Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Chêng Hsieh

CHÊNG Hsieh 鄭燮 (T. 克柔), 1693–1765, official, poet, calligrapher and painter, popularly known by his hao, Pan-ch'iao 板橋, was a native of Hsing-hua, Kiangsu. While still a child he lost his mother and was brought up by a nurse and later by his step-mother. He was the only son in the family and his most intimate associate was his cousin—a son of his father's younger brother. A brilliant student, Chêng Hsieh excelled in calligraphy and painting and in the writing of verse. He spent his youthful days in the pursuit of pleasure, but in the seventeen-twenties, owing to his father's death, he was compelled to seek employment. For some ten years—which he spent mostly at Yangchow—he eked out a meagre living by selling his paintings. These years of hardship probably wrought a great change in his character. Previously he had been known as a proud and temperamental artist, but from then on he was patient and considerate. He became a chü-jên in 1732 and a chin-shih in 1736. In the decade after 1732 he went often to Peking where he made friends with Buddhist priests and Manchu nobles, one of the latter being Prince Shên (慎郡王), or Yin-hsi 胤禧 (H. 紫瓊道人, 春浮居士, posthumous name 靖, 1711–1758), twenty-first son of Emperor Shêng-tsu. About 1742 Chêng Hsieh was appointed magistrate of Fan-hsien, Shantung. As such he showed sympathy for the people and energetically engaged in relief work during a famine. In 1746 he was transferred to Wei-hsien where he served for seven years until his retirement in 1753. Thereafter he lived quietly at home, occasionally selling his paintings to supplement his income.

Chêng Hsieh specialized in the painting of orchids, bamboo and rocks. In calligraphy he developed his own style—a combination of several ancient modes. His poems are expressed in simple but forceful language, as are also his prose writings. His poems in the style known as tao-ch'ing 道情, or "free expression of feeling," have been put to music and are popularly sung in schools. Specimens of his calligraphy and of his paintings of bamboo and orchids, carved on stone, exist in many temples and are highly appreciated as rubbings. His collected works, entitled 板橋集 Pan-ch'iao chi, comprise his ruled verse (詩鈔 shih-ch'ao), in 3 chüan, his poems in irregular meter (詞鈔, tz'ŭ-ch'ao), his tao-ch'ing, his colophons on paintings (題畫 t'i-hua), and his letters to his cousin (家書 chia-shu). These letters, in addition to expressing his philosophy of life, reveal an unusually free spirit, and a keen sensitiveness to natural beauty.


[1/509/8b; 2/72/1b; 3/233/9a; 7/43/2b; 20/2/00; 26/2/6b; 27/11/15b; 29/4/8a; Hsing-hua hsien chih (1852), 8/15a; Wei-hsien chih (1760) 3/35a; L.T.C.L.H.M., p. 419b; Lin Yutang, My Country and My People, pp. 37 and 339; idem, The Importance of Living, p. 302.]

Fang Chao-ying