Biography in English

K'ang Yu-wei (19 March 1858-31 March 1927), leader of the reform movement that culminated in the ill-fated Hundred Days Reform of 1898 and prominent scholar of the chin-wen [new text] school of the Confucian classics. The elder son of an expectant district magistrate, K'ang Yu-%vei was born in a village in Nanhai (Namhoi), a district southwest of Canton. The K'ang family was prosperous and had gained local prominence in the midnineteenth century, largely as a result of its activities on behalf of the Ch'ing dynasty during the Taiping Rebellion. One of K'ang's greatuncles, K'ang Kuo-ch'i (1815-1892), by virtue of his military exploits under Tso Tsung-t'ang (ECCP, II, 762-67), had risen to the position of provincial treasurer and acting governor of Kwangsi. K'ang Yu-wei's grandfather, a chüjen of 1846, had served in several educational posts in Kwangtung and taken part in the compilation of the 1872 revision of the Xan-hai hsien-chih. His father died shortly before K'ang's tenth birthday.

K'ang Yu-wei received thorough training in the Chinese classics from his grandfather and his uncles. After failing the examinations for the chü-jen degree in 1876, he became a student of Chu Tz'u-ch'i (ECCP, I, 9n, a friend of the family and one of the leading Cantonese scholars of the time. Initially, K'ang was an enthusiastic student. Chu stressed the importance of the moral doctrines of Sung Neo- Confucianism and the scholarly techniques of the school of Han Learning. After the death of his grandfather, however, the young K'ang underwent a severe emotional crisis during which he experienced a revulsion against book learning. He withdrew to the Hsi-ch'iao hills and spent several months in meditation and in the study of Taoism and Buddhism.

It apparently was during this time that K'ang conceived the ambition of becoming a sage who would devote his life to delivering the world from its sufferings. In preparation for this role he began to study government, history, and geography as well as Buddhism. He came across certain works that aroused his interest in the West. In 1879 he visited Hong Kong, and in 1882 he traveled to the foreign concessions in Shanghai, where he purchased translations published by the Kiangnan Arsenal and the missionary press m China and began to study Western civilization. Having been stimulated by his studies and by what seems to have been a mystic experience late in 1884, K'ang began to write down some of his ideas about a world Utopia.

After the Sino-French hostilities of 1884—85, K'ang Yu-wei grew increasingly disturbed by China's weakness in dealing with the Western powers. While in Peking in 1 888, he was shocked by the complacency and corruption of the ruling bureaucracy. He promptly sent a memorial to the Kuang-hsü emperor in which he pointed to the dangers of foreign invasion, criticized the incompetence and irresponsibility of high officials, and urged the empress dowager and the emperor to undertake reforms in the imperial administration. Although his petition did not reach the emperor, his outspoken criticisms earned him the enmity of such highlyplaced conservatives as Li Wen-t'ien ^^ECCP, I, 494-95) and Hsü T'ung (ECCP, I, 407). However, K'ang won the sympathy of several metropolitan officials, including the Manchu Sheng-yü i^ECCP, II, 648-50) and Shen Tseng-chih (1850-1922), who assisted him in his reform efforts.

Because the political climate in Peking did not favor reform, K'ang, on the advice of his friends, gave up his political activities. He then turned to epigraphy. In 1889 he completed the Kuang-i-chou shuang chi, a short work in which he developed the theories of Pao Shihch'en (ECCP, II, 610-11) on the evolution of calligraphy. The study of ancient inscriptions led K'ang to the problem of the authenticity of the Confucian classics. Early in 1890, after leaving Peking, he met the Szechwanese scholar Liao P'ing (q.v.). Liao was a scholar of the Kung-yang school of classical interpretation, which held that the officially recognized ku-wen [old text] versions of the classics were less authentic than the chin-wen [new text] versions current during the Former Han dynasty. A few years before his meeting with K'ang, he had found evidence that many of the ku-wen versions were actually the work of the Han dynasty scholar Liu Hsin and that the chin-wen versions of the classics revealed Confucius as a man who had favored a periodic change of institutions. In 1891, less than two years after his encounter with Liao Ping, K'ang published the Hsin-hsueh wei-ching k'ao [the forged classics of the Wang Mang period], in which he claimed as his own the discovery that the ku-wen versions of the classics were all falsifications of Liu Hsin. This attack upon the authenticity of the accepted classical tradition provoked a storm of protest from scholars throughout China, and in 1894 the book was banned by imperial decree. The ban failed to discourage K'ang. In 1897 he published the K'ung-tzu kai-chih k'ao [a study of Confucius as a reformer], which developed the idea that Confucius had been an advocate of institutional change.

