Biography in English

Wang Kuo-wei (23 December 1877-2 June 1927), eminent classical scholar and ultraroyalist. Although he made contributions to several branches of humanistic studies, Wang was essentially a student of ancient Chinese history, a field in which he combined the highest traditions of Ch'ing scholarship with an awareness of the relevance of new data and modern techniques.

The Haining district of Chekiang province was the native place of Wang Kuo-wei. His father was Wang Nai-yü (d. July 1906), an amateur painter who gave up classical studies to become a merchant during the Taiping Rebellion. The elder Wang, author of the Yu-yueh-lu and the Yü-lu shih-chi, tutored Wang Kuo-wei in the Chinese classics. In 1892 Wang Kuo-wei entered a local academy in Chekiang and passed the sheng-yuan examinations. Two years later and again in 1897, he attempted but failed the examination for the chü-jen degree. He then returned to his native place to become a private tutor.

In 1898 Wang went to work in Shanghai as clerk and proofreader for the Shih-wu-pao, founded two years earlier by Wang K'angnien (ECCP, II, 822). To make maximum use of his free time, Wang Kuo-wei studied Japanese and some European languages under Fujita Toyohachi and Taoka Reiun at the Tung-wen hsueh-she [eastern culture society], which had been founded by Lo Chen-yü (q.v.) to train translators for his Nung-hsueh-she [agronomy society], which, in turn, was designed to introduce non-Chinese literature on agriculture into China. Impressed by the young Wang Kuo-wei's abilities, Lo Chen-yü appointed him general manager of the Nung-hsueh-she. This accidental association of Wang with Lo Chenyü proved to be long-lived and was very influential on Wang's career, political thinking, and scholarly work.

At the suggestion of Lo Chen-yü, Wang Kuowei went to Japan in 1901, where he studied physics in Tokyo. The following year he returned to Shanghai, where he assisted Lo in editing the Nung-hsueh-pao [agronomy bulletin] and the Chiao-yü shih-chieh tsa-chih [education magazine]. In 1903 Wang became a teacher of ethics and psychology at the Nant'ung Normal School, where he attempted to introduce Western concepts both through his lectures and through translations of philosophical works by Kant and Schopenhauer.

In 1906 Wang received appointment as a junior officer in the general affairs section of the Board of Education and moved to Peking, where he developed an interest in literature. He became absorbed in the study of Chinese poetry, notably the tz'u form, and the drama of the Sung and Yuan periods. Some of his writings of this period were collected by Shen Tsung-ch'i as Ch 'en-feng-ko ts'ung-shu [collectanea from the tower of dawn breezes], published in 1909. It was also during these years in Peking that Wang became acquainted with many prominent scholars, including K'oShao-min, Miao Ch'üansun, Tung K'ang (qq.v.), Liu Shih-heng (ECCP, I, 523), Wu Ch'ang-shou (ECCP, I, 434), and the French sinologist Paul Pelliot.

Shortly after the revolution of 1911, Wang Kuo-wei and Lo Chen-yü moved to Japan, where Wang lived mostly at Kyoto until 1916 investigating oracle bones, bronze inscriptions, bamboo strips discovered in Kansu, and other historical data. After returning to China, he edited a catalogue of the collection of tortoiseshell inscriptions belonging to Silas A. Hardoon; and in 1918 he became professor at a private university in Shanghai founded by Mrs. Hardoon (nee Lo Chia-ling). During this period he became a devoted student of Shen Tseng-chih (1850-1922; T. Tzu-p'ei), from whom he learned much about phonology and the geography of Mongolia. He was also associated with Chang Erh-t'ien (q.v.) and with the Confucianist Sun Te-ch'ien (1869-1935; T. I-an) ; and both Wang and Chang Erh-t'ien worked under Shen Tseng-chih on compilation of a revised edition of the Che-chiang Vung-chih [gazetteer of Chekiang].

As early as 1919, Wang Kuo-wei was approached by Peking University about a possible appointment as professor of Chinese. He repeatedly declined the offer, but in 1921 he agreed to become an adviser for its newly established graduate school of Chinese studies. In 1923, through his relations with Shen Tsengchih and K'o Shao-min and on the recommendation of Sheng-yün (1858-1931), Wang was appointed a tutor on the staff of the deposed Manchu monarch P'u-yi (q.v.). Only a year later, however, P'u-yi was expelled from the imperial palace in Peking and forced to seek temporary refuge in the Japanese embassy compound in the Legation Quarter of Peking. As a Ch'ing loyalist, Wang Kuo-wei frequently went there to pay homage to the man whom he regarded as emperor of China.

