Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Ku Tung-kao

KU Tung-kao 顧棟高 (T. 震滄, 復祁, H. 左畬), 1679–1759, commentator on the Classics, was a native of Wu-hsi, Kiangsu. When young he studied the Classics with a fellow-townsman, Ts'ai Tê-chin 蔡德晉 (T. 仁錫, chü-jên of 1726), and with Wu Ting 吳鼎 (T. 尊彝, H. 易堂, chü-jên of 1744) of Chin-kuei, Kiangsu. Ku Tung-kao himself was especially interested in the Tso-chuan (see under Cha Li). He became a chin-shih in 1721 and was appointed secretary to the Grand Secretariat, but during an audience with Emperor Shih-tsung he spoke out of order and was dismissed from office (1723). For the rest of his life, he lived in retirement from political activity.

Late in 1749 Emperor Kao-tsung issued an order that high officials should recommend persons of good character and learned in the Classics for a special examination at which the Emperor would personally preside. Ch'ên Tsu-fan 陳祖范 (T. 亦韓, H. 見復, 1675–1753), Liang Hsi-yü 梁錫璵 (T. 確軒, chü-jên of 1724), and Ku's friend, Wu Ting, were among a group of forty who were recommended. Ku himself, then seventy-two (sui), was presented by the great flower painter, Tsou I-kuei 鄒一桂 (T. 原褒, H. 小山, 1686–1772), then director of the Court of Judicature and Revision. By imperial decree of 1751 these four men were appointed tutors in the Imperial Academy. On account of his advanced age Ku could not undertake the actual duties of office, but accepted the title of tutor. While in Peking (1752) to celebrate the birthday of the Empress Dowager he had an audience with the Emperor. He commented on the extravagance in Kiangsu and on the benefits that would accrue if the Emperor should set an example of frugality for the empire. This sentiment so pleased His Majesty that upon Ku's departure he presented him with two poems in which he pointed out that while Ku was too old to hold office, he was not too old to write, and that he ranked high in the esteem of his sovereign. When the emperor was on his second tour of South China (1757) he again summoned Ku into his presence, granted him the additional title of Libationer, and conferred on him an inscription in the imperial handwriting, which read: "Venerable Interpreter of the Classics" (傳經耆碩).

The most important of Ku's scholarly works deals with the Spring and Autumn period (722–481 B.C.). It is entitled 春秋大事表 Ch'un-ch'iu ta-shih piao, in 50 chüan, and was printed about the year 1748. It is a collection of chronological, geographical, geneological, economic, and other information concerning the ancient Chinese states of that period, arranged in tabular form under fifty topics. After each topic, wherever there is an element of dispute or doubt, supplementary annotations by the author or by some other scholar are added. Attached to this work are maps with explanations in which the ancient and contemporary forms of place-names are given. The author states that in order to determine the geographical features of the Ch'un-ch'iu period he made extensive tours to the places in question. This work and the commentaries on the Odes, entitled 毛詩類說 Mao-shih lei-shuo, in 21 chüan, with a supplement of 3 chüan, were copied into the Imperial Manuscript Library (see under Chi Yün). Ku Tung-kao's 大儒粹語 Ta-ju ts'ui yü, 28 chüan, contains extracts from the lectures of twenty-seven scholars of the Sung, Yüan, and Ming dynasties, the ideas of each scholar being systematized and harmonized. His 尚書質疑 Shang-shu chih-i, 2 chüan, is a not entirely successful study of the Classic of History. Ku Tung-kao was also chief compiler of the 淮安府志 Huai-an-fu chih, in 32 chüan, printed in 1748.

[1/486/30a; 2/68/27a; 3/127/10a; Ssŭ-k'u 14/7b; 無錫金匱縣志 Wu-shi Chin-kuei hsien chih, (1881), 21/29, 38/21a; Tung hua lu, Ch'ien-lung 14: 11, 12; 16: jun 5, 6, 8.]

Rufus O. Suter