Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Wang T'ao

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WANG T'ao 王韜 (T. 紫詮[銓], 子潛, H. 仲弢, 天南遯叟, 弢園老民), Nov. 10, 1828–?, scholar, one of the founders of modern journalism in China, was born in the town of Fu-li-chên 甫里鎭 (also given as Lu-li 甪里), Kiangsu. The eastern section of this town was under the jurisdiction of K'un-shan, the western part under Yüan-ho, in the present Wu-hsien. In 1845 Wang Tao, under the name Wang Li-pin 王利賓 (T. 蘭卿), became a hsiu-ts'ai in the district school of Hsin-yang, in the present K'un-shan. Thereafter, for some years, he took the name Wang Han 王瀚 (T. 懶今,蘭君). He competed once for the chü-jên degree in the provincial examination at Nanking (1846) but failed, and seems not to have tried again. In February 1848 he went to Shanghai to visit his father, Wang Ch'ang-kuei 王昌桂 (T. 肯堂, H. 雲亭, d. 1849), who was then teaching in that city. There he met, among other missionaries, Walter Henry Medhurst 麥都思 (1796–1857), of the London Missionary Society, who was then in charge of the mission press, known as Mo-hai Shu-kuan 墨海書館. After his father's death in the summer of 1849 he accepted, in the following autumn, Medhurst's invitation to become the Chinese editor for the Mission Press. Apparently he continued in this work after Medhurst left Shanghai for England in 1856. He lived in Shanghai until 1861 in close association with the mathematician, Li Shan-lan [q. v.], and Kung Ch'êng (see under Kung Tzŭ-chên); and had, as another intimate friend, the writer, Chiang Tun-fu 蔣敦復 (T. 純甫, H. 劍人, other names 金和 T. 純甫, 爾諤 T. 子文, monastic name 鐵岸, 1808–1867). Wang, Li, and Chiang were known as the "Three Friends of Shanghai" (海天三友). Chiang was the scholar who assisted William Muirhead 莫維廉 (1822–1900) in the translation of the latter's 大英國志 Ta Ying-kuo chih, 8 chüan, "History of England", printed in 1856 and reprinted in Japan in 1861.

In 1860 the Taiping forces, in a burst of renewed activity under Li Hsiu-ch'êng [q. v.], took Soochow and the territory lying toward Shanghai. In the autumn of that year Wang helped the local authorities of Chu-chai 諸翟, west of Shanghai, to organize the town's militia for defense against the Taipings. Wang records in his diary (MS in National Library of Peiping), under the date March 11, 1861, that Joseph Edkins (see under Li Shan-lan) invited him to accompany a party of missionaries to Nanking, then the capital of the Taipings. This journey, taken in March and April 1861, is described in detail by Edkins in his Narrative of a Visit to Nanking. Apparently Wang became a friend of Liu Chao-chün 劉肇均, Taiping governor of Soochow, possibly the 'Lieu' mentioned in Edkins' Narrative as an official of Soochow whom the party met on the journey. To him Wang submitted a long document, dated the Taiping equivalent of February 3, 1862. This document he presented under the alias, Huang Wan 黃畹—using a seal carved with this name and the tzŭ, Lan-ch'ing 蘭卿, which he had used when he became a hsiu-ts'ai. The character 王 was tabooed by the Taipings, hence the surname Wang was written either as Huang 黃 or as Wang 汪. The personal name Wan he doubtless chose from its affiliation with the character Lan 蘭 in the ancient poem known as 離騷 Li-sao. The seal gives his province as Su-fu Shêng 蘇福省, the Taiping equivalent for Kiangsu. In later years Wang Tao disclaimed authorship of this document, but the penmanship and the phrasing accord with his other compositions. Wang's ostensible purpose in writing it was to submit plans for the taking of Shanghai. He proposed, among other expedients, to take the city by surprise, filling it with soldiers disguised as civilians, and ruining the trade by inducing the boatmen to desert on promise of tax-free entry elsewhere. He insisted, however, on caution, and made a great point of the power of the foreigners at the moment. He urged the Taiping leaders to press their northward conquest and deal first with the Ch'ing forces, after which the Shanghai problem would solve itself. He remarked on the Chung Wang's presence in Soochow, and expressed an ardent hope that his proposals be submitted to that leader. Naturally there is abundant flattery, and one infers that Wang Tao was currying the favor of the Taipings in the hope of obtaining a post in their régime in the event of victory. But he was scarcely a sincere partisan of their cause.

