Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Wang Hui-tsu

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WANG Hui-tsu 汪輝祖 (T. 煥曾, H. 龍莊, 歸廬), Jan. 21, 1731–1807, May 1, historian and administrator, was a native of Hsiao-shan, Chekiang. His father, Wang K'ai 汪楷 (T. 南有, 皆木), was prison warden of Ch'i-hsien, Honan, for eight years, beginning in 1732. He died in Canton in 1741 (January 31) at the age of fortysix (sui). At the time of his father's death Wang Hui-tsu was only eleven (sui). Being poor, he was forced at an early age to struggle for a living and also to support his family. At the age of seventeen (sui) he was made a hsiu-ts'ai, and in the following year began teaching. Two years later (1749) he was married, and in 1752 became secretary to his father-in-law, Wang Tsung-min 王宗閔 (T. 坦人), who was then magistrate of Chin-shan, Kiangsu. In those days private secretaries (幕客 or 幕友) of officials were generally of three types: those who helped in judical matters, those who were concerned with revenue, and those who engaged in literary tasks of the kind we now associate with that office. Those whose activity was primarily judicial (as in the case of Wang Hui-tsu) were the highest paid. It was chiefly for economic reasons that Wang trained himself for this type of work. He applied himself to it for thirty-four years, working in this capacity under sixteen different officials who were stationed at various places in Kiangsu and Chekiang. At the same time he competed in the examinations, finally becoming a chü-jên in 1768, after failing eight times. In 1775, at the age of forty-six (sui), he took his chin-shih, after failing three times. In 1786 he received an appointment as magistrate of Ning-yuan, Hunan, a mountainous district where the legendary Emperor Shun was supposed to have been buried. His experience of more than thirty years as secretary to other administrators enabled him to be a very competent official. In 1788 he became acting magistrate of the neighboring district of Hsint'ien, and in 1790 acting department magistrate of Tao-chou, in the same province. But owing to the intrigue of certain individuals who resented his uncompromising fairness, he was dismissed from office in the following year. After remaining for a time in Changsha, he retired (1793) to his home district where he kept aloof from public life and devoted himself to more scholarly pursuits.

On the basis of his long experience as an administrator, Wang Hui-tsu wrote two celebrated works on government which, until the establishment of the Republic (1912), were regarded as indispensable guides to local administrative officials: the 佐治藥言 Tso-chih yao-yen, and the 學治臆說 Hsüeh-chih i-shuo. The former was first printed in 1785 by his friend, Pao T'ing-po [q. v.], in the twelfth series of the Chih-pu-tsu chai ts'ung-shu; the latter first appeared in print in 1793.

Wang Hui-tsu was a practical historian—one of the first to realize the importance of indexes and other tools to facilitate historical research. Handicapped by poverty in early life, he had but little opportunity to pursue historical studies, hence it was not until 1769, a year after he was made a chü-jên, and while waiting in the capital to compete in the metropolitan examination, that he first bought a copy of the Han-shu (History of the Former Han Dynasty) and became familiar with its contents. Thereafter he took a deep interest in history and slowly managed to obtain copies of all the Twenty-four Dynastic Histories. From these fundamental sources he compiled an index of all the biographies there incorporated, the proper names being arranged under the prevailing syllabary of rhymes as in the case of the well-known phrase dictionary, P'ei-wên yün-fu (see under Ts'ao Yin). This index, entitled 史姓韻編 Shih-hsing yün-pien, in 64 chüan, remained for more than a century an indispensable tool for the study of the dynastic histories. It was completed in 1783. Wang compiled, along the same lines, the 九史同姓名略 Chiu-shih tung hsing-ming lüeh in 74 chüan, and the 遼金元三史同姓名錄 Liao Chin Yüan san-shih tung hsing-ming lu in 40 chüan, both dealing with identical names borne by different people mentioned in these official histories. The former was first printed in 1790, the latter in 1801. Both now appear in the Kuang-ya ts'ung-shu (see under Chang Chih-tung). During the years 1796–1800 Wang Huitsu made a careful study of the Yüan-shih (the older of the two histories of the Yuan Dynasty) and produced a work, entitled 元史本證 Yüan shih pên-chêng, in 50 chüan, in which he attempted by textual criticism to eliminate discrepancies in that history. This work which was supplemented by his fourth son, Wang Chi-p-ei 汪繼培 (b. 1775, chin-shih of 1805), was printed in 1802 and in 1891 was included in the 紹興先正遺書 Shao-hsing hsien-chêng i-shu.

Wang Hui-tsu became paralyzed in 1795 and began then to write his autobiography entitled 病榻夢痕錄 Ping-t'a mêng-hên lu, "Traces of Dreams from a Sick-bed". Although it was first printed in 1796, he continued to supplement it until early in 1806. Events of the following year were filled in by his sons after his death. This supplement bears the title Ping-t'a mêng-hên yü (餘) lu. The autobiography, the afore-mentioned works on government, and Wang Hui-tsu's advice to his sons and grandsons, 雙節堂庸訓 Shuang-chieh t'ang yung-hsün, were printed together by Chang Yüeh (see under Tuan-fang) in 1886 under the title 汪龍莊先生遺書 Wang Lung-chuang hsien-shêng i-shu.

Wang Hui-tsu made friends with many well-known scholars of his time, among them: Shao Chin-han, [q. v.] whom he first met in 1767; Chang Hsüeh-ch'êng [q. v.] and Lo Yu-kao 羅有高 (T. 臺山, d. 1779, age 46 sui), both of whom he met in Peking in 1769; Chu Yün [q. v.] whom he visited in 1769, styling himself the latter's pupil; Lu Chiu-kao 魯九皋 (T. 絜非, H. 山木, original ming 仕驥, 1732–1794); and the famous bibliophile, Pao T'ing-po.


[1/483/15b; 3/242/8a; Ch'ü Tui-chih 瞿兌之, Wang Hui-tsu chuan-shu (傳述, 1935); Nien-p'u by Ch'ên Jang in Fu-jên hsüeh-chih (see bibl. under Liu Pao-nan), vol. 1, no. 2; Hirth, F., "Bausteine zu einer Geschichte der chinesischen Literatur", T'oung Pao, VI, p. 319; Tanaka Suiichirō, "On Reading Wang Hui-tsu's Literary Remains" (in Japanese), Mitagakkai zasshi, vol. XIII, no. 7.]

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