Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Wei Yüan

WEI Yüan 魏源 (T. 漢士, H. 默深), Apr.23, 1794–1856, historian and geographer, was a native of Shao-yang, Hunan. His father, Wei Pang-lu 魏邦魯 (d.c. 1830), was an official who held posts principally in Kiangsu. Wei Yuan was the second of four sons. At the age of fifteen (sui) he became a hsiu-ts'ai and showed, it is said, an interest in the study of history and the philosophy of Wang Yang-ming (see Chang Li-hsiang). In 1814 he went as a pa-kung 拔貢 to Peking where he met such scholars as Hu Ch'êng-kung 胡承珙 (T. 景孟, H. 墨莊, 1776– 1832), Liu Fêng-lu and Kung Tzŭ-chên [qq. v.]. A chü-jên of 1822, he accepted from Ho Ch'ang-ling [q. v.], then lieutenant-governor of Kiangsu, the editorship of the Huang-ch'ao ching-shih wên-pien (see under Ho Ch'ang-ling) which was completed in 1826. Dealing as it did with national issues, both political and economic, Wei Yüan developed, through the preparation of this work, an interest in current events. In 1829 he obtained by purchase a position as a secretary of the Grand Secretariat, where he could use the imperial library and the archives, and where he could familiarize himself with national and governmental affairs. In 1844, when he was in his fiftieth year, he became a chin-shih. He received appointment as acting magistrate of Tung-t'ai, Kiangsu, in 1845, but owing to the death of his mother in the following year he retired from office to observe the period of mourning.

In 1849 Wei Yüan was made magistrate of Hsing-hua, also in Kiangsu. This district was in that year subjected to a flood; and Wei, by taking measures which his superiors had opposed, saved the crops and brought about the establishment of definite regulations for opening the water-gates and repairing the embankments. The rice which was harvested in that year was styled by the people "Esquire Wei's rice" (魏公稻). When T'ao Chu [q. v.] was governor-general of Kiangsu he often took the advice of Wei Yüan in matters of coastal transport, river conservancy, and salt administration. In 1851 Wei was promoted to the post of department magistrate of Kao-yu, Kiangsu—at a time when the Taiping Rebellion (see under Hung Hsiu-ch'üan) was at its zenith and Kiangsu was in turmoil. Having incurred the displeasure of certain high officials, he was accused of obstructing the postal service, and was dismissed from office in 1853 only to be reinstated soon after. In 1854 he retired to Hsing-hua and died two years later at Hangchow.

As a student of the classics, Wei Yüan was an advocate of the "modern text" school (see under Yen Jo-chü) and a follower of Chuang Ts'un-yü and Liu Fêng-lu [qq. v.]. He wrote on the Five Classics and on the Kung-yang commentary to the Spring and Autumn Annals. The best known of these studies are his time 詩古微 Shih ku-wei, 22 chüan, and Shu (書) ku-wei, 12 chüan. His collected prose, entitled Ku-wei t'ang chi (堂集), 10 chüan, was printed in 1878. Another edition appeared in 1909 under the title 魏默深文集 Wei Mo-shên wên-chi. His collected verse, Ku-wei t'ang shih (詩) chi, 10 chüan, was first printed in 1870.

In the field of history and geography Wei Yüan likewise made important contributions. Like many of his contemporaries, he was convinced of the inadequacy of the official history of the Yuan dynasty. Prior to his day Ch'ien Ta-hsin [q. v.] had made an attempt to rewrite it. With the same end in view, Wei Yüan wrote the 元史新編 Yüan-shih hsin-pien, in 95 chüan. Hoping that it might be accepted as one of the official dynastic histories, he prepared, in 1853, a memorial of presentation to the throne. But it was not completed before his death, and the printing was undertaken only in 1905 by a relative named Wei Kuang-tao 魏光燾 (T. 午莊), governor-general at Foochow in 1904–05. For the imperial annals (pên-chi 本紀) Wei Yüan drew heavily on the 元史類編 Yüan-shih lei-pien, a work in 42 chüan, completed in 1699 by Shao Yüan-p'ing 邵遠平 (T. 戒三[山], 呂璜), a chin-shih of 1664. Wei also included in his work Ch'ien Ta-hsin's Yüan-shih i-wên chih and Yüan-shih shih-tsu piao. He acknowledged all the above works as his sources, and also mentioned that while compiling the Hai-kuo t'u-chih (see below) he found from the history and geography of India how far Mongol rule extended; and came to realize how necessary it was to revise the official history of the Yüan dynasty (Yüan shih)—a work so hastily compiled that little mention was made of the great empire outside of China.

