Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Hsü Shu-k'uei

HSÜ Shu-k'uei 徐述夔 (original ming 賡雅), chü-jên of 1738, poet and teacher, was a native of Tung-t'ai, Kiangsu, which until 1768 was a part of T'ai-chou. Although a sketch of his life is known to have been written by Shên Tê-ch'ien [q. v.], at the request of Hsü Shu-k'uei's son, Hsü Huai-tsu 徐懷祖 (d. 1777), and although he left a considerable number of published and unpublished works, little is known about his life, owing to systematic attempts on the part of the ruling house, after 1778, to blot out his memory. Shên wrote of him that both his scholarship and his conduct were exemplary. Hsü is quoted as remarking to one of his students, "Had I lived in the middle of the Ming dynasty I would have been the equal of Tung Ch'i-ch'ang [q. v.] and T'ang Shun-chih 唐順之 (T. 應德, H. 荊川, 1507–1560), but people today cannot recognize my ability." If we judge from the title of one of his works, 和陶詩 Ho-T'ao shih, 1 chüan, he felt a spiritual kinship with the ancient poet, T'ao Ch'ien (see under T'ao Chu). After his death the posthumous name Hsiao-wên 孝文 was privately conferred on him by his friends.

When an enemy of the Hsü family threatened to inform the authorities that certain poems in Hsü Shu-k'uei's collected verse, entitled 一柱樓詩 I-chu lou shih, in 6 chüan, printed about 1763, covertly abused the ruling dynasty, a grandson, Hsü Shih-t'ien 徐食田, handed over in May 1778 to T'u Yüeh-lung 涂躍龍 (T. 震溟, H. 曉川, 二餘, chü-jên of 1762, d. 1798), the magistrate of Tung-t'ai, the printing blocks and all printed copies of the collection. He expected thus to incur a less severe penalty in case the books were pronounced to be offensive. The magistrate in turn transferred the case to the Bureau of Censorship that had been set up in Nanking in 1774. But, as many books were daily submitted to the authorities, the case was neglected until the commissioner of education, Liu Yung [q. v.], brought it to the notice of the throne in October 1778 when by imperial order it was speedily acted upon.

One couplet in the I-chu lou shih which particularly infuriated the emperor was the following:

明朝期振翮

一舉去清都

At dawn tomorrow bestir your wings

At one flight make for the celestial palace.

This was taken by innuendo to mean:

Arise, all ye of the house of Ming,

With one blow destroy the capital of Ch'ing.

Nor was it difficult, for those so minded, to bring forward other data that seemed to hint covertly at rebellion. Had not Hsü Shu-k'uei given to one of his students, also surnamed Hsü 徐, the personal name Shou-fa 首髮; and did he not thus, by the adroit use of a homonym, advise his pupils and others to "retain (守 shou) their hair"? To another pupil, surnamed Shên 沈, Hsü had given the name Ch'êng-cho 成濯, "became bare", which was taken as a slurring reference to the forced shaving of half the pate in Ch'ing times. Furthermore, there were discovered among Hsü's effects quotations from the works of an earlier and similar offender, Lü Liu-liang [q. v.].

As a result of the inquisition all the books by Hsü Shu-k'uei, including the wood blocks, were burned. Only one item seems to have survived the holocaust, a copy of the drama 五色石 Wu-sê-shih, in 8 chüan, now preserved in the Library of the South Manchurian Railway at Dairen, but lacking indication of authorship. Sentences on the accused were imposed by imperial consent, January 14, 1779. The corpses of Hsü Shu-k'uei and his son, Huai-tsu, who had printed the work, were dismembered. His grandsons, the afore-mentioned Hsü Shih-t'ien and Hsü Shih-shu 徐食書, were imprisoned to await execution in the following autumn—the sentence of the latter being commuted, however, to slavery among the aborigines of Heilungkiang. The two students mentioned above, whose names appeared in Hsü's works as collators, were also imprisoned to await execution. Officials accused of negligence in conducting the case in its early stages were flogged or banished, or both. Hsieh Ch'i-k'un 謝啟昆 (T. 蘊山, 1737–1802), then prefect of Yangchow, was banished. The magistrate, T'u Yüeh-lung, was both flogged and banished. The financial commissioner of Kiangsu, T'ao I 陶易 (T. 經初, H. 悔軒, chü-jên of 1752, died in prison in 1778), and one of his secretaries, were sentenced to imprisonment awaiting execution. Shên Tê-ch'ien was posthumously deprived of all honors that the emperor had conferred upon him, for having written the above-mentioned biographical sketch.


[Chang-ku ts'ung-pien (see under Ho Ch'o nos. 4–9, pp. 1–75; Tung-hua lu, Ch'ien-lung 43:9–10; 文登縣志 Wên-têng hsien chih (1839) 4/8a, 5/14a; 文獻叢編 Wên-hsien ts'ung-pien 15; 景東縣志 Ching-tung hsien-chih (1922), 15/11b.]

L. Carrington Goodrich