Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Wang Chêng

WANG Chêng 王徵 (T. 良甫, H. 葵心, 了一道人), May 12, 1571–1644, scientist, scholar, and Ming official, was a native of Ching-yang, Shensi. His father, Wang Ying-hsüan 王應選 (T. 滸北, d. 1628), was a tutor to private families in his native place and the author of two short works, entitled 算數歌訣 Suan-shu ko-chüeh and 滸北山翁訓子歌 Hu-pei shan-wêng hsün-tzŭ ko. Wang Chêng took the chü-jên degree in 1594, but did not become a chin-shih until twenty-eight years later (1622), after failing nine times. His examination papers for this degree are said to be preserved in the Shensi Provincial Library at Sian. Being a youth interested in the applied sciences, he attempted to improve the tools used by farmers, and is said to have constructed a number of new implements for use on his own farm. An illustrated work by him, entitled 諸器圖說 Chu-ch'i t'u-shuo, 1 chüan, completed in 1627, describes his improvements in these tools. Because of his repeated visits to Peking to compete in the metropolitan examination, he had an opportunity to become acquainted with Jesuit missionaries, and was baptized under the name Philip 斐理伯. In 1623 he read the work, Chih-fang wai-chi (see under Li Chih-tsao), and was pleased to find in it information about mechanical contrivances used in European countries. About the years 1623–24 he was appointed prefectural judge of Kuang-p'ing, Hopei, where he handed down many just and impartial decisions and cleared certain inhabitants of that prefecture who had been falsely accused of connection with the uprising of the White Lotus Sect (1622).

Wang Chêng went back to his native place in 1625 to observe mourning for the death of his stepmother. During his stay there he invited Nicolas Trigault 金尼閣 (T. 四表, 1577–1628) to come from Shansi in order to preach in Shensi. In the meantime he studied Latin under Trigault, and is therefore regarded by some as the first Chinese to study that language. In 1626 he and Han Yün (see under Han Lin) edited and published the 西儒耳目資 Hsi-ju êr-mu tzŭ, a key to the pronunciation of Chinese characters, by Trigault. The printing of this work was financed by Wang's fellow-townsmen, Chang Wên-ta 張問達 (T. 誠宇, 德允, 德孚, chin-shih of 1583), and the latter's second son, [Paul] Chang Chung-fang 張緟芳 (T. 敬一). Late in 1626 Wang Chêng went to Peking where he met Longobardi (see under Chu Yu-lang), Terrenz (see under Li Chih-tsao), and Schall von Bell (see under Yang Kuang-hsien) who, on recommendation of Hsü Kuang-ch'i [q. v.], had been ordered by imperial decree to revise the Chinese calendar. Being an ardent student, Wang Chêng made use of the opportunity to obtain information from the missionaries about various subjects, especially on matters of applied science. After about a month he completed, in collaboration with Terrenz, a translation of European works on mechanical principles and instruments with illustrations drawn by himself, entitled 遠西奇器圖說錄最 Yüan-hsi ch'i-ch'i t'u-shuo lu-tsui (commonly known as Ch'i-ch'i t'u-shuo), 3 chüan, printed in 1627 at Peking. In his preface to this work, dated 1627, Wang Chêng refers to the newly-discovered Nestorian Monument in his native province and points out the similarity of its teachings to the Christian religion.

