Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Wang Yüan

WANG Yüan 王源 (T. 崑繩, H. 或庵), 1648–1710, scholar, was a native of Peking. One of his ancestors died in action while serving in the army of the Ming Emperor Ch'êng-tsu (see under Nurhaci) and was posthumously awarded the hereditary rank of an officer of the Imperial Bodyguard. His father, Wang Shih-tê 王世德 (T. 克承, H. 中齋, 1613–1693), held that rank in the last years of the Ming dynasty. In the spring of 1644 Wang Shih-tê was one of the officers charged with the defense of the northern walls of Peking. When the capital fell, he was assisted by a Buddhist monk to find refuge in a monastery, and so escaped with his life. About 1660 he took his family, including his two sons, Wang Chieh 王潔 (T. 汲公, H. 洧盤, 1637–1691) and Wang Yuan, from Peking to northern Kiangsu and resided there for more than thirty years, mostly in the vicinity of Yangchow and Pao-ying.

In his younger days Wang Yüan studied under Liang I-chang 梁以樟 (T. 公狄, H. 鷦林, 1608–1665) and Wei Hsi [q. v.]; he admired courageous deeds and liked to study military topics. As his fame spread in literary circles, he was engaged by Hsü Yüan-wên [q. v.] to be one of the semi-official editors of the history of the Ming dynasty (Ming-shih). In this capacity he served from 1685 to 1691 (?), despite the fact that he held no official rank. Others who, in the 1980's and 1690's, labored on the same enterprise without official rank were: Wan Ssŭ-t'ung, Liu Hsien-t'ing, Chiang Ch'ên-ying, and Huang Yü-chi [qq. v.].

In 1692 Wang Yüan's father, then aged eighty (sui), went to Tientsin to live in the home of Chang Lin (see under An Ch'i). At this time Wang Yuan made his living by tutoring the children of a rich family in Peking, but it seems that the family more or less slighted him owing, it is said, to the fact that he had not obtained a high literary degree. To demonstrate his ability, he competed in the examinations in Peking in 1693 and became a chü-jên. Late that same year his father died, and because of the mourning period he was prevented from proceeding at once with the other examinations. Being at heart a Ming loyalist, he did not care to serve the Manchu regime in an official capacity, and so refrained thereafter from competing for the chin-shih degree—continuing to live on stipends he received as a private secretary to officials or as a tutor in wealthy families. In 1694 he went to Shensi; from 1695 to 1697 he lived mostly in Tientsin and Peking. In 1698 he went to Nanchang and the following year he lived in Soochow. From 1700 to 1703 he was in Peking where he lectured on Confucian doctrines to a group of students. In 1700 he established a friendship with the philosopher, Li Kung [q. v.], and discussed with him the latter's Ta-hsüeh pien-yeh.

In the summer of 1703, through the introduction of Li Kung, Wang Yuan paid a visit to Li's teacher, Yen Yüan [q. v.], at Po-yeh, and so became a pupil of that pragmatic philosopher of North China. In 1704 he again went to Shensi, and a year later was in Canton. For several years, beginning in 1706, he lived in Peking, and then went to Huai-an, Kiangsu, where he died in 1710. His funeral expenses were defrayed by the calligrapher, Chiang Hêng (see under Chu Yün), who had married his niece. His remains were interred in the Chiang family cemetery at Chin-t'an, Kiangsu, where Chiang Hêng himself was later buried. Wang Yüan's father, his elder brother, and his son, Wang Chao-fu 王兆符 (T. 龍篆, H. 隆川, 1681–1723, chin-shih of 1721), were all buried in the Wang family cemetery, located five li west of Peking. A daughter of Wang Chao-fu married Kuan Chi-ch'êng 管基承 of Wu-chin, Kiangsu. Their son, Kuan Shih-ming 管世銘 (T. 緘若, H. 韞山, 1738–1798, chin-shih of 1778), served as a secretary in the Grand Council (1786–98) and as a censor (1795–98). While engaged as an official in Peking, Kuan Shih-ming often visited and repaired the tombs of the Wang family whose line had by this time died out. On the decease of Kuan Shih-ming his son and grandsons carried on this act of piety whenever any of them happened to be in Peking. One of these grandsons, named Kuan Shêng-lai 管繩萊 (T. 孝逸, magistrate of Han-shan, Anhwei, 1826–31), left an account of the tombs of the Wang family.