In compiling these two works K'ang was assisted by his pupils at a school called the Wan-mu ts'ao-t'ang, which he had founded in Canton in 1891 at the urging of such young admirers as Liang Ch'i-ch'ao (q.v.). The curriculum K'ang drew up for his school owed much to the course of studies he had followed under Chu Tz'u-ch'i. However, he also included such modern subjects as mathematics, music, military drill, and the study of Western learning. Needless to say, he imbued his pupils with his own theories about the Confucian classics and his ideas about institutional reform. Many of these students became his most active supporters in later reform campaigns. In 1893, while teaching in Canton, K'ang succeeded in becoming a chü-jen. In 1895, after passing the examinations for the chin-shih degree at Peking, he was appointed secretary second class in the Board of Works. At that time, as a result of the disastrous war with Japan, the Ch'ing court was compelled to negotiate the Treaty of Shimonoseki, by which Taiwan was ceded to Japan. When K'ang learned of the humiliating treaty terms, he sent a memorial to the emperor urging the rejection of the treaty, the removal of the capital inland to Shensi province, the continuation of the war, and the adoption of extensive reforms. However, this petition, known as the "Kung-ch'e shang-shu" [candidates' memorial] because it bore the signatures of several hundred examination candidates then in the capital, failed to prevent the treaty from being ratified by the imperial court. A few months later, K'ang sent two memorials urging the inauguration of a systematic program of administrative, educational, economic, and military reform. One of these petitions reached the emperor, who praised it highly, but K'ang's proposals were not adopted. K'ang then began a campaign to mobilize support among the educated elite of China for his reform ideas. In the summer of 1895 he and Liang Ch'i-ch'ao founded a reform newspaper, the Chung-wai chi-wen, in Peking, and he and a few friends organized a reform association, the Ch'ianghsueh hui [society for the study of national strengthening], which soon won the support of several prominent officials. However, K'ang's activities also aroused the hostility of powerful conservatives. He prudently heeded the advice of his friends and left for Canton. By the time that the Ch'iang-hsueh hui and the reform newspaper were suppressed early in 1896, K'ang had succeeded in arousing widespread enthusiasm for his ideas. Reform associations sprang up in several provinces during 1896 and 1897. The Kiaochow incident of 1897, the seizure of Port Arthur and Dairen by Russia, and the demands of other foreign powers for territorial concessions led many Chinese to believe that partition of China was imminent. Taking advantage of the atmosphere of crisis, K'ang submitted a succession of memorials to the emperor which called for a radical overhauling of the administrative system. In April 1898 he organized the Pao kuo-hui [society for protecting the nation]. At its first meeting he gave an impassioned speech about the mortal dangers which confronted the empire and pleaded for prompt reform of the outmoded institutions and practices which had made China a helpless victim of foreign aggression. Although repeated attacks by K'ang's conservative opponents soon frightened away many of his reform sympathizers and deprived his movement of widespread support among scholar-officials, a few prominent officials, including Weng T'ung-ho (ECCP, II, 860-61), the imperial tutor, recommended K'ang to the emperor, who s"as keenly interested in reform. On 16 June 1898, five days after an edict had formally inaugurated the Hundred Days Reform, K'ang was summoned to an imperial audience. Although this apparently was his only meeting with the emperor, K'ang became one of the chief advisers to the throne. In the next three months he wrote detailed recommendations for reform. Influenced by these and other writings, the emperor issued a series of decrees ordering the abolition of the eight-part essay in the official examinations, the establishment of a university in Peking and Westernstyle schools in the provinces, the institution of a budget system, the modernization of the army and navy, the complete revision of administrative regulations, the abolition of sinecure offices, and many other innovations. K'ang relied upon the emperor's enthusiasm to implement his reform program and tended to underestimate the opposition of many officials to the reform measures. Provincial officials either ignored the decrees or made little effort to carry them out; Peking officials whose interests were adversely affected by the program beseeched the aging empress dowager, Tz'u-hsi fECCP, I, 295-300), to intercede for them. Although she had retired as regent in 1889, she had never relinquished her political ambitions. The reform controversy gave her an opportunity to reassert her authority. K'ang and his associates sought to enlist the military support of Yuan Shih-k'ai, but because all other military foixes near the capital were firmly under the control of the empress dowager's supporters, Yuan was neither willing nor able to help the reformers. On 21 September, Tz'uhsi placed the emperor in confinement, rescinded all of his reform decrees, and imprisoned several of the reformers. One week later, six of the reform leaders were executed, including T'an Ssu-t'ung (ECCP, II, 702-4) and K'ang's younger brother, K'ang Kuang-jen (18671898). K'ang Yu-wei had left Peking the day before the coup. The emperor, who had learned of Tz'u-hsi's plans, had dispatched him to Shanghai to take charge of the Shih-wu pao, the official organ of the reform movement. After narrowly escaping arrest in Shanghai, K'ang was taken by a British gunboat to Hong Kong.

