Biography in English

Wu Han (1909-), historian and university professor, was known before 1949 primarily as a leading authority on the Ming dynasty. He served after 1952 as a deputy mayor of Peking and as vice chairman of the China Democratic League until his political disgrace in 1966. The Iwu district of Chekiang was the native place of Wu Han. He was the eldest of four children in the family of a local school teacher and small landowner who had obtained the sheng-yuan degree. Wu stated that his grandfather had been a tenant farmer, but this contention was challenged in a Communist investigation of his background made in 1966. Utilizing the Wu family genealogy and making inquiries among local poor peasants in Chekiang, the investigators charged that Wu's grandfather had been a usurer and suppressor of the Taiping rebels and that his father had been a well-to-do landowner and local police official characterized by the Communists as reactionary.

Wu Han's early interest in history was stimulated by the only set of books his family possessed, the Yü-p'i fung-chien, by which is probably meant the Yü-p'i Cung-chien chi-lan (1767), an edition of Ssu-ma Kuang's Tzu-chih t'ung-chien [comprehensive mirror for the aid of government] with moral criticisms of historical characters supplied by the Ch'ien-lung emperor himself. After graduation from a local middle school, Wu taught for a year as a primary school teacher. With clan aid and money from the sale of his mother's jewelry, he was then able to continue his studies in a college preparatory school at Hangchow and at the university section of the Chung-kuo kung-hsueh [China institute] in Shanghai. Toward the end of his two-year stay there, Wu attended a course of lectures given by Hu Shih (q.v.), then president of the institute, on Chinese civilization and wrote for him a paper entitled Hsi Han-ti chingchi chuang-k , uang [the economic situation of the western Han]. Hu Shih liked the paper, but he could do nothing about it, for he then was forced to resign his post. Wu was able to sell the treatise to a local publisher and to travel to Peking on the proceeds. On the recommendation of Ku Chieh-kang (q.v.), Wu was given a job as a research cataloguer in the Yenching University library.

In 1931, after passing the entrance examinations, Wu Han entered Tsinghua University as a second-year student in the history department. On the recommendation of Hu Shih, he was given a work scholarship by the departmental chairman, T. F. Tsiang (Chiang T'ing-fu, q.v.). At the same time, Wu began writing articles on historical subjects for money; and from 1933 on he was able to get his articles accepted by such prestigious scholarlyjournals as the Ch'ing-hua hsueh-pao and the Yen-ching hsuehpao. It was at this time that Wu's father died, leaving heavy debts. Because Wu was responsible for the upkeep of a brother and sister who were also studying in Peking, he was unable to enter graduate school. Accordingly, he stayed at Tsinghua as a teaching assistant. Tsinghua was known in these years as a jumping-off place for people seeking advanced study in the United States, but because Wu's specialty was Chinese history, he had no reasonable excuse for going there. Consequently, as he later asserted, he felt downgraded and out of touch with the intellectual mainstream in China. During his early years at Tsinghua (1931-37), Wu Han made important contributions to knowledge of the Ming period. Utilizing techniques and critical tenets absorbed from his mentor Hu Shih, he demonstrated an acute faculty for detecting tendentious or falsified documentation. Wu's first important article on Ming history, a study of the Hu Wei-yung affair, appeared in the Yenching hsueh-pao in June 1934; it argued that virtually all of the "crimes" charged to Hu Wei-yung were in fact fabrications. Wu concluded that the real aims of the early Ming purges, of which the Hu Wei-yung case was the greatest, extending over 14 years and claiming some 40,000 lives, were to eliminate any possibility of an anti-dynastic coup on the part of the founder's old followers after the former's death; to create an entirely docile official and intellectual class; and to fill the state treasury through confiscations of the victims' properties. It was perhaps ironic that the author himself became involved in a political purge some 30 years after the writing of this article. Subsequent contributions published in 1935 were an essay on the disputed issue of the identity of the Yung-lo emperor's mother, and a competent discussion of the Yung-lo usurpation. Wu's treatment of Ming maritime relations before the sixteenth century, published in 1936, became a standard reference, as did his 1937 article on the Ming military system. After the Sino-Japanese war began in July 1937, Wu accompanied the migration of the universities from Peking to southwest China. From 1937 to 1946 he was a professor in the department of history of Southwest Associated University at Kunming. During the summer and autumn of 1943 he wrote a full-length biography of Ghu Yuan-chang, the founder of the Ming dynasty, which was published in 1944 under two different titles: separately as Yu seng-po tao huang-cHuan [from begging bowl to imperial power], and under the name of Ming Vai-tsu [the first emperor of the Ming] as one of a series of biographies of the great heroes of China's past edited by P'an Kung-chan (q.v.), who had been vice director of the Kuomintang central propaganda department. Revised and expanded as Chu Yuan-chang chuan [biography of Chu Yuan-chang] and published at Shanghai in 1947, this work is considered by many writers to be the best biography written by a modern Chinese.

