Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Wang Nien-sun

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WANG Nien-sun 王念孫 (T. 懷祖, H. 石臞, 石渠), Apr. 25, 1744–1832, Feb. 25, official, scholar, son of Wang An-kuo [q. v.], was a native of Kao-yu, Kiangsu. His talent was recognized early, and he soon became known as an inspired or precocious youth (神童). Though only fourteen (sui) when his father died, he managed alone to transfer his father's remains from Peking to the ancestral home in Kao-yu. Thereafter he devoted himself to serious study. In 1765 Emperor Kao-tsung, then on his fourth tour of South China, conferred on him, without examination, the degree of chü-jên. After failing four times in the metropolitan examination he went in 1772 to Anhwei where he lived in the home of Chu Yün [q. v.] who was then commissioner of education in that province. In the following year he accompanied Chu to the capital and there, too, lived in Chu's residence, known as Chiao-hua yin-fang 椒花吟舫, in the south city, Peking. In 1775 Wang became a chin-shih and was made a bachelor in the Hanlin Academy, but requested leave to retire in order to pursue his studies. Thereafter, for some four years, he lived in solitude in the Hu-pin Ching-shê 湖濱精舍, a residence adjacent to the ancestral temple of his family in Kao-yu.

In 1780 he again made his way to the capital and in the following year was appointed a second class secretary in the Department of Waterways and Dikes of the Board of Works. He was an ardent student of geography and river control, and two essays by him on this subject, both entitled 導河議 Tao-ho i, are highly praised. While serving on the Ssŭ-k'u Commission (see under Chi Yün) he was ordered to participate in the compilation of the 河源紀略 Ho-yüan chi-lüeh, 36 chüan—a work on the sources of the Yellow River, which was commissioned in 1782 and was completed two years later. After filling various posts in the Board of Works, he became a censor (1788) and retained that position until 1800. After the death of Emperor Kao-tsung in 1799, he was the first censor secretly to memorialize the throne against the abuses of Ho-shên [q. v.]. In 1800 he was appointed tao-t'ai in charge of conservancy work on the Yung-ting River. Although efficient in his work, he failed in his efforts to prevent damage by floods which occurred in the following year. He was dismissed, but was soon ordered to resume his duties, without pay. In 1803 he was made a second class secretary of a commission which made a tour of Chihli to inspect waterways, and to formulate plans for river control. Later in the same year he was sent in the same capacity to Honan and then to T'ai-chuang, Shantung. In 1804 he was appointed tao-t'ai for control of the Grand Canal in Shantung where he built dikes, and deepened the Niu-t'ou River (牛頭河)—projects which are still regarded as serviceable. In 1809 he was reappointed to the Yung-ting River administration, but in the following year that region again was flooded. He presented himself for punishment, and was ordered to retire. Thereafter he lived with his son, Wang Yin-chih [q. v.], in the capital—except for two years (1814–16) at Tsinan, Shantung, where the latter was commissioner of education. He devoted the remainder of his long life to study and writing.

