Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Li Wên-t'ien

LI Wên-t'ien 李文田 (T. 仲約, 畬光, H. 芍[若]農), 1834–1895, Dec. 6, official and scholar, was a native of Shun-tê, Kwangtung, but spent much of his youth at Fo-shan (Fatshan) in the neighboring district of Nan-hai, where his father was in business. He lost his father when he was fourteen (sui), but under the patronage of a local scholar, Liang Chiu-t'u 梁九圖 (T. 福草, H. 汾江先生, 十二石山人), was able to graduate as hsiu-ts'ai in 1851 and as chü-jên in 1855. He and Liang's son, Liang Sêng-pao 梁僧寶 (T. 伯乞, H. original ming 思問), took their chin-shih degrees in 1859. After serving for a few years as a compiler in the Hanlin Academy he was asked (1864) to serve in the Imperial Study. In 1870 he was appointed educational commissioner of Kiangsi where he remained for about three years. Promoted to the rank of reader in the Hanlin Academy in 1873, he returned early in the following year to Peking where he resumed his work in the Imperial Study. Shortly afterwards, when several officials proposed rebuilding the Yüan-ming Yüan which had been destroyed by the allied forces of Great Britain and France (see under I-hsin), Li opposed the move and won on the ground that it was not a pressing need. In the autumn of the same year (1874), he returned to his native place owing to the advanced age of his mother, and for eight years thereafter directed the Ying-Yüan (應元) Academy in Canton. After observing the customary period of mourning for his mother, who died in 1882, he went to Peking (1884) and resumed his former position in the Imperial Study where he remained until his death. He served as chief examiner in the provincial examination of 1888 in Kiangsu and of 1889 in Chekiang. Late in 1890 he was promoted to the vice-presidency of the Board of Ceremonies. During the years 1891–94 he was educational commissioner of Chihli. In November 1895 he was ordered to take charge of the Three Granaries of the Board of Revenue, but he contracted a cold while investigating the granaries and died about a month later. Some twenty years later he was given the posthumous name, 文誠 Wên-ch'êng, by the deposed emperor P'u-i (see under Tsai-t'ien).

Li Wên-t'ien belonged to a group of influential conservatives in Peking who believed that the time-honored civilization and institutions of the Middle Kingdom were the best in the world. Late in 1888, when the famous radical, K'ang Yu-wei (see under T'an Ssŭ-t'ung), presented to the throne his first memorial advocating modernization of traditional institutions, and in the spring of 1895, when he presented a similar memorial, Li suppressed them before they reached the Empress Dowager and the young Emperor Tê-tsung—on the ground that the ancient institutions should not be changed. His nationalistic pride made him a patriot as well as an anti-foreign agitator. When Franco-Chinese relations became acute in 1884 he advised P'êng Yü-lin and Chang Chih-tung [qq. v.] to take decisive action, and recommended to them Fêng Tzŭ-ts'ai [q. v.] as a commander. During the Sino-Japanese War in 1894–95 he was one of the die-hards on the policy toward Japan. Shortly after the outbreak of the war he memorialized the throne requesting an important position for I-hsin [q. v.], who in consequence was appointed controller of the Board of Admiralty. After the war Li condemned the decision of Li Hung-chang [q. v.] to pay an indemnity of 200,000,000 taels to Japan.

Li Wên-t'ien was on good terms with P'an Tsu-yin and Wang I-jung [qq. v.] both in their official and scholarly capacities. Like them he owned a good collection of rare books and rubbings of ancient inscriptions on stone and bronze which he preserved in his library Tui-hua lou 對華樓, a name later changed to Tz'ŭ-shu lou 賜書樓. He excelled in calligraphy and wrote numerous epitaphs on stone. He was also skilled in other arts such as medicine, geomancy, and physiognomy. His ability as a writer was highly praised by Wêng T'ung-ho [q. v.]. A number of his poems were collected and printed in the 心園叢刻 Hsin-yüan ts'ung-k'o, first series (1925), by his disciple, Hsü K'o 徐珂 (T. 仲可). But Li was best known as a student of Mongol history which he studied under the influence of Shêng-yü [q. v.]. He obtained a sound text of the Yüan-ch'ao pi-shih (see under Ku Kuang-ch'i) which had been owned by Chang Tun-jên (see under Ku Kuang-ch'i) and also made a copy of a similar text collated by Ku Kuang-ch'i and in the possession of Shêng-yü. With these texts he collated and annotated the corrupt text of the Yüan-ch'ao pi-shih printed by Chang Mu [q. v.], but, because of his inability to read the Mongol language, he was not able to consult that important section in Mongol which is transcribed phonetically with Chinese characters. His work was printed after his death in two collectanea: Chien-hsi ts'un-shê ts'ung-k'o (see under Yüan Ch'ang) and 皇朝藩屬輿地叢書 Huang-ch'ao Fan-shu yü-ti ts'ung-shu (1903). A supplement by Kao Pao-ch'üan was published in 1902 under the title 元祕史李注補正 Yüan pi-shih Li-chu pu-chêng. As a result of these studies Li left three other works which were printed in the Ling-chien ko ts'ung-shu (see under Ho Ch'iu-t'ao): 西遊錄注 Hsi-yu lu chu, 1 chüan, comments on extant fragments of the Hsi-yu lu (1227) by Yeh-lü Ch'u-ts'ai 耶律楚材 (T. 晉卿, 1190–1244), a work consisting of descriptions of Central Asia based on experiences during the Mongol conquest of 1219–27; 和林金石錄 Ho-lin chin-shih lu, 1 chüan with appendix, a collection of inscriptions on stone in Karakorum; and annotations on the Shuo-fang pei-shêng by Ho Ch'iu-t'ao [q. v.]. Two supplements to the Hsi-yu lu chu, one by Fan Chin-shou 范金壽 and the other by Chang Hsiang-wên 張相文 (T. 蔚西, 1867–1933), were printed in the Chü-hsüeh hsüan ts'ung-shu (see under Liu Jui-fên) and the 地學叢書 Ti-hsüeh ts'ung-shu, second series (1921), respectively. The Ho-lin chin-shih lu was annotated and reprinted by Lo Chên-yü (see under Chao Chih-ch'ien) in his 遼居雜箸 Liao-chü tsa-chu, first series (1929).

[11/447/1b; 2/58/53b; 6/4/22a; Shun-tê hsien-chih (1929) 19/3b; 佛山忠義鄉志 Fo-shan Chung-i-hsiang chih (1921) 14/39b; Nien-p'u of K'ang Yu-wei in 史學年報 Shih-hsüeh nien-pao, vol. II, no. 1 (1934); Preface to the Jingisukan Jitsuroku (see under Shêng-yü); Pelliot, T'oung Pao, 1913, pp. 131–32; Ch'ên Po-t'ao 陳伯陶, 瓜廬文賸 Kua-lu wên-shêng, 4/42a.]

Hiromu Momose