Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Asitan
ASITAN 阿什坦 (壇), (T. 海龍), d. 1683 (possibly 1684), Manchu official and translator, was a member of the Wanggiyan 完顏 clan and a descendant of the imperial family of the Chin dynasty (1115–1234). His father, Daciha 達齊哈, was a follower of Nurhaci [q. v.]. Later the family, which belonged originally to the Manchu Bordered Blue Banner (lowest of the eight banners), was transferred to the Bordered Yellow Banner as bond servants of the Imperial Household with the privilege of an hereditary captaincy of a company. Asitan studied both Chinese and Manchu, and in 1645 was appointed a secretary in the Grand Secretariat (then known as the Inner [Three] Courts 内院). In 1652, at the first of the two special examinations for Manchus, he became a chin-shih, ranking as third of the second class, or as sixth among the fifty bannermen who passed. In the same year he was promoted to the post of a supervising censor, in which capacity he is said to have memorialized the throne against the translation of Chinese novels into Manchu, on the ground that they diverted people from reading serious works; against the unseemly going out into crowded streets on the part of Manchu women; and on the necessity of codifying the nine-rank system (九品制) of rating official posts in order to avoid confusion in promotions and degradations. These memorials were all approved and were more or less put into practice.
In 1654 Emperor Shih-tsu (see under Fu-lin) ordered the abolition of the Office of the Imperial Household (Nei-wu fu 内務府), which had charge of affairs inside the Palace and which since the time of his father or grandfather had been managed by Manchu or Chinese bannermen. He restored, however, the Ming system of having all the affairs inside the palaces supervised by eunuchs. In Ming times there were twenty-four offices directed by eunuchs who through their posts exercised great power (see under Wei Chung-hsien). Emperor Shih-tsu ordered the establishment of thirteen offices to manage the affairs of the Imperial Household, and made it clear that bannermen and eunuchs were alike eligible to these offices. Asitan, because of his status as a bond servant in the Imperial Household, served as a secretary in one or another of these offices. In the meantime he served as a tutor of the Manchu language in the palace school for young eunuchs. But one day he was reprimanded for being late at the sacrificial ceremony which took place at the Fêng-hsien tien 奉先殿 (the private ancestral hall of the emperor, built in 1657). For this offense he was deprived of his ranks and offices, but still served without rank as a tutor to eunuchs. The eunuchs, however, fell into disfavor after Emperor Shih-tsu died (early in 1661), and some of them were executed or dismissed. The thirteen offices were abolished, and the office of Nei-wu fu, manned by bannermen, was restored to take charge of the eunuchs and other servants in the palace. Asitan, as onetime tutor of the eunuchs, lost his position, and during his inactivity in the following six or seven years declined to join the powerful clique under Oboi [q. v.]. In 1668 he was recommended as a compiler of the "veritable records" (實錄) of Emperor Shih-tsu, but as not all the members of the Commission favored his appointment he was refused admission and was assigned to another post in the Imperial Household. On several occasions Emperor Shêng-tsu sought his advice, and once he was complimented by the emperor as a "great Confucianist" (大儒). He retired in 1679 and died about five years later.
Asitan was generally recognized as the most outstanding of all translators (from Chinese to Manchu) of his time, and in the Shun-chih period he published Manchu translations of the Great Learning (Ta-hsüeh), the Doctrine of the Mean (Chung-yung), the Classic of Filial Piety (Hsiao-ching), the 太公家教 T'ai-kung chia-chiao, and the 通鑑總論 T'ung-chien tsung-lun. The last mentioned is an elementary text-book of general history by P'an Jung 潘榮 (T. 伯誠, H. 節齋) of the Yüan period, and the Manchu version, made by Asitan, is still extant. It is said that Asitan was also the author of discourses (講義 chiang-i) on the Great Learning and the Doctrine of the Mean, in Chinese. His sons, Osu 鄂素, and Hesu, especially the latter, also distinguished themselves as translators. A grandson, Liu-pao 留保 (T. 松裔, H. 恤緯老人, chin-shih of 1721), served as junior vice-president of the Board of Civil Office (1740–43). Many other descendants of Asitan were famous officials (see under Lin-ch'ing and Ch'ung-hou).
[1/296/6a; 1/489/13a; 1/125/3a; 3/74/38a; 3/133/7a; 4/52/24b; 34/3/25b; Pa-ch'i Man-chou shih-tsu t'ung-p'u (see under Anfiyanggû) 28/8a; Shêng-yü [q. v.], Pa-ch'i wên-ching 57/7a, 58/3a; Lin-ch'ing [q. v.], Hung-hsüeh yin-yüan t'u-chi 3 上/賜塋來象; Wang Ch'ing-yün [q. v.], Shih-ch'ü yü-chi 1/1a.]