Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Wu I

WU I 武億 (T. 虛谷, H. 小石, 半石山人), Dec. 14, 1745–1799, Nov. 26, epigraphist and archaeologist, was a native of Yen-shih, Honan. His father, Wu Shao-chou 武紹周 (T. 夢卜, 1688–1761), was a chin-shih of 1723, and a department director in the Board of Civil Appointments. Wu I was a pupil of Chu Yün [q. v.]; he became a chü-jên in 1770, and a chin-shih in 1780. In 1791 he was appointed magistrate of Po-shan, Shantung. This region was mountainous and sterile but had an abundance of mineral coal and silica. The principal occupation of the people was mining and the making of glazed wares. When he assumed office he inquired into the needs of the inhabitants of his district. He exempted them from the glass tax and reformed the system by which they had been compelled to pay taxes in the form of coal, vegetables, and horses. He encouraged economy, abolished nunneries, and was severe in the suppression of bribery. At Po-shan he founded the Fan-ch'üan 范泉 Academy where he lectured to the students and emphasized the importance of ethics and of expending one's energies in practical activities (務實).

But Wu's position was destined not to last longer than seven months. The powerful Ho-shên [q. v.], Grand Secretary and commandant of the gendarmerie in Peking, was told of a rumor that the rebel leader, Wang Lun (see under Shu-ho-tê), who had been reported dead in 1774, was still alive. Ho secretly sent constables from Peking into the Po-shan region to track the rebel. Two of the constables at the head of a band of eleven ran amok, drinking, gambling, and brandishing iron rods. Wu, who would not bear with lawlessness, arrested the rogues and had them flogged. By law, these constables should have functioned only in Peking and had no authority outside the capital. Wu was within his rights in punishing them when they came to Shantung. The governor of Shantung, however, fearing revenge by Ho-shên, charged Wu with "excessively punishing guiltless persons," and demanded in a memorial that he be impeached. Ho-shên altered the charges to the ambiguous phrase, "arbitrarily exercising the cudgel," and left out the names of the constables he sent, thus clearing himself. Wu was dismissed from office, but the people of Poshan came by thousands to the district magistrate's office, bringing firewood and food, and begging that he be returned to them. Another Grand Secretary, A-kuei [q. v.], suggested to the governor of the province, Chi-ch'ing (see under Na-yen-ch'êng), that since Wu's punishment of the constables was not illegal, he might be restored to office. But Ho-shên, controlling the Board of Civil Office, barred Wu. Thereafter Wu was engaged in several teaching positions in Shantung, and then returned home. Eventually, in 1799, Emperor Jên-tsung ordered that all whom the high officials knew to be able and of unswerving integrity should be promoted. As Ho-shên had already been punished, those whom he had maltreated were entitled to satisfaction. Wu was invited to resume his rank as a magistrate, but by the time the invitation reached his home he had died.

Wu was a man of great stature, enormous appetite, extraordinary capacity for work, and unusual physical strength. He is said to have carried on his back for some twenty li a stone of archaeological interest which weighed several tens of catties. He was continually watchful for epigraphical specimens, and his study of them, 金石跋 Chin-shih pa, was printed in 4 series, totaling 24 chüan. In addition, he compiled a collection of inscriptions on metal and stone, of his native district, 偃師金石錄 Yen-shih chin-shih lu, 4 chüan, printed in 1788; and of An-yang, Honan, entitled 安陽金石錄 An-yang chin-shih lu, 12 chüan, printed in 1807. He was noted for his commentaries on the Three Rituals entitled 三禮義證 San Li i-chêng, in 12 chüan. His commentaries on the other classics were entitled 羣經義證 Ch'ün ching i-chêng, 8 chüan. He also wrote two works on the punctuation of the classical texts. His collected shorter works in prose, entitled 授堂文鈔 Shou-t'ang wên-ch'ao, in 10 chüan, and his collected poems, entitled Shou-t'ang shih-ch'ao (詩鈔), in 8 chüan, were printed with his other works mentioned above, under the collective title Shou-t'ang i-shu (遺書). The first edition of the Shou-t'ang i-shu was published in 1801, under the editorship of his son, Wu Mu-ch'un 武穆淳 (T. 小谷, 1772–1832); the second in 1843 under the editorship of his grandson, Wu Lei 武耒. Wu Mu-ch'un's collected works, entitled 讀畫山房文鈔 Tu-hua shan-fang wên-ch'ao, in 2 chüan, were also printed in the collection.


[1/487/30b; 2/68/70b; 3/243/4a; Appendix to the second edition of the Shou-t'ang i-shu.]

Rufus O. Suter