Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Wang Shih-to

WANG Shih-to 汪士鐸 (original ming 鏊, T. 振庵, 晉侯, 梅村 H. 悔翁, 芝生, 無不悔翁}}, July 14, 1802–1889, Aug. 3, scholar, was a native of Nanking. His father, Wang Chün 汪均 (T. 治平, 1765–1832), was a follower of Neo-Confucianism and a strict disciplinarian. When Wang Shih-to was young he was taught to read nothing but Neo-Confucian books. Though the family was very poor, his father resolutely declined to seek the help of relatives. When Wang Shih-to was fifteen sui, and again when he was sixteen sui, he was compelled by poverty to become an apprentice to a dealer in second-hand clothes. His last employer having become bankrupt, Wang lived precariously at home improving his calligraphy. In June 1818 he became an apprentice in a cake-shop, but after three months his employer, perceiving that the youth showed promise as a student, sent him home to pursue his studies. But at home he endured the ridicule of neighbors for being, in their eyes, a failure, even as an apprentice. Baffled at every turn, there was then nothing for him to do but to improve his knowledge of the Four Books and to practice writing the official examination essays. Impressed by his studious habits, his grandmother and his uncle—on his mother's side—provided him with occasional funds to continue his studies. It is reported that when he married in 1827 his wedding presents consisted entirely of books. His wife, Tsung Chi-lan 宗繼蘭 (T. 楚卿, 1801–1847), being much interested in his studies, is said to have pawned her trousseau and other items of dress in order to help him purchase the books he needed. She died in 1847 after an illness of seven years.

From 1821 to 1858 Wang Shih-to spent most of his time teaching in private schools or in families of affluence. By making the most of his opportunities to borrow books and to come into contact with eminent scholars he managed to obtain a good grasp of the rites, history, poetry, philology, geography, mathematics, calligraphy and painting. In 1840 he became a chü-jên, his chief examiner being Hu Lin-i [q. v.] who later took an important part in suppressing the Taiping Rebellion. In 1848–49 he was engaged by a patron of means to compile the 南北史補志 Nan-Pei shih pu-chih, 14 chüan, printed in 1878–a supplement to the official histories of the Period of Division between the North and the South (420–589 A. D.). His two elder daughters assisted him in compiling his references which relate chiefly to astronomy, geography, strange happenings, and rites.

When the Taiping Rebels took Nanking on March 19, 1853, Wang Shih-to did not flee the city. His eldest daughter, Wang Shu-ch'in 汪淑菦 (T. 伯敬, 1829–1856), was forced to act as a clerk to the Taiping leader,

Yang Hsiu-ch'ing [q.v.], but later committed suicide. His younger daughter, Wang Shu-p'in 汪淑蘋 (T. 仲循, 1832–1853), also committed suicide, owing to alleged mistreatment at the hands of her stepmother. On October 4 Wang Shih-to declined to accept a post from the Taipings, and on December 17 succeeded in escaping from Nanking to Chi-ch'i, Anhwei, where, for the ensuing six years, he made his living as a teacher in private schools. Fortunately he kept a diary of his experiences in Nanking under the Taipings and also a diary covering the years 1855–56. Three manuscripts of this diary were edited by Têng Chih-ch'êng 鄧之誠 (T. 文如) into a three chüan book, entitled 乙丙日記 I-ping jih-chi, printed in 1936. In it Wang praises the ability of the Taiping leaders, Yang Hsiu-ch'ing, Shih Ta-k'ai and Li Hsiu-ch'êng [qq. v.], and concludes that the fundamental cause of the uprising was over-population and poor government by the Manchus. The remedies he proposed included birth-control, the destruction of female infants, and ruthless measures against the rebels.

