Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Wang Hsi-hou

WANG Hsi-hou 王錫侯 (T. 韓伯, H. 濱洲), 1713–1777, Dec. 27, scholar whose work drew the wrath of Emperor Kao-tsung, was a native of Hsin-ch'ang, Kiangsi. He graduated as chü-jên in 1750 but failed to qualify for the chin-shih degree. He wrote, or compiled, a number of works, including poems of his own, comments on poems written in the Tang dynasty, collections of essays by fellow-provincials, etc., but a number of these were destroyed in the inquisition that resulted in his death. Among those that survive may be mentioned: an anthology of Ch'ing poetry in two series, entitled 國朝詩觀 Kuo-ch'ao shih-kuan; a local history, 望都縣志 Wang-tu hsien-chih, in 11 chüan, compiled in 1771 in collaboration with others; a work on calligraphy, entitled 書法精言 Shu-fa ching-yen; a work on history, entitled 經史鏡 Ching shih ching; and a dictionary, entitled 字貫 Tzŭ-kuan, which was printed in 1775 in 40 chüan.

The book which brought Wang Hsi-hou into imperial disfavor (November 20, 1777), was the dictionary, Tzŭ-kuan. In it he is said to have criticized the great imperial dictionary, the K'ang-hsi tzŭ-tien (see under Chang Yü-shu). The latter work, as the title shows, was sponsored by, and named for, Emperor Shêng-tsu, and therefore was morally beyond criticism. In the introduction to the dictionary, Wang used, for illustrative purposes, the personal names of Confucius and of the Ch'ing emperors, Shêng-tsu, Shih-tsung, and Kao-tsung, but failed to observe the taboos connected with those names. To write in full the prohibited characters of an Emperor's personal name was "treasonous". Whenever the use of such characters was unavoidable it was required that the last stroke of each character be omitted. Apparently Wang merely listed the characters to warn the users of the dictionary against writing or printing them in that form. When he realized his error he had the words cut from the printing blocks but, before this was done, unexpurgated copies had passed into circulation, and these were his undoing. Another count against him was a claim made in the genealogy of the Wang family (王氏通譜), to direct descent from the mythical Emperor Huang-ti, and from the first king of the house of Chou.

Wang Hsi-hou was executed (December 27, 1777), and twenty-one members of his immediate family were arrested and taken to Peking. His property was confiscated and all his publications were consigned to the flames. His three sons and four grandsons were sentenced (January 21, 1778) to imprisonment to await execution in the autumn, but later two of the sons and three of the grandsons had their sentences commuted to enslavement in Heilungkiang. The Emperor was so irritated with the initial handling of the case that he dismissed three of the high officials of Kiangsi province, including the governor, Haich'êng (see under Hao Shuo). Another high official, Li Yu-t'ang (see under Li Fu), was deprived of all offices and rank for having written a poem in praise of the dictionary in question.

It is worth noting that copies of this dictionary are preserved in Japan, one being in the Cabinet Library, Tokyo (Naikaku Bunko). The catalogue of Japanese and Chinese books in the Library of the Tokyo Imperial University, compiled in 1900, lists one printed copy and one in manuscript. Whether these survived the earthquake of 1923 is not known. A reprint, entitled 字貫提要 Jikan-teiyō, also in 40 chüan, is listed in the catalogue of Chinese books in the Naikaku Bunko, (1914). The Tzŭ-kuan is an encyclopaedic dictionary in which the words are arranged under thirty-five categories.

[Chang-ku ts'ung-pien (see under Hung Ch'êng-ch'ou), nos, 1–3; Tung-hua lu, Ch'ien-lung 42: 10–11; Ch'ing-pai lei-ch'ao (see bibl. under Liu Lun), vol. 8, 25/125; Wang-tu hsien-chih (1934) 12/37a; I-ching (see bibl. under Ts'ên Yü-ying), no. 5 (May 5, 1936) 10–11.]

L. Carrington Goodrich

Hiromu Momose