Biography in English

Lao Nai-hsuan (r843-21 July 1921), government official, Neo-Confucian scholar, and historian known for his scholarly account of the origins of the Boxer movement.

Although T'unghsiang, Chekiang, is often given as Lao Nai-hsuan's native place, his family had lived in Soochow, Kiangsu, since his paternal grandfather's day. Lao was born in the home of his maternal grandfather, Shen Hsi-yung, then the prefect of Kuangp'ing, Chihli (Hopei). Soon after his birth, he was designated heir to his paternal uncle, Lao Kung-fu. His family stayed in Kuangp'ing until 1846 and then moved south to live with Lao's maternal uncle, who was the magistrate of Wuchiang in Kiangsu. From 1848 to 1850 they lived in Wusih, where the uncle had been transferred.

In 1851 Lao's father, Lao Ts'ang-ts'ao, was appointed Ts'ang ta-shih [granary keeper] in the office of the financial commissioner of Nanking. In 1853, during the Taiping Rebellion, the family fled to Soochow. In 1856, while the elder Lao was serving in Chenchiang with the army of Liu Ts'un-hou, the imperial troops suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the rebels. Liu died in battle and the elder Lao attempted suicide by throwing himself into a river. Although rescued from drowning, he died later that year. In consideration of his services to the imperial cause, one of his heirs was granted the status of chien-sheng. The honor was given to Lao Nai-hsuan because his elder brother had already passed the provincial examinations.

When Taiping forces took Soochow in 1860, Lao's family fled to T'aichou to live with his maternal uncle. The following year Lao was betrothed to a girl of the K'ung clan of Ch'üfu, descendants of Confucius. He began to devote himself to the philosophy of Sung Neo-Confucianism. In 1863 he went to Ch'üfu, where he remained until 1865, when he went to Hangchow and passed the provincial examinations. Lao won the chin-shih degree in 1871 after having failed the examinations in 1868. In 1873 Li Hung-chang (ECCP, I, 464-71), then the governor general of Chihli (Hopei), sponsored the compilation of a new gazetteer for the province, the Chi-fu fung-chih. Lao was among the many noted scholars invited to take part in the project in Paoting, where his family had been living for several years.

In 1877 the household servants of a Manchu prince in a village near Peking joined with local bullies in seizing the lands of the villagers on the grounds that they belonged to the estate of the prince. The resulting litigation lasted for years, and many villagers were imprisoned by timid magistrates. Lao was delegated by the provincial financial commissioner to join with the current magistrate in investigating the matter together with the magistrate. They discovered the truth, punished the servants, and reported the case to their superiors, recommending a thorough trial at the provincial level. The recommendation was not heeded. The matter was solved through mediation, with the burdens of the villagers lightened by the reduction of rents and the forgiving of debts. In 1879 Lao became acting magistrate at Linyu near Shanhaikuan. He showed unusual resourcefulness, energy, and interest in education. When his term ended in 1880, Tseng Kuo-ch:uan (ECCP, II, 749-51), who was leading an army to Shanhaikuan to reinforce border defenses during the period of Sino- Russian conflict over Hi, asked Lao to be his private secretary. Tseng's forces were withdrawn in the spring of 1 88 1 , and Lao then was appointed to the magistracy of Nanp'i, Chihli. After assuming office at the beginning of 1882, Lao suppressed a robber band that had been terrorizing the district for some time. Lao's mother died in the spring of 1882, and he resigned from office to observe the traditional mourning period. That autumn, Chou Fu (ECCP, I, 471), then superintendent of customs at Tientsin, invited Lao to be his secretary in charge of foreign affairs. Lao went to Tientsin and remained there until 1884, when he was appointed magistrate of Wanhsien. He was transferred to Lihsien in 1888, where his wife died, and to Wuch'iao in 1891. After taking a year of sick leave in 1895, he served as magistrate of Ch'ingyuan and acting prefect of Paoting. In the summer of 1898 Lao began his second magistracy at Wuch'iao. Here he encountered the Boxers for the first time. Through his own researches, he found that the cult of Boxers originated from the Eight Trigrams Sect, which, in turn, was a branch of the rebellious White Lotus Sect that the government had suppressed with great bloodshed in the first years of the Chia-ch'ing reign (1796-1820). Lao published his findings in 1899 as I-ho-ch' üan chiao-men yuan-liu k'ao. He distributed this work in territories under his jurisdiction together with notices prohibiting Boxer activity. Later in the winter. Boxers from Techow in Shantung crossed into Wuch'iao and incited a mob to riot. A church and six houses belonging to Chinese Christians were destroyed, and one man was killed. Lao immediately sent troops to quell the riot and succeeded in capturing a score of Boxers. On 5 January 1900, when a band of several hundred Boxers invaded Wuch'iao, Lao's troops defeated them with ease, killing nine and capturing twenty. Among the captured was the deputy commander of the band. Lao demonstrated the falseness of the Boxer's claim of invulnerability by having the leader flogged and executed in public. The families of the Boxers were ordered to pay for the damage to the church and the houses. Lao then presented his book on the Boxers to his superiors and recommended means by which the cult could be eradicated. Unfortunately, his views were not shared by powerful court officials, who advocated the employment of the Boxers to expel foreigners. Lao resigned. He was appointed secretary in the Board of Civil Appointments, but he asked for and was granted a leave of absence.

