Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Yang Kuang-hsien

YANG Kuang-hsien 楊光先 (T. 長公), 1597–1669, official, opponent of the early missionaries, was a native of Shê-hsien, Anhwei. It is reported that as a youth he was very excitable, and often fell into a rage in the course of an argument, even with his elders. Because of this, his father regarded him as unfit for an official career and prohibited him from taking the civil examinations. After his father's death he might have inherited a minor hereditary rank left by an ancestor, Yang Ning 楊寧 (T. 彥謐, 1400–1458), but, in line with his father's admonition, he decided to remain a commoner and passed on the rank to a younger brother. Having, however, an insatiable interest in politics, he submitted in June 1637, when he was in Peking, a memorial to the last Ming Emperor (see Chu Yu-chien), attacking/two officials for corruption and incompetency. (One of the officials he so attacked was the Emperor's favorite Grand Secretary, Wên T'i-jên (see under Chêng Man). Realizing that, in case his charges were not sustained, he might incur the death penalty, he carried his coffin with him. His life was spared, but he was flogged and banished to Liaotung, where he remained until about 1644—being freed after the fall of the Ming Dynasty. Thereafter he seems to have lived in Nanking for a number of years and, beginning about 1659, assumed the self-appointed role of a campaigner against Western missionaries.

At this time the leading missionary in Peking was the German Jesuit, Father Adam Schall von Bell 湯若望 (T. 道味, H. 1591–1666), who had been one of the translators of Western books on astronomy and the calendar at the Ming Court (see under Hsü Kuang-ch'i), and had remained in Peking after the fall of the Dynasty. In August 1641 he was asked by the Manchu Regent, Dorgon [q. v.], to prepare for the new regime a calendar based on Western mathematical calculations, which came to be known as Shih-hsien li 時憲曆. After supervising for some time the Imperial Board of Astronomy he was named the director. Under the first Ch'ing Emperor, Shih-tsu, he was granted additional favors. In 1650 he was permitted to erect a church near the Calendrical Bureau inside the Hsüan-wu Gate (see under Hsü Kuang-ch'i). The building was completed in 1652 and came to be known as the Nan-t'ang, or South Church. In 1653 he was given the title, T'ung-hsüan chiao-shih 通玄教師, i.e., "The Religious Teacher Who Comprehends the Mysterious"—a title altered, after 1661, to T'ung-wei (微) chiao-shih, to avoid use of the personal name of Emperor Shêng-tsu—the character wei meaning ("infinitesimal").

Disgruntled Moslem functionaries in the Board of Astronomy watched Schall with jealousy and schemed for his removal. They were balked, however, in every move because their calculations invariably proved to be less dependable than those of the European. In 1657 one of them, Wu Ming-hsüan 吳明炫, accused Schall of having made several faulty predictions. It turned out that Wu's accusations proved to be unfounded and he was punished by several months' imprisonment. It seems that after his release he and Yang cooperated in their attack on the missionaries, and Wu supplied Yang with a smattering of astronomical information. From 1659 on Yang wrote a number of treatises denouncing the Christian religion and criticizing the calendar made by Schall. In June 1660 he presented to the Board of Ceremonies a document attacking Schall, but he was ignored. On January 3, 1661, he tried again and once more was unsuccessful. After Emperor Shih-tsu died (February 5, 1661) Schall continued to enjoy favors under the Regents (see under Oboi) for three more years. On the occasion of his seventy-first birthday (April 29, 1661), he was presented with congratulatory essays hy several high officials—among them Chin Chih-chün, Wei I-chieh and Kung Ting-tzŭ [qq. v.]. Later in that year when Schall's adapted son, T'ang Shih-hung 湯士弘 (original surname P'an 潘), was granted the privileges of a student of the Imperial Academy, more greetings came to Schall, among them two essays: one by Wang Ch'ung-chien [q. v.] and another by Grand Secretary Hu Shih-an 胡世安 (T. 處靜, H. 菊潭, 1593–1663).

