Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Wêng Fang-kang

WÊNG Fang-kang 翁方綱 (T. 正三, 忠敍, H. 覃溪, 蘇齋), Sept. 23, 1733–1818, Mar. 3, scholar, was a native of Ta-hsing (Peking), his family having migrated from P'u-t'ien, Fukien, about the middle of the Ming period. Although born into a poor family he became a hsiu-ts'ai in 1744 at eleven sui, a chü-jên in 1747 at fourteen sui, and a chin-shih in 1752 at nineteen sui. He was admitted to the Hanlin Academy as a bachelor, and in 1754 became a compiler. In 1759 he was appointed an examiner of the provincial examination of Kiangsi, and in 1762 held the same post in Hupeh.

During the years in the Hanlin Academy Wêng Fang-kang served on various projects. Owing to his calligraphic skill, he was named one of the penmen to make the final manuscript copy of the second collection of Emperor Kao-tsung's poems, entitled Kao-tsung yü-chih shih êr-chi (see under Hung-li). He also took part, together with Chu Kuei, Lu Wên-ch'ao [qq. v.], and others, in making the 1754 manuscript copy of the sixth century anthology, 文選 W ên-hsüan, or Chao-ming (昭明) wên-hsüan, Chao-ming being the posthumous name of its compiler, Hsiao Tsung 蕭統 (T. 德施, 501–531 A.D.). Of this work, Emperor Kaotsung had four manuscript copies made (in the years 1747, 1749, 1754, and 1770), each in the handwriting of one of the foremost calligraphers of the day. Included in each copy is an excellent portrait of the Emperor, one of which was reproduced in 1933 in the Ku-kung tien-pên-shu-k'u hsien-ts'un mu (see bibliography under Ch'ên Mêng-lei).

In 1764, Wêng was sent to Kwangtung as commissioner of education—a post he held for more than seven years. He then had the rank of subreader of the Hanlin Academy. In 1771, however, he was accused of having submitted a report in which the ages of certain students were incorrectly given and for this he was removed from his offices, returning early in 1772 to Peking. After a year of retirement he was re-instated as a compiler in the Hanlin Academy and was ordered to serve as an editor of the Ssŭ-k'u ch'üan-shu (see under Chi Yün) with the special task of selecting and editing the best editions which had been submitted to that enterprise by private collectors. In 1779 he was appointed an examiner of the provincial examination of Kiangnan. It is worth noting that the student who ranked highest in this examination was Ch'ien Ch'i [q. v.] who three years later also took first place in both the metropolitan and the Palace examinations.

After several promotions, Wêng was again given (1784) the rank of a reader in the Hanlin Academy. In 1786 he was appointed commissioner of education of Kiangsi and upon his return to Peking, three years later, was promoted to the post of a chancellor of the Grand Secretariat. In 1790, after accompanying the Emperor on a tour of Shantung, he was sent to collate the copy of the Ssŭ-k'u ch'üan-shu which had been deposited in Mukden. From 1791 to 1793 he served as commissioner of education of Shantung. In 1795 he was degraded to the rank of a reader of the Grand Secretariat and four years later was appointed a director of the Court of State Ceremonies. Owing to his age and growing inefficiency, he was transferred in 1801 to Ma-lan-yü to guard the tomb of Emperor Kao-tsung who had died two years previously. In 1804 he was ordered to retire. In that year he celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of his becoming a hsiu-ts'ai. Three years later, on the sixtieth anniversary of his becoming a chü-jên, Emperor Jên-tsung conferred on him the rank of an official of the third grade, which seven years later, on the sixtieth anniversary of his becoming a chin-shih, was raised to the second grade. On his eightieth birthday he was honored by a large number of scholars and officials, including envoys from Korea. His eye-sight was remarkably good; and to test it he is said to have made it a practice, on the first day of every year, to write four characters on each of ten sesame seeds. Even in 1818, at the age of eighty-six sui, he attempted this feat, but was exhausted after writing on six of them. Within a month he died.

Wêng Fang-kang was an authority on inscriptions on stone and bronze (金石學), and on calligraphy and painting. His well-known work on epigraphy of the Han dynasty, entitled 兩漢金石記 Liang-Han chin-shih chi, 22 chüan, was printed in 1789 at Nanchang, Kiangsi. During his years as commissioner of education in Kwangtung he described a number of ancient and contemporary inscriptions from that province in a work entitled 粵東金石略 Yüeh-tung chin-shih lüeh, 12 chüan, printed in 1771. His 蘇米齋蘭亭考 Su-Mi chai Lan-t'ing k'ao, 8 chüan, completed in 1803, is a treatise on various copies of the famous Script of the Orchid Pavillion (Lan-t'ing hsü), written by Wang Hsi-chih (see under Ch'ên Chao-lun) near Shaohsing, Chekiang, in the year 353 A. D. In addition to the above-mentioned works, Wêng wrote many notes on specific bronzes, paintings, and masterpieces of calligraphy—notes which are brought together in a prose collection, 復初齋文休 Fu-ch'u chai wên-chi, 35 chüan, printed in 1836 and in 1877. His collection of verse, entitled Fu-ch'u chai shih-chi, 66 chüan, was printed in 1814, followed soon after by a second collection in 4 chüan. In 1917 a supplement of 24 chüan of verse and 4 chüan of prose was printed in the Chia-yeh t'ang ts'ung-shu (see Cha Chi-tso), under the title Fu-ch'u chai chi-wai shih-wên chi. Wêng wrote 4 chronological account of his own life up to the year of his death, entitled 翁氏家事略記 Wêng-shih chia-shih lüeh-chi, which was printed by Ying-ho [q. v.].