This document fell into the hands of the Ch'ing forces barely a month after its submission, and was considered of sufficient importance to be forwarded to Peking where it has recently been found in the archives and published in facsimile in the 太平天國文書 T'ai-p'ing t'ien-kuo wên-shu (1933). It disclosed Wang Tao as a rebel of a kind particularly offensive to the imperialists. Hence after the Taipings retired, his life was in danger. When he came out of hiding he went to Shanghai on invitation of William Muirhead who had obtained from the intendant of the Shanghai district assurance that no ill would befall him in that city. But on Wang's arrival in Shanghai he barely escaped arrest at the hands of the intendant, being saved only through the help of Muirhead and Walter Henry Medhurst (1823–1885), son of the aforementioned Medhurst and acting British Consul at Shanghai. For at least four and a half months he was a refugee in the British Consulate. In the meantime notes were exchanged in Peking between Prince Kung (see under I-hsin), head of the Foreign Office, and Sir Frederick Bruce (1814–1867), the British Minister, concerning the extradition of Wang. Bruce refused to instruct Medhurst to deliver Wang to the intendant and accused that official of deliberately misleading Muirhead to believe that Wang would come to no harm. Though the case was probably still unsettled when Wang embarked for Hong Kong, it was never re-opened by the Chinese authorities. However, it was more then twenty-one years before he again made his home in Shanghai.

On October 4, 1862 Wang Tao left for Hong Kong where he began his long and intimate association with James Legge 理雅各 (1815–1897), whom he assisted for more than ten years in the translation of the Chinese Classics. In the beginning he was paid twenty dollars a month, Hong Kong currency. Legge had already published (1861) his translation of the Analects, the Great Learning, the Doctrine of the Mean, and Mencius, so that Wang's aid began with the Shoo King, or Classic of History, printed in 1865 as Volume III of The Chinese Classics. As for the Odes (She-King, Vol. IV of The Chinese Classics, printed in 1871), Legge mentions in his bibliography a manuscript by Wang Tao which he had used. This is the 毛詩集釋 Mao-shih chi-shin, 30 chüan, of which the original draft, presented to Legge with an accompanying letter written about 1864, is now in the New York Public Library, which possesses many of Legge's books. Wang wrote five treatises for Legge's use in translating the Ch'un-ch'iu and T'so-chuan (Vol. V, printed in 1872). Three of these, all printed about the year 1889, and dealing with the eclipses and the calendar of the Ch'un-ch'iu period, were prepared under the influence of John Chalmers 湛約翰 (1825–1899), a missionary at Canton. The three works are entitled 春秋朔閏考辨 Chun-ch'iu shuo-jun k'ao-pien, 3 chüan; Chun-ch'iu chih-shuo piao (至朔表); and Ch'un-ch'iu jih-shih t'u-shuo (日食圖說), each in 1 chüan.

Early in 1867 the translation work at Hong Kong was interrupted by Legge's return to his family in Great Britain, Wang received an invitation from Legge, however, to join him in Scotland, and in the company of European friends he sailed from Hong Kong on December 15, 1867, via Suez, Cairo, Alexandria and Marseilles. During his two years in Great Britain he stayed most of the time with Legge's family at Dollar, Clackmannanshire, Scotland, where he assisted him in the translation of the Odes, the Book of Changes (Yi King, being Vol. 26 of The Sacred Books of the East, 1882) and the Rites (Li Ki, being Vols. 27 and 28 of the same series, 1885). Wang again prepared various commentaries on the Rites and the Changes, entitled respectively 禮記集釋 Li-chi chi-shih, and Chou-i (周易) chi-shih; both manuscripts are preserved in the New York Public Library. The former title is mentioned by Legge in the preface to the Li Ki, but the latter, being shorter and inferior to Wang's previous compilations for Legge, is not referred to in the Yi King.