After returning to Soochow in the autumn of 1900, Lao accepted an invitation from Yu Tsu-i, governor of Chekiang, to serve on his private staff and declined a similar but later invitation from Chang Chih-tung (ECCP, I, 27-32), then the governor of Hupeh and Hunan. When Yu left his post early in 1901, Lao accepted a second invitation from Chang. Before his planned departure for Hupeh, he received a telegram from Ts'en Ch'un-hsuan (q.v.), the governor of Shansi, who had obtained court permission to avail himself of Lao's services. Lao then declined both offers on the grounds of ill health. After serving reluctantly for two months as director of the Nanyang School in Shanghai at the insistance of Sheng Hsuan-huai (q.v.), he went to Hangchow. At that time, the Chekiang government planned to transform the Ch'iu-shih Academy, a traditional Confucian school in Hangchow, into a modern college. At the request of Jen Taojung, then the governor of Chekiang, Lao took charge of the reorganization. In the spring of 1903 a student demonstration caused by the dismissal of six students for insubordination was decisively quelled by Lao. He resigned that autumn because of ill health and lived quietly until September 1904 when the acting governor general of Kiangsu and Chekiang, Li Hsing-jui, persuaded him to join his private staff at Nanking. When Li died a month later, Lao continued in his post at the request of Li's successors, Chou Fu and Tuan-fang (ECCP, II, 780-82).

Lao was summoned to Peking on 1 December 1907 for an imperial audience, but he was granted a delay of several months because of his health. He arrived at Peking in May 1908 for an audience with the Empress Dowager Tz'uhsi (ECCP, I, 295-300) at the Summer Palace. Subsequently, he was appointed counsellor at the Hsien-chien pien-ch'a kuan [constitution drafting office] and assistant proctor of the Nei-ko hui-i cheng-wu-ch'u [committee of ministers].

In 1910 Lao was appointed to a seat reserved for eminent scholars in the Tzu-cheng yuan, or National Assembly. He also acted as consultant to the Li-fan pu [ministry of dependencies]. From October 1910 to January 1911 he participated in the first session of the National Assembly and took the lead in the controversy over the draft of a new criminal code because he thought that some of its provisions disregarded traditional Chinese values. The documents in this controversy were collected by Lao in a book entitled Hsin hsing-lü hsüi-cheng-an hui-lu [collected records concerning the bill to reform criminal statutes].

