Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Kung Tzŭ-chên

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KUNG Tzŭ-chên 龔自珍 (T. 璱人, 爾玉, H. 定盦, 羽琌山民), Aug. 22, 1792–1841, Sept. 26, scholar, poet, reformer, was a native of Hangchow—the subdivision known as Ch'ien-t'ang, though he registered in the schools as from Jên-ho. His great-grandfather, Kung Pin 龔斌 (T. 典瑞, H. 硯北, 半翁, d. 1788), had five sons, the eldest being Kung Ching-shên 龔敬身 (T. 屺懷, H. 匏伯, 1735–1800, chin-shih of 1769), and the third Kung T'i-shên 龔禔身 (T. 深甫, H. 吟臞, d. 1776, chü-jên of 1762). As the former had no son of his own, and as the latter had five, he adopted the eldest of the five, named Kung Li-chêng 龔麗正 (T. 賜泉, 暘谷, H. 闇齋, 1767–1841, chin-shih of 1769), and brought up the other four after Kung T'i-shên had died. Kung Li-chêng, father of Kung Tzŭ-chên, held the posts of prefect of Hui-chou-fu, Anhwei (1812–16), and of intendant of Soochow and Sungkiang, Kiangsu (1816–25).

Kung Tzŭ-chên was a precocious child and was fortunate in having among his relatives many scholars who helped him in his studies. The most famous of these relatives was his maternal grandfather, Tuan Yü-ts'ai [q. v.], who taught him etymology. Kung Tzŭ-chên's interests were wide and included the writing of prose and verse, the collecting of inscriptions on stone and bronze, bibliography, governmental organization, and history. From 1802 to 1814 he stayed mostly in Peking where he had an opportunity to study political conditions at first hand. In 1810 he became a senior licentiate, and two years later he was engaged as collator in the Imperial Printing Office. In 1814 he went to Hui-chou, Anhwei, to visit his father and while there helped to collect materials for the bureau which was compiling the prefectural gazetteer. Two years later he accompanied his father to Sungkiang. In 1818 he was in Hangchow where he passed the provincial examination for the chü-jên degree. At this time he became interested in the study of the Kung-yang commentary to the Spring and Autumn Annals (see under Chuang Ts'un-yü), and in 1819 he studied this and related commentaries under Liu Fêng-lu [q. v.]. The Kung-yang school of thought appealed strongly to Kung Tzŭ-chên because it encouraged men to be politically-minded and advocated reforms in government. Prior to this time Kung had written a number of short articles expounding his political views and the necessity of reform, for he lived in a period when far-sighted men like Pao Shih-ch'ên [q. v.] and he himself sensed the steady decline of the empire and the dangers that were looming ahead.

Anxious though he was to serve the dynasty, Kung Tzŭ-chên met with disappointments throughout his life. After failing twice in the metropolitan examinations, he purchased the rank of a secretary of the Grand Secretariat (1820) and in the same year published two long articles: one enumerating the advantages of making Turkestan into a province, the other a plea for a law forbidding foreigners to trade at Canton. Both these suggestions were ignored at the time, but the former was put into effect in 1884, after Tso Tsung-t'ang [q. v.] had reconquered Turkestan. The second article is no longer extant, but from the title, 東南罷番舶議 Tung-nan pa Fan-po i ("Bar Foreign Ships from our Southeastern Coasts"), we can surmise that Kung foresaw—some twenty years before the events—the coming disastrous conflict with foreigners. About the same time he attempted a comprehensive survey of Mongolia and the Mongols—a work never completed, but several chapters of which are included in his collected writings.

Owing to the death of his mother Kung Tzŭ-chên returned to Hangchow in 1823 to observe the period of mourning. About three years later he resumed his post in Peking. In 1827 he changed his name to Kung I-chien 龔易簡 (T. 伯定), but soon discarded it for the old one. Though he became a chin-shih in 1829, he was debarred from entering the Hanlin Academy owing to his poor handwriting. He qualified as a magistrate, but apparently preferred to remain a secretary in the Grand Secretariat. In 1830 he, together with Lin Tsê-hsü and Wei Yüan [qq. v.], organized a poetry club. All three had a common interest in political affairs, and Kung and Wei shared in particular a love for geography and history.