About this time, Tsinghua College was considering the establishment of a research institute of sinological studies in Peking, and Wang Kuo-wei was invited to be its first dean. Wang declined at first, but he agreed in 1925 to join the Tsinghua graduate faculty as a professor after he had received authorization from P'u-yi. While at Tsinghua, Wang worked particularly on the history and geography of Mongolia, and he produced a substantial body of work between 1925 and 1927 in which he used documentation from non-Chinese sources to verify Chinese historical writings. His scholarly career seemed to be at a new peak. In late May 1927, however, word reached Peking that the advance of the National Revolutionary Army into Honan had placed Chiang Kai-shek's forces in a position to threaten Shantung and north China. On 2 June 1927 Wang quietly left the Tsinghua campus and went to the nearby Summer Palace, where he drowned himself in Kunming Lake. He left only a brief testament addressed to his third son, Wang Chen-ming, which read in full: "Now at the age of 50, all I owe to myself is death. Having passed through so many political upheavals, as a matter of principle I see no reason why I should be humiliated once again. After my death and subsequent simple funeral rites, I wish to be buried in the graveyard of Tsinghua. If you can not return to the south, you may as well live temporarily in Peking. Your elder brother need not come north for my funeral, partly because of the disruption of communication systems and partly because he has had no traveling experience. As for my books, they should be entrusted to Wu Mi and Ch'en Yin-k'o (qq.v.). There must be someone to look after the other members of our family who would in any case not find it impossible to go back to the south. In spite of the fact that I leave no inheritance of money or property to you, you will not starve to death, providing that you are careful, industrious, and thrifty." The news of Wang Kuo-wei's suicide caught the scholarly world, both in China and abroad, completely by surprise. Many theories were later adduced in an effort to analyze the causes of his tragic death; and the autobiography of P'u-yi published many years later suggested that the reasons were financial pressures and friction with Lo Chen-yü. On balance, however, the contemporary observations of the prominent sinologist Ch'en Yin-k'o seem most plausible: "A man who has absorbed the best elements of a given cultural pattern finds it most difficult to adjust himself to a new and changing pattern, particularly if the latter is totally different from the former. The more elements of an older pattern that a man has absorbed, and the more he has identified with that pattern, the more he feels pain when that pattern draws to a drastic end. Eventually it reaches a point of no return, whereupon suicide is the only way out." Wang Kuo-wei was generally regarded in China as a many-sided genius who provided fresh insights into a variety of specialized fields. Before 1911, he was a pioneer in critical studies of Sung poetry and Yuan drama, the latter a topic held in low esteem by most traditional Chinese scholars. His Jen-chien tz'u-hua [commentaries on the various schools of tz'u], published in 1910, remained an authoritative work; and his influential Sung Yuan hsi-ch'u shih [history of Sung and Yuan drama], originally published in the same year, has never been wholly superseded. Wang himself wrote two collections of tz'u, later published together under the title T'iao-hua tz'u. He was not modest about his personal poetical accomplishments and once reportedly observed that only one or two poets since the Southern Sung (1 127-1280) period had excelled him. After 1912 Wang Kuo-wei relinquished earlier interests in literature and philosophy, including Western ideas, and devoted himself completely to serious study of ancient Chinese history. In this demanding field, Wang came to be regarded as perhaps the most brilliant Chinese scholar of the twentieth century. He and Lo Chen-yü were among the first Chinese to work on decipherment and analysis of inscribed fragments of bone and tortoise shell discovered in 1899 at Anyang in Honan. These proved to be records of divination from the Shang period (c. 1500-1 100 B.C.) and established the historical existence of that dynasty. Wang Kuowei demonstrated that information deduced from these inscriptions confirmed many statements in ancient Chinese texts which had become suspect as forged or otherwise untrustworthy sources. In Studies in Early Chinese Culture (1937), H. G. Creel described this labor of textual and historical criticism as one of the major achievements of twentieth-century world scholarship. Wang Kuo-wei also paid close attention to bronze inscriptions of the Shang period; and he and Lo Chen-yü worked jointly on Han dynasty records on bamboo strips, discovered at Tunhuang in Kansu, which proved to be of great importance in reconstruction of certain aspects of Chinese history and literature.

In connection with his scholarly work, Wang Kuo-wei went to great pains to study phonology, etymology, and the evolution of the Chinese written script. Unlike Chang Ping-lin (q.v.), Wang believed in the relevance of newly discovered sources such as the oracle-bone inscriptions for study of ancient history. He never reached conclusions without critical examination of all available evidence. He combined the highly sophisticated k'ao-cheng methodology developed by major Ch'ing scholars such as Ku Yen-wu (ECCP, I, 421-26), Tai Chen (ECCP, II, 695-700), and others with the use of fresh archaeological and other evidence: a combination that offered far broader scope for historical hypothecation than had been characteristic of traditional Chinese textual criticism. Partly because of early training received from his Japanese mentor, Fujita Toyohachi, Wang was indirectly influenced by German historiographical methods, which emphasized the importance of primary source materials. It was through Wang's urging that Lo Chenyu rescued a huge archival depository of late Ming and early Ch'ing cabinet records discovered at Peking in the course of repairs in one of the buildings of the imperial palace. This unique collection was preserved to form an important element in the documentary collection of the institute of history and philology of the Academia Sinica.

Wang Kuo-wei's collected scholarly writings were published twice. In 1940 his younger brother, Wang Kuo-hua (1887-), supervised preparation of the Hai-ning Wang Ching-an hsien-sheng i-shu [collected works of the late Wang Kuo-wei of Haining], which was edited with far greater precision than an earlier edition under the same title that had been hastily compiled in 1927 immediately after Wang's death.

Wang Kuo-wei married twice. His first wife, whom he married in 1897, bore him three sons, the youngest being Wang Chen-ming. About 1909 Wang Kuo-wei married again, and seven children were born of that union.

Biography in Chinese

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