In the meantime Yang Kuang-hsien relentlessly carried on his campaign against the missionaries. On September 15, 1664, he submitted to the Board of Ceremonies a document in which he charged Schall with several errors in astronomical calculations, and accused the missionaries, with their "million followers" scattered throughout the land, of plotting against the state, and of indoctrinating the people with false ideas. One piece of evidence he cited was a pamphlet on the history of the Christian Church in China, entitled 天學傳概 T'ien-hsüeh ch'uan-kai written in 1663 by a convert, Li Tsu-po 李祖白 (T. 然眞, d. 1665), with a preface written in February 1665 by a censor, Hsü Chih-chien (see under Wu Li). Li, or his Western collaborators, developed a theory that man had originated in Judea and that a branch of the human family had migrated to China under a leader whom Li tentatively identified as Fu-ho 伏羲 he asserted, moreover, that God had been worshipped in ancient China under the name T'ien 天, or Shang-ti 上帝; and that this worship, known as T'ien-hsüeh, had been lost in the Chou period and had been revived by Ricci and other missionaries. To Yang Kuang-hsien this theory was repugnant because it implied Chinese descent from the Hebrews, a foreign race. Among other evidences which Yang produced were the religious articles used by converts, such as the Christian cross, religious tracts, identification cards, etc., which, according to Yang, were to be used for purposes of identification should an uprising occur. Such evidence would have been ignored by the Board had not Yang lodged against Schall a more serious—though erroneous—charge that he had deliberately fixed on an inauspicious day in 1658 for the burial of an infant prince (i.e., Jung Ch'in-wang, see under Hsiao-hsien), in order to cast spells on the parents (i.e., Emperor Shih-tsu and Empress Hsiao-hsien), and thus effect their deaths in quick succession. As believers in Shamanism, and in the power to cast spells for evil purposes, the Manchus were only too inclined to take these accusations seriously.

Unfortunately Schall, who had been stricken by paralysis, had lost the power of speech and could not defend himself adequately. Verbiest (see under Lu Lung-chi), though well-versed in astronomy, had been in China only a few years and could not yet speak the language sufficiently well to defend the aged father. On April 15, 1665, Schall and seven Chinese astronomers were sentenced by the Board of Punishments to lingering deaths; five more Chinese were marked for execution; and others who were involved, including the three other missionaries then in Peking—Verbiest, Buglio (see under Lu Lung-chi), and Gabriel de Nlagalhaens 安文思 (T. 景明, 1609–1677)—were slated to be flogged and exiled. The following day, however, when the sentences were to be approved by a council of officials, an earthquake occurred and this was interpreted as a sign of Heaven's displeasure at the injustice of the sentences. It is reported, moreover, that Empress Hsiao-chuang [q. v.], who had once been cured of an illness by Schall, interceded in his behalf. The sentences, therefore, were altered so that on May 17 Schall and most of the Chinese involved were freed. Nevertheless, five Chinese astronomers, a11 of them Christian converts, were executed on the charge of having selected an inauspicious day for the burial of a prince. All the churches in the Empire were closed, missionaries in the interior were ordered to Macao, but the four fathers who were then living in Peking were permitted to remain.

