Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Wang Wên-chih

WANG Wên-chih 王文治 (T. 禹卿, H. 夢樓), Dec. 25, 1730–1802, May 27, calligrapher and poet, was born in Tan-t'u, Kiangsu. It is said that he began to compose verses at the age of twelve (sui) and that he was almost equally precocious as a calligrapher. Becoming a senior licentiate in 1753, he went to Peking in the following year, and there established lifelong friendships with Yao Nai [q. v.] and Chu Hsiao-ch'un 朱孝純 (T. 子穎, H. 思堂, chü-jên of 1762). The former was one of the best-known essayists of the Ch'ing period and the latter was a poet and landscape painter. In 1755 an embassy was authorized to go to the Loochoo Islands to accord recognition to the new ruler of that tributary kingdom. The two leading emissaries were Chou Huang 周煌 (T. 景垣, H. 海山, chin-shih of 1737, d. 1785) and Ch'üan-k'uei 全魁 (T. 斗南, chin-shih of 1751, d. 1791). Wang Wên-chih accompanied them, setting out on the journey in 1756 and returning in the following year. Chou Huang left a topographical study of Loochoo, entitled 琉球國志略 Liu-ch'iu kuo chih-lüeh, which he presented to the throne in 1757. Though Wang Wên-chih accompanied the mission only in a secretarial capacity, it was no doubt for him a broadening experience.

In 1759 he took his chü-jên degree in the Shun-t'ien provincial examination, and in the following year became a chin-shih with third highest honors, known as t'an-hua 探花. He officiated (1762) as associate examiner of the Shun-t'ien provincial examination, and then (1763) of the metropolitan examination, becoming a subreader of the Hanlin Academy in 1763. A year later he was made prefect of Lin-an in Yunnan province where he remained until 1767 when, owing to misconduct of his subordinates, he was dismissed from his post. Renouncing official life, he thereafter lived in retirement or in travel in Kiangsu and Chekiang where he taught in various academies. In 1771 he directed the Ch'ung-wên 崇文 Academy on West Lake in Hangchow, and in reference to this fact styled himself Hsi-hu chang 西湖長, "Keeper of West Lake".

For many years Wang Wên-chih was a devotee of Buddhism; he not only studied Buddhistic literature but observed all the regulations, including the vegetarian diet. In 1778, on the day preceding his fiftieth birthday, he was ordained a priest in the T'ien-ch'ang Monastery (天長寺) at Hangchow, and assumed the monastic name Ta-wu 達無 (T. 無餘). But contrary to the usual Buddhist practice, he retained an ardent interest in music and the drama, even assisting Yeh T'ang 葉堂 (T. 廣明[平], H. 懷庭) in the compilation of the famous anthology of selections from various musical dramas, known as 納書楹曲譜 Na-shu ying ch'ü-p'u, 10 chüan, first printed in 1792. Furthermore it was said that he spent much money on keeping a cast of young actors, whom he taught to sing and whom he took with him, even in his travels. His reputation as a calligrapher rivalled that of Liang T'ung-shu and Liu Yung [qq. v.], and his fame as a poet almost equalled that of Yüan Mei [q. v.] in the lower Yangtze Valley. His collected verse, entitled 夢樓詩集, Mêng-lou shih chi, 22 chüan, was first printed in 1795. He was also a painter, and one of his granddaughters, Wang Yü-yen 王玉燕 (T. 玳梁), was known as a painter, especially of plant life.


[1/508/2a; 3/240/58a; 19 ting shang 35b; 20/3/00 (portrait); 23/37/20b; 29/6/1a; Tan-t'u hsien-chih (1879) 33/38a, 34/27a; L.T.C.L.H.M. 33,34.]

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