Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Wang Hsien

WANG Hsien 汪憲 (T. 千陂, H. 魚亭), 1721–1771, Sept. 17, bibliophile, was a native of Hangchow, Chekiang. Though he obtained his chin-shih degree in 1745, it was not until 1758 that he entered government service as a second-class secretary in the Board of Punishments. During that interval he and his younger brother stayed at home with their parents, and thus he became widely known for his filial piety. He did not hold his official post long, for, on the plea that his parents were aging, he retired from government service in the following year in order to look after them. Upon the death of his father in 1770, and of his mother in 1771, he ate nothing but plain food and dressed only in coarse fabrics. Being himself never in robust health, these successive bereavements apparently undermined his constitution so that he took ill and died in 1771 in his fifty-first year.

Many of Wang Hsien's forebears were scholars of note, and he himself was an inveterate book-lover. Coming as he did from a family of means, he was wont to acquire rare items, almost irrespective of cost. He would pore over his acquisitions and engage indefatigably on the collation of the various editions. His collection, comprising some 10,000 chüan, was housed in a studio, called Chên-ch'i t'ang 振綺堂, which became for nearly half a century a symbol of conscientious and intelligent book-collecting. He generously opened his library to fellow-scholars in Hangchow and the vicinity; and a section of his home, called Ching-chi tung-hsüan 靜寄東軒 and noted for its beauty, was the rendezvous of the élite of Hangchow. There he entertained distinguished guests who joined him in composing poems and collating books.

Among his fellow bibliophiles who shared the facilities which his library afforded, were Chao Yü (see under Chao I-ch'ing), Wang Ch'i-shu, Pao T'ing-po [qq. v.], Sun Tsung-lien (see under Wang Ch'i-shu), and many others. These scholars, most of them natives of Hangchow, or domiciled in that city, used to consult each other concerning the books they acquired. They also instituted a system of inter-library loan which made it possible to transcribe each other's rarities.

In the field of classical scholarship Wang Hsien's specialty was the Classic of Changes on which he produced a work entitled, 易說存悔 I-shuo ts'un-hui, in 2 chüan. He made a critical study of the 說文繫傳 Shuo-wên hsi-chuan, by Hsü Ch'ieh (see under Fêng Kuei-fên) of the Sung period, entitling it Shuo-wên hsi-chuan kao-i (考異). He also wrote a comprehensive treatise on mosses, entitled 苔譜 T'ai p'u, in 4 chüan, including all available literary allusions. All three of these works are described in the Imperial Catalogue (see under Chi Yün). Another work, entitled 寒燈絮語 Han-têng hsü-yü, consists of Wang's miscellaneous notes and impressions. There are two collections of his literary works; those in prose, entitled Chên-chi t'ang kao (稿), and those in verse, Chên-ch'i t'ang shih-ts'un (詩存).

A few years after the death of Wang Hsien his eldest son, Wang Ju-li 汪汝瑮 (T. 坤伯, H. 滌原), offered some six hundred items from his father's library for the use of the editors of the Ssŭ-k'u ch'üan-shu (see under Chi Yün). For his generous offer he was given a copy of the P'ei-wên yün-fu (see under Ts'ao Yin) and two bolts of silk. As further encouragement, the Emperor commented on several important works in Wang's collection, singling out two rare items for special mention, namely the 曲洧舊聞 Ch'ü-wei chiu-wên, 10 chüan, by Chu Pien 朱弁, and the 書苑菁華 Shu-yüan ching-hua, 20 chüan, by Ch'ên Ssŭ 陳思—both works of the Sung period.

An early account of the Wang family library appears in the annotated catalogue compiled by Chu Wên-tsao (see under Wang Ch'ang), entitled Chên-ch'i t'ang shu-lu (書錄), in which the bibliographical data are carefully recorded. This catalogue was subsequently revised and brought up to date by Wang Lu 汪璐 (T. 仲連, H. 春園, 1746–1813), second son of Wang Hsien. A son of Wang Lu, named Wang Hsien 汪誠 (T. 孔皆, H. 十村, chü-jên of 1794), was, like his grandfather, an enthusiastic collector of books, and even up to his old age continued to enlarge the library. The enriched collection was described by him in a catalogue, called Chên-ch'i t'ang shu-mu (書目), which contains 3,300 titles in upwards of 65,000 chüan. After the death of Wang Hsien (汪誠) his collection was in turn passed on to his six sons, of whom Wang Yüan-sun 汪遠孫 (T. 久也, H. 小米, 1794–1836) was the most celebrated. Another catalogue was compiled by the other sons, but later was reedited by Ch'ên Huan 陳奐 (T. 碩甫, H. 師竹, 1786–1863), at the request of the owners.

When Hangchow was sacked by the Taiping forces in 1860–61 (see under Ting Ping), most of the Wang family library was dispersed or destroyed, and after order was restored only a fraction of the original collection was recovered. The last catalogue of this once-famous library, also bearing the title, Chên-ch'i t'ang shu-mu, 4 chüan, was compiled in 1886 by a nephew of Wang Yüan-sun, named Wang Tsêng-wei 汪曾唯 (T. 識曾), with the assistance of the former's grandson, Wang K'ang-nien 汪康年 (T. 穰卿, 1860–1911). This catalogue lists works that had been dispersed or destroyed. Wang K'angnien was editor of the collectanea, Chên-ch'i t'ang ts'ung-shu (叢書), in two series. He rose to be a secretary of the Grand Secretariat and is now best known as a pioneer in Chinese journalism. After the Sino-Japanese War (1894–95) he strongly advocated modernization and reform. To achieve this goal he started in August 1896 the newspaper 時務報 Shih-wu pao, published in Shanghai, with Liang Ch'i-ch'ao (see under T'an Ssŭ-t'ung) as editor, he himself serving in the capacity of manager. Printed by lithograph, it appeared once every ten days, and in 1898 became for a time an official organ. Wang K'ang-nien then began another paper, the 昌言報 Ch'ang-yen pao, which was likewise short-lived.


[2/72/6b; Yeh Ch'ang-ch'ih (see under P'an Tsu-yin), Ts'ang-shu chi-shih shih, 5/20b; Chên-ch'i t'ang shih-ts'un, prefatory biographical sketch by Ch'ien Ch'ên-ch'ün [q. v.]; Hangchow fu-chih, 1922, 146/4b; Chên-ch'i t'ang shu-mu, postscript by Wang Tsêng-wei; Ting Shên, Wu-lin ts'ang-shu lu (see under Ting Ping) hsia 15a.]

K. T. Wu