the chin-shih degree. Shortly thereafter he was selected a bachelor of the Hanlin Academy. After being released from study he was appointed a corrector (1847) and his family joined him in the capital. In 1850 he was made a censor and concurrently a collator in the Historiographical Board. Thus he had access to many unique historical documents which inspired him to commence writing his two widely-acclaimed works on the interregnum following the fall of the Ming dynasty, namely the 小腆紀年 Hsiao-t'ien chi-nien, in 20 chüan, completed in 1861, and the Hsiao-t'ien chi-chuan (傳), in 65 chüan with supplements in 5 chüan (see below).

In 1852 Hsü asked leave to visit his native place, Liu-ho, at a time when the Taiping Rebels were menacing that city. He was asked to remain there to assist the local magistrate, Wên Shao-yüan 温紹原 (T. 北屏, d. 1858), to help fortify the city and to train a volunteer corps for the defense—his family remaining, in the meantime, in Peking. In the following year several thousand able-bodied militiamen were efficiently organized. After Nanking fell to the insurgents in 1853 Liu-ho was threatened, but owing to the gallant stand of the volunteers the repeated onslaughts of the invaders were successfully repulsed. For five years the militia held the insurgents at bay and annihilated several thousands of them. With the arrival of government reinforcements at Pukow Hsü was released from his duties at Liu-ho and in 1858 proceeded to the capital. In recognition of his services he was awarded the title of assistant secretary of the Supervisorate of Imperial Instruction and was appointed prefect of Fu-ning, Fukien. He hoped, on his way south, to revisit his native place, but learned that it was heavily besieged by the rebels. On October 24, 1858 the city fell (see under Ch'ên Yü-ch'êng and Li Hsiu-ch'êng). His brother, Hsü Nai 徐鼐 (T. 吉芝, d. 1858), lost his life and so did many of his relatives. The family residence was burnt to the ground, including Hsü's own books and manuscripts.

When Hsü reached his new post (1858) he worked for the general improvement of the prefecture, at the same time organizing a local defense corps for protection against pirates. Before long, however, the Taiping insurgents extended their ravages into Fukien. Hsü Tsung-kan 徐宗幹 (T. 樹人, 伯楨, H. 斯未信齋主人, 1796–1866), governor of the province, cognizant of the prefect's ability, appointed him a commissary to assist in the defense of the province. This added responsibility so taxed Hsü's health that he died in 1862. He was survived by his three sons.

Hsü is remembered today mainly because of the two above-mentioned authoritative works on the early Ch'ing period. It was a delicate task to which he addressed himself, since any reference which could be construed as derogatory to the reigning house would have entailed severe punishment. He pretended, therefore, that his interest in the career of the late Ming princes, such as Chu Yu-sung, Chu Yü-chien, Chu Yu-lang, and Chu I-hai [qq. v.], was prompted by an edict which Emperor Kao-tsung issued in 1775 to the effect that those aspirants to the throne should not be regarded as pretenders, but as legitimate rulers of the fallen dynasty. Hsü asserted that his aim was to inspire his countrymen with a sense of loyalty to the ruling house by citing as examples the heroism and sacrifices of the Ming martyrs. Though he had to carry out this task with discrimination and caution he nevertheless produced objective histories in which the disturbing passions can be read between the lines, but from which no important available data are suppressed.

The Hsiao-t'ien chi-nien, written when Hsü was on the Historiographical Board, and revised during the five years he was with the defenders at Liu-ho, covers the period 1644–83—through all the years that the Ming rulers re-asserted their rights to the throne, down to the fall of Taiwan (1683) and the final submission of the Chêng family (see under Chêng Ch'êng-kung and Chêng Ching). Hsü gleaned his facts from numerous sources, appending to each item his personal comment. The Hsiao-t'ien chi-chuan is a byproduct of the first work, consisting of classified biographies, not only of the princes and dominant figures who participated in the stirring events of that period, but persons in every walk of life. This work was left unfinished at the time of his death, but the task of completion was entrusted by him to his sons. The two elder sons, Hsü Ch'êng-hsi 徐承禧 and Hsü Ch'êng-tsu 徐承祖 (minister to Japan from 1884 to 1887), were preoccupied with official tasks. Hence the responsibility fell to the third and youngest son, Hsü Ch'êng-li 徐承禮, consul at Kobe from 1884 to 1887. He, with the help of a few outstanding scholars, edited it.

Hsü Tzŭ was the author of many other works, most of which were destroyed in the turmoil of the time. Among those in print are the 未灰齋文集 Wei-hui-chai wên-chi, 8 chüan, with a supplement in 1 chüan; and the 讀書雜釋 Tu-shu tsa-shih, in 14 chüan, both first printed in 1861.


[2/73/47b; 6/24/11b; Liu-ho hsien-chih (1884) 5 之 2/15b; Wei-hui-chai wên-chi, and supplement (1861, preface); 敝帚齋主人年譜 Pi-chou-chai chu-jên nien-p'u, 1 chüan, supplement 1 chüan (1874); Fu Yün-lung 傅雲龍, 日本圖經 Jih-pên t'u-ching 18/71b.]

K. T. Wu