During the war years, Wu developed an active interest in current affairs. Because the Kuomintang suppressed open discussion of contemporary problems and forbade criticism of government officials, it was necessary to approach these topics through indirect means. Thus some of Wu's scholarly articles were rather timely in their choice of topic: papers published in 1939, 1943, and 1944, for example, focused attention on the growing inflation in wartime China (a forbidden topic) through discussion of paper currency problems in the Yuan, Ming, and Ch'ing dynasties. Wu also began contributing to Yunnan newspapers short satirical articles using historical allegory to refer to current issues. Most of these essays were collected and republished in Peiping in 1946 as Li-shih-ti ching-tzu [the mirror of history]. In politics, Wu became a supporter of the generally liberal coalition group known as the China Democratic League, which aimed at steering a middle course through the Communist- Kuomintang struggle and reconciling conflicting interests through a Western-style rule of law. It was in this connection that in January 1946 he joined the anthropologist Fei Hsiao-t'ung (q.v.) and others in addressing a letter to General George C. Marshall, supporting Marshall's efforts at mediating the civil conflict in China. Wu also was closely associated with Wen I-to (q.v.), who was assassinated at Kunming in July 1946.

By the autumn of 1946, Wu Han had returned to Peiping and had accepted a position as professor of history at Tsinghua University. He led a group of junior professors in an unsuccessful attempt to place one of their number on the university senate, which was dominated by older faculty under the president of Tsinghua, Y. C. Mei (Mei Yi-ch'i, q.v.). Simultaneously, Wu and his colleagues from Tsinghua and the other universities in Peking—many of them members of the Democratic League and the Democratic Youth League or underground members of the Chinese Communist party — held frequent meetings on their own, during which they discussed the current situation in China, drafted proclamations, and distributed news bulletins which they secretly picked up on radio from the Communist-held areas. After the Kuomintang outlawed the Democratic League in October 1947, Wu Han and his friends cooperated with the Communists, mainly by clandestinely funneling young intellectuals, badly needed by the Communists at that time, from Peiping to the so-called liberated areas. Wu's scholarly output as this time included an excellent article published in 1948 on the horrors of the early Ming schools, a subject admittedly prompted by what the author saw of the oppressed and undernourished students of Peiping. Another article published in the same year on the scholar Gh'ien Ch'ien-i (ECCP, I, 148-50) was intended as an attack on Wang Yün-wu (q.v.), the head of the Commercial Press. When the Kuomintang began in August 1948 to arrest individuals regarded as subversives, Wu Han fled Peiping with a group of students and professors from Tsinghua and by an indirect route reached Communist-controlled territory. The group sent a letter to Y. C. Mei, promising to return in the spring of 1949 and requesting him to remain in charge at Tsinghua to prevent the dispersal or destruction of its holdings and personnel. Mei received the letter, but he elected to depart for Taiwan. After arrival in Communist territory, Wu Han at first professed a distaste for the cult of Mao Tse-tung. After some ideological remolding, he began to see things in a different light. The magazine Chung-kuo cKing-nien [China youth] during 1949 carried Wu's interim report on his progress in the study of Marxist thought; in February 1950 the same magazine published his triumphant "Wo k'o-fu-le 'ch'ao chieh-chi' kuan-tien" [I overcame the "supra-class" viewpoint]. In this latter piece—later included in the pamphlet Tsen-yang kai-tsao [how to reform] together with similar statements by Fei Hsiao-t'ung, the philosopher Feng Yu-lan (q.v.), and others—Wu reviewed his family and personal background and classed himself as a petty bourgeois intellectual with selfish, individualistic, and escapist tendencies. The pernicious influence of Hu Shih, he said, had prevented him from using Marxism-Leninism in his historical writings. An evening's interview with Mao Tse-tung, who had read his Chu Yuanchang chuan and who discussed it with him, made him realize the relevance of Communism to contemporary conditions, the importance of Mao's guidance of the party, and the significance of the techniques of criticism and self-criticism. Wu Han held a variety of posts in the People's Republic of China. His first appointment, as one of the directors of the Democratic League, came