Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Wu Li

WU Li 吳歷 (T. 漁山, H. 墨井道人), 1632–1718, Feb. 24, artist and Chinese Catholic priest, was a native of Ch'ang-shu, Kiangsu. An ancestor, ten generations back, named Wu No 吳訥 (T. 敏德, H. 思庵, 1372–1457, posthumous name 文恪), held the rank of a vice-president of the Censorate at Nanking. Wu Li, whose original name was Wu Ch'i (啟)-li, was the youngest of three sons. His father died shortly after he was born and consequently he was brought up by his mother. He learned to write verse, to paint, and to play the lute (ch'in). He studied painting under Wang Shih-min and Wang Chien [qq. v.] and was an intimate friend of another famous painter, Wang Hui [q. v.]. By 1660 his painting and his poetry won the praise of Ch'ien Ch'ien-i [q. v.]. About this time he studied Confucian philosophy under Ch'ên Hu (see under Lu Shih-i) in whose company he was for several years. He also became an intimate friend of a learned Buddhist priest. Another friend with whom he frequently associated was Hsü Chih-chien 許之漸 (T. 儀吉, H. 青嶼, chin-shih of 1655), a censor who was cashiered in 1665 when accused by Yang Kuang-hsien [q. v.] of having written a preface to a work propagating the Christian faith. In 1669 Yang lost his power, and all who had been condemned on his accusation were pardoned. When Hsü Chih-chien returned to Peking in 1670, Wu Li accompanied him and during his stay of more than a year in the capital he met many famous poets of the day.

It seems that after his return to Ch'ang-shu Wu's contacts with the Jesuit missionaries became more frequent. In the early Ch'ing period Ch'ang-shu was one of the centers of missionary activity (see under Ch'ü Shih-ssŭ) the church in that place occupying the traditional site of the home of Yen Yen 言偃 (T. 子游, b. ca. 506 B.C.), a disciple of Confucius. Since Wu's ancestral home was very near the church, he must often have met the missionaries. In or before 1676 he became acquainted with Father Frangois de Rougemont 魯日滿 (T. 謙受, 1624–1676) who perhaps influenced him in his decision to embrace the Christian faith. Thereafter he had little or no association with Buddhist monks, but there are records of his meeting with Chinese members of the Catholic Church, among them the descendants of Sun Yüan-hua [q. v.]. He was baptized under the name Simon-Xavier, probably about 1679–80. In 1681 he decided to accompany Father Philippe Couplet 柏應理 (T. 信末, 1624?–1692) to Rome, but after reaching Macao he was for some reason detained there and Couplet left in December without him. Owing to the death of his mother and his wife, and the marriage of his two daughters, Wu had no family ties or obligations, and in 1682 at the age of fifty-one (sui), he entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus at Macao. In 1685 he was still studying in Macao, and so may have attended the ceremonies at which the Chinese Dominican, Lo Wên-tsao 羅文藻 (Western name, Gregory Lopez, d. 1691), was consecrated (at Canton on April 8) Bishop of Basilinopolis and Vicar Apostolic of Nanking—the first Chinese Bishop in the Catholic Church. After studying Latin and ecclesiastical subjects for six years, Wu Li was finally admitted to the priesthood. On August 1, 1688, he and two other Chinese were ordained by Lo Wên-tsao. His life at Macao during these years of study is described in part in a collection of his poems which he entitled 三巴集 San-pa chi, in reference to St. Paul's (San Paulo) Cathedral where he had studied the Christian way. (That Cathedral, erected in 1602, was destroyed by fire in 1834 and only the façade is now standing.) Two manuscript copies of the San-pa chi are preserved in the mission library at Zikawei, Shanghai, and also a supplement in manuscript called San yü (餘) chi. In 1688 Wu adopted the surname A Cunha.

From 1689 to 1695 Wu Li was busily engaged in missionary work in Kiangsu, especially in Nanking and Shanghai. From 1695 onward, he worked chiefly in the neighborhood of Chia-ting, northwest of Shanghai; and from 1699 to 1702 was probably in charge of the mission at that place. After 1704 he seems to have spent most of his time in Shanghai where he died and was buried. The monument marking his tomb, which was erected by Father Manoel Mendes 孟由義 (T. 居仁, 1656–1743), is preserved in the church at Zikawei. In 1719, a year after his death, his poems were printed by a disciple, under the title 墨井詩鈔 Mo-ching shih-ch'ao, 2 chüan, together with a collection of his colophons on paintings, entitled Mo-ching hua-pa (畫跋), 1 chüan. His religious and philosophical sayings, composed during the years 1696-97, were recorded by a disciple in a work entitled 口鐸 K'ou-to.

Little is known about the last years of Wu Li's life; apparently he was so occupied with his religious duties that he lost touch with many of his friends. There is a story, told by Chang Kêng (see under Ch'ên Shu), that Wu offended Wang Hui by refusing to return a painting he had borrowed from him. But certain poems and paintings prove this story to be false, showing, on the contrary, that the two artists, who were born in the same year and who died about a hundred days apart, were always devoted friends. Equally unfounded is the assertion that Wu Li learned Western methods of painting which he applied to his work. None of his paintings show a Western influence.

Though comparatively few of Wu Li's paintings are extant, they insure him a place among the great artists of the Ch'ing period. Forty-two photogravures of his painting and of his calligraphy appear in Variétés Sinologiques (no. 37).


[1/509/3b; 3/465/23a; 20/1/00; 26/1/32b; 27/4/4b; Ch'ên Yuan 陳垣, "In Commemoration of the Two Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of Wu Li" (in Chinese), in Fu-jên hsüeh-chih (see bibl. under Liu Pao-nan), vol. 5, nos. 1, 2 (1936); idem, chronological biography vol. 6, nos. 1, 2 (1937); Ku-kung chou-k'an (see bibl. under Na-yen-ch'êng), nos. 88, 144; L.T.C.L.H.M.; Pfister, Notices, pp. 395, 396; Tchang and de Prunelé, "Le Père Simon A Cunha S.J.", Variétés Sinologiques, no. 37; Moule, A.C. New China Review, vol. 3, pp. 138–139; Ch'ên Yüan, "Wu Yü-ghan" (put into English by Eugene Feifel), Monumenta Serica vol. 3 (1938) pp. 130–706.]

Fang Chao-ying