Biography in English

Yeh Te-hui (1864-11 April 1927), prominent Hunanese classical scholar and political conservative. He was executed by the Chinese Communists in 1927.

The eldest son of Yeh Chün-lan, who achieved the rank of expectant magistrate in Chihli (Hopei), Yeh Te-hui received a classical education. After obtaining his sheng-yuan degree, however, he deserted scholarship for several years to follow a business career. He then returned to his books, passing the examinations for the chü-jen degree in 1885 and obtaining the chin-shih degree in 1892. Hsü Jen-chu (ECCP, II, 703), later director of education in Hunan, was one of Yeh's examiners in 1892, and as such, was considered as one of Yeh's teachers. As a new chin-shih, Yeh entered immediately on an official career, but he did not find it to his taste. In 1892 he served briefly as an assistant secretary in the appointment and transfer department in the Board of Civil Office, where he enjoyed the rank and privileges of a second-class board secretary. After a few months, he resigned to return to Hunan and scholarship.

In Hunan, Yeh Te-hui took a leading role in gentry affairs and became identified with the strongly conservative faction centering around such men as Wang Hsien-ch'ien (q.v.). Yeh and Wang exchanged and compared rare books and also joined forces to take a strong line against the then governor of Hunan, Ch'en Pao-chen, and his director of education, Hsü Jen-chu, both well known for their reformist sympathies. Hsü had written a book entitled Yu-hsüan chin-yü expounding the teachings of the Kung-yang school of classical interpretation [see Liao P'ing). Yeh wrote a barbed critique of this work entitled Yu-hsüan chin-yü p'ing. That Yeh, whose relationship to Hsü was that of pupil to master, could have written such a work caused a major scandal. Not content with this blow, Yeh wrote a conservative political manifesto entitled "Cheng-chieh-lun" [on reforming the world], which, together with a number of other articles critical of K'ang Yu-wei and the other reformers, he contributed to the I-chiao ts'ung-pien [materials for the defense of Confucianism] of Su Yü (d. 1914). On the eve of the Hundred Days Reform in 1898, Yeh Te-hui and Wang Hsien-ch'ien addressed a joint petition to Ch'en Pao-chen demanding that Liang Ch'i-ch'ao (q.v.) and his associates be dismissed at once from the Changsha Shih-wu hsüeh-t'ang [academy of current affairs]. This plan nearly backfired when Liang, a few weeks later, arrived in Peking and sought orders for the arrest of Yeh and Wang. The speedy collapse of the reform party, however, effectively prevented any action from being taken.

From 1896 on, Yeh spent most of his time on scholarship and in dabbling in local politics. He taught at the Ts'un-ku Academy and cultivated his cordial association with Wang Hsien-ch'ien and other conservative scholars. During the Boxer Uprising of 1900, Yeh was accused of complicity in the arrest and execution of T'ang Ts'ai-ch'ang {see ECCP, I, 30) and was himself imprisoned at the orders of T'ang's son, T'ang Mang. Yeh's involvement in the affair appears nebulous, and, at the request of Chang Ping-lin (q.v.), he was released. In 1910, as a result of one of their periodic attacks on the local authorities, both Yeh Te-hui and Wang Hsien-ch'ien were cashiered from the civil service, Yeh's alleged crime being his refusal to sell more than 100 piculs of rice from his private granary during a famine. With the coming of the 1911 revolution and the republic, Yeh became even more iconoclastic. For example, when street signs in Changsha were changed to honor Huang Hsing (q.v.), Yeh ordered them torn down and the old names restored. But for all this, Yeh remained an important civic leader in Changsha, serving for a time as chairman of the council on educational affairs and subsequently as chairman of the Changsha Chamber of Commerce. Because of his outspoken conservatism, Yeh was frequently marked for attack, but he managed to survive the unruly early years of the republic by a combination of sarcasm, toughness, and sagacity. In 1926-27 new foes crossed Yeh's path: Communists enrolled in the Kuomintang. These, at last, brought Yeh's downfall. When the cadres arrived in Changsha, Yeh, in a typical outburst of contemptuous derision, composed a couplet for the farmer's association in which he referred to the Communists as tsa-chung [half-breeds] and ch'usheng [beasts], two of the most derogatory expressions in the Hunan dialect. The Communists were not hasty in responding, but when on 1 April 1927 a special court for the trial of "local bullies and vicious gentry" was established, Yeh was in the dock. Ten days later Yeh, together with scores ofothers, was executed. Yeh Te-hui was a prolific writer on scholarly and bibliographic topics, and it was as a bibliographer and editor that he earned national fame. Yeh was also an ardent coin collector, and in 1902 he published a booklet on the subject, Ku-cK'ien tsa-yung. He was the first Chinese to publish openly a collection of traditional medical works on sex, which he did in 1907 under the title Shuang-mei ching-an ts'ung-shu and for which he received much criticism. In 1908 he published one of the two best editions extant of the YUan-ch'ao pi-shih [secret history of the Mongols]. In 1910 he completed his I Shu-lin ch'ing-hua, a charming and complete introduction to Chinese book collecting. Kuanku-Vang ts'ang-shu-mu, a catalogue of the more than 350,000 chüan of fine editions contained in his personal library, appeared in 1915. Like other Chinese scholars of his time, Yeh wrote much occasional prose and poetry. These works, together with his more substantial writings, were collected in 1902 and published under the title Kuan-ku-Vang so-chu-shu ; in 1911 further collections were published. In 1935 Yeh's son Yeh Ch'i-cho published the definitive edition of his father's writings, Hsi-yüan hsien-sheng ch'uan-shu.

Biography in Chinese

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