Wang Yüan printed two small collections of his own essays, one in 1 chüan, and the second in 6 chüan—both known as 王崑繩文 Wang K'un-shêng wên. His complete collection of essays was preserved in manuscript by the Kuan family and was printed in 1831 by Kuan Shêng-lai under the title, 居業堂文集 Chü-yeh t'ang wên-chi, 20 chüan. Wang Yuan was interested in political economy, geography, military tactics, and other subjects. He is known to have made a map of China, entitled 輿圖指掌 Yü-t'u chih-chang, and to have composed a work on military science, 兵法要略 Ping-fa yao-lüeh, 22 chüan, neither of which is probably now extant. A work by him on political economy, entitled 平書 P'ing-shu, 3 chüan, was fortunately preserved by Li Kung and was printed by the latter with his own annotations, under the title P'ing-shu ting (訂). Wang Yuan wrote a work on the Book of Changes, entitled his 讀易通言 Ti-I t'ung-yen, in which he maintained, as did his contemporary, Hu Wei [q. v.], that some of the views on the Changes held by Sung philosophers derived from Taoist teachings. He also made an analysis of the three ancient commentaries on the Spring and Autumn Annals, in a work entitled 或庵評春秋 Huo-an p'ing Ch'un-ch'iu, 3 chüan, analyzing the commentaries from the literary point of view and deducing from them techniques of essay-writing.

Wang Yüan's interest in political economy and military tactics show him to have been a matter-of-fact man who unfortunately never had an opportunity to put his theories into practice. He is destined, therefore, to be remembered only as a writer. From youth on he held in contempt the ideas of the Sung Neo-Confucianists, as expounded by the scholars of his day; he believed that Wang Yang-ming (see under Chang Li-hsiang) was entitled to be called the true Confucianist because he at least made an effort to put his views into practice in both the civil and military spheres. Wang Yüan stressed the importance of energetic efforts for the amelioration of society long before he met the pragmatic philosopher, Yen Yüan. It is not surprising, therefore, that after meeting Yen he became a steadfast exponent of his views. In 1706 he assisted Li Kung to compile the chronological account (nien-p'u) of Yen's life and in various ways helped to secure a wider hearing for Yen's views.

In the sketch of Wang Yüan's life which appears in Tai Wang's Yen-shih hsüeh-chi (see under Yen Yüan) there is a much-quoted statement to the effect that Wang accompanied Hsü Ch'ien-hsüeh [q. v.] to Soochow in 1690 to help him edit the great gazetteer, Ta-Ch'ing i-t'ung chih (see under Hsü). This assertion is now known to be erroneous, the error being due to confusion with another Wang Yüan 王原 (T. 令詒, H. 學庵, 深廬, 西亭, chin-shih of 1688) whose name is pronounced the same and varies only slightly in the writing. This Wang Yuan was a native of Ch'ing-p'u, Kiangsu, who assisted Hsü in editing the gazetteer and later served as magistrate of Mao-ming, Kwangtung (1694–97), and of T'ung-jên, Kweichow (1698–1702); and as a censor (1702–05). He was interested in the history of the Ming period and was the author of a treatise on the economics of that period, entitled 明食貨志 Ming shih-huo chih.


[1/486/20b; 3/431/23a; 4/139/8a; Shun-t'ien fu chih (1884) 99/13b; Ssŭ-k'u, 31/6a; Ch'ing-p'u hsien-chih (1879), 17/13a, 27/4b; Cha Shên-hsing [q. v.], Ching-yeh t'ang shih-chi, 12/10a; Chü-yeh t'ang chi, 14/7b, 18/9b; Tung-hua lu, K'ang-hsi 44:5.]

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