The most notable contribution of Wang Niensun as a scholar lay in the field of phonetics and etymology. In his youth he was a student of Tai Chên [q. v.] and from him he acquired his detailed and exact methods in this field. He maintained that in order to grasp the meaning of the Classics one should first acquire a knowledge of etymology. His study in this field resulted in two works of great significance, namely: 讀書雜誌 Tu-shu tsa-chih, 82 chüan, printed 1812–31 in series, with a supplement 志餘 of 2 chüan, printed in 1832; and 廣雅疏證 Kuang-ya shu-chêng, 10 chüan, compiled in the years 1788–96, the last chüan being completed by his son, Wang Yin-chih. The first of these two works consists of annotations and emendations of difficult passages in such ancient texts as the 史記 Shih-chi, 漢書 Han-shu, 管子 Kuan-tzŭ, 墨子 Mo-tzŭ, and 荀子 Hsün-tzŭ. In all his exegetical work he was careful to indicate his sources and to generalize only on a basis of wide study. The Kuang-ya shu-chêng consists of annotations, corrections, and amplifications with further examples, of the dictionary, 廣雅 Kuang-ya, compiled by Chang I 張揖 (T. 稚讓) during the T'ai-ho reign-period (227–232 A.D.). He revised the work, but did not succeed in reprinting it. His emendations and additions, numbering some five hundred, were reassembled and published by Lo Chên-yü (see under Chao Chih-ch'ien) under the title Kuang-ya shu-chêng pu-chêng (補正), with a postscript dated 1928. While working on the Kuang-ya, Wang Nien-sun also corrected the pronunciations given in the Kuang-ya yin (音), a work compiled by Ts'ao Hsien 曹憲 who lived at the close of the sixth and the beginning of the seventh centuries. Other studies by Wang Nien-sun in phonetics appear in his 古韻譜 Ku-yün p'u, 2 chüan, in which he divides ancient rhymes—on the basis of examples drawn from various classics—into twenty-one categories which by further study he later raised to twentytwo. His method was apparently more detailed than that of Ku Yen-wu and Tuan Yü-ts'ai [q. v.] who had divided ancient rhymes into ten and seventeen classes respectively. In this work are also recorded the results of his studies on the four tones (particularly the ju-shêng 入聲) in which he made significant discoveries. The work was not printed until 1925 when it was published by Lo Chên-yü in the 高郵王氏遺書 Kao-yu Wang-shih i-shu, 8 ts'ê 册, together with other writings by members of the Wang family. Certain unpublished manuscripts of Wang Niensun on the subject of rhymes, once owned by Lo Chên-yü, are now preserved in the National Library of Peiping. A list of some of the titles appears in the Bulletin of the National Library of Peiping, vol. 4, no. 1, (Jan.–Feb. 1930). The following two fragments of Wang Nien-sun's studies are also found in the Kao-yu Wang-shih i-shu: 釋大 Shih-ta, 8 chüan, an etymological study of the character for "large" (ta 大) with its related meanings, and with examples drawn from various texts of antiquity; and 方言疏證補 Fang-yen shu-chêng pi, 1 chüan, written in 1787. In it he attempts to amplify Tai Chên's comments on the Fang-yên (see under Ch'ien Ta-chao), but he scarcely completed one chüan. Other minor studies by Wang Nien-sun in phonetics and etymology appear in various ts'ung-shu.

Wang Nien-sun had two sons: the afore-mentioned Wang Yin-chih, and Wang Ching-chih 王敬之 (H. 寬甫, 1778–1856). The latter was a hsiu-ts'ai and the author, among others, of two collections of verse, entitled: 三十六湖漁唱 San-shih-liu hu yü ch'ang, 3 ts'ê; and 小言集 Hsiao-yen chi, 6 ts'ê.


[3/212/48a; 13/5/24a; 20/3/00; Liang Ch'i-ch'ao, Chung-kuo chin san-pai-nien hsüeh-shu shih (see bible under Hui Tung), pp. 328–74; Hu Shih wên-ts'un (see bible under Li Ju-chên), series 3 (1930) pp. 320–38; Lu Tsung-ta, "Notes on Two Manuscripts of Wang Nien-sun Preserved in the Peking National University" (in Chinese), Kuo-hsüeh chi-k'an (Journal of Sinological Studies), vol. 3, no. 1 (1932) pp. 163–74, vol. 5, no. 2, pp. 129–74; Pan-li Ssŭ-k'u ch'üan-shu tang-an (see bibl. under Chi Yün), passim; Nien-p'u by Liu P'an-sui in Nü shih-ta hsüeh-shu chi-k'an (Women's Normal University Quarterly, Peking), vol. 1, no. 3 (1930); Nien-p'u by Min Êr-ch'ang (1931).]

Li Man-kuei