Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Wang Ching-ch'i

WANG Ching-ch'i 汪景祺 (T. 無己, H. 星堂), 1672–1726, Jan. 15, victim of a literary inquisition, was a native of Ch'ien-t'ang (Hangchow), Chekiang. His personal name was originally Jih-ch'i 日祺. His father, Wang Pin 汪霦 (T. 昭泉, H. 朝采, 東川), passed in 1679 the special examination known as po-hsüeh hung-tz'ŭ (see under P'êng Sun-yü), and served as libationer of the Imperial Academy (1689–1691), and as vice-president of the Board of Revenue (1705–1706), but was dismissed in 1706 on the charge of unfairness in the conduct of the examination for chü-jên held in Peking. Wang Ching-ch'i, the second son in the family, was associated as a young man with such older poets as Chu I-tsun and Mao Ch'i-ling [qq. v.]. The latter wrote a preface to a collection of Wang's poems which was entitled 讀書堂詩集 Tu-shu t'ang shih-chi, but his collection was never published. About the year 1700 Wang was a student in the Imperial Academy. He took his chü-jên in 1714 and, though he made several attempts, was unable to secure a higher degree.

In 1724 he made a journey to Shensi, perhaps in the hope of advancing his fortunes by joining the staff of Nien Kêng-yao [q. v.], commander-in-chief of the armies on the northwestern border of China. On the way thither he travelled through Chihli and Shansi and recorded what he saw or heard, in a work entitled 西征隨筆 Hsi chêng sui-pi, "Jottings of a Western Journey", in 2 chüan. This included a letter and several poems that he had submitted to Nien in praise of the latter's exploits. A manuscript copy of the work was found among the personal effects of Nien Kêng-yao when these were confiscated in 1725 at the time of Nien's imprisonment at Hangchow. Many passages contained criticisms of the government, and ridiculed such famous officials as Hsiung Tz'ŭ-li, Kao Shih-ch'i, Chang P'êng-ko, and Li Fu [qq. v.]. Even Emperor Shêng-tsu did not escape Wang's critical notice. One of the chapters dealing with the ungrateful treatment of successful generals by despots of history, might well have been taken as a hint to Nien Kêng-yao either to retire or to revolt. When Emperor Shih-tsung saw the work he was so incensed that he wrote on the cover, "Seditiously false and maniacal to the last degree! Sorry I did not see it earlier. Keep it for later reference. May I never let one like that elude my net!" (悖謬狂亂至於此極惜見此之晚留此以待他日弗使此輩得漏綱也). A facsimile reproduction of this inscription appears in the 1928 edition of the Hsi-chêng sui-pi. Wang Ching-ch'i, then in Peking, was arrested, and executed early in 1726. His wife and children were banished and enslaved in Heilungkiang, his near relatives were exiled to Ninguta, and others of his kinsmen were deprived of official posts. When Nien Kêng-yao was condemned, his failure to inform the throne about the contents of Wang's work constituted one of his five "crimes of a rebellious nature" (大逆). As an aftermath to this case and that of Cha Ssŭ-t'ing [q. v.], who also was a native of Chekiang, the examinations of that province were temporarily suspended, and an official was dispatched "to examine and rectify social abuses" (see under Cha Ssŭ-t'ing).

In the preface to his Hsi-chêng sui-pi Wang acknowledges that from youth on he was unduly conscious of his intellectual attainments and of his skill in satire, and that his arrogance and unfriendliness made him many enemies. At fifty sui (1721) he felt that though his temperament had improved, he yet could be friends with only a few, and had not learned to restrain himself from criticising others. Perhaps his repeated failure in the examinations induced a feeling of inferiority, particularly in view of the fact that other members of his family became holders of the coveted chin-shih degree—his elder brother,Wang Chien-ch'i 汪見祺 (T. 無亢, b. 1670), having obtained it in 1709, and his cousin, Wang Shou-ch'i 汪受祺 (T. 九如), in 1715.

[Hsi-chêng sui-pi, published by the Palace Museum, Peking, 1928; Tung-hua lu, K'ang-hsi 45: 1, Yung-chêng 3: 8, 3: 12; Chu I-tsun, P'u-shu t'ing chi 21/16b; Mao Ch'i-ling, Hsi-ho ho chi 27/9b; Hangchow fu-chih (1922) 111/16/13b.]

Fang Chao-ying