K'ang Yu-wei claimed that before leaving Peking he had received a secret edict instructing him to devise means of rescuing the emperor from the empress dowager and her party. On the strength of this supposed edict, K'ang went first to Japan and then to Great Britain in an unsuccessful attempt to enlist the aid of these countries in securing the imprisoned emperor's release and restoration to power. K'ang then went to Canada and began to organize the overseas Chinese communities in support of a movement to rescue the Kuanghsü emperor. In July 1899 he founded the Pao-huang hui [society to protect the emperor] in Victoria, British Columbia. ^Vithin a year, several branches of this society had been formed in Chinese communities in the United States, Latin America, Hawaü,' Japan, and Southeast Asia. After returning to Hong Kong in 1899, he prompted his followers in the Pao-huang hui to deluge the imperial government with telegrams expressing opposition to the empress dowager's scheme to depose the Kuang-hsü emperor. During the confusion of the Boxer Uprising of 1900, K'ang plotted with other expatriate reform leaders to oust the empress dowager. However, the plot was discovered by governor general Chang Chih-tung. He arrested and executed T'ang Ts'ai-ch'ang, who had been chosen to lead the armed revolt, and several of his comrades in Wuhan.

K'ang Yu-wei withdrew from political activity and spent a year in semi-seclusion at Penang. He then went to India, where he remained for some time at Darjeeling. Between 1900 and 1903 he wrote commentaries, the Chung-jung chu, the Ch'un-ch'iu pi-hsiao ta-i wei-yen k'ao, the Lun-yü chu, the Ta-hsueh chu, and the Meng-tzu wet, in which he brought to completion the reinterpretation of the Confucian classics that he had begun more than a decade earlier. His most important writing of this period, hoWever, was the Ta-t'ung shu, a work which embodied the final expression of the Utopian ideas he had first formulated during the 1880's.

K'ang Yu-wei left India and went to Hong Kong in the spring of 1903. Because he believed that the Kuang-hsü emperor was no longer in personal danger and that sentiment in China had begun to favor reform, he decided to change the name of the overseas Chinese reform organization from Pao-huang hui to Hsien-cheng hui [society for constitutional government]. In political tracts such as his Kuan-chih i [on systems of government], published in 1903, and his Wu-chih chiu-kuo lun [national salvation through material upbuilding], published in 1905, he began to advocate the adoption in China of a constitutional monarchy similar to the British system.

Ever since the founding of his monarchist organization in 1899, K'ang had been a bitter political enemy of Sun Yat-sen. K'ang's efforts to advance the cause of constitutional monarchy soon brought him into conflict with the T'ung-meng-hui, the revolutionary party organized in 1905 under Sun's leadership. Initially, K'ang's organization was the stronger. In the competition for overseas Chinese allegiance, however, it steadily lost ground to the revolutionary party as the Manchu regime's prestige declined.

