Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Wu Ta-ch'êng

WU Ta-ch'êng 吳大澂 (T. 止敬, 清卿, H. 恆軒, 愙齋, 白雲山樵, 白雲病叟, original ming 大淳), June 6, 1835–1902, Mar. 6, civil and military official, archaeologist and calligrapher, was a native of Soochow. His grandfather, Wu Ching-k'un 吳經堃 (T. 厚安, H. 愼庵, d. 1838), was a rich merchant who was interested in arts and letters. In 1860, when the Taipings occupied Soochow, Wu Ta-ch'êng took refuge in Shanghai, and two years later went to Peking where he failed in the Shun-t'ien provincial examination. In 1864, however, he took his chü-jên degree in his native province. Studying (1865) under Yü Yüeh [q. v.] at the Tzŭ-yang 紫陽 Academy, Soochow, he obtained the chin-shih degree in 1868 and was made a bachelor of the Hanlin Academy. Soon afterwards he returned to his native place and engaged in editorial work for about two years at the Kiangsu Provincial Printing Office at Soochow (江蘇書局). In 1870 he went to Wuchang, Hupeh, where he worked as a secretary to Li Hung-chang [q. v.]. In the following year he went to the capital and was made a compiler of the Hanlin Academy. During the years 1873–76 he was educational commissioner of Shensi and Kansu, and about the same time (1871–73, 1876–79) engaged in relief work in Chihli province. Early in 1879 he was appointed intendant of the Ho-pei Circuit in Honan.

During these years the Ch'ing authorities made efforts to strengthen the defences against Russia in eastern and northern Manchuria, and early in 1880 Wu Ta-ch'êng was selected to take part in this work. With the rank of an official of the third grade, he went to Kirin where, under the direction of Ming-an 銘安 (T. 鼎臣, 1828–1911), military-governor of Kirin (1877–83), he was occupied in the improvement of defence on the eastern border. During the latter half of the year 1880 he organized a Ching-pien Chün 靖邊軍 or Border Pacification Army, to garrison the frontier, and at the same time pacified a party of gold-miners (some fifty thousand) led by Han Hsiao-chung 韓効忠 (popularly called Han Pien-wai 韓邊外), who had opposed the government. In 1881 he set about establishing at Kirin an arsenal in European style, which was completed in 1883; and batteries at San-hsing (I-lan) and Hun-ch'un—completed in 1884 and 1888 respectively. For his men he wrote a guide-book to artillery practice, entitled 槍法準繩 Ch'iang-fa chun-shêng which was published in 1884. In 1881 he established colonization offices in the basin of the Hun-ch'un river to encourage Chinese settlement, owing to the fact that Russian and Korean emigrants were illegally inhabiting an area allotted to China by the Sino-Russian treaty of 1860 (see under I-hsin). Late in 1882 he lodged a protest with Russian border officials against encroachment by Russians and, early in the following year, memorialized the throne proposing that officials be appointed to make with Russian officials a joint survey of the Hun-ch'un border, as suggested by Russia. Some months later (October 1884), when a French force under Admiral Courbet (see under Liu Ming-ch'uan) attacked the coast of Fukien, he was ordered to defend Tientsin with his border patrols. In November he and his troops arrived at Tientsin and were stationed there until the conclusion of the peace negotiations between China and France in the following year (see under Li Hung-chang). After that he remained at Tientsin in the service of the Peiyang Squadron. At the close of the same year, immediately after the coup d'état of the Korean government, when Japanese and Chinese armies stationed at Seoul (Keijō) had an encounter (see under Li Shu-ch'ang and Yüan Chia-san), he was despatched to the area as a commissioner of the Ch'ing government, with some 150 men under him. For about six weeks, beginning January 1, 1885, he stayed in Seoul, but did not have an opportunity to negotiate officially about SinoJapanese problems with the Japanese special envoy, Inoue Kaoru 井上馨 (T. 世外, 1834–1915). Returning to Tientsin in March, he assisted Li Hung-chang in the conclusion of the Sino-Japanese convention (see under Li Hung-chang).

