Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Liu Hsien-t'ing

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LIU Hsien-t'ing 劉獻廷 (T. 繼莊, 君賢, H. 廣陽子), Sept. 13, 1648–1695, Aug. 15, scholar, was a native of Ta-hsing (Peking). His father, Liu Kuang 劉鑛, was a physician and his elder brother, Liu Pin-t'ing 劉賓廷, was a chü-jên of 1663 who became a censor in 1684. At the age of nineteen sui, Liu Hsien-t'ing left his native place to live in Kiangsu. At the request of Hsü Ch'ien-hsüeh [q. v.] he went in 1687 to the capital to assist in the compilation of the official history of the Ming dynasty (Ming-shih). Later he also participated in the compilation of the Ta-Ch'ing i-t'ung-chih, or Comprehensive Geography of the Empire (see under Hsü Ch'ien-hsüeh). For the former compilation he re-edited the section on the Calendar written by Wu Jên-ch'ên [q. v.], and for the latter he prepared the draft of the section on Honan province. When Hsü Ch'ien-hsüeh retired from Peking in the spring of 1690 to continue the work on geography at his own home Liu Hsien-t'ing did not accompany him; he remained in Peking for a time to copy rare items from the library that had been assembled in the Historiographical Bureau. But in the same year he went south, taking with him the works that he had transcribed. In 1700 he sojourned for a short time with a friend, Ju I-fêng 茹儀鳳 (T. 紫庭, 1650–1692), who was then officiating as sub-prefect of Hêng-chou, Hunan. While in Hunan he wrote a work, entitled 楚水圖記 Ch'u-shui t'u-chi, on the river systems of that region, and also made a map of the four great river systems of China, entitled in 四瀆入海圖 Ssŭ-tu ju hai t'u. At the request of Chang Lin (see under An Ch'i) who about the years 1685–95 was in charge of couriers in Shensi, he went to that province for a brief sojourn. While staying at Chên-chou, Hunan, in 1693 he made observations on the effect of the directions of the winds on the climate. Two years later he died in Kiangsu.

As a scholar Liu Hsien-t'ing was intensely practical and possessed a strong scientific bent. He paid attention to such matters as the changes of weather, agricultural implements, local dialects, etc. He wrote and talked much of the basic importance of agriculture, and insisted that the first duty of both scholars and soldiers is to be good husbandmen. In this insistance on practical activity, he strongly resembled his northern contemporaries, Yen Yüan and Li Kung [qq. v.]. Even such prominent and scholarly friends as Wan Ssŭ-t'ung and Ku Tsu-yü [qq. v.] were regarded by him as impractical, because in his opinion they devoted too much attention to researches into the past. He valued highly the 西陲今略 Hsi-ch'ui chin-lüeh, a work on the geography of the northwest, completed about 1688 by Liang Pin 梁份 (T. 質人, 1642?–1728?), and personally transcribed that work about 1700. Desirous of promoting irrigation in northwest China, he hoped to encourage study of the subject by producing a good annotated edition of the Classic of Waterways or Shui-ching chu (see under Ch'üan Tsu-wang), but this work was never completed. In the field of phonetics he wrote a work entitled 新韻譜 Hsin-yün p'u. He commented on the advantages of the Latin alphabet for the transcription of sounds, and recognized the importance of Sanskrit for the study of sound changes. An admirer of Hsü Kuang-ch'i [q. v.], he most likely was influenced, as Hsü was, by the scientific contributions which the Jesuits made.

Unfortunately most of the writings of Liu Hsien-t'ing were lost. His theories and comments are available only in miscellaneous notes compiled in 5 chüan by a pupil, Huang Hu 黃瑚 (T. 宗夏), under the title 廣陽雜記 Kuang-yang tsa-chi, and printed in the Chi-fu ts'ung-shu (see under Ts'ui Shu). Written as a result of extensive travel, wide reading, and keen observation, these notes shed an interesting light on various subjects. Two chüan of his poems, entitled Kuang-yang shih-chi (詩集) are extant only in manuscript form in the private library, Chia-yeh t'ang 嘉業堂, of the Liu family of Wu-hsing, Kiangsu. According to his epitaph, written by his friend Wang Yüan [q. v.], Liu Hsien-t'ing was blind in one eye and was partly disabled by a broken arm.


[1/489/19a; 3/414/31a; 吳江縣志 Wu-chiang hsien chih (1747) 36/41b; Draft nien-p'u by Wang Ch'in-yü 王勤堉 in 方志 Fang-chih, vol. 8, nos. 9 & 10, 11 & 12; Hsiang Ta 向達, 記劉繼莊 in Fang-chih, vol. 8, nos. 11 & 12; Yu Chih-chia 尉之嘉, "Life and Thought of Liu Hsien-t'ing, a Great Thinker of Two Centuries Ago" in Sun Yat-sen University Monthly on Literature and History (Chinese text) vol. 3, no. 3, pp. 15–21.]


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