Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Wan Ssŭ-t'ung
WAN Ssŭ-t'ung 萬斯同 ( 季野, 石園先生), Mar. 9, 1638–1702, May 4, historian, a native of Yin-hsien, Chekiang, was the eighth son of Wan T'ai [q. v.]. He was seven (sui) when Peking fell to the Manchus and the Ming dynasty thus came virtually to an end. As a loyalist of the defunct dynasty, his father assisted for a time in the government under the regency of the Prince of Lu (see under Chu I-hai). The early home life of Wan Ssŭ-t'ung was greatly disorganized—his mother dying when he was eight (sui), and his grandmother when he was nine. Owing to political tumoil and family misfortunes, his education was neglected, he being over ten (sui) before he had any formal schooling. His father left for Kiangsu and Kwangtung when the son was eighteen (sui), and died on his way home two years later (1657). Wan Ssŭ-t'ung himself did not marry until he was twenty-eight (sui). His wife died after they had been married five years. During a period of thirty-two years, in his later life, he was compelled to move his residence six times. But despite the disturbed and unsettled conditions of the time, he managed, by following ancestral traditions and the examples set by his elder brothers, and by relying on his own determination and love of learning, to ascend the difficult path of scholarship.
Like his brothers, he was a pupil of Huang Tsung-hsi [q. v.], the famous Chekiang scholar, whom he visited for the first time in 1659. He shared Huang's interest in the field of history and, like him, became one of the outstanding members of the so-called Eastern Chekiang School. During the years 1666–67 he and Huang Po-chia (see under Huang Tsung-hsi) studied together in the monastery, Hai-hui Ssŭ 海會寺, in the outskirts of his home district. During these years he read through the Official Dynastic Histories, applying himself so diligently that his eyes began to trouble him. Beginning in 1669, he and Huang Po-chia both taught and studied at the home of Chiang Hsi-chê 姜希轍 ( 二濱, 定庵, chü-jên of 1642, d. 1698) of K'uai-chi, Chekiang. As the library of the Chiang family contained the official chronicles (shih-lu) of fifteen reigns of the Ming period, Wan seized this opportunity to digest their contents and to lay the foundation for his recognized mastery of the history of the defunct dynasty. In 1678, when names of candidates who were to compete in the special examination known as po-hsüeh hung-tz'ŭ (see under P'êng Sun-yü) were sent in, he was recommended by Hsü Hung-hsün 許宏勳 ( 無功), intendant of the circuit of Ningpo and Shaohsing from 1675 to 1679. But Wan insistently declined the honor. When the Historiographical Board for the compilation of the History of the Ming Dynasty (Ming-shih) was re-established on a more ample scale in 1679, both Wan Ssŭ-t'ung and his nephew, Wan Yen [q. v.], were summoned to assist in the task. Huang Tsung-hsi wrote, as a farewell token, a poem of three stanzas in which he alluded to Wan Yen's literary ability and to Wan Ssŭ-t'ung's wide learning. Wan Ssŭ-t'ung declined the offer of an official post within the Bureau, preferring instead to labor privately in the Peking residence of the chief director, Hsü Yüan-wên [q. v.]. In pursuing this course he acted in accordance with a theory to which he was committed—namely, that private historical undertakings are likely to be superior to official ones. Since the latter are often carried out hurriedly by many persons, they are apt to lack coordination and consecutiveness, and sometimes fail to stress the important events of a dynasty. In the summer of 1690 Hsü Yüan-wên retired and went home, but Wan Ssŭ-t'ung was asked by the succeeding directors, Ch'ên T'ing-ching and Wang Hung-hsü [qq. v.], to remain with the project—his office being for a time in the Kiangnan Guildhall in Peking. When, in 1694, Wang Hung-hsü was reappointed director of the project, Wan Ssŭ-t'ung transferred his headquarters to Wang's residence. During his sojourn in Peking Wan gained wide recognition for his scholarship; his personality, too, being respected by men of learning and by high officials. For a time he was chief lecturer for a group of scholars who met twice each month.