Bitter against a system that could judge men's capabilities by the accidents of handwriting, Kung Tzŭ-chên produced a work on calligraphy which he entitled, 干祿新書 Kan-lu hsin-shu, "A New Guidebook for Seekers after Government Emoluments." In many articles he attacked the authorities, openly or covertly, for their lack of statesmanship and self-respect. Naturally he became known as unruly and was blacklisted by high officials. About this time he changed his name to Kung Kung-tso 龔鞏祚. In 1836 he was appointed a secretary in the Imperial Clan Court, and a year later was transferred to the Board of Ceremonies. Late in 1838, when Lin Tse-hsü was sent to Canton as Imperial Commissioner in charge of foreign affairs, Kung wrote him about the unfavorable foreign trade which had caused a vast export of silver and a corresponding rise in commodity prices in relation to copper cash. He maintained that imported foreign goods such as woolen materials affected cotton products in China, and that the clocks and the glassware of the West were unnecessary luxuries. Hence he advised Lin to restrain foreign trade and to strengthen China's defenses by the manufacture of firearms. He proffered Lin his assistance, but the latter declined. Barred in every direction from being useful to his country, Kung suddenly left Peking in 1839. After purchasing a house in Hangchow he returned north to escort his family, but instead of entering Peking he is reported to have waited for the family about a day's journey from the capital. It is thought that in some way he had antagonized the powerful Grand Secretary, Mu-chang-a [q. v.], and that this accounts for his sudden departure and his reluctance to enter the city. However that may be, he spent the next two years in or near Hangchow and died in 1841 while traveling through Tan-yang, Kiangsu.

The novel Nieh-hai hua, written in 1907 (see under Hung Chün), links the names of Kung Tzŭ-chên and the poetess, Ku-t'ai-ch'ing (see under I-hui). There were in the lives of the two personages some coincidences on which to build what were doubtless unfounded tales of intimacy, Both lived in Peking at the same time, and both were gifted poets. In one of his poems Kung Tzŭ-chên refers to a noble lady who lived near the T'ai-ping hu (southwest corner of the main city, Peking) where the palace of I-hui and his consort, Ku-t'ai-ch'ing, was located. Kung, moreover, expressed in his poems a preference for Manchu ladies who did not bind their feet. The poems of Ku-t'ai-ch'ing contain some references similar to those of Kung and, moreover, she is known to have had many friends among ladies from Hangchow which was Kung's native city. A few months after her husband died (1838) Ku-t'ai-ch'ing was expelled from her residence by her husband's son, for reasons unknown. Kung himself left Peking in 1839 and it is possible that his strange actions at that time, and his hurried departure from the capital are linked to differences with I-hui's son as well as with Mu-chang-a.

Kung Tzŭ-chên wrote many works on various subjects but few are extant. Only his short articles in prose and about a tenth of his poems are preserved in two main collections, entitled 定盦文集 Ting-an wên-chi, and Ting-an wên-chi pu-pien (補編), 4 chüan. The latter, printed in 1886, contains some of his prose writings. The former consists of three collections: the first two, entitled Ting-an wên-chi and Ting-an hsü (續) chi, consist of prose works printed in 1868 by Wu Hsü (see under Wang T'ao) from manuscripts edited by Kung himself; the third, entitled Ting-an wên-chi pu, was printed by Wu in 1889 and contains the following titles: Wên, 1 chüan; 破戒草 P'o-chieh ts'ao (poems), 2 chüan; 己亥雜詩 Chi-hai tsa-shih, 1 chüan; Tz'ŭ, 5 chüan. The first four chüan of tz'ŭ were first printed by Kung himself in 1823. His poems had also been printed separately. A number of his letters and other writings were collected by Chang Tsu-lien 張祖廉 (T. 彥雲) who printed them in 1921 in his collectanea, 娟鏡樓叢刻 Chüan-ching lou ts'ung-k'o, under the title Ting-an i-shu (遺書). A few other works by Kung were also published, among them the 太誓答問 T'ai-shih ta-wên, printed in 1832, and the 春秋決事比 Ch'un-ch'iu chüeh-shih pi, originally in 6 chüan, of which 1 chüan was printed in the Huang-Ch'ing ching-chieh hsü-pien (see under Juan Yüan).