Wêng Fang-kang took exception to the theory of Wang Shih-chên [q. v.] that the essence of poetry consists of a mysterious "spiritual harmony" (shên-yün). He preferred to stress the substance (肌理) in each poem, and this was perhaps in keeping with his preference for the kind of study pursued by the School of Han Learning (see under Ku Yen-wu). Nevertheless he admired Wang, and while in Shantung (1793), printed a number of the latter's works on poetry under the collective title 小石帆亭著錄 Hsiao-shih-fan t'ing chu-lu. Wêng, moreover, edited several anthologies of verse after a pattern set by Wang. To show his admiration for the two Sung celebrities, Su Shih and Mi Fei (see under Sung Lao and Mi Wan-chung respectively), he named one of his studios Su-Mi chai 蘇米齋. He commented on the poems of the former in a work entitled 蘇詩補注 Su-shih pu-chu (1782), 8 chüan, supplementing and correcting previous comments by Cha Shên-hsing [q. v.]; and compiled a chronological biography of the latter under the title 米海岳年譜 Mi Hai-yüeh nien-p'u. He compiled a similar biography of the poet, Yüan Hao-wên (see under Ling T'ing-k'an), under the title Yüan I-shan nien-p'u. During his leisure years (1801–04) as guardian of the tomb of Kao-tsung, he completed commentaries on Mencius, the Odes, the Analects, and the Book of Rites, a total of 14 chüan, which are printed in the Chi-fu ts'ung-shu (see under Ts'ui Shu). Other commentaries by him are listed but are not known to be extant. He also made supplements and corrections to Chu I-tsun's [q. v.] Ching-i k'ao which were published in 12 chüan under the title Ching-i k'ao pu-chêng (補正, 1792). Eighteen of his works are collected in the Su-chai ts'ung-shu (reprinted in 1924).

Wêng Fang-kang lived in a time of bitter antagonism between the followers of the School of Sung Philosophy and the School of Han Learning (for both see Ku Yen-wu). Having intimate friends in both Schools, he attempted to mediate between their extreme views. He extolled the Sung philosophers for their ethical and social teachings, but charged their followers with narrow-mindedness on the ground that they concerned themselves chiefly with the interpretation of a few treatises. He lent his full approval to the new methods of textual criticism and etymological and historical research practiced by the exponents of the School of Han Learning, but found fault with some of them for neglecting what seemed to him the main purpose of classical studies—namely, the promulgation of the Confucian philosophy of life expounded by Chu Hsi (see under Hu Wei) and his followers. Though on many occasions he lauded the scholarship of his contemporary, Tai Chên [q. v.], he bitterly opposed his philosophical presuppositions on the ground that they violated the views set forth by Chu Hsi.

Among Wêng's many disciples may be mentioned the following: Shih Yün-yü, Ts'ao Chên-yung, Liu T'ai-kung, Li T'iao-yüan, Ch'ien T'ang, Ling T'ing-k'an [qq. v.], Hsieh Ch'i-k'un (see under Hsü Shu-k'uei), Yeh Chih-shên (see under Yeh Ming-ch'ên), Fêng Min-ch'ang 馮敏昌 (T. 伯求, H. 魚山, 1747–1806, chin-shih of 1778), and Wu Sung-liang (see under Sun Yüan-hsiang). Among his sons only the fourth, Wêng Shu-p'ei 翁樹培 (T. 宜泉, 1765–1811), became a chin-shih (1787) and a member of the Hanlin Academy. It is reported that when Wêng Fang-kang died his family found it necessary to dispose of his large collection of antiques and rare books in order to defray the expenses of his funeral.


[Wêng-shih chia-shih lüeh-chi; 2/68/39a; 3/91/16a; 10/23/1a; 20/3/00 with portrait; 26/2/4b; 29/5/ 11b; Shun-t'ien fu-chih (1886) 102/22b; Ai-jih yinlu shu-hua pu-lu (see bibl. under Ch'ên Chi-ju), p. 16a, hsü-lu 6/14a, pieh-lu 2/31b; T'ien-chih ou-wên (see bibl. under Pao-t'ing) 7/15b; Ch'ang-ch'u chai sui-pi (see under Wei I-chieh) 3/7b, hsü-pi 7/12a; Suzuki Torao, 支那詩論史 Shina Shironshi (1925, Kyoto), pp. 200–202.]

Fang Chao-ying