in May 1949. In September 1949 he was made a delegate to the Chinese People's Consultative Conference, which established the new regime, and in August 1952 he was selected for the post of deputy mayor of Peking. Numerous other temporary and subsidiary appointments followed in later years. In 1953 he was vice director of an official delegation to North Korea; in 1956 he visited India as the leader of a delegation from the Sino-Indian Friendship Association. Wu's official duties were not so burdensome as to put an end to his writing. Prior to the Hundred Flowers campaign of 1957, he confined himself to scholarly pursuits. In 1955 he published papers on the development of the early Ming economy and on the question of the beginnings of capitalism during the Ming period; in 1957 some of his old articles were gathered and published as Tu-shih cha-chi [notes on reading history]. His politically punctilious behavior during the Hundred Flowers period and his contribution to an attack on Lo Lung-chi (q.v.) during the subsequent anti-rightist campaign apparently convinced him of his own ideological orthodoxy and personal immunity, for from 1959 onward his writing became voluminous and directed toward the general public. In 1959, Wu collected his pre- 1949 topical essays, many of which had been meant as veiled attacks on contemporaries and some of which had appeared in Li-shih-ti ching-tzu. He revised and reprinted them as T'ou-ch'iang chi [javelin throwing]. He followed this with Teng-hsia chi [under lamplight] in 1960, which reprinted a large number of essays in popular style on historical subjects. In 1951 there appeared CKun-Cien chi [spring], a large miscellany, and the historical play, Hai Jui pa kuan [the dismissal of Hai Jui], which was published in Peking Literature and Art in January. After 1959 Wu Han's main intellectual concern centered about the general problem of the significance of China's past for its present. After giving due attention to the past statements of Mao Tse-tung on the subject, Wu opted for the formula "emphasize the present at the expense of the past ; use the past for the sake of the present." By the phrase "present" in the first part of the formula, Wu meant Chinese history since the Opium War of 1840, but with emphasis on the history of the Chinese Communist party and especially China after 1949. The first half of the formula constituted an attack on antiquarians and historians of traditional China for whom the year 1840 stood as a terminus post quern, while the other half attacked the modernists for whom traditional history had no meaning. The past, said Wu, must be studied and explained scientifically from the standpoint of Marxism-Leninism. That part of the past which is worthy of study is the history of the masses, the history of revolutionary struggle (i.e., popular uprisings), and the history of production relationships. Yet, objective historical study must also consider the dark, unprogressive side of the picture—the history of the ruling classes ; and any study of the struggle of the masses must include also a consideration of these heroic personages who were able to advance the cause of progress for the ages in which they lived. Wu proposed eight tentative principles for describing and judging the great men of the past. First, to be judged great, a man's action had to be of benefit to the majority of the common people or had to serve to raise the general level of culture. Second, the historical sources used in such judgments had to reflect the majority opinion of the common people and not that of the landlord bureaucrats. Third, not only a man's class origins but also his individual development had to be taken into account, for it is always possible for good men to have bad (i.e. landlord-feudal) backgrounds. Fourth, a man's public achievements are of overriding importance ; his private life does not matter. Fifth, epithets such as "democratic," applicable to the heroes who help build socialism, cannot properly be ascribed to heroes living in slave-owning or feudal societies. Sixth, judgments and descriptions have to conform to objective reality; exaggerations or fabrications must be avoided. Seventh, the useful experiences of previous generations of Chinese in the class struggle have to be given significance for the present, so that by studying these experiences the past can be made to serve current revolutionary struggle. Finally, any judgment of the goodness or badness of any hero has not only to take into consideration the man's own time but also all of subsequent history; thus the builder of the Grand Canal increased the people's burdens in building it, but this factor is outweighed by the benefits of the canal to later generations.

