Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/P'êng Shao-shêng

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P'ÊNG Shao-shêng 彭紹升 (T. 允初, H. 尺木, 知歸子, 際清), 1740–1796, Feb. 28, Buddhist lay-monk and philosopher, was a native of Ch'ang-chou, Kiangsu. The fourth son of P'êng Ch'i-fêng (see under P'êng Ting-ch'iu), he lost the sight of one eye when a child, but despite this handicap was able while young to master the Confucian Classics. He also studied devotedly the works of the philosophers, Lu Chiu-yüan (see under Li Fu) and Wang Shou-jên (see under Chang Li-hsiang), whose stress on the importance of mind was derived from the Ch'an (Zen) sect of Buddhism. Having become a chin-shih in 1769, P'êng at first admired the character of the vigorous, brilliant, and youthful official of the Han dynasty, Chia I 賈誼 (200–168 B.C.), and longed for prominence in public life. But analysis of this ambition soon revealed to him its worthlessness. He investigated Taoism, and found it inadequate. In the meantime he had begun a life-long friendship with Wang Chin (see under P'êng Ting-ch'iu) and Lo Yu-kao (see under Wang Hui-tsu) who were students of the Buddhist sutras. One result of this association was his conversion to the Pure Land Sect (淨土宗) of the Buddhist religion. Thus when in 1769, after he had received his chin-shih degree, he was offered the position of district magistrate, he declined. P'êng's life, from this time until his death, is that of the Pure Land ascetic, eating no meat, remaining celebate, giving clothes, food, and coffins to the poor, etc. He also, in conformity with the best traditions of the ascetic life, did not neglect scholarship. In 1775 he discussed philosophical problems with the poet, Yüan Mei [q. v.]. After his father's death in 1784, P'êng retired to a temple where he remained for more than ten years, practicing silence, and keeping the precepts strictly. Shortly after his return home he died.

A collection of P'êng's prose writings, entitled 二林居集 Êr-lin chü chi, 24 chüan, was printed in 1799 and reprinted in 1880. Chüan 12 to 18 of this collection are about the lives of famous officials of the Ch'ing period, and are known as the 名臣事狀 Ming-ch'ên shih-chuang. Chüan 19, entitled 儒行述 Ju-hsing shu, contains lives of several Confucian philosophers. Chüan 20 to 21 are biographies of lower officials, and are entitled 良吏述 Liang-li shu. His writings about Buddhism, in the form of prayers, letters, biographies, prefaces, poems, etc., are collected under the title 一行居集 I-hsing chü chi, in 8 + 1 chüan, a compilation that was first printed in 1825. This collection has been popular among lay Buddhists. P'êng wrote a number of biographies of Buddhist priests of the Pure Land Sect, entitled 淨土聖賢錄 Ching-t'u shêng-hsien lu; and of Buddhist lay-women, entitled 善女人傳 Shan nü-jên chuan. His biographies of Buddhist lay-monks, entitled 居士傳 Chü-shih chuan, 56 chüan, were written in the years 1770–75, and printed about 1776. Though several scholars of the Ch'ing period are known as devout Buddhists, P'êng was foremost in popularizing Buddhism among the laity. He was not so much interested in establishing Buddhism at the expense of Confucianism as in reconciling the two. His writings have been reprinted in recent years by various Buddhistic organizations.


[Autobiography 知歸子傳 Chih-kuei tzŭ chuan in I-hsing chü chi; 2/72/28a: 3/437/19a; Liu Hsien-hsin 劉咸炘, 學史散篇 Hsüeh-shih san p'ien (1933), final chapter.]

Rufus O. Suter