On February 10, 1859, Wang Shih-to was invited by Hu Lin-i to Wuchang to assist the latter in his post as governor of Hupeh. But as Wang declined to accept any official title, Hu provided him and other scholars with quarters to compile the compendium on military tactics known as Tu-shih ping-lüeh (see under Hu Lin-i). Feeling sympathy for the impoverished and aging scholar, Hu printed (1860) his Shui-ching chu t'u (圖), 2 chüan—charts on the Classic of Waterways (see under Chao I-ch'ing), including two treatises, entitled 漢志釋地略 Han-chih shih-ti lüeh and Han-chih chih-i (志疑), which are his critical notes on the geographic section of the History of the Earlier Han Dynasty. Hu provided a preface to the work in which he dilates on Wang's career, his personal characteristics, his extensive knowledge of various subjects, and the many books he compiled, most of which were destroyed in the turmoil of the Rebellion. Despite Wang's preoccupation with scholarly matters, Hu Lin-i often consulted him on civil and military matters, and when Hu was in charge of the Anhwei campaign they had almost daily correspondence on current affairs. Nor did Wang's ability escape the notice of Tsêng Kuo-fan [q. v.] who, when hard-pressed at Ch'i-mên (1860–61), Anhwei, received from Wang numerous suggestions, many of which were accepted. After the recapture of Anking (September 5, 1861), Wang offered to both Tsêng and Hu suggestions for winning over some of the Taiping leaders, and also plans which led to the final recovery of Nanking. After Hu's death, on September 30, 1861, Wang wrote a detailed account of his administration as governor of Hupeh, entitled 胡文忠公撫鄂記 Hu Wên-chung kung fu-Ê chi, 6 (some sources say 20) chüan, completed in 1862. Unfortunately the manuscript of this work has not yet been discovered. After the recapture of Nanking on July 19, 1864, Wang returned to that city, but declined to accept an official post, though his lowly habitation was frequented by eminent visitors and by such officials as Tsêng Kuo-fan and Liu K'un-i [q. v.]. Later Wang was asked to be a compiler of the 同治上江兩縣志 T'ung-chih Shang-Chiang liang-hsien chih, a local history of Shang-yüan and Kiang-ning which was printed in 1874. In 1880 he was editor-in-chief of the 續纂江寧府志 Hsü-tsuan Chiang-ning fu-chih, a supplementary history of the prefecture of Nanking (1881). At the same time his collection of prose and verse was published by his friends and disciples under the title 汪梅村先生集 Wang Mei-ts'un hsien-shêng chi, 12 + 1 chüan (1881). In 1883–84 a pupil published more of his verse under the titles, 悔翁詩鈔 Hui-wêng shih-ch'ao, 15 chüan, and Hui-wêng tz'ŭ-ch'ao (詞鈔), 5 chüan; and his notes, Hui-wêng pi-chi (筆記), in 6 chüan. In 1885 Wang's achievements were brought to the notice of the Emperor who bestowed upon him the title, Preceptor of the Imperial Academy. He died at the age of eighty-eight (sui).

By his first wife Wang Shih-to had five daughters and one son, and by his second, three sons. But all of his children died young, except his third daughter, Wang Shu-ling 汪淑苓 (b. 1834), who married a fellow-townsman named Wu Jung-k'uan 吳榮寬 (T. 栗[笠,立]生). The latter seems after 1877 to have taken his family to Shansi where he remained. In recent years a number of Wang's unpublished manuscripts have been discovered in Taiyuan, Shansi, where his son-in-law had probably taken them. Some of these manuscripts are in the possession of Têng Chih-ch'êng who edited from them, in addition to the I-ping jih-chi and other works, a supplementary volume of poems, entitled Wang Hui-wêng shih hsü-ch'ao (續鈔), of which the latest preface is dated 1925.


[5/74/20a; Chronological Biography in Shih-hsüeh nien-pao (see bibl. under Li Wên-t'ien), vol. 2, no. 3 (1936); Tsêng Kuo-fan [q. v.], T'sêng Wên-chêng kung ch'üan-chi; Hu Lin-i [q. v.], Hu Wên-chung kung i-chi; Têng Chih-ch'êng, Ku-tung so-chi (see bibl. under Lang T'ing-chi); 國朝金陵文鈔 Kuo-ch'ao Chin-ling wên-chao, 15/69a.]

Têng Ssŭ-yü