On the basis of these principles, Wu selected four representative heroes of the past for analysis in a talk which he gave at Xankai University in October 1959. The first, Ts'ao Ts'ao (155-220), had been the subject of recent controversy; the second and third, the T'ang Empress Wu(d. 705) andHaiJui (d. 1587), were ripe subjects for discussion; and the fourth, the late Ming historian T'an Ch'ien (d. 1657), was practically unknown. Ts'ao Ts'ao was praiseworthy in having sought to unify the empire. Although he failed in his effort, he did bring peace to north China, and under his rule production developed, population rose, culture flourished, and barbarian attacks were thwarted. He struck at a number of large landlord-officials and their families and replaced them with intellectuals of obscure background. His bad side, however, is shown in his cruel methods of commanding troops and in his defeat of the Yellow Turban rebels. Whether the good outweighs the bad in Ts'ao Ts'ao must await a total reexamination of medieval Chinese history. The Empress Wu likewise acted against the interests of the feudal ruling circles by opening government office to obscure men of talent through the examination system, and thus set the stage for the heyday of the T'ang empire during the first half of the eighth century. The resulting cultural splendor is not to be dismissed ; the feudalistic age was not an unrelieved period of darkness. The irregularities of the private life of the empress have no historical significance, and she should not be judged on this basis. Hai Jui represents the upright, model bureaucrat with distinguished accomplishments to his credit. He led the minority left wing within the feudal ruling class and gained the support of young intellectuals, peasants, and townspeople. While upholding the feudal order, he actively sympathized with middle and poor peasants in their struggle with the large landowners and the feudal reactionaries. In southeast China (responsible for a third of the Ming dynasty's quota of taxes), Hai Jui acted against the large landholders by carrying out a survey of their holdings, making them return all illegally occupied land to the rightful owners, and forcing everyone to bear his fair share of the tax burden. These measures, plus Hai Jui's implementation of the "single-whip" tax reform (which generally simplified tax-collecting procedures by making all dues payable as a lump sum in silver), lightened the peasants' burdens and reduced their exploitation by the landlords. Hai Jui's tenacity of purpose is shown in one of his legal cases. In proceedings brought against a retired official who when prime minister had done a personal favor for Hai Jui (Hai Jui was in prison for criticizing the emperor, and the prime minister helped get him out), Hai Jui decided for the plaintiff even though he knew it would lead to his own dismissal from office. As for T'an Ch'ien, he is an exemplar for the historian of the present day. A poor and lowly secretary to an official during the last years of the Ming period, he expressed dissatisfaction with the few histories he had chanced to see and devoted the rest of his life to the patriotic task of writing a voluminous annalistic account of the Ming, enduring all kinds of hardship in his quest for accurate source materials.

A concern for Chinese history and its heroes made Wu Han an ardent promotor of mass popularization. In his introduction to Teng-hsia chi he urged all ideological workers to publish simplified expositions of their particular specialties for the enlightenment of children, cadres, workers, and peasants. For popularizing his own specialty, Wu hit upon the medium of the stage. He attempted to create what he regarded as a new genre—the historical play, which aims to portray as accurately as possible real events and real characters drawn from history. Wu explained his purposes and answered his critics in a series of articles on the historical play. Hai Jui pa kuan, rewritten some half-dozen times before it was staged in 1961, was his first attempt to compose one.

Hai Jui was becoming a controversial figure even before the appearance of Wu's play about him. Although he had flourished in the midsixteenth century, Hai Jui was a figure well known and highly regarded by the common people in twentieth-century China; there were even popular stories about his courage in criticizing imperial authority. Did the fact that he had actually been a feudal bureaucrat mean that he must be condemned by people living in an age of socialist construction? Wu Han thought not. In September 1959 he averred that Hai Jui's qualities of consistency and persistence were models for emulation during socialist construction, though he went on to argue that these qualities could only achieve genuine fulfillment under the changed conditions of China since 1949. Those (like Hai Jui) who adopted the standpoint of the working class were needed at present in China to combat bureaucratism and to lead the masses in the struggle for socialism. At this time and again a month later, however, Wu warned against people who were adopting the pose of Hai Jui for improper purposes. Some insincere imitators of Hai Jui were constituting themselves an "opposition," criticizing certain shortcomings of the government at Peking and dampening the ardor of the masses for building socialism. "Right opportunist" elements were even appropriating Hai Jui's reputation for candid speaking to denounce the backyard steel production and the people's communes instituted during the Great Leap Forward of 1958. Such denunciation was wrong because it substituted a "good" (socialist) target for a "bad" (feudal) one and in effect favored the large landowning class against which the real Hai Jui had struggled all his life.

