Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Shên Tê-ch'ien

SHÊN Tê-ch'ien 沈德潛 (T. 確士, H. 歸愚), Dec. 24, 1673–1769, Oct. 6, official, poet and literary critic, was a native of Ch'ang-chou, Kiangsu. He was brought up in a poor but cultivated home. His grandfather and father were tutors, and he also began to teach when he was eleven (sui). His poetic genius was recognized early, for at the age of six (sui) he so impressed his grandfather with his knowledge of rhymes that the latter predicted he would become a great poet. But Shên Tê-ch'ien's way to political preferment was more difficult, for he did not become a chü-jên until he was sixty-six (sui), after seventeen attempts. Taking his chin-shih degree in 1739, he gained the favor of Emperor Kao-tsung and enjoyed the latter's literary friendship, being twice honored with imperial prefaces to his works (see below).

In 1742 Shên Tê-ch'ien was appointed a compiler in the Hanlin Academy and was assigned to edit the old and the new histories of the T'ang dynasty, and to participate in the compilation of the "Mirror of History" for the Ming period, which was printed in 1746 in a work of 20 chüan, entitled 資治通鑑鋼目三編 Tzŭ-chih tung-chien kang-mu san-pien. In 1743 Shên became senior secretary of the Supervisorate of Imperial Instruction, expositor in the Hanlin Academy, and diarist of the Emperor's movements. He was examiner of the provincial examination in Hupeh (1744), chief supervisor of imperial instruction, assistant director of the metropolitan military examination (1745), and sub-chancellor of the Grand Secretariat (1746). In 1747 he was made tutor to the imperial princes, and junior vice-president of the Board of Ceremonies, and in 1748 assistant director of the metropolitan examination. Retiring from official life in 1749, he became two years later (1751) principal of the Tzŭ-yang (紫陽) Academy at Soochow.

During the remainder of his long life he made two journeys to the capital (1751, 1761), attending on both occasions the birthday celebrations of the Empress Dowager; and four times he had the pleasure of greeting the Emperor on the latter's journey to South China (1751, 1757, 1762, 1765). On one of these occasions he was made honorary president of the Board of Ceremonies (1757), on another, Grand Tutor of the Heir Apparent (1765). In 1769, at the age ninety-seven (sui), he died and was canonized as Wên-k'o 文愨. His name was entered in the Temple of Eminent Statesmen and remained there until 1778 when he was posthumously denounced for having written a biographical sketch of Hsü Shu-k'uei [q. v.] whose collection of verse, entitled I-chu lou shih (see under Hsü Shu-k'uei), was banned for containing alleged seditious utterances. The decree denouncing Shên's works was issued on December 3, 1778. Upon reading certain of Shên's verses that seemed to him seditious the Emperor ordered the withdrawal of all his posthumous honors.

The literary remains of Shên-Tê-ch'ien are of two kinds: his own compositions, and anthologies which he compiled and edited. His creative writings, brought together under the title, 歸愚詩文鈔 Kuei-yü shih-wên ch'ao, comprise his poems in 30 chüan—the first 20 chüan, honored with a preface by Emperor Kao-tsung, being printed in 1752, the remainder in 1766; prose compositions in 27 chüan, of which the first 20 chüan were printed in 1759, the rest in 1767; a collection of verse in 4 chüan, entitled 矢音 Shih-yin (1753), written to match poems composed by the Emperor; notes on literary criticism, entitled 詩說晬語 Shih-shuo sui-yü (1731), in 2 chüan; a collection of tzŭ or poems in irregular meter (1767); essays designed to elucidate maps in the general gazetteer of Chekiang province, Chekiang t'ung-chih, which was ordered to be revised in 1731 and was published in 1736; and an autobiographical nien-p'u whose preface is dated 1764. His editorial activity resulted in the following anthologies of verse and prose of different periods: 古詩源 Ku-shih yüan, in 14 chüan (1725), being selected poems from dynasties prior to the T'ang; 唐詩別裁集 T'ang-shih pieh-ts'ai chi, 20 chüan, a T'ang anthology compiled in collaboration with Ch'ên Shu-tzŭ 陳樹滋, printed in 1717 but revised and enlarged in 1763; Ming (明) shih pieh-ts'ai chi, in 12 chüan (1739), a Ming anthology compiled with the help of Chou Chun 周準 (T. 欽萊, H. 迂村, d. 1756); Kuo-ch'ao (國朝) shih pieh-ts'ai chi, 36 chüan, poems of the early Ch'ing period, first edition 1759, revised edition in 32 chüan with a preface by the Emperor dated 1761; 唐宋八家文選 T'ang-Sung pa-chia wên-hsüan (1752), in 30 chüan, being selected essays from eight great masters of the T'ang and Sung periods; 吳中七子詩選 Wu-chung ch'i-tzŭ shih-hsüan (1753) in 14 chüan, selected poems by seven of his students, among them Wang Ming-shêng, Wang Ch'ang, and Ch'ien Ta-hsin [qq. v.]; and 杜詩偶評 Tu-shih ou-p'ing (1753), selected poems by Tu Fu (see under Ch'ou Chao-ao) with critical annotations.

In the field of literary criticism Shên Tê-ch'ien promoted a revival of classicism, both in content and in form. He inclined to the view of Han Yü (see under Mao Chin) that the function of literature is to advance morality. He asserted that poetry should perpetuate the morality of ancient periods, and maintain the form and style set by the Han, Wei, and Tang dynasties. He stressed the purpose, the form, and the so-called "spiritual atmosphere" (shên yün) which Wang Shih-chên [q. v.] regarded as so important. But above all he stressed poetic form (格調說), as opposed to Yüan Mei [q. v.] who emphasized genius and individuality (性靈說).


[1/311/3a; 3/84/21a; 7/18/23b; 20/2/00; 23/30/1a; 吳縣志 Wu-hsien chih (1933) 13/8b; Chekiang t'ung-chih (1736) 職名/4a; Goodrich, L. C., The Literary Inquisition of Ch'ien-lung, pp. 170–172; Aoki Seli 青木正兒,支那文學思想(下), 岩波講座東洋思潮 Iwanami kōza Tōyō shichō; Suzuki Torao 鈴木虎雄, Shina Shironshi (1925) pp. 208–210.]

Li Man-kuei