Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Yü Chêng-hsieh

Chêng-hsieh 俞正燮 (T. 理初), Oct. 1, 1775–1840, May 13, scholar, was a native of I-hsien, Anhwei. He was brought up in Chu-jung, Kiangsu, where his father, Yü Hsien 俞獻 (T. 可亭, 1750–1801, pa-kung of 1777), officiated (1778–94) as sub-director of schools. About 1797 he went to Peking where he remained for four years. From 1802 to 1804 he stayed mostly in Shantung, probably as a secretary to the provincial commissioner of education, Liu Fêng-kao (see under Tsang Yung). While again in Peking, in 1805, he assisted Yeh Chi-wên (see under Yeh Ming-ch'ên) privately in the compilation of the 1818 edition of the Ta-Ch'ing hui-tien, or "Collected Statutes of the Empire"—an edition that was commissioned in 1801 and completed in 1818. It is a continuation of earlier editions of that work (see under Wang An-kuo) and concludes with the year 1812. In 1810 Yu assisted in the compilation of the local history of his native district, I-hsien chih, which was printed in 1812. During the period 1804 to 1820 he compiled, on the basis of some forty sources, five chüan of the lost Sung hui-yao (see under Hsü Sung).

Yü became a chü-jên in 1821 when he was forty-seven sui. In the following year he helped Ch'êng Ên-tsê and Ch'i Chün-tsao [qq. v.] to edit the 欽定春秋左傳讀本 Ch'in-ting Ch'un-ch'iu Tso-chuan tu-pên, a punctuated text book of the Tso-chuan commentary to the Spring and Autumn Annals, edited by imperial order and printed in 1822. During the years 1830–31 he was on the staff of Chang Ching 張井 (T. 儀九, H. 芥航, 晴皞, 畏堂, 1776–1835, chin-shih of 1801) who was then director-general of river conservancy in Kiangnan with headquarters at Ch'ing-chiang-p'u, Kiangsu. There he compiled for Chang a work on river systems, entitled 續行水金鑑 Hsü Hsing-shui chin-chien, 156 chüan, printed in 1832. This work, initiated by a former director-general, Li Shih-hsü 黎世序 (T. 景和, H. 湛溪, original ming 承惠, posthumous name 襄勤, 1773–1824), is a supplement to the Hsing-shui chin-chien, 175 chüan, compiled by Fu Tsê-hung 傳澤洪 (T. 音甫[庵], 穉君, H. 怡園) and printed in 1725. The Hsing-shui chin-chien treats of the river systems of China from ancient times to 1721, whereas the supplement covers the period 1721–1820. In 1832 Yü was again in the capital where he helped Ch'ên Yung-kuang (see under Yao Nai) to collate the well-known Tu-shih fang-yü chi-yao by Ku Tsu-yü [q. v.]. In that year, too, in Peking he made the friendship of Chang Mu [q. v.] who later printed his 癸巳存稿 Kuei-ssŭ ts'un-kao, 15 chüan, in the Lien-yün i ts'ung-shu (1847), and wrote a preface to it.

In 1833 Yü competed unsuccessfully in the metropolitan examination. Wang Tsao 王藻 (T. 菽原) one of the assistant examiners, who thought highly of his scholarship and regretted his failure, printed (1833) a select collection of his writings and investigations under the title, Kuei-ssŭ lei (類) kao, 15 chüan. Yü joined the secretarial staff of Lin Tsê-hsü [q. v.] in 1837, when the latter was governor-general of Hunan and Hupeh, and helped him to compile several works. In 1839 he made for Ch'i Chün-tsao a copy of the table of contents of the Ch'üan shang-ku San-tai Ch'in Han San-kuo Liu-ch'ao wên, compiled by Yen K'o-chün [q. v.]. Relying, however, on Yen's compilation as it stood in 1815, he gave it the shorter title, 全三古至隋文 Ch'üan San-ku chih Sui wên. In the same year (1839), on the recommendation of Ch'i Chün-tsao, Yü was invited to direct the Hsi-yin 惜陰 Academy at Nanking where he died the following year. His collected verse, entitled 四養齋詩稿 Ssŭ-yang chai shih-kao, 3 chüan, was printed by his nephew, Yu Mou-lin 俞懋麟, in 1852. A younger brother, Yü Chêng-hsi 俞正禧 (T. 鼎初), was a chü-jên of 1837.

Yü Chêng-hsieh was a scholar of wide learning with an exceptional memory and a strong interest in research. His two works, Kuei-ssŭ lei-kao and Kuei-ssŭ ts'un-kao, contain valuable information on many subjects touching history, anthropology, folklore, geography and the classics. The first-mentioned, being the earlier of the two collections, contains the choice of his miscellaneous writings as selected by himself. A printed edition of 1833, with notes and emendations in Yu's own handwriting, was reproduced in fascimile (1934) in the Anhwei ts'ung-shu. The Kuei-ssŭ ts'un-kao being, as its name states, a collection of left-over items, includes many short notes on lighter subjects such as the origin of terms, customs, etc. The edition of 1884 was not printed from the same manuscript that was used in the Lien-yün i ts'ung-shu. Items on the subject of Russia which appeared in the lei-kao were edited by Ho Ch'iu-t'ao [q. v.] and were included in Ho's Shuo-fang pei-shêng. The studies which Yü Chêng-hsieh made of the geography of his native district and of Formosa, on the history of religious sects in Tibet, and on the relationship between Tibet and the Manchu dynasty are especially interesting. Yü should also be remembered for his liberal ideas, particularly in defense of the rights of women, and for the attacks he made on the prevailing double moral standards.


[1/491/9b; 2/69/47a; 6/49/1a; Wang Li-chung, chronological biography, entitled Yü Li-ch'u hsien-shêng nien-p'u (with portrait, 1934) in Anhwei ts'ung-shu; Lin Yutang, "Feminist Thought in Ancient China", in T'ien Hsia, vol. I, no. 2, pp. 127–150.]

Tu Lien-chê