The latter part of K'ang's long exile was spent in almost continual wandering in Europe and the United States, with occasional visits to Penang and Hong Kong. These travels were occasioned in part by the affairs of his monarchist organization, but they also gave K'ang an opportunity to study Western culture. His impressions, set down in such works as his Ou-chou shih-i kuo yu-chi [record of travels in eleven European nations] of 1904, reveal that his earlier admiration for the West had been modified by growing awareness of the shortcomings of Western civilization and by renewed appreciation of the traditional values of Confucian China. When the 1911 revolution broke out, K'ang was in Japan. He soon launched a campaign against republicanism. In his Chiu-wang Inn [on salvation from disaster] and Kung-ho cheng-fi lun [on the republican system of government], both written late in 1911, he argued that only by adopting constitutional monarchy could China avoid prolonged and disastrous chaos. After the establishment of the republic, K'ang remained a loyal partisan of the fallen dynasty and a resolute advocate of Confucianism as the national doctrine of China. He enthusiastically supported the founding of the K'ung-chiao hui [Confucian association] and wrote an opening statement for the new organization in the autumn of 1912. His views were so unpopular that he deemed it prudent to remain in Japan. Because he could not find a publisher for his writings, he had some of his followers in China start a monthly magazine, the Pu-jen tsa-chih, eight issues of which appeared between the spring and autumn of 1913. The new magazine, devoted exclusively to the publication of K'ang's writings, presented many of his hitherto unpublished political tracts and serialized parts of the Ta-t'ung-shü and some of his earlier writings which had been banned and destroyed by order of the empress dowager in 1898 and 1900.

Late in 1913 K'ang Yu-wei left Japan for Hong Kong. In December, he returned to his native village in Kwangtung to bury his mother —the first time he had set foot in China in 15 years. In the summer of 1914 he took up residence in Shanghai, where he lived quietly until the end of 1915. At that time he joined his former pupil Liang Ch'i-ch'ao in the movement to resist Yuan Shih-k'ai's monarchical ambitions, not because he opposed monarchy as such, but because he believed that Yuan, as the betrayer of the Manchu dynasty, was unfit to assume the imperial dignity. After Yuan's death in 1916, K'ang grew increasingly dissatisfied with the conduct of the republican government in Peking and once again took action on behalf of the Manchu dynasty. In the spring of 1917 he wrote several letters to Chang Hsün (q.v.), the military governor of Anhwei, urging him to use his military forces to restore the former Hsuan-t'ung emperor, P'uyi (q.v.), to the throne. Chang, a diehard royalist, also looked forward to the restoration of the Manchus. In making plans to this end, he readily accepted the support of K'ang and other Manchu loyalists.

Several days after Chang Hsün's entry into Peking with the vanguard of his troops, K'ang left Shanghai for the capital, arriving on 27 June. He was escorted to Chang's quarters for a secret conference, and three days later, on 1 July 1917, the reenthronement of the Hsuant'ung emperor was announced. K'ang had drafted several edicts designed to formalize the restoration of the emperor and the imperial administration, but they were ignored by the new regime. His disenchantment with the restoration became complete when he discovered that the autocratic Chang Hsün had no use for his proposals for a constitutional monarchy. On 1 7 July, following the termination of the short-lived restoration, the republican government issued orders for the arrest of the royalist leaders. By that time, however, K'ang had taken asylum in the United States legation in Peking. Five months later, he left Peking, escorted by legation guards, and went to Shanghai. In a final issue of his Pu-jen tsa-chih, he published a number of his later political writings, including a critique of the republican government {Kung-ho p'ing-i) that he had drafted in the United States legation. In March 1918 the Peking government granted a general amnesty to the participants in the restoration movement.

Despite the debacle of 1917 K'ang's political convictions remained unshaken. In the spring of 1923 he visited VVu P'ei-fu (q.v.) and other militarists in a vain attempt to enlist their support in reviving the Ch'ing dynasty. Meanwhile, he continued to condemn indiscriminate Westernization, to plead for the preservation of the "national heritage," and to urge the establishment of a Confucian "state religion" as a bulw^ark against moral and intellectual degeneration. However, after the patriotic May Fourth Movement in 1919 and the ensuing intellectual revolution, K'ang's voice all but ceased to be heard by his countrymen. In his final years, K'ang turned to the study of cosmology, a subject which had interested him since the 1880's. In 1924 he established the T'ien-yu hsueh-yuan [academy for celestial peregrination] in Shanghai, where he lectured to a small group of students. His lectures, published after his death as Chu-tHen chiang [lectures on the heavens], were an intriguing combination of scientific knowledge, philosophical speculation, and poetic fancy. In March 1927 he celebrated his seventieth sui in Shanghai. A few weeks later he died at Tsingtao. He was buried by his family on a nearby hill with the official regalia bestowed upon him by P'u-yi in 1917 in recognition for his services to the dynasty.