In 1830 the Ch'i-ch'i t'u-shuo and the abovementioned Chu-ch'i t'u-shuo were reprinted by Wang's fellow-provincial, Chang P'êng-fên 張鵬翂 (T. 補山, chü-jên of 1821), and later (1844) were included in the Shou-shan ko ts'ung-shu (see under Chang Hai-p'êng). Certainly some of the terminology of mechanics in these two works has entered permanently into the Chinese language. During the years 1627-28 Wang was appointed prefectural judge of Yangchow where he and a fellow-provincial, Lai Fu 來復 (T. 陽伯, chin-shih of 1616), intendant of the Huai-Yang Circuit, refused to worship in the newly-erected temple to the notorious Wei Chung-hsien [q. v.]. For these scruples they came to be known as "The Two Unyielding Gentlemen from Shensi" (關西二勁). Late in 1628 Wang Chêng went home to mourn the death of his father. Upon the recommendation of Sun Yüan-hua [q. v.], governor of Tengchow and Laichow in the Shantung peninsula, he was appointed intendant of the Liao-hai Circuit with headquarters at Tengchow. On August 17, 1631 he took up his post, but half a year later (February 21, 1632) Tengchow fell into the hands of Kêng Chung-ming and K'ung Yu-tê [qq. v.]. Sun Yüan-hua was captured and later released by the rebels, but Wang escaped and returned to Shensi. In the following year (1633) he was sentenced to exile for failure to defend Tengchow, but was soon pardoned. Thereafter he engaged in writing and never resumed official life. When Li Tzŭ-ch'êng [q. v.] took Sian, in 1643, he invited Wang Chêng to join him, but Wang firmly refused, declaring that he would rather take his life than throw in his lot with the rebels. When he learned of the fall of Peking to Li Tzŭ-ch'êng, which took place on April 25, 1644, he committed suicide, after seven days of starvation. He was given privately, by his disciples, the posthumous name, Tuan-chieh 端節, and later was canonized by Emperor Kao-tsung as Chung-chieh 忠節.

More than thirty works, whose titles are known, are attributed to Wang Chêng, but only a few of these are extant. Aside from those mentioned above, reference should be made to several others which are not so generally known. One, entitled 畏天愛人極論 Wei-t'ien ai-jên chi-lun, 1 chüan in 56 leaves, written in 1628, is preserved in manuscript in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris. A notation states that it was "criticized and punctuated" by Chêng Man [q. v.], a scholar who obtained his chin-shih degree in the same year as Wang Chêng. Wang wrote the work to make known his hope that Confucianism and Christianity might be merged into one system under the common principle "Respect Heaven and Love Mankind"—a thought which appears in the wording of the title. There is also a 仁會約 Jên-hui yüeh (Rules for the Benevolent Society), 47 leaves, which Wang drew up and published in 1634 for an organization of his friends and relatives for mutual improvement in Christian knowledge and activity. In 1638 he published, under the title 崇一堂日記隨筆 Ch'ung-i t'ang jih-chi sui-pi, 1 chüan, a number of stories from the West which Adam Schall had recounted to him in conversations they had (before Schall went to Peking in 1630) in the Christian church at Sian, Shensi, known as Ch'ung-i t'ang. During his stay in Sian, Wang helped Étienne Faber (see under Hsü Kuang-ch'i) put into Chinese, under the title 杜奧定先生東來渡海苦跡 Tu Ao-ting hsien-shêng tung-lai tu-hai k'u-chi, an account of the hazardous ocean voyage which the missionary, Augustin Tudeschini (1598–1643), made when he came to China in 1631. A collection of official documents which Wang prepared during his official career in Kuang-p'ing and Yangchow he published in 1636 under the title 兩理略 Liang-li lüeh, 4 chüan.

A great-grandson of Wang Chêng, named Wang Ch'êng-lieh 王承烈 (1660–1730, chin-shih of 1709), a scholar and official, rose to be a vice-president of the Board of Punishments.


[Ch'ên Yüan, Ching-yang Wang Chêng chuan (a biography in Chinese), Bulletin of the National Library of Peiping, vol. VIII, no. 6; ibidem, Wang Chêng i-wên ch'ao (遺文鈔); Ching-vang hsien-chih (1911) 11/4b, 14b, 12/40a, 50b; Shensi t'ung-chih (1735) 61/44b, (1934) 185/39b; Pfister, Notices, pp. 115, 181, 156; 陝西教育月刊 Shensi chiao-yü yüeh-k'an, no. 4 (portrait); Wylie, Notes, p. 144.]

J. C. Yang
Wang Chung-min