Wu Tingxie

Name in Chinese
Name in Wade-Giles
Wu T'ing-hsieh
Related People

Biography in English

Wu T'ing-hsieh (3 January 1866-14 December 1947), government official at Peking who was best known as a scholar and historian. His systematic arrangement of widely scattered data into chronologically ordered compilations greatly facilitated the research of later scholars. Although the ancestral home of the Wu family was in Chiangning (Nanking), Wu T'ing-hsieh was born in Shansi province where his father, Wu Shih-ch'i (d. 1884), a chü-jen of 1844, was serving as a magistrate. Under his father's guidance he received a traditional education in preparation for the civil service examinations. He was also given training in the elements of bibliography and historical research, and he acquired some knowledge of world history and geography. After 1882, he participated in the provincial examinations six times before he succeeded in becoming a chüjen in 1894. After serving as a copyist in the office of military archives at Peking, he was appointed an assistant sub-prefect in Shansi province in 1895. He remained in Shansi for almost a decade, rising in the Shansi provincial administration to the position of acting prefect of Taiyuan prefecture.

In 1904 Wu was summoned to Peking to become assistant chief in the Bureau of Government Affairs (cheng-wu ch'u), and he continued to hold posts in various departments of the central government until the abdication of the Manchu emperor in February 1912. After Yuan Shih-k'ai (q.v.) had been installed as president of the new republic, Wu T'ing-hsieh became a secretary in the presidential office. From 1914 until the fall of the Peking regime in 1928 he headed the central bureau of statistics. During these years he occasionally held concurrent posts, such as those of compiler in the bureau of compilation of Ch'ing history and secretary to the provisional chief executive, Tuan Ch'i-jui (q.v.), whose government lasted from November 1924 to April 1926.

Wu T'ing-hsieh remained in Peking until 1928, when the occupation of the northern capital by the National Revolutionary Army brought the Peking regime to an end. Wu then retired from government service and went to Manchuria, where he was professor of history at the Ts'ui-sheng Academy in Mukden from 1928 to 1931. After the Mukden Incident of September 1931 and the Japanese occupation of Manchuria, Wu returned to Peiping. He lived quietly in retirement at his residence at Peiping and in Nanking until the end of the Second World War. After the return of the National Government to Nanking, he was invited to become a compiler in the national history compilation bureau in 1947. He died in December 1947, at the age of 81. Wu was described as short and stout. Even in the summer he was in the habit of wearing long gowns with wide sleeves, a mode of dress which, among the people of Shansi, earned him the nickname of "Big-sleeves Wu." As scholar and historian, Wu T'ing-hsieh followed Ch'ing traditions of scholarship in both methodology and presentation. His principal scholarly contribution was the systematic arrangement of widely scattered data into chronologically ordered compilations which greatly facilitated the research of later scholars. Most of Wu's work was in the field of history, ranging from supplements to the dynastic histories to a study of the Sino-Russian boundary and a chronology of important events in his native Kiangsu province. He prepared a list of his writings and compilations which, though not complete, included 51 titles; some 20 of these works dealt with the Ch'ing period. Not all of these titles were published, and many of his early publications were issued in limited editions or in mimeographed form.

Among Wu's better known works were his chronological tables (nien-piao) of military governors under the Chin, Eastern Chin, Northern Wei, T'ang, Sung, Southern Sung, Liao, Chin, Yuan, and Ming dynasties. Originally published as the Li-tai fang-chen nien-piao, these ten works were included in the Erh-shih-wushih pu-pien (1936-37), a collection of materials supplementing the 25 dynastic histories which was published by the K'ai-ming Bookstore at Shanghai. One of these tables, the Chin fang-chen nien-piao, also appeared in the collectanea Liao-hai ts'ung shu (1935), published at Dairen. While serving in the bureau of compilation of Ch'ing history, Wu was chief editor of the piao [tables] section of the Ch'ingshih kao. He compiled useful charts of high officials in the metropolitan and provincial administrations.

At the invitation of Hsu Shih-ch'ang (q.v.), Wu assisted also in the compilation of a local history of Manchuria. A segment of this projected work was his Tung-san-sheng yen-ko piao, which was privately printed by Hsu Shih-ch'ang at Tientsin in 1922. Another of Wu's works, a chronology of Tuan Ch'i-jui (q.v.) entitled Ho-fei chih-cheng nien-p'u ctiu-kao (1937), was received with unfavorable criticism. Wu seems to have been aware of its shortcomings, both in quality and comprehensiveness, for he included in the title the words "ch'u-kao" [preliminary draft].

After Wu's death, the national history compilation bureau at Nanking printed two of his works in its official publication, the Kuo-shihkuan kuan-k'an. These were an autobiographical chronology, the Ching-mu tzu-ting nien-p'u (November 1948), which ended with the year 1937; and a chronology of railroad development in China from 1864 to 1932, entitled Tieh-lu ta-shih chi (January 1949).

Biography in Chinese

All rights reserved@ENP-China