In the spring of 191 1 Lao left Peking to assume office as education commissioner at Nanking. He had been appointed to this post in July 1910, but had remained in Peking at the request of the constitution drafting office. During the summer he inspected educational facilities in northern Kiangsu. He resigned in September so that he could attend the National Assembly meetings scheduled to be held in October and could participate in the drafting of regulations governing the reorganization of provincial governments. By the time he arrived at Peking, the revolution had broken out and Nanking had been lost to the revolutionaries. In November, he was appointed president of Peking University, and in December he became vice minister of education. When he heard that the emperor had decided to abdicate, a course which he opposed, he resigned from all his posts. In November 1913 Lao accepted an invitation from the German Sinologist Richard Wilhelm to preside over the Confucius Society, founded by Wilhelm and a number of former imperial officials in the German-leased territory of Tsingtao. The two men became close friends, and their mutual interest in the I-ching [Book of Changes) resulted in a new edition of that text by Lao entitled Chou-i tsun Ch'eng [the book of changes according to the Ch'eng school] and a German rendering of the classic by W^ilhelm, the I-Ging, das Buck der Wandlungen, published at Jena in 1924.

When the Japanese seized Tsingtao in 1914, Lao and his family moved to Tsinan and then to Ch'üfu. Earlier in the year he had refused to accept an official post offered him by Yuan Shih-k'ai; now he publicly advised Yuan to restore the Ch'ing monarchy. During the July 1917 restoration attempt by Chang Hsün (q.v.), Lao was appointed minister of justice, but the restoration failed before his memorial declining the honor on account of age could reach Peking. On the advice of the Ch'üfu magistrate, Lao again moved his family to Tsingtao. He resumed his collaboration with Wilhelm on the I-ching and began work, at the request of Liu Chin-ts'ao, on the Huang-ch'ao hsü wen-hsien fung-k'ao [documentary records of the Ch'ing dynasty, continued], particularly on the period from 1877 to 1911. Lao died on 21 July 1921 in his Tsingtao home.

Lao was a staunch Confucianist of the Ch'eng- Chu School. Among Ch'ing scholars, he expressed admiration for Ku Yen-wu (ECCP, I, 421-26) and Wang Fu-chih (ECCP, II, 81719), but his hero was Tseng Kuo-fan (ECCP, II, 751-56). Although he was a supporter of the Ch'ing dynasty, Lao favored institutional changes in keeping with the times. After the overthrow of the dynasty, Lao wrote an essay, "Kung-ho cheng-chieh" [the true meaning of the term "republic"], in which he pointed out that historically the term had no republican connotations but stood for a caretaker situation in a monarchical context. In a continuation of" this essay written in 1914, he tried to impress his interpretation on Yuan Shih-k'ai, suggesting that Yuan should return power to the deposed emperor, P'u-yi (q.v.), once the latter came of age.

In his educational programs, Lao favored indoctrination with the principles of Sung Confucianism combined with modern scientific and technical learning. He was a firm believer in universal education as a means of strengthening the country, to be promoted and supported by the government and private individuals. As an aid to universal education he advocated the use of phonetic symbols in place of characters. He adopted the phonetic symbols devised by Wang Chao for the Mandarin dialect and created additional symbols for the dialects of the southern provinces. In the 1904-6 period he established a training school in Nanking for the popularization of his phonetic script. He also presented his ideas to the imperial court in a number of memorials.

Lao's favorite discipline, particularly in his middle years, was mathematics. From 1883 to 1900 he wrote at least seven treatises on mathematical problems and on the explication of ancient books of Chinese mathematics. Lao's miscellaneous writings—including letters, poems, and official documents—were collected by his disciple Lu Hsueh-p'u and published in 1927 as T'ung-hsiang Lao hsien-sheng i-kao. Lao's autobiography, Jen-shou tzu-ting nieü-p'u, was begun in 1915, finished in 1920, and published without alteration in 1922.

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