Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Wu Ching-tzŭ

WU Ching-tzŭ 吳敬梓 (T. 敏軒, 文木), 1701–1754, Dec. 12, novelist, was a native of Ch'üan-chiao, Anhwei. His great-grandfather, Wu Kuo-tui 吳國對 (T. 玉隨, 默巖, H. 1616–1680), was a chin-shih of 1658 who held prominent posts in the Hanlin Academy. His father, Wu Lin-ch'i (d. 1723), was a senior licentiate (pa-kung) of 1686 who officiated as director of schools in the district of Kan-yü, Kiangsu, from 1714 to 1722. The family was moderately well off and was noted for the number of its members who gained distinction in the civil-service examinations. Wu Ching-tzŭ himself, however, proceeded no further than the hsiu-ts'ai degree which he obtained in 1720. He was regarded by the people of his native district as a prodigal who had squandered his inherited wealth. Partly to escape this criticism, he moved his family to Nanking in the spring of 1733, where he lived in poverty for the remainder of his life. In view of his talents as a literary man, he was recommended by the governor of Anhwei, Chao Kuo-lin 趙國麟 (T. 仁圃, 1673–1751) to compete in the po-hsüeh hung-tz'ŭ examination of 1736 (see under Liu Lun). He was, however, prevented by illness from participating. This circumstance, together with the fact that one of the three candidates with whom he planned to proceed to Peking died before he could get back to his home, affected Wu Ching-tzŭ greatly and made him a life-long opponent of the examination system. His antagonism is believed by Hu Shih (see under Ts'ui Shu) to be reflected in a poem which he wrote about 1740, under the title 哭舅詩 K'u chiu shih, "Lamenting the Fate of My Uncle". In this poem he recounts his maternal uncle's inability to advance beyond the hsiu-ts'ai degree, and how, despite unusual endowments, he came down to impecunious old age lacking the recognition which was his due. Wu's own career seems not to have been much happier. Completely disillusioned, he abandoned all competition for a higher degree. He is reported to have become so poor that, having no means to provide fuel, he and his companions would stroll outside the walls of Nanking on cold winter nights, walking till dawn, chatting, laughing, and composing verses—a form of diversion which they called "keeping the feet warm" (暖足). For a few months in 1741–42 he found refuge in the home of Ch'êng Chin-fang [q. v.].

Wu Ching-tzŭ is known chiefly for his great novel, 儒林外史 Ju-lin wai-shih, "Unofficial History of the Literati", which, according to Hu Shih, was written between the years 1740 and 1750. This work, the most powerful satirical novel that China ever produced, ridicules the empty formalism of the examination system and other institutions such as concubinage, self-immolation, the belief in fairies, and the superstitions of geomancy. It is realistic in form, though idealistic in matter. It was first printed between the years 1768 and 1779 by Chin Chao-yen 金兆燕 (T. 鍾越, H. 棕亭, b. 1718, chin-shih of 1766), a friend and relative of the author. The earliest extant edition is dated 1816; another appeared about 1869 with a postscript of that date by a distant relative of the novelist, named Chin Ho [q. v.]; still another edition appeared in 1874. The number of chapters varies with the different editions, as follows: 50, 55, 56, and 60—due apparently to attempted expansions by later hands. The edition arranged by Hu Shih, which appeared in 1920, has 55 chapters. Line drawings made by Ts'ao Han-mei 曹涵美, to illustrate each chapter, appear in the magazine 論語半月刊 Lun-yü pan-yüeh k'an, beginning with No. 75 (Nov. 1, 1935). It is supposed by some that the character, Tu Shao-ch'ing 杜少卿, points to the author himself, and that Tu Shên-ch'ing 杜愼卿 represents his cousin, Wu Ch'ing 吳檠 (T. 青然, H. 岑華, b. 1701, a chin-shih of 1745), who achieved moderate fame as a poet and participated unsuccessfully in the po-hsüeh hung-tz'ŭ examination of 1736. Still another character in the novel, named Chuang Shao-kuang 莊紹光, is taken by some to point to Ch'êng Ting-tso (see under Yen Yüan). It is worth noting that the style which attracted so much attention in the Ju-lin wai-shih was imitated by a number of novelists who achieved popularity in the first decade of this century (see Wu Jung-kuang).

In his later years Wu Ching-tzŭ became interested in the study of the classics. According to the above-mentioned preface by Chin Ho, he produced a work on the Classic of Poetry, entitled 詩說 Shih-shuo, 7 chüan, which seems to be no longer extant. An edition of his earlier literary works, entitled 文木山房集 Wên-mu shan-fang chi, containing 182 poems in 4 chüan, was reprinted by Hu Shih in 1931, having been originally printed about the year 1739. It lacks the novelist's prose writings and the poems he is known to have written after the age of forty, a lack partly made up by a supplement containing some fifty poems written by his eldest son, Wu Lang 吳烺 (T. 荀叔, H. 杉[檆]亭), a chü-jên of 1751. Wu Ching-tzŭ is said to have compiled another collection of literary works in 12 chüan, bearing the same title, which is probably no longer extant. He died suddenly in Yangchow.

After passing a special examination, Wu Lang had the chü-jên degree conferred on him by Emperor Kao-tsung when the latter made his first tour of South China in 1751. He later became a prominent mathematician, a sketch of his life appearing in the biographical handbook of astronomers and mathematicians known as Ch'ou-jên chuan (see under Juan Yüan). His comments on the ancient mathematical work, 周髀算經 Chou-pi suan-ching, entitled by him, Chou-pi suan-ching t'u-chu (圖注), was first printed in 1768 with a preface by Shên Ta-ch'êng 沈大成 (T. 學子, H. 沃田, 1700–1771). Wu Lang regarded the mathematicians, Mei Wên-ting [q. v.] and Liu Hsiang-k'uei 劉湘煃 (T. 允恭), as his teachers.

Wu Kuo-tui, the great-grandfather of Wu Ching-tzŭ, had a twin brother named Wu Kuo-lung 吳國龍 (T. 玉騧, 1616–1671), who became a chin-shih in 1643 and achieved some fame as a censor. Two sons of Wu Kuo-lung, named Wu Shêng 吳晟 (T. 麗玉, H. 梅泉, 1635–1695, chin-shih of 1676), and Wu Ping 吳昺 (T. 永年, H. 碩山, chin-shih of 1691), were talented men of letters.


[3/435/12a; Ch'üan-chiao hsien-chih (1920), 10/47a, 48b, 49a, 15/2b, 3a, 5a, 8a, 12b; Nien-p'u in Wên-mu shan-fang chi and in Hu Shih wên-ts'un (see bibl. under Li Ju-chên), 2nd series, vol. 4; Ch'ou-jên chuan, chüan 42; Report of the Librarian of Congress (1933), p. 115; Aoki Seiji, "On the Ju-lin wai-shih" (in Japanese) in Shina Bungei Ronsō (1927), pp. 272–81.]

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