Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Hsü Ta-ch'un

HSÜ Ta-ch'un 徐大椿 (T. 靈胎, H. 洄溪老人, original ming 大業), 1693–1771, physician, was a native of Wu-chiang, Kiangsu. His grandfather, Hsü Ch'iu [q. v.], was a poet, a landscape painter, and a man of letters. His father, Hsü Yang-hao 徐養浩 (d. ca. 1721), is said to have acquired an extensive knowledge of the water systems of Kiangsu. Hsü Ta-ch'un studied for some time in the Imperial Academy, but did not compete in the official examinations. His interests included various branches of knowledge, such as philosophy, astrology, music, geography, sports, and medicine—particularly the last which he made his specialty. His interest in philosophy led him to write commentaries on two Taoist classics under the titles: 道德經注 Tao-tê ching chu, 2 chüan, and Yin-fu ching (陰符經) chu, 1 chüan. These two works were copied into the Imperial Manuscript Library, Ssŭ-k'u ch'üan-shu (see under Chi Yün). In 1724, and again in 1762, he made valuable suggestions to local officials concerning river control—his ideas on this subject appearing in a work entitled 水利策稿 Shui-li ts'ê-kao which is perhaps no longer extant. He also helped his fellow-townsman and intimate friend, Shên T'ung [q. v.], compile a gazetteer of their native district which was printed in 1747 under the title 吳江縣志 Wu-chiang hsien-chih, 58 +1 chüan. In this gazetteer Hsü is referred to under the name Hsü Ta-yeh (業), but he later changed the last vocable to ch'un. In 1755–57 he and his friend, Wang K'ên-t'ang 汪肯堂 (念貽), reprinted the Pên-shih shih (see under Hsü Ch'iu) which had been compiled by his grandfather. In an explanatory note Hsü there signed his name as Ta-ch'un. In his later years his fame as a physician spread so widely that he was several times summoned by imperial order to the capital—once in 1761 when Chiang P'u (see under Chiang T'ing-hsi), a Grand Secretary, was seriously ill. After a careful diagnosis Hsü reported to the emperor that the malady was incurable, and Chiang died in the same year. Hsu's frankness drew the attention of the emperor who is said to have offered him a post in the Imperial Medical Department, but he declined. After some ten years (1771) he was again summoned by the emperor, but owing to his advanced age he went accompanied by his son, Hsü Hsi 徐爔 (T. 鼎和), who was also a physician. Soon after he arrived in Peking he died, at the age of 79 sui.

As a physician Hsü Ta-ch'un represented the traditional as opposed to the modern school of Chinese medicine. His school advocated a return to the early medical classics such as the 黃帝內經 Huang-ti nei-ching (also known as Nei-ching) which is regarded by many as the oldest Chinese medical work and is generally attributed to the legendary emperor, Huang-ti. Another of these classics is 傷寒論 Shang-han lun, 10 chüan, a treatise on fevers by the noted physician, Chang Chi 張機 (T. 仲景), of the Later Han period (25 A.D.–220 A.D.). Other contemporaries of Hsü, belonging to the same school, were: Yü Ch'ang 喻昌 (T. 嘉言, fu-pang of 1630); K'o Ch'in 柯琴 (T. 韻伯); Chang Chih-ts'ung 張志聰 (T. 隱庵); Kao Shih-shih 高世栻 (T. 士宗); Ch'ên Nien-tsu 陳念祖 (T. 修園); and Huang Yüan-yü 黄元御 (T. 坤載, H. 研農, 玉𪲘). The modernist school which favored more independent research as over against a too complete reliance on the classics was represented, among others, by the following physicians: Yeh Kuei [q. v.]; Hsüeh Hsüeh (see under Yeh Kuei); Wang Shih-hsiung 王士雄 (T. 孟英, H. 夢隱, 潛齋); Wu T'ang 吳瑭 (T. 鞠通); and Yü Lin 余霖 (T. 師愚). Apart from these two main schools of the early Ch'ing period there were many outstanding physicians, some of whom developed their own sects.