It seems that Wang Tao, though homesick, greatly enjoyed his sojourn abroad. In the account of his travels, entitled 漫游隨錄 Man-yu sui-lu, he mentions frequent trips to various places in Scotland where he invariably met with hospitality, especially from former friends in China, particularly William Muirhead. In Bedford he again met Mrs. Medhurst. In Paris he made the acquaintance of the French sinologist, Stanislas Julien 儒蓮 (1799–1873), and subsequently he published biographical sketches of both Julien and Legge. Once (1868) he lectured at Oxford University, speaking in Chinese, probably with Legge as interpreter. He notes that when he had concluded the lecture the students clapped their hands and stamped their feet. On leaving England, he presented his collection of Chinese books, numbering 11,000 chüan, to a museum.

Wang T'ao and Legge returned to Hong Kong in 1870 and continued for some time the work of translation. But in 1873 Legge returned to England and three years later assumed the chair of Chinese at Oxford, never again to return to China. By this time Wang was already launched on his publishing career. About the year 1871 he and Huang Shêng (Wong Shing) 黃勝 (T. 平甫), one of the first three Chinese students to study in America (see under Jung Hung), purchased the printing equipment of the London Mission, which was then no longer used by Legge. In 1872 Wang issued the 普法戰記 Pu-Fa chan-chi, 14 chüan, an account of the Franco-Prussian War, in which he was aided by a translator named Chang Tsung-liang 張宗良 (T. 芝軒), who gathered materials from foreign periodicals. This work was reprinted by the Japanese Army Department in 1878. Later Wang had this account expanded to 20 chüan and printed it in 1886 under the same title. It at once brought him fame as one who understood foreign affairs.

By 1873 Wang T'ao had begun his newspaper activities, exercising in this field such a pioneer influence that he may justly be regarded as one of the founders of modern Chinese journalism. In his editorials, which he seems to have popularized in China, he advocated reforms, and expressed much resentment at the Japanese annexation of the Loochoo Islands (see under Li Hung-chang). Soon he became the editor of the 近事編錄 Chin-shih pien-lu, a daily newspaper which had been printed at Hong Kong since 1864. In 1873 or 1874 he and Huang Shêng founded at Hong Kong the Tsun Wan Yat Pao (循環日報 Hsün-huan jih-pao) which still exists. Associated in this enterprise was the future diplomat, Wu T'ing-fang 伍廷芳 (T. 秩庸, 1842–1922). By 1875 Wang had published at Hong Kong several of his own works: a book of stories, entitled 遯窟讕言 Tun-k'u lan-yen, 12 chüan, printed in 1875 and reprinted in 1880; various accounts of Shanghai, entitled 瀛壖雜誌 Ying-juan tsa-chih, 6 chüan, printed in 1875; and reflections on contemporary affairs, foreign countries, and the Taiping rebellion, entitled 甕牖餘談 Wêng-yu yü-t'an, 8 chüan. The Tun-k'u lan-yên was so popular that it was pirated by a printer in Kiangsi, under the title 閒談消夏錄 Hsien-t'an hsiao-hsia lu. In 1879 he made a trip to Japan, recording his impressions in a work, entitled 扶桑遊記 Fu-sang yu-chi, 3 chüan, reprinted in Japan in 1880. In Japan he was well received, both as a scholar and as a reformer. On his return he stopped briefly at Shanghai to fraternize with some officials, but perhaps deemed it still unsafe to settle there. Nevertheless, after two subsequent visits, in 1882 and 1883, he finally (1884) made Shanghai his home. By this time he had saved about Mex. $5,000. and had accumulated a library of 100,000 chüan. There he continued his book-writing, and his journalism in the form of steady contributions to the Shun Pao (申報 Shên Pao), whose editor, Ch'ien Chêng 錢徵 (T. 昕伯), was his son-in-law. He resumed his association with foreigners in Shanghai, notably with Alexander Wylie (see under Li Shan-lan) and John Fryer (see under Wei Yüan), who invited him to be dean of the Chinese Polytechnic Institute known as Ko-chih Shu-yüan 格致書院. This organization, founded by private subscription in 1874, had a reading room and subsequently a scientific book depot. The Institute was later transferred to the Shanghai Municipal Council and became the Polytechnic Public School for Chinese. The general object of these undertakings by Dr. Fryer was the spread of scientific education, to lay a basis for the modernization of China in the field of applied science. To this Wang Tao and some other Chinese of his day were sympathetic, but as a reformer Wang went much further in openly favoring the adoption of many political institutions of the West. Nevertheless he accepted the view of the time that these institutions—particularly the franchise and constitutional government—were implicit in the Chinese classics and existed in the alleged Golden Age of antiquity. Wang's ideas of reform are chiefly set forth in the 韜園文錄外編 T'ao-yüan wên-lu wai-pien, 12 chüan, printed in 1882 at Hong Kong, and in his letters which are in two collections, one entitled T'ao-yüan ch'ih-tu (尺牘), 12 chüan, printed in 1886, the other entitled T'ao-yüan ch'ih-tu hsü-ch'ao (續鈔), 6 chüan, printed in 1889.