Among his more intimate friends, were Wang Yüan and Liu Hsien-t'ing [qq. v.]. His friendship with Fang Pao [q. v.] began in 1691 when the latter came to Peking. In 1701 he first met the northern philosopher, Li Kung [q. v.], whom he admired very much. He thus demonstrated his catholicity of interest, and his ability to stand above the controversies of schools and sects. During this period in the capital, when he was occupied with the writing of the Ming-shih, we learn from various sources that he went South to visit his home at least three times—once in 1689 (when Huang Tsung-hsi once more wrote a poem to commemorate his return to Peking), and again in 1693 and 1698.
Wan Ssŭ-t'ung remained with the Historiographical Board for thirteen years, despite changes in the directing personnel. During this time he labored exclusively on the History of the Ming Dynasty, actually though not officially as director-in-chief. When he died, in 1702, his draft for the history evidently came into the possession of Wang Hung-hsü who was then director. After his retirement, in 1708, Wang had it re-edited, with changes, and in 1723 presented it to the throne in a form comprising 310 chüan. Thereafter it came to be known as Wang Hung-hsü's "Draft Ming History" (明史稿 Ming-shih kao). The National Library of Peiping possesses a manuscript Ming-shih kao, in 416 chüan, which the officials of the Library attribute to Wan Ssŭ-t'ung, and of which they caused a transcript to be made for the Library of Congress.
Wan Ssŭ-t'ung wrote several other works on history of which perhaps the most celebrated is the 歷代史表 Li-tai shih-piao. In this work important historical events are arranged topically and in tabular form. Judging from a preface dated 1676, it was completed before he began his work on the Ming-shih, though possibly not in its final form. A printed edition, in 59 chüan, is included in the Kuang-ya ts'ung-shu (see under Chang Chih-tung). A work entitled 宋季忠義錄 Sung-chi chung-i lu, containing biographies of the loyalists living at the close of the Sung dynasty, was printed in 16 chüan in the second series of the Ssŭ-ming tsung-shu (see under Chang Huang-yen). Another biographical work, entitled 儒林宗派 Ju-lin tsung-p'ai, in 16 chüan, deals with the lives of philosophers of the Confucian school. Wan Ssŭ-tung assisted Hsü Ch'ien-hsüeh [q. v.] in the compilation of the Tu-li t'ung-k'ao, a work on mourning rites (see under Hsü). Fifty-six passages in this work are definitely accredited to Wan. He wrote, among other subjects, on calligraphy. His collected essays and poems, entitled 石園文集 Shih-yüan wên-chi, 8 chüan, were printed in 1936 in the fourth series of the Ssŭ-ming ts'ung-shu. He also left a collection of ballads, or narrative prose poems, relating to incidents of the Ming period, entitled 明樂府 Ming yüeh-fu, 2 chüan, which was printed in 1925 in the 又滿樓叢書 Yu-man lou ts'ung-shu.
Wan Ssŭ-t'ung is credited with having written or compiled more than thirty works, but only the few named here are known to be extant. Some of these, moreover, have circulated under the names of benefactors such as Hsü Ch'ien-hsüeh and Wang Hung-hsü. It was at Wan's suggestion, and perhaps with his assistance, that Wên Jui-lin 温睿臨 (鄰翼, 哂園, chü-jên of 1705) wrote a history of the southern Ming regimes, entitled 南疆逸史 Nan-chiang i-shih. Owing to the recently revived interest in late Ming and early Ch'ing history, the contributions made by Wan Ssŭ-t'ung take on added significance.
[1/489/18a; 3/413/33a; 4/131/2b; 6/44/22a; 32/8/19a; Yin-hsien chih (1877) 41/21b; Ssŭ-k'u; Report of the Librarian of Congress 1935, pp. 184–85, for further data on the Draft History; Wan Yen's preface to Li-tai shih-piao.]