The following are some of the medical works attributed to Hsü Ta-ch'un: (1) 難經經釋 Nan-ching ching-shih, 2 chüan, author's preface dated 1727, a commentary on the ancient treatise, 黃帝八十一難經 Huang-ti pa-shih-i nan-ching (commonly known as Nan-ching); (2) Shên-nung pên-ts'ao ching pai-chung lu (百種錄), 1 chüan, author's preface dated 1736, a series of notes on 100 kinds of herbs from the ancient herbal, Shên-nung pên-ts'ao ching (see under Sun Hsing-yen); (3) 醫貫貶 I-kuan pien, 2 chüan, author's preface dated 1741, a criticism of an earlier work, I-kuan, 6 chüan, by Chao Hsien-k'o 趙獻可 (T. 養葵, H. 醫巫閭子); (4) 醫學源流論 I-hsüeh yüan-liu lun, 2 chüan, author's preface dated 1757, a treatise on the development of medical studies; (5) 傷寒論類方 Shang-han lun lei-fang, 1 chüan, author's preface dated 1759, a discussion of 113 prescriptions for fevers; and (6) 蘭臺規範 Lan-t'ai kuei-fan, 8 chüan, author's preface dated 1764, a comprehensive collection of prescriptions for various diseases. The above six works were later brought together and printed under the collective title 徐氏醫書六種 Hsü-shih i-shu liu-chung. This collection was reprinted in 1878, with two additional items by Hsü, under the title Hsü-shih i-shu pa (八) chung—the two additional items being 慎疾芻言 Shên-chi ch'u-yen, 1 chüan, author's preface dated 1767, a collection of suggestions to physicians and patients with a bibliography of outstanding Chinese medical works; and 洄溪醫案 Hui-hsi i-an, 1 chüan, Hsü's notes on medicine, later edited by Wang Shih-hsiung and printed in 1857. The last-mentioned work is said to have been obtained by Wang from a disciple of Hsü, named Chin Fu-ts'un 金復村. Hsü's collection was again expanded by a publisher named Chu Chi-jung (see under Ku Yen-wu) and given the title 徐靈胎醫書十種 Hsü Ling-t'ai i-shu shih-chung. The two works added are: 外科正宗評 Wai-k'o chêng-tsung p'ing, 12 chüan, a criticism of an earlier medical work, entitled Wai-k'o chêng-tsung, by Ch'ên Shih-kung 陳實功 (T. 毓仁); and 洄溪道情 Hui-hsi tao-ch'ing, 1 chüan, a collection of Hsü's poems in folk-song style. Other works attributed to him are: 述恩紀略 Shu-ên chi-lüeh, a description of his audience with the emperor; and 樂府傳聲 Yüeh-fu ch'uan-shêng, 2 chüan, author's preface dated 1744 and another preface, dated 1748, by Hu Yen-ying (see under Hu Wei). This last, a treatise on the musical drama, was completed by Hsü in 1743, but was probably not printed until 1881 when Li Ching-yü 李經畬secured a manuscript copy. The work was later included in the collectanea, 正覺樓叢刻 Chêng-chüeh lou ts'ung-k'o (1881). Four of Hsu's medical treatises were copied into the Imperial Manuscript Library and two are mentioned in the Ssŭ-k'u Catalogue (see under Chi Yün).

Hsü Ta-ch'un is described as a man of tall stature with a wide forehead and a resonant voice. He retired to a small village called Huihsi, north of the city of Wu-chiang, and took the name of this village as his hao. But he is better known as Hsü Ling-t'ai, presumably because he was so designated in an imperial decree summoning him to Peking. In the course of his medical duties he had an opportunity to make the acquaintance of well-known contemporaries, among them Yüan Mei [q. v.] who wrote a biography of him under the title Hsü Ling-tai hsien-shêng chuan (先生傳) which is included in the Sui-yüan ch'üan-chi (see under Yüan Mei).


[1/507/7b; 3/483/1a; 4/147/5a; 23/33/13a; Wu-chiang hsien-chih (1749), 32/32b, 55/51b, 46/10b; Wu-chiang hsien hsü (續) chih (1879) 21/6b, 34/9a, 35/2b, 3a, 36/7b, 39/6a; Yüan Mei, Hsü Ling-t'ai hsien-shêng chuan; Wong, K. Chimin, and Wu Lien-teh, History of Chinese Medicine (no date), passim; Ssŭ-k'u, passim.]

J. C. Yang