Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Yang Lien

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YANG Lien 楊漣 (T. 文孺, H. 大洪), Aug. 5, 1571–1625, Aug. 26, Ming official, was a native of Ying-shan, Hupeh. After becoming a chin-shih in 1607, he was given the post of magistrate at Ch'ang-shu, Kiangsu. Owing to his excellent record in this position, he was appointed (1619) a censor. In 1620 he attracted notice because of his energetic opposition to the group of eunuchs and Court concubines who appeared to be seizing power in the government of the country. During the illness of Emperor Shên-tsung, which began in the sixth month of that year, the heir apparent, Chu Ch'ang-lo [q. v.], who had been appointed against the wishes of the favorite concubine, Chêng (see under Chu Ch'ang-lo), was prevented from seeing his father. his aroused fears of a possible coup d'etat within the Palace, and led Yang Lien to press for an audience with the ministers, at which Chu Ch'ang-lo's succession to the throne was confirmed. Emperor Shên-tsung died and, though the enthronement of Chu Ch'ang-lo appeared to place the government on a stable basis, it was not long before intrigues arose between factions struggling for power. The late Emperor had left instructions that the title of Empress Dowager should be conferred upon the consort Chêng, but the ministers, led by Yang Lien, declined to give consent. A few days later the new Emperor fell ill and the attentions of his favorite consort, known as the "Western Li" (see under Chu Ch'ang-lo), seemed only to aggravate his condition. Since the next heir to the throne, Chu Yu-chiao [q. v.], was only fourteen years of age Yang Lien and others believed that, in the event of the death of the reigning Emperor, a designing faction within the Palace had prepared for a joint regency of the consort Chêng and Li. This fear was intensified when it was learned that the consort Li had installed herself in the Emperor's Palace on the pretest of serving him during his illness. Yang Lien protested, in memorials, against the medical treatment provided for the Emperor, and whm it appeared that the illness would be fatal, roused his associates to take measures to frustrate the suspected designs of the consorts. News of the Emperor's death was received on September 26. Yang led the ministers to the Palace where they were met by the resistance of armed eunuchs. Overawing them, it is said, by his fiery personality, Yang Lien succeeded in gaining possession of the heir to the throne. The ministers carried him bodily to the coronation hall where they acclaimed him Emperor. After the ceremony they refused, at Yang Lien's suggestion, to let the youth return to the main Palace until the consort Li had moved out. The struggle to effect her retirement occupied five days during which, it is said, Yang Lien's hair turned white from strain and worry.

According to the San-ch'ao yao-tien (see under Fêng Ch'üan), the whole affair, called for convenience the "removal case" (移宮案 i-kung an), existed only in Yang Lien's imagination, and was deliberately maneuvered by him as a way to foment a disturbance. Whatever the nature of the intrigue in the Palace may have been, it is certain that Yang Lien incurred the undying hostility of the eunuch party which, with the consent of the new Emperor, came to power shortly afterwards under Wei Chung-hsien [q. v.]. In 1624, having risen to the post of senior vice-president of the Censorate, he bitterly denounced the eunuch in a memorial listing "twenty-four crimes of Wei Chung-hsien." Wei effected his dismissal from office later in the year and had him committed to prison on July 29, 1625, on a false charge of taking bribes from Hsiung T'ing-pi [q. v.] who himself was then in prison. A number of Wei's other opponents were put under arrest at the same time; and the trial, conducted by Hsü Hsien-ch'un 許顯純, a military chin-shih, of 1619, was one of the outstanding events of the T'ien-ch'i reign-period (1621–1628). According to the record of an eyewitness, it was cruel in the extreme, and the prisoners finally died in prison as the result of floggings administered every two or three days. Three short articles, written by Yang Lien during the trial, are preserved in the 碧血錄 Pi-hsüeh lu, compiled by Huang Yü 黃煜 (T. 謎菴) in the early Ch'ung-chên period.

Contrary to the common practice of officials, Yang amassed no fortune during his public career, and his two sons were reduced to begging to support their mother. After the downfall of Wei Chung-hsien in 1627, Emperor I-tsung conferred on Yang Lien posthumously the name Chung-lieh 忠烈 and the titles of Senior Guardian of the Heir Apparent and President of the Board of War. In 1645 the post of assistant prefect of Sungkiang was bestowed on his son, Yang Chih-i 楊之易, who was killed two years later when he refused to join in an uprising. This son made a collection of Yang Lien's writings which was edited by Chêng Man [q. v.] in 1633 and printed a little later with a preface by Ch'ên Chi-ju [q. v.], written in 1634. The collection, entitled 楊忠烈公文集 Yang Chung-lieh kung wên-chi, was reprinted by the author's grandson, Yang Pao 楊苞 (T. 竹如), in 1665, omitting words and phrases offensive to the Manchus.

Five other scholarly opponents of Wei Chung-hsien were put to death in the same year and the group came to be known as "The Six Heroes" (六君子). The names of the others are:

Wei Ta-chung 魏大中 (T. 孔時, H. 廓園, 1575–1625), chin-shih of 1616,

Tso Kuang-tou 左光斗 (T. 遺直, H. 浮邱, 1575–1625), chin-shih of 1607,

Ku Ta-chang 顧大章 (T. 伯欽, H. 塵客, 1576–1625), chin-shih of 1607,

Yüan Hua-chung 袁化中 (T. 民諧, H. 熙宇, d. 1625), chin-shih of 1607,

Chou Ch'ao-jui 周朝瑞 (T. 思永, H. 衡臺, d. 1625), chin-shih of 1607.


[M.1/244; Ku Ying-t'ai [q. v.], Ming-shih chi-shih pên-mo, 68; Fu Wei-lin [q. v.], Ming-shu 109; San-ch'ao yao-tien, 17–24; Pi-hsüeh-lu in Chih-pu-tsu chai ts'ung-shu; Yang Chung-lieh kung nien-p'u, 1 chüan, by Yang Chêng-wu and others (not consulted); Goodrich, L.C., The Literary Inquisition of Ch'ien-lung, p. 150; Ying-shan hsien-chih (1871) 25/19a, 21b, 23b; W.M.S.C.K. 5/13b; Sungkiang fu-chih (1819) 43/1a; Ming-chi pei-lüeh (see bibl. under Chang Ch'üan) 恩恤諸公志略 Ên-hsü chu-kung chih-lüeh 1/5a; 續表忠記 Hsü piao-chung chi 2/22a; Backhouse and Bland, Annals and Memoirs of the Court of Peking, p. 68 ff.]

George A. Kennedy