Early in 1886 Wu Ta-ch'êng was despatched to the Hun-ch'un region, where, from May to October, he negotiated with the governor of the Russian Maritime Province about the RussoChinese border east of Lake Hsing-k'ai. Thus, on the basis of the treaty of 1860, they defined the frontier, erecting three new boundary stones and re-establishing with stones eight old landmarks which had been made of wood. Wu Ta-ch'êng left two works concerning this mission: one entitled 吉林勘界記 Chi-lin k'an-chieh chi, a collection of official reports, printed in 1891 in the Hsiao-fang-hu chai yü-ti ts'ung-ch'ao (see under Hsü Chi-yü); and 皇華紀程 Huang-hua chi-ch'êng, his personal diary during the mission—published in 1930. Upon his return to Tientsin, late in the same year (1886), he was appointed governor of Kwangtung. Arriving at his new post in February 1887, he took part in revising the customs duties on opium imported through European settlements in China, Hongkong and Macao. After the Sino-Portuguese protocol, about the opium trade and about the concession at Macao, was signed at Lisbon (May 26, 1887), he memorialized the throne on detailed measures to meet the situation, advocating the assumption of a firm attitude towards the Portuguese. The Ch'ing government, however, conceded to Portugal exclusive jurisdiction over Macao in a convention signed at Peking on December 1, 1887, between Thomas de Souza Roza and Sun Yü-wên (see under Sun Yü-t'ing). It was stipulated, however, that the territory could not be ceded to a third power without China's consent. In the autumn of 1888 Wu was made director-general of Yellow River and Grand Canal Conservancy in place of Li Ho-nien (see under Lu Hsin-yüan) who had been unable to cope with the embankments at Chengchow, Honan. He completed this work, with cement, early in 1889 and for this service was decorated with the Ruby Button of the first rank. Transferred to the governorship of Hunan in 1892, he made efforts to advance local industries; he established (1893) a sericultural bureau at Changsha, and planned to collect funds to encourage tea manufacture in Hunan with the object of making Chinese tea superior to Indian tea which had displaced the former in the English market. But the latter scheme failed to materialize, owing to the financial difficulties of the central government. With the declaration of the SinoJapanese War (August 1, 1894) Wu volunteered his services, and in September was ordered to defend Shanhaikuan with Hunanese and other troops. He was stationed there until March of the following year when he was deprived of his post because his troops met defeat at Newchwang. He returned to his former post in Hunan, but retired a few months later. In 1898 he became director of the Lung-mên 龍門 Academy at Shanghai. Stricken with paralysis in 1899, he died at his native place three years later.

Deeply interested in archaeological studies, Wu Ta-ch'êng made a rich collection of ancient bronzes, vessels and implements. All the leisure he could spare from his official duties, even in time of war, he devoted to the collecting and the study of these objects. A catalogue of his collection, entitled 愙齋藏器目 K'o-chai ts'ang-ch'i mu, was published in 1896 in the Ling-chien ko ts'ung-shu (see under Ho Ch'iu-t'ao); but a better catalogue has appeared as an appendix to Wu's nien-p'u (see below). On the basis of his collection, he compiled the following catalogues with critical notes on bronze and copper objects of antiquity: 恆軒所見所藏吉金錄 Hêng-hsüan so-chien so-ts'ang chi-chin lu, printed in 1886 and reprinted in 1919; K'o-chai chi-ku lu (集古錄), completed in 1886 and printed in 1917; and K'o-chai chi-chin lu shih-wên shêng-kao (釋文賸稿), completed in 1886 and printed in 1919. He also compiled two catalogues of ancient seals in his collection: one entitled 十六金符齋印存 Shih-liu chin-fu chai yin ts'un, printed in 1888 and reprinted in 1909; another entitled 千鈢齋鈢選 Ch'ien-hsi chai hsi-hsüan, printed in 1889. He left a catalogue with critical remarks on ancient jades, entitled to 古玉圖考 Ku-yü t'u-k‘ao, printed in 1889 and reprinted in 1919. Two authoritative works by him, involving systematic research, are: 權衡度量實驗攷 Ch'üan-hêng tu-liang shih-yen k'ao, printed in 1894 and reprinted in 1915; and 說文古籀補 Shuo-wên ku-chou pu, 15 + 1 chüan, first printed in 1883 (reprinted in 1886) and revised and printed in 1895. The former is a study of ancient weights and measures; and the latter is an analysis of some 5,700 ancient characters in the pre-Ch'in style. Wu Tach'êng left about a dozen other works on archaeological topics, most of which still remain in manuscript. A collection of his verse, entitled K'o-chai hsien-shêng shih-ch'ao (詩鈔), was published in 1887; but his prose works, his memorials to the throne, and his diaries, are preserved in manuscript.

Wu Ta-ch'êng was one of the most skilled calligraphers of his day, particularly in the chuan style (see under Ho Shao-chi. Albums in his own handwriting of the Classic of Filial Piety and of the Analects were printed in 1885 and in 1886 respectively, and are well-known among calligraphers. He was also a good painter.


[1/456/4a; 5/32/1a; Ku T'ing-lung, Wu K'o-chai hsien-shêng nien-p'u (1934); Chin-shih jên-wu chih (see under Wêng T'ung-ho), pp. 122–25; Ch'ien Hsün (see under Fan Mou-chu), 中俄界約冓注 Chung-Ê chieh-yüeh chiao-chu (1894), chüan 7; 新纂約章大全 Hsin-tsuan Yüeh-chang ta-ch'üan (1909), chüan 44; Kirin t'ung-chih (1891), chüan 53 and 55; Yano Jinichi, Kindai Shina gaikoku-kankei kenkyū (Chinese Foreign Relations in Recent Years), pp. 382–401; Tabohashi Kiyoshi, Meiji gaikō shi (Foreign Relations in the Meiji Period), pp. 44–50; Morse, H.B., The International Relations of the Chinese Empire, vol. II, pp. 384–89; Pelliot, T'oung Pao, 1920–21, p. 140 ff.]

Hiromu Momose