Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Hsü Chi-yü

HSÜ Chi-yü 徐繼畲 (T. 健男, H. 松龕), 1795–1873, official and geographer, was a native of Wu-t'ai, Shansi. His grandfather, Hsü Ching-ju 徐敬儒 (T. 東治), was a chü-jên of 1759 who held official posts in Chihli and Kiangsi. His father, Hsü Jun-ti 徐潤第 (T. 德夫, chin-shih of 1795, d. 1827), was a first class subprefect of Shih-nan-fu in Hupeh, during the years 1811–20. After his retirement, in 1820, Hsü Jun-ti devoted himself to teaching in his native place and in other districts of Shansi, such as Chin-yang, Kuo-hsien and Chieh-hsiu—being known among his pupils as Kuang-hsüan hsien-shêng 廣軒先生. After his death his writings were published (about 1831) by his son, Hsü Chi-yü, under the title 敦艮齋遺書 Tun-kên chai i-shu, 17 chüan.

Hsü Chi-yü became a chü-jên in 1813 and a chin-shih in 1826. He was selected a bachelor of the Hanlin Academy and was later made a compiler. In 1836 he was appointed a censor, in which capacity he submitted a number of constructive memorials which caused Emperor

Hsüan-tsung to regard him as capable of larger responsibilities. In the same year he was made prefect of Hsün-chou-fu, Kwangsi, and a few months later was promoted to intendant of the Yen-Chien-Shao Circuit in Fukien. In 1840 he acted concurrently as intendant of the Ting-Chang-Lung Circuit in the same province. During the summer of 1842 he was appointed Salt Controller of Kwangtung and Kwangsi, and shortly after, provincial judge of Kwangtung. Beginning in 1843 he was financial commissioner of Fukien, but three years later was named governor of Kwangsi. Before leaving for that post, however, the appointment was changed (early in 1847) to governor of Fukien and supervisor of commercial dealings with foreign nations. He thus had an opportunity to improve his knowledge of and his acquaintance with Westerners. In dealing with them he tried always to simplify procedure, and to establish relations of mutual confidence. As his attitude toward them differed from that of Lin Tsê-hsü [q. v.], Westerners came to like him. But for the same reason he incurred the enmity of many Chinese. Finally, in 1851, he was denounced, and dismissed from office. However, following an audience with Emperor Wên-tsung (1851), Hsü Chi-yü was given a post as sub-director of the Court of Sacrificial Worship, and in the ensuing year officiated as chief examiner of the Szechwan provincial examination. Denounced once more for mal-administration during his term as governor of Fukien, he was again dismissed and retired to his native place.

As the Taiping forces moved northward (see under Lin Fêng-hsiang) Hsü took charge of organizing volunteers in Shansi. In 1865 he was again summoned to an audience with the Emperor and was appointed to serve in the Office of Foreign Affairs. About the year 1869 he retired on grounds of old age and ill health.

During his service in Fukien Hsü Chi-yü became interested in world geography. It was the time of the First Anglo-Chinese War (1840–42) and official business naturally brought him into contact with Westerners. In 1843 he went on a mission to Amoy and there met the American missionary David Abeel 雅禆理 (1804–1846). He borrowed from Abeel an atlas of the world, from which he traced a few maps and noted down the names of various countries. Thereafter he obtained more atlases and collected some geographical works in Chinese compiled by Westerners. After five years of labor (1843–48) he himself completed a geography of the world, entitled 瀛環志略 Ying-huan chih-lüeh, in 10 chüan. It was printed in 1850—six years after Wei Yüan's [q. v.] Hai-kuo t'u-chih—and was reprinted in 1866 by the Tsung-li Yamen. It was twice reprinted in Japan (1859, 1861). A critical review of this work, under the title Ying-huan chih-lüeh ting-wu (訂誤), appears anonymously in the 小方壺齋輿地叢鈔再補編 Hsiao-fang-ha chai yü-ti ts'ung-chao, tsai-pu pien (1897). Chang Yü-nan 張煜南 (T. 榕軒), also brought together a series of critical notes on it, entitled Pien-chêng (辯正) Ying-huan chih-lüeh, with a supplement, T'ui-kuang (推廣) Ying-huan chih-lüeh, printed in 1901 in Chang's collected works, known as 海國公餘輯錄 Hai-kuo kung-yü chi-lu. In his declining years Hsü Chi-yü started to compile a gazetteer of his native district, entitled 五台新志 Wu-tai hsin-chih. It was later carried to completion by local scholars of Wu-t'ai and was printed in 1883 in 4 chüan. Hsü's collected literary works are entitled 退密齋遺集 T'ui-mi chai i-chi.


[1/428/7b; 5/17/3b; Wu-t'ai hsin-chih (1883) 4/4a; Wylie, Notes, p. 66; Wylie, Memorials of Protestant Missionaries to the Chinese, (1867) pp. 72–75; Portrait in 中華教育界 Chung-hua chiao-yü chieh vol. 23, no. 8 (Feb., 1936).]

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