Although these are perhaps all the works of Kung Tzŭ-chên that are extant, his influence in the scholastic field was enormous. He is justly known as a forerunner of the modern reform movement because many of the reformers of the late nineteenth century, such as K'ang Yu-wei and Liang Ch'i-ch'ao (see under T'an Ssŭ-t'ung), were influenced by his political and social writings as these appear in the Ting-an wên-chi. In his articles he attacked the Ch'ing government for the political, social, and economic decadence of the time. He advocated the abolition of the civil service examinations as practiced in his day. He maintained that opium users should be strictly punished, that women should be discouraged from binding their feet, that the Court ceremonies of kneeling to the emperor should be modified, and that certain superstitious practices at Court should cease—all suggestions very revolutionary in his day. His program coincided with theories promulgated by students of the Kung-yang commentary to the Spring and Autumn Annals, namely, that government must at intervals adapt itself to changed social conditions. This school grew out of the School of Han Learning (see under Ku Yen-wu) which concerned itself with the objective study of ancient texts, but which in the Ch'ien-lung period (see under Tai Chên) had to refrain from the discussion of political topics.

Thanks in part to the early training he received from Tuan Yü-ts'ai—his maternal grandfather—Kung Tzŭ-chên developed a clear and forceful prose style to which his powerful influence is in large part attributable. He possessed a more vigorous style than that of the T'ung-ch'êng School (see under Yao Nai), largely, no doubt, because he had something to say and could lay under contribution a much richer store of knowledge. Perhaps, however, he will be chiefly known to future generations and to larger circles by his lyric poems, especially those in the Chi-hai tsa-shih which are popular among students.

A son of Kung Tzŭ-chên, named Kung Ch'êng 龔橙, also known as Kung Kung-hsiang 龔公襄 (T. 孝拱, H. 昌匏, another ming 袗, T. 太息, 刷剌, b. 1817), lived many years in Peking where he studied the Manchu and Mongol languages. For some twenty years, beginning in 1850, he lived in Shanghai where, according to Wang T'ao [q. v.], he was often in destitute circumstances. In 1860 he was engaged as a secretary by Thomas Wade (see under Tso Tsung-t'ang) whom he accompanied on the expedition to Tientsin and Peking. Thirteen volumes of his manuscripts, about etymology, phonetics and epigraphy, are in the possession of a Kao 高 family of Hangchow.

An uncle of Kung Tzŭ-chên, named Kung Shou-chêng 龔守正 (T. 象曾, 季思, posthumous name 文恭, 1776–1851), was a chinshih of 1802 who served as president of the Board of Ceremonies (1838–44).

There are at least three chronological biographies, or nien-p'u, of Kung Tzŭ-chên: one compiled by Wu Ch'ang-shou 吳昌綬 (T. 印丞, 伯宛, H. 松隣, chü-jên of 1897), reprinted in 1935; another by Huang Shou-hêng 黃守恆; a third by Chu Chieh-ch'in 朱傑勤 and printed in the 周行月刊 Chou-hsing yüeh-k'an (No. 1). A supplement to the first was prepared by Chang Tsu-lien (see above) under the title, Ting-an nien-p'u wai-chi (外紀), printed in 1921 in Chang's Chüan-ching lou ts'ung-k'o.

[1/491/12b; 2/73/37b; 6/49/13a; Kong Shou-chêng, 季思自訂年譜 Chi-ssŭ tz'ŭ-ting nien-p'u; Ch'ien Mu, Chung-kuo chin san-pai nien hsüeh-shu shih (char. same as in bibl. under Hui Tung); 廣州學報 Kuang-chou hsüeh-pao, vol. 1, nos. 1, 2 (Jan.–Apr., 1937); Quarterly Journal of Liberal Arts, Wuhan University, vol. 1, no. 4 (Jan. 1931); Juan Yüan [q. v.], Liang-Chê yu-hsüan-lu, hsü-lu; Wang T'ao [q. v.], Ying-juan tsa-chih, chüan 5; idem Sung-pin so-hua 5/1a; Chekiang Provincial Library, 文瀾學報 Wên-lan hsüeh-pao, vol. 2, nos. 3–4 (Dec. 1936), pp. 15–22, 23–24, 70–71.]

Fang Chao-ying