Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Li Hsing-yüan

LI Hsing-yüan 李星沅 (T. 子湘, H. 石梧), July 8, 1797–1851, May 12, official, was a native of Hsiang-yin, Hunan. In 1832 he became a chin-shih and was selected a bachelor of the Hanlin Academy. Made a compiler a year later, he was appointed to assist in several literary projects. Thereafter he served as educational commissioner of Kwangtung (1835–37), prefect of Han-chung-fu, Shensi (1838), grain intendant of Honan (1838–40), and provincial judge of Shensi (1840–41), of Szechwan (1841), and of Kiangsu (1841). Early in 1842 he was promoted to be financial commissioner of Kiangsu, where the first Anglo-Chinese war was raging. He had charge of supplying the armies of I-ching [q. v.] in their struggle against the invaders and, while the English fleet was sailing up the Yangtze River, he did his best to maintain order and quarantine the defeated soldiers. After the signing of the Treaty of Nanking (see under Ch'i-ying), he took charge of demobilization of the troops and of the reports on war expenditure. Late in 1842 he rose to the post of governor of Shensi, and in 1845 was transferred to Kiangsu. In both provinces he introduced reforms in the military and civil administration.

In 1846 Li Hsing-yüan was made governor-general of Yunnan and Kweichow to succeed Ho Ch'ang-ling [q. v.]. When he reached the province later in that year, he led the provincial troops to suppress a Muslim uprising at Mien-ning, and within two months achieved this objective. His speedy victory won for him the title of Grand Guardian of the Heir Apparent and the decoration of the peacock feather. In the middle of 1847 he became governor-general of Kiangnan and Kiangsi. At Nanking he paid special attention to the suppression of the pirates on the seacoast to insure the safety of grain transport by the sea route (see under T'ao Chu). He also made reforms in the salt administration. In 1848, owing to his strenuous relief activities in flooded northern Kiangsu, he became ill. Early in 1849 he suffered from pains in the muscles of his chest and, after repeated pleas, was granted leave to nurse his illness.

In 1850, although he had not yet recovered, Li Hsing-yüan went to Peking to mourn the death of Emperor Hsüan-tsung. In an audience with the succeeding emperor, Wên-tsung, he was given permission to return to his home to care for his aged mother. But at midnight, on December 22, 1850, he received a decree, dated seven days earlier, appointing him Imperial Commissioner to suppress the rebellion of the Taipings in Kwangsi (see under Hsiang Jung and Hung Hsiu-ch'üan). Early in 1851 he went to Liuchow to direct this campaign, but died there before he could accomplish anything. He was canonized as Wên-kung 文恭.

The wife of Li Hsing-yüan, whose maiden name was Kuo Jun-yü 郭潤玉 (T. 昭華, 笙愉, H. 壺山女士), left a collection of poems entitled 簪花閣詩鈔 Tsan-hua ko shih-ch'ao. Verses which she and her husband exchanged with each other were printed in 1837 under the title 梧笙館聯吟 Wu-shêng kuan lien-yin. Li's own works appeared after his death under the title, 李文恭公遺集 Li Wên-kung kung i-chi, 46 chüan (also known as 芋香山館集 Yü-hsiang shan-kuan chi).

Li Hsing-yüan had five sons. The eldest, Li Hang 李杭 (T. 孟龍, H. 梅生, 1821–1848), was a chin-shih of 1844 and a Hanlin compiler. He left a collection of literary works entitled Hsiao (小) yü-hsiang kuan chi, 12 chüan. The third, Li Huan 李桓 (T. 叔虎, H. 黼堂, 1827–1891), an honorary licentiate, purchased the rank of an intendant of a Circuit, and in 1855 was sent to Kiangsi to await appointment. There, at Nanchang, he lived eight years, serving first as grain intendant (1856–62) and then as financial commissioner (1862–63). In the meantime he served several times as acting provincial judge and once as acting governor (1862), and held the following concurrent posts: director of the defense of Nanchang (1855–61) and superintendent of the bureau for collecting the taxes known as likin (1856–63). These were the years of the Taiping Rebellion and he did a great deal to stabilize the provincial administration which then was constantly harassed by rebel onslaughts and by corruption among the officials. In 1863 he was ordered to direct the campaign against the Nien bandits in Shensi but, after organizing a militia with a contribution of his own amounting to 20,000 taels, he was stricken with paralysis and retired in May of that year.

It is reported that Li Huan offended Tsêng Kuo-fan [q. v.] by remaining aloof from him. Before Li left Nanchang Tsêng ordered a careful examination of his accounts in the likin office, but found no cause for impeachment. Tsêng did, however, report minor mistake that Li had made in a judiciary case for which he was lowered in rank. For this, or for other reasons, Li continued in retirement, although after a few years he recovered from his paralysis. During his retirement he edited his own and his father's works. His own collection, 寶韋齋類稿 Pao-wei chai lei-kao, printed in 1890 in 100 chüan (an 82 chüan edition appeared in 1880), consists of his memorials and other official papers, his letters, literary works, and miscellaneous notes concerning his life as an official. These notes, which bear the separate title, 甲癸夢痕記 Chia kuei mêng-hên chi, contain some honest and revealing descriptions of the life of officials in his day.

Li Huan is now remembered chiefly for having edited a massive and very valuable collection of classified biographies of famous men of the Ch‘ing period, entitled 國朝耆獻類徵 Kuo-ch'ao ch'i-hsien lei-chêng. It consists of 484 chüan of major biographies, and 204 chüan giving the lives of princes of the Imperial Clan and of Mongols. In addition there is a table-of-contents in 20 chüan, an index in 10 chüan, a list of persons who have identical names, in 1 chüan, and an introduction in 1 chüan—making a total of 720 chüan in 294 volumes. Li drew his materials from many sources—official and private biographies, epitaphs, inscriptions on tombstones, miscellaneous notes, literary collections, etc. He began the compilation in 1867 when he was in Hunan; continued to work on it during the eighteen-seventies when he resided at Hangchow; and started the printing in 1884 after he returned to Hunan and had lost his eyesight. Despite these handicaps, he made alterations and additions while the printing was going on, and finally brought the work to completion in 1890. He then added a collection of biographies of women of the Ch'ing period, entitled Kuo-ch'ao hsien-yüan (賢媛) lei-chêng, 12 chüan, printed in 1891, the year of his death.


[1/399/1a; 2/42/12b; 5/24/23b; 7/25/17b; 5/38/10a; Li Wên-kung kung hsing-shu (行述); Pao-wei chai lei-kao; Hunan t'ung-chih (1885) 36/17a; Wang Hsien-ch'ien 王先謙, 虛受堂詩集 Hsü-shou t'ang shih-chi 14/18b; Kuo Sung-tao [q. v.], Yang-chih shu-nu wên-chi, 16/19b.]

Fang Chao-ying