Wang T'ao's writings cover a wide field including, in addition to the above-inentioned items: verse, works on optics, mechanics, and on the history of Western institutions. Particularly popular, and widely reprinted, are his compositions written in a style, half fiction and half fact, usually turning upon his travels and following the pattern of P'u Sung-ling's [q. v.] Liao-chai chih-i. His 淞隱漫錄 Sung-yin man-lu, 12 chüan, printed in 1887, and his 淞濱瑣話 Sung-pin so-hua, 12 chüan, printed 1887, are examples of this type. His collected poems, entitled 蘅華館詩錄 Hêng-hua kuan shih-lu, 5 chüan, were printed in 1880. After a journey to Shantung (1889) he hoped to realize an ideal held in mind since 1884, namely to found a publishing house of his own, to be known as the T'ao-yüan Shu-chü 韜園書局. In a prospectus printed in 1889 he outlined his plan, offering shares at Mex. $25.00 and listing his works under thirty-six titles. He states that twelve of these works were already printed in book form, and that several others were in the press. One source asserts that he died on May 2, 1890, but several of his works bear prefaces of a later date—namely 1895 and 1897.

Wang T'ao was fond of discoursing on the status of woman—a topic to which he devoted several long articles. While in Scotland, he wrote to a friend in praise of the beauty and chastity of Western women. His first wife, née Yang 楊 ((T. 夢蘅), died in 1850 leaving a daughter named Wang Wan 王婉 (T. 苕仙, 1847–1878?), who married Ch'ien Chêng. Later, in Shanghai, he married Lin Lêng-lêng 林冷冷 (T. 懷蘅) who bore him a daughter who lacked the power of speech. This wife is reported to have had a jealous nature which evoked from Wang some rather vehement complaints.


[Hung Shên, "Wang T'ao" (in Chinese), in 文學 Wên-hsüeh, vol. 2, no. 6 (June 1, 1934); Ko Kung-chên, Chung-kuo pao-hetieh Shih (History of Journalism in China, 1927), pp. 76, 121; Ch'ên Chên-kuo, “Wang T'ao" (in Chinese), I-ching (see bibl. under Jung-lu), no. 33 (July 5, 1937); 吳縣志 Wu-hsien chih (1933) 23 shang 10b; Hsieh Hsing-yao, "Wang T'ao's Memorial to the Taiping Government" (in Chinese), Kuo-hsüeh chi-k'an (Journal of Sinological Studies), vol. 4, no. 1 (1934); Lo Êr-kang, "Huang Wan's Memorial to the Taipings" (in Chinese) ibid., vol. 4, no. 2; Wên-hsien ts'ung-pien (see bibl. under Dorgon) no. 20.]

Roswell S. Britton