During 1962 and 1963 Wu Han was involved in a heated logomachy which resulted from his publication of two articles on traditional morality in Ch'ien-hsien, the party theoretical journal edited at Peking by Teng T'o. In these articles Wu had called for a selective revival of the feudal virtues of loyalty, filial piety, honesty, perseverance, and courage. He argued that these virtues had a place even in a period of socialist construction. Attacks and replies were featured primarily in the Kuang-ming jih-pao. In 1963 and 1964 Wu edited a series of pamphlets under the general title Chung-kuo li-shih ch'ang-shih [Chinese history for everyman]. In his preface (which appeared in each pamphlet), Wu noted that in spite of a great interest in Chinese history among urban and rural youth, People's Liberation Army troops, and organizational cadres, most young people were unable to handle the old dynastic histories or even more recent general histories of China. This new cooperative effort to produce simplified history was intended to inculcate both patriotism and a basic grasp of historical materialism. By taking definite stands on several subjects of contemporary controversy, Wu Han had made himself conspicuous and vulnerable to attack. The attack began on 10 November 1965 in the Shanghai Wen-hui-pao (reprinted 30 November in Jen-min jih-pao) with a critique of Hai Jui pa kuan by one Yao Wen-yuan. Yao's charges were serious: Wu had made an ideological error by portraying the struggle within the feudal ruling class and neglecting the masses and their struggle with the ruling classes as a whole; worse, Hai Jui's redressing of the people's grievances reflected Wu Han's own support of those who were calling for a return to individual farming during the economic crisis China was undergoing in 1961, the year the play was staged. Wu Han wrote a lengthy answer, which appeared in the Pei-ching jih-pao of 27 December 1965, in which he admitted that he had forgotten the class struggle and thanked Yao for exposing his serious relapse into bourgeois-feudal ways of thought. He denied, however, that his motive for writing the play was counterrevolutionary; rather, he said, it was "indistinct and foggy." Hai Jui pa kuan was debated in the Chinese press through February 1966. Wu's motives were defended by certain academicians and by friends on the Peking municipal party committee—chiefly Teng T'o, who on 1 3 December called an informal meeting of some 20 university students for a discussion of Hai Jui. After a month's silence, the attack on Wu Han resumed with exposes in Jen-min jih-pao and Hung-cKi during the first week in April and continued through early May. First, Hai Jui pa kuan was alleged to have been written in support of certain "dismissed" right-opportunist opponents of the Great Leap Forward, particularly P'eng Te-huai (q.v.). It was no mere historical drama, but "a vicious blast against Party and Socialism" with implied criticism of Mao Tsetung. The exposes went further. A careful analysis of T'ou-ch'iang chi showed that Wu had made extensive revisions of the original articles, deleting direct anti-Communist statements in order to hide his former open support for Chiang Kai-shek. The actual target of the "javelins" was the Chinese Communist party itself. A complete investigation of Wu's background, especially his activities during the 1940's, followed. This investigation reportedly brought to light the facts that Wu had desired all along to become Chiang Kai-shek's "upright official," and that all his writings during those years were meant to help Chiang "rectify his rule." After the Communist victory, Wu wanted to "right wrongs" for his own landlord class, and in order to disguise his aims, he had falsified the true facts of his own landlord class origins in his writings. Under the pretext of "popularizing historical knowledge," he praised the emperors and great ministers of the past in order to turn the people away from Mao Tse-tung. Finally, from 1961 to 1964 he had joined with two of the top aides of Peking mayor P'eng Chen (q.v.) —Teng T'o and Liao Mo-sha—in writing a column which was featured in Teng's Peking party theoretical journal, Ch'ien-hsien. This column, it was charged, attacked the party through the use of fables and historical allusions. The movement that developed into the Cultural Revolution then dropped the attack on Wu Han to move on to Teng T'o and to bigger game, including some of the most senior figures of the Chinese Communist party. Wu Ho-ling: see Unenbayin.

Biography in Chinese

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