Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Juan Ta-ch'êng

3640938Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period, Volume 1 — Juan Ta-ch'êngEarl Swisher

JUAN Ta-ch'êng 阮大鋮 (T. 集之, H. 圓海, 石巢, 百子山樵), ca. 1587–1646, Ming-Ch'ing politician, dramatist and poet, came from a family of influence, but of corrupt and unsavory reputation. His great-grandfather, Juan Ê 阮鶚 (T. 應薦, H. 函峯居士, chin-shih of 1544), governor of Fukien during the Chia-ching reign-period (1522–67), belonged to the clique of Yen Sung 嚴嵩 (T. 惟中, chin-shih of 1505, d. ca. 1565, aged about 87 sui) and Chao Wên-hua 趙文華 (chin-shih of 1529, d. ca. 1557). His grand-uncle, Juan Tzŭ-hua 阮自華 (T. 堅之, chin-shih of 1598), was a poet who left a collection, entitled 霧靈集 Wu-ling chi. His great-grandfather took up residence in T'ung-ch'êng, Anhwei, but it seems that Juan Ta-ch'êng was brought up in Huai-ning in the same province. Becoming a chin-shih in 1616, he was appointed to a post in Peking, but retired in 1621 to go into mourning. He returned to office in 1624, and finding Yang Lien [q. v.] and Wei Ta-chung (see under Yang Lien) blocking his way to a coveted post, he allied himself with the powerful eunuch, Wei Chung-hsien [q. v.], secured Wei Ta-chung's dismissal and obtained the post for himself. Fear of revenge from the Tung-lin 東林 members, however, induced him to resign. When Wei Chung-hsien was condemned in 1627, Juan wrote memorials excoriating both the Tung-lin group who despised him and the eunuchs who had helped him. In the following year (1628) he was made a director of the Banqueting Court but when the case of Wei Chung-hsien was finally settled he was charged with supporting the eunuch and was deprived of all official titles.

While living in retirement from 1629 to 1644, first in his home district and later at Nanking, Juan composed poems and wrote several dramas, one of which was entitled 十錯認 Shih-ts'o-jên, or "Comedy of Ten Errors," also known as 春燈謎 Ch'un-têng-mi. It was supposed to be an apologia for his former alliance with the eunuchs. However, he was still persecuted by several young Tung-lin members, among whom were Hou Fang-yü and Ch'ên Chên-hui [qq. v.] who posted in Nanking a denunciation of him, known as the Liu-tu fang-luan kung-chieh (see under Chang P'u), signed by 140 prominent men. Juan was humiliated and turned to his intimate friend, Ma Shih-ying [q. v.], for help. When the Prince of Fu (see under Chu Yu-sung) set up his Court in Nanking (1644) Ma became the most powerful man in the government and secured Juan's pardon and reinstatement. He soon rose to the rank of president of the Board of War and Grand Guardian of the Heir Apparent and made use of his power to revenge himself against the Tung-lin and Fu-shê (see under Chang P'u) by writing scorching diatribes and having many of their members imprisoned. His bribery, avarice, and political intrigue became notorious but all attempts to remove him failed. When the Ming emperor fled in 1645 Juan escaped to Chin-hua, Chekiang, where the gentry refused to receive him. Later he surrendered to the Manchus and punished the hapless city by leading Ch'ing troops to destroy it. He died in 1646 while following the Ch'ing army into Fukien.

As a dramatist Juan Ta-ch'êng belonged to the school of T'ang Hsien-tsu [q. v.]. Of his nine plays the texts of only three, besides the one already mentioned, are extant: 燕子箋 Yen-tzŭ chien; 牟尼合 Mou-ni ho; and 雙金榜 Shuang-chin-pang. All four were reprinted by Tung K'ang 董康 under the collective title 石巢四種 Shih-ch'ao ssŭ-chung. Still frequently played, these are romantic and sentimental dramas based on imaginary incidents rather than on historical events, and employ Buddhistic and supernatural devices to bring about a dénouement. His collected poems were published under the following titles: 詠懷堂詩 Yung-huai t'ang shih, 4 chüan, with a preface by the author dated 1635; a 2 chüan supplement (外集) to the same by Yeh Ts'an 葉燦 (T. 以冲, chin-shih of 1613, posthumous name 文莊); Yung-huai t'ang ping-tzŭ shih (丙子詩), 1 chüan, poems written by Juan in 1636, with a preface by Ma Shih-ying dated 1637; Yung-huai t'ang wu-yin shih 戊寅詩), 1 chüan, poems written by Juan in 1638; and Yung-huai t'ang hsin-ssŭ shih (辛巳詩), 2 chüan, poems written by Juan in 1641, with a preface by Chang Fu-ch'ien 張福乾 dated 1642. All these collections were reprinted in 1928 by the Kuo-hsüeh Library of Nanking, under the title Yung-huai t'ang shih-chi (詩集). It is of interest to note that Juan wrote a preface (dated 1634) to the Ming work on garden architecture known as 園冶 Yüan-yeh, 3 chüan, compiled by Chi Ch'êng 計成 (T. 無否, b. 1582). This work was reprinted in 1931 in the Hsi-yung hsüan ts'ung-shu (see under Ch'ên Hung-shou).

[M.1/308/34b; M.3/287/23b; M.36/18/9a; M.41/6/23b, 9/7a, 12/31a, 13/7a; M.59/62/7b; M.84/丁下/66b; 明季南略 Ming-chi nan-lüeh 4/1a; 先撥志始 Hsien-po chih-shih, chüan 下 /65a; Aoki Seiji 青木正兒, 支那近世戲曲史 Shina kinsei gikyoku shi (Kyoto, 1930), pp. 465–84, Chinese translation by Chêng Chên 鄭震 (Shanghai, 1933), pp. 240–49; Huai-ning hsien-chih (1916) 15/6b; 江南通志 Chiang-nan t'ung-chih (1736) 123/24a.]

Earl Swisher