A collection of K'ang Yu-wei's memorials of 1898 appeared in 1911 as the Wu-hsu tsou-kao. A collection of his pre- 1899 verse was published in 1911 as Nan-hai hsien-sheng shih-chi; the calligraphy was done by Liang Ch'i-ch'ao. Another collection bearing the same title but including verses written both before and after 1898 was published in four volumes in 1940 by the Commercial Press in Changsha.

Among K'ang's writings, three stand out as works of special importance. In the first of these, the Hsin-hsueh wei-ching k'ao, he claimed to have uncovered evidence that the ku-wen versions of the Confucian classics were all products of an elaborate program of falsification conducted by Liu Hsin in order to legitimize the claims of Wang Mang's short-lived Hsin dynasty as the successor to the Former Han. K'ang stated that in suppressing or perverting the chin-wen versions of the classics, particularly the Kungyang commentary on the Ch'un-ch'iu, Liu Hsin had successfully hoodwinked scholars for almost 2,000 years into believing that the spurious ku-wen classics were the repository of the teachings of Confucius. |S In the K'ung-tzu kai-chih k'ao K'ang went on to assert that Confucius himself was the author of the genuine (i.e., chin-wen) classics, rather than merely the transmitter of the teachings of ^ the ancient sage kings; but, in order to gain general acceptance of his teachings, Confucius had resorted to the device of ascribing his teachings to the mythical culture-heroes of antiquity. According to K'ang, Confucius's purpose in writing the classics was to devise institutional systems to meet the requirements of societies in all ages.

In picturing Confucius as a far-sighted reformer, K'ang laid the groundwork for a theory of progress based on the chin-wen concept of the Three Ages: as society advanced from the age of "disorder" through the age of "minor tranquility" to the age of "great peace," government advanced from autocratic government through constitutional monarchy to the "rule of the people." The final age of "great peace," which K'ang equated with the "grand unity" (ta-t'ung) described in the Li-yün chapter of the Li-chi [book of rites], served as the subject of his third major work, the Ta-fung-shu. Although some of the ideas in this treatise were conceived as early as the 1880's, the work was not completed until 1902. The first two of its ten sections appeared in the Pu-jen tsa-chih in 1913, but the entire work was not published until 1935, eight years after Kang's death. In the Ta-Cung shu K'ang described at length his vision of the future world of the "grand unity." Human society would be organized into thousands of small, democratic communities, each equally represented in a world parliament. Within each community, property would be owned communally, and all inhabitants would share equally in the means of livelihood. Moreover, with the institution of sexual equality, freedom of mating, and the raising of children at public expense in nurseries and schools, the family system would no longer be necessary and would disappear. In this Utopian world there would be full political, economic, and social equality, regardless of race, sex, or occupation. In these theoretical works K'ang's chief purpose was to recast Confucianism into a system of doctrine which could meet the challenge of the new ideologies from the West. But so radical were his revisions of the accepted tradition that they served to undermine the very Confucian values he had set out to preserve. It was presumably in reference to the initial reaction of shock and outrage from even the more progressive of K'ang's contemporaries that Liang Ch'i-ch'ao compared the Hsinhsueh wei-chin k^ao to a typhoon, the K'ung-tzu kai-chih k'ao to a volcano, and the Ta-t'ung shu to an earthquake. However, when Liang made this assessment in 1920, K'ang no longer exerted any significant intellectual influence, although some scholars, such as Ch'ien Hsuan-t'ung and Ku Chieh-kang (qq.v.), acknowledged him as their predecessor in their own critical reexaminations of China's traditions of ancient history. But during the latter part of his life K'ang was more often reviled or ridiculed as a hopeless reactionary by intellectual leaders. Paradoxically, with the advent of Communist supremacy in China, K'ang's ideas were reevaluated and praised. Before 1915 Mao Tsetung had been an admirer of the reform efforts of K'ang Yu-wei and Liang Ch'i-ch'ao. Mao later referred to K'ang as one of a group of early progressives who sought truth from the West and as the author of a book on world Communism.

Biography in Chinese































All rights reserved@ENP-China