Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Ts'ao Chên-yung

TS'AO Chên-yung 曹振鏞 (T. 懌嘉, H. 儷笙), Nov. 8, 1755–1835, Jan. 31, official, was a native of Shê-hsien, Anhwei. His grandfather, Ts'ao Ching-ch'ên 曹景宸 (T. 映青, H. 楓亭, 1707–1776, Feb. 14), was for many years a salt merchant at Yangchow, and as such amassed a tolerable fortune. His father, Ts'ao Wên-ch'ih 曹文埴 (T. 近薇, H. 竹虛, 薺原, 1735–1798), became a chin-shih in 1760 and in the following year a compiler in the Hanlin Academy. After holding the offices of educational commissioner of Kiangsi (1771–74) and of Chekiang (1775–76), and serving as a vice-president on various Boards, Ts'ao Wên-ch'ih was made president of the Board of Revenue (1785). In 1787 he was granted leave to look after his aged mother (née Chu 朱, b. 1707). While in retirement he exchanged poems with Emperor Kao-tsung whom he visited on two occasions—in 1790 to celebrate the Emperor's eightieth birthday, and in 1795 to congratulate the Emperor on his completion of sixty years on the throne. His literary collection, 石鼓硯齋集 Shih-ku-yen chai chi, contains 20 + 1 chüan of writings in prose and 32 + 2 + 8 chüan of verse. He was canonized as Wên-min 文敏.

Ts'ao Chên-yung became a chin-shih in 1781 and a compiler in the Hanlin Academy in 1787. For eleven years he served in various literary offices in Peking and as educational commissioner of Honan (1792–95) and of Kwangtung (1798). From 1798 to 1801 he remained at home to mourn the death of his father, and thereafter served as a sub-chancellor of the Grand Secretariat (1802–04), as provincial commissioner of education of Kiangsi (1804–06), and as president of the Board of Works (1806–09) and of the Board of Revenue (1809–13). In 1813 he was made a Grand Secretary, supervising the Board of Works. After the suppression of the rebellion at Hua-hsien, Honan (see under Na-yen-ch'êng), he was given the title of Grand Guardian of the Heir Apparent. In 1814, on his sixtieth birthday (by Chinese calculation), he received the congratulations of Emperor Jên-tsung.

In 1820, after Emperor Hsüan-tsung succeeded to the throne, Ts'ao was made concurrently a Grand Councilor. During the ensuing fourteen years he headed the highest offices of the government—the Grand Secretariat and the Grand Council. He became, in fact, the venerated old man of the Empire, receiving the congratulations of Emperor Hsüan-tsung on his seventieth and eightieth birthdays (1824, 1834) with high honors. In 1821 he was given a home near the Forbidden City; three years later he was honored with the peacock feather for his part in directing the compilation of the Shih-lu of Emperor Jên-tsung (see under Wang Yin-chih). For the recovery of Turkestan in 1828 (see under Ch'ang-ling), he was given the title of Grand Tutor—an honor granted to only a few living men in the Ch'ing period. In 1831 he was decorated with a double-eyed peacock feather, and three years later was permitted to ride in a sedan chair inside the Forbidden City. On receiving the news of his death, Emperor Hsüan-tsung issued a long statement praising him and granting him high posthumous honors. He was celebrated in the Temple of Eminent Statesmen and was given the most coveted posthumous name, Wên-chêng 文正.

In his statement lamenting Ts'ao's death, Emperor Hsuan-tsung praised him as faithful to his trust, and added that although he seemed awkward in speech, he often fearlessly and vehemently gave his views on what should be done and what should not be done. The Emperor resembled Ts'ao in being cautious and frugal, and perhaps for that reason placed so much confidence in him. It is said that owing to Ts'ao's advice, many unnecessary expenses in the government and in the Palaces were abolished. He was not known to seek personal advantage. When T'ao Chu [q. v.] began his reforms in the salt administration in Kiangsu, he feared that the changes might incur opposition from Ts'ao whose family was engaged in the salt business there. He therefore apprised Ts'ao of his plans and asked for his opinion. Ts'ao replied that he had never heard of a premier starving to death and would not complain at personal losses if the desired reforms could be carried out.

On the other hand, Ts'ao has been blamed by some writers as having been in part responsible for the weakened state of the empire during the troubled decades following his death. He is said to have minimized the importance of substance in the essays written for the civil examinations, to have overemphasized calligraphy, and to have been too cautious in adhering to precedents of earlier reigns. For these reasons many able men failed to pass the examinations, or if they passed, could not obtain promotion to important offices (see Kung Tzŭ-chên, Ts'ui Shu, Chang Hsüeh-ch'êng), whereas many plodding and unimaginative scholars were elevated to the highest posts. In consequence, the government became chiefly an agency for issuing stereotyped decrees and for perpetuating outworn policies. Many urgent reforms were shelved, and the nation found itself unable to cope with the new mercantile and political forces which later assailed it from the West.

Ts'ao Chên-yung's collected works, entitled 綸閣延暉集 Lun-ko yen-hui chi, were probably not printed. A collection of his poems on events in history was printed under the title, 話雲軒詠史詩 Hua-yün hsüan yung-shih shih, 2 chüan.


[1/369/1a; 1/327/7a; 5/2/17a; 3/95/1a; 行述 Hsing-shu of Ts'ao Wên-ch'ih in Shih-ku-yen chai chi; Chang Hsing-chien 張星鑑, 仰蕭樓文集 Yang-hsiao-lou wên-chi 1/59b; Nien-p'u of P'an Shih-ên [q. v.], p. 78a; Ch'ing-ch'ao yeh-shih ta-kuan (see bibl. under Li Hung-tsao) 7/2–4; Hsüan-tsung Ch'êng Huang-ti shih-lu (see under Min-ning) 258/19b.]

Fang Chao-ying