Another historical work by Wei Yüan, entitled 埾武記 Shêng-wu chi, 14 chüan, completed in 1842, is an account of the military operations of Ch'ing rulers up to the Tao-kuang period. It was later revised and was often reprinted. It was supplemented by Chang Tien 張殿 to include the reign-periods of Tao-kuang, Hsien-fêng, and T'ung-chih (up to 1875) and the whole was reprinted under the title Shih-i-ch'ao (十一朝) Shêng-wu chi.

Born when the Ch'ing dynasty was showing signs of decay, Wei Yüan witnessed the growing national unrest, and the encroachment of Western countries which reached a climax in 1842 with the Anglo-Chinese War. Hence he was greatly concerned with the problem of foreign relations. A few months after the conclusion of the Treaty of Nanking, he completed a geography of foreign nations under the title 海國圖志 Hai-kuo t'u chih. It appeared first (1844) in 50 chüan; later (1847) in 60 сhüan; and finally (1852) was expanded to 100 chüan. He acknowledges as one of his sources the Ssŭ-chou chih, a work compiled under the direction of Lin Tsê-hsü [q. v.] and containing translations from Western periodicals, and selections from the monthly 東西洋考每月統紀傳 Tung Hsi-yang k'ao mei-yüeh t'ung-chi chuan, published by Karl F. A. Gützlaff 郭實獵 (1803–1851) in Canton and Singapore during the years 1833–38. Chüan 12 of the Hai-kuo t'u-chih, dealing with Japan, was translated into English by Thomas F. Wade (see under Tso Tsung-t'ang) and printed in the Chinese Repository, vol. XIX (1850). Wei Yüan remarks in his preface that he compiled the Hai-kuo t'u-chih in the hope that it would be of service to his country in dealing with foreign nations. A supplement (hsü-chi) of 25 chüan, annexed to the edition of 1895, consists chiefly of abstracts from Western works on Anglo-Russian relations, the Near Eastern problem, and questions of military technique—translated into Chinese by Young J. Allen 林樂知 (1836–1907) and by John Fryer 傅蘭雅 (1839–1928) who were, for a time, translators for the Kiangnan Arsenal at Shanghai (see under Ting Jih-ch'ang). Both the Hai-kuo t'u-chih and the Shêng-wu chi became popular in Japan. An abridged edition of the former in five chapters was reprinted as early as 1854–56, and the whole work was translated and printed about the same time, the Japanese rendering of the title being Kaikoku zushi. The Shêng-wu chi was also abridged and reprinted in 1850 under the title 聖武記撮要 Seibuki saiyō, and in 1856 under the title Seibuki bassui (拔粹), each of these editions comprising 3 chüan.


[1/491/13a; 2/69/52a; 6/24/8a; 7/44/8a; 20/1/xx (portrait); Hunan t'ung-chih (1934) 3892a; T'oung Pao (1927–28), p. 99; Inobe Kazuiye, "The Geographer, Wei Yüan" (in Japanese), in Shien 史淵, no. 8; Momose, Hiromu, "Wei Yüan, a Pioneer Scholar of the Late Ch'ing Period" (in Japanese), in Rekishi Kōron, vol. 3, no. 6; Abe Makoto, "The Study of World Geography in Edo Period" (in Japanese), in Rekishigaku Kenkyū, vol. 1, nos. 1, 2; 明經通譜 Ming-ching t'ung-p'u (1813).]

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