Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Hsieh Chi-shih

HSIEH Chi-shih 謝濟世 (T. 石霖, H. 梅莊), 1689–1756, official and scholar, was a native of Ch'üan-chou, Kwangsi. A chin-shih of 1712, he was selected a bachelor of the Hanlin Academy and was then made a corrector. Late in 1726 he was appointed a censor. On December 29, a few days after his appointment, he submitted at a regular audience with the Emperor a memorial denouncing the governor of Honan, T'ien Wên-ching [q. v.], as corrupt, cruel, and unjust in discharging several local officials. Heedless of intimations that the Emperor trusted T ien, Hsieh disputed the case with him. It happened that another official, Li Fu [q. v.], had a short time before accused T'ien of the same offenses. The Emperor, suspicious of collusion, ordered a trial in which Hsieh admitted that his accusations were based on rumor. For these indiscretions Hsieh was sentenced to death. The sentence was commuted by the Emperor to banishment, and on the following day (December 30) he set out to serve as an exile at military headquarters in the Uliasutai region of Mongolia. For two years he remained there, calmly writing and teaching. But in 1729 Hsi-pao (see under Furdan), then commander of the military settlement, reported him as arrogant. Being suspicious also of his literary efforts, Hsi-pao sent Hsieh's annotated text of the Great Learning to Peking for examination. Among these annotations were found passages impugning the orthodox commentaries of Chu Hsi and also statements interpreted as covertly attacking the administration. Hsieh remained a prisoner at the military camp for more than half a year awaiting execution, but was released early in 1730. Late in 1735 he was pardoned by Emperor Kao-tsung and was re-instated in his post as censor.

Soon after resuming office, early in 1736, Hsieh submitted a memorial criticizing the manner of conducting the palace examinations for the chin-shih degree. He advocated freer expression of thought, and attacked the method of rating on the basis of standard rules of composition, and on the style of handwriting. He also submitted to the Emperor his annotated texts of the Great Learning and the Doctrine of the Mean (omitting those parts that nearly cost his life in 1729), but these works were rejected as worthless. In 1737 he submitted to the throne a treatise on the Classic of Changes which was accepted. But realizing that he was not really welcome at Peking, he pleaded (1738) for a provincial post on the ground that the increased income would enable him to support his aged mother. He was then appointed grain intendant of Hunan, a post he held for four years (1738–42). There he had certain of his works on the classics published (about 1739–41), but in 1741 someone disclosed this fact to the emperor who ordered Sun Chia-kan [q. v.], then governor-general at Wuchang, to investigate. Again unorthodox views were found in his writings on the classics, with the result that 154 volumes by him and 237 finished printing blocks were destroyed, early in 1742. The Emperor explained that he had never punished any man for his utterances or writings, hence the case was closed when Sun reported that Hsieh had repented. [In later years Emperor Kao-tsung altered his policy and meted out the most severe punishments for literary offences.]

Meanwhile (1742) Hsieh discovered by dramatically disguising himself as a commoner, that certain magistrates were exacting from farmers double the required taxes. It happened that the governor, Hsü Jung (see under Sun Chia-kan), was friendly to the accused magistrates, and, rather than report their misdeeds, had Hsieh reprimanded for corrupt and immoral conduct (1743). A conspiracy of high officials at Changsha tried to destroy the evidence against the offenders, and Hsieh's successor, Ts'ang-tê 倉德 was ordered to do so. But the latter, declining to comply with the wishes of his superiors, had the conspiracy exposed. An official investigation in 1743, based on the testimony of Ts'ang-tê, not only cleared Hsieh of all charges, but condemned Sun Chia-kan, Hsü Jung, the guilty magistrates, and several other officials. Hsieh had his rank restored, and late in 1743 was appointed intendant of Salt and Post Stations in Hunan. But he soon discovered that he was disliked, by the new governor as well, and in 1744 resigned. He returned to his native place and led a tranquil life for twelve years, until his death. During his last years he edited remnants of his works that had not been confiscated or burned, and published them under the title 梅莊雜著 Mei-chuang tsa-chu. This collection includes his memorials, philosophical discourses, poems and short articles in prose. It was reprinted several times—the 1825 edition having 4 chüan and the 1884 edition, 12 chüan. The fifth chüan of the 1884 edition is known independently as 西北域記 Hsi-pei-yü chi, being miscellaneous notes on his experiences in Mongolia.

It is interesting to note that Hsieh Chi-shih, even when an exiled convict in Mongolia (1729), was greatly revered by some generals and officers, chiefly Manchus, who sat under him as students of the classics.


[1/299/4b; 2/75/3b; 3/210/1a; Ch'üan-chou chih (1799) 8/46a; 虞城縣志 Yu-ch'êng (Honan) hsien-chih (1895) 6下/1a; Goodrich, L. C., Literary Inquisition of Ch'ien-lung (1935) pp. 88-93.]

Fang Chao-ying