During the trial of the astronomers, Yang Kuang-hsien seems to have forfeited public confidence, enough at least to induce him to publish his anti-missionary views in a collection entitled 不得已 Pu-tê-i, "I Could Not Do Otherwise", a title indicative of a certain apologetic approach. Thereupon he was ordered to take charge of the Astronomical Board. From April to August 1665 he repeatedly asked to be released from this duty, on the ground that he was too old and too ill—acknowledging, in fact, that he knew nothing about astronomical calculations. In other memorials he revealed that he feared to take the post because he lacked the co-operation of astronomers in the Board. All these pleas were ignored, however, and in September he was appointed director of the Board. About this time he added a second part to his book—the above-mentioned Pu-tê-i—to include these memorials as well as some other anti-missionary writings. From 1665 to 1668 Yang Kuang-hsien blundered along as director of the Astronomical Board with Wu Wing-hsüan assisting him in preparing the calendar. But owing to contradictory reports from the Board, Emperor Shêng-tsu became suspicious of the accuracy of Yang's calculations. On December 29, 1668, he sent a copy of Yang's calendar for the coming lunar year to Verbiest for examination. Some days later Verbiest reported a number of mistakes he had discovered. In order to decide on the accuracy of this criticism, the Emperor, on January 30, ordered twenty high officials to go to the Observatory and conduct an investigation. When the commission memorialized that the corrections made by Verbiest had been substantiated the Emperor, still dissatisfied, took the officials to task for the vagueness of their report, and on February 26 demanded that a more thorough investigation be made and a detailed report be submitted. On the basis of this second report the Emperor decreed, on March 8, that because the calendrioal calculations by the Western method had been shown to he accurate, all future calendars were to be based on that method; and that Yang Kuang-hsien, who had falsely reported the Western methods as inaccurate, be cashiered. On April 17 Verbiest was appointed associate director of the Imperial Astronomical Board. Four months later, after Wu Ming-hsüan had been shown to be mistaken in the calculations and predictions he had made, he was flogged forty strokes. At this time the Emperor had just condemned the former Regent, Oboi [q. v.], as a traitor and a tyrant. Verbiest seized the opportunity to rectify the injustice that had been done to Schall and the astronomers in 1665 by claiming that Oboi had misjudged the case in favor of Yang Kuang-lisien. The case was reviewed and Yang was sentenced to banishment for having made false charges. On September 5 the Emperor took pity on Yang, on the ground of his age, allowing him to return to his home as a commoner. It is reported that Yang died on the journey south, at Techow, Shantung.

Schall, who had died in 1666, was posthumously restored to his titles and ranks; his confiscated properties were given back to the missionaries; and he was honored with an official burial. The five executed astronomers were posthumously restored to their former ranks. From 1669 to 1827 (?) the Imperial Board of Astronomy was continually under the direction of one or more Westerners, among whom, after Schall and Verbiest, the following may be mentioned:

Philippe-Marie Grimaldi 閔明我 (T. 德先, 1639–1712),

Ignace Kögler and André Pereira (for both see Ho Kuo-tsung),

Augustin de Hallerstein 劉松齡 (T. 喬年, 1703–1774),

Antoine Gogeisl 鮑友管 (T. 義人, 1701–1771),

Félix de Rocha and Joseph d'Espinha (for both see Ho Kuo-tsung),

Joseph-Bernard d'Almeida 索德超 (T. 越常, 1728–1805),

André Rodriguez 安國寧 (T. 永康, 1729–1796).

There are a number of publications by missionaries refuting the charges made by Yang Kuang-hsien. The first, composed by Buglio in defense of the Christian faith, about the middle of the year 1665, was entitled Pu-tê-i pien (辯). In 1669 and 1670 Verbiest published a number of works to refute Yang's charges concerning astronomy. Among these may be mentioned a work, also entitled Pu-tê-i pien, which was directed particularly against the second part of Yang's Pu-tê-i. In 1672 a Christian, Ho Shih-chên 何世貞 (T. 公介), of Ch'ang-shu, Kiangsu, published a work, entitled 崇正必辯 Ch'ung-chêng pi-pien, 4 + 3 chüan, in which he defended Christianity largely on the basis of the Chinese Classics.

An interesting result of the controversy between Yang Kuang-hsien and the missionaries was that it gave to Emperor Shêng-tsu the incentive to study mathematics and astronomy. According to a story, which he once related to his sons, he was exasperated by the lack of scientific knowledge of the high officials whom he sent in 1668 to the Observatory to check on the calculations made by Verbiest, and so decided to study these matters for himself.


[1/278/2b; 3/53/1a; M.1/172/4a; Shê-hsien chih (1699), 13/48a; Li Yen, 中算史論叢 Chung-suan shih lun ts'ung (1933), pp. 162–82; Greslon, Adrien, Histoire de la Chine (Paris 1671), pp. 35–46, 88–100; Annual Report of the Librarian of Congress, 1930–31, pp. 269–71; Pfister, Notices, passim; Favier, Alphonse, Peking (Lille 1900), p. 204; Pu-tê-i (1929), biographical sketch; 熙朝定案 Hsi-ch'ao ting-an; 正教奉褒 Chêng-chiao fêng-pao.]

Fang Chao-ying