Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Li Tz'ŭ-ming

LI Tz'ŭ-ming 李慈銘 (T. 愛伯, H. 蒪客, 越縵, original ming 模 T. 式侯), Jan. 21, 1830–1894, Dec. 20, official and scholar, was a native of K'uai-chi (Shaohsing), Chekiang. Endowed with great natural abilities, he began to write poetry at the age of twelve (sui). As a young man he read extensively, devoting much time to digesting and meditating on what he read. In 1859 he went to Peking in the hope of purchasing a government post, but while there became the victim of a fraud in which he lost all his money. His mother, however, by disposing of all her lands, made it possible for him to obtain a post as department director in the Board of Works. He became a chü-jên in 1870 and a chin-shih in 1880, but continued in the Board of Works until he became a censor. As such he was fearless and outspoken. Because of his frankness and straightforwardness he made many enemies, but his friends loved him. However, the situation in which he found himself made him unhappy and despondent. When the Sino-Japanese War broke out in 1894, seeing that China was doomed to defeat, he became exasperated and died of hemorrhage at the age of sixty-six (sui).

Li Tz'ŭ-ming was a voluminous writer, but for a long time only a few items appeared in print—among them a collection of his verse, 白華絳跗閣詩初集 Pai-hua chiang-fu ko shih ch'u-chi, 10 chüan, printed in 1891. His prose and verse are marked by erudition and by a distinguished literary style which set him off as one of the great writers of the late Ch'ing period. His original manuscripts were acquired by the National Library of Peking in 1927. Eleven of these, constituting his notes on the study of history, were published by the Library in 1932 under the collective title, 越縵堂讀史杞記 Yüeh-man t'ang tu-shih cha-chi, 30 chüan. A collection of short articles in prose, entitled Yüeh-man tang wên-chi (文集), 12 chüan, was, like the above, assembled by Mr. Wang Chung-min (see under Han T'an) and published by the National Library in 1930. Li's diary—in some respects the most notable of his contributions—entitled Yüeh-man t'ang jih-chi (日記), covering the years 1863–88, was reproduced by the Commercial Press, Shanghai, in facsimile in 1921. A supplement for the years 1854–63 was reproduced in facsimile by the National Library in 1936. Apart from being a record of personal and national events, it contains his elucidations of the classics, identifications and verifications of historical data, notes on his readings, critical appraisals of notable personages, and many poems and short essays.

[1/491/19a; 6/10/22b; 19/壬上/22a; Bulletin of the National Library of Peiping, vol. 6, no. 5 (1932); T'u-shu kuan hsüeh chi-k'an (Library Science Quarterly), vol. 2, no. 2, portrait.]

H. S. Tsêng