ECCP for the WEB
The text of Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period is in the public domain and may be freely reproduced. These html-coded pages and the programmed pages for ECCP READER are © Tonseth House Studios 2021.

T'an Ssŭ-t'ung

T'an Ssŭ-t'ung 譚嗣同 (T. 復生 H. 壯飛), Mar. 10, 1865-1898, Sept. 28, philosopher, and martyr in the 1898 reform movement, was a native of Liu-yang, Hunan. In boyhood he was an assiduous and comprehensive reader, and showed considerable promise as an essayist. At the same time he developed a fondness for swordsmanship and displayed an unrestricted outlook on life. His father, T'an Chi-hsün 譚繼洵 (T. 敬甫, chin-shih of 1860 and governor of Hupeh, 1890-98), was a conservative and cautious official who did not understand the vagaries of his son. When T'an Ssŭ-t'ung was in his twelfth year his mother died and later he was allegedly maltreated by his stepmother. Owing to his unhappy family life, he devoted himself intensively to studymotivated by a desire to discover something new everyday. His interests, however, caused him to disregard many of the accepted proprieties. In his young manhood he spent several years in Sinkiang as a minor military officer under the provincial governor, Liu Chin-t'ang (see under Tso Tsung-t'ang). Later he learned much in some ten years of travel in many provinces. Wherever he went he studied the local administration, visited the tombs of heroes and places of historical interest--places often alluded to in his poems. At the same time he made many congenial friends.

The repeated national humiliations which China suffered after 1842, and her defeat by Japan in 1894-95, caused many intellectuals to contemplate a revolution under the leadership of Sun Yat-sen (original name Sun Wên 孫文 (T. I-hsien 逸仙 H. 中山, Nov. 12, 1866-1925, Mar. 12), or a reform movement aiming at constitutional monarchy as advocated by K'ang Yu-wei 康有為 (original ming 祖貽 T. 廣厦, H. 長素, chin-shih of 1895, Mar. 19, 1858-1927. Mar. 31). K'ang had, by several new lines of approach, evoked much public comment: by his critical study of the authenticity of the Classics, involving many revolutionary concepts, which he published under the title, 新學偽經考 Hsin-hsüeh wei-ching k'ao, 14 chüan, (1891); by his efforts to picture Confucius as a political reformer, the author of the authentic Classics ; as the founder of the Confucian religion-theory, which he incorporated in a book, entitled 孔子改制考 K'ung-tzŭ<> kai-chih k'ao, 21 chüan (1897) [702], and by his concept of a world community, published in various places under the title, 大同書 Ta-t'ung shu, 10 chüan. K'ang's fame became nation-wide when on May 2, 1895 he submitted a so-called Ten Thousand Word Memorial, signed by more than 1,200 chü-jên from eighteen provinces, protesting against the ratification of the Sino-Japanese treaty of peace signed at Shimonoseki on the preceding April 17, and calling upon the government to institute specific reforms. Both the revolutionists and the reformers concurred in believing that the time had come to adopt Western military techniques and to introduce the natural sciences into the schools. By 1894 the alert T'an Ssŭ-t'ung was bending all his energies in pursuit of the new knowledge. By this time, too, he had read most of the existing translations of scientific works, and showed special aptitude in mathematics. He founded in his native place a society for the promotion of Western learning, and this event may be taken as the beginning of the reform movement which quickly swept over Hunan. Having heard that K'ang Yu-wei had organized (1895) in Peking and Shanghai a Ch'iang Hsüeh Hui 強學會 or Society for the Study of National Rejuvenation, he went to Peking to interview that leader. By the time he reached the capital K'ang had left for Kwangtung, but he met K'ang's celebrated pupil, Liang Ch'i-ch'ao 梁啟超 (T. 卓如 H. 任公, 1873-1929), a chü-jên of 1889, who was really a publicist of outstanding literary ability, advocate of political reform, and a student with many varied interests. Through frequent contacts with Liang, who was then chief secretary of the Ch'iang Hsüeh Hui, T'an became acquainted not only with that organization's political program, but also with K'ang Yu-wei's classical and philosophical researches, some of which he was himself ready to promulgate. From this time on his thought was more or less influenced by Kang's writings.

In 1896 T'an Ssŭ-t'ung went, at his father's sequest, to Nanking as an expectant prefect. But instead of keeping in touch with official aeeies, he devoted himself to a study of the fsets of Buddhism, under the guidance of Yang Wên-hui 楊文會 (T. 仁山, 1837-1911) who had served (1878-81, 1886-89) in the Chinese legations in London and Paris under the two officers Tsêng Chi-tsê<> and Liu Jui-fên [qq.v.], T'an was then in charge of the Buddhist Press 金陵刻經處 in Nanking. T'an's portrait, showing his hands in the Buddhist posture of adoration, appears in Timothy Richard's Conversion by the Million (1907), vol. I, p. 58. It may be noted in passing that Yang assisted Richard in preparing the English version of the Buddhist tract, Ta-shêng ch'i-hsin lun (Awakening of Faith in the Mahâyâna Doctrine, Shanghai, 1907). In 1897 T'an was recalled to Hunan to aid the provincial governor, Ch'ên Pao-chên 陳寶箴 (T. 右銘, 1831-1900), in carrying out reforms. Ch'ên was the sponsor of a rejuvenated provincial government which hoped to make Hunan the starting-point of a modernized administration in South China. Simultaneously the provincial director of education, a friend of T'an, named Hsü<> Jên-chu 徐仁鑄 (T. 硯父, 1863-1900), also promoted the new learning. In July 1897 Huang Tsün-hsien [q.v.], who had absorbed many new ideas during his long diplomatic service in America, England, and Japan, was appointed acting provincial judge of Hunan. He, too, became an important factor in the reform movement. An Academy of Current Events, known as the Shih-wu Hsüeh-t'ang (see under Huang Tsün-hsien), was established at Changsha, and Liang Ch'i-ch'ao was invited to be chief lecturer. A newspaper called 湘學新報 Hsiang-hsüeh hsin-pao (first iSsŭed April 22, 1897, the first newspaper in Hunan) was edited by T'an Ssŭ-t'ung. T'an was concurrently chairman of the Nan Hsüeh Hui 南學會, or Reform Association of South China, over which he presided, and under the auspices of which he made many effective public speeches. The aim of this association was to bring together all the important leaders of South China for a discussion of how to make China strong, and how to make the new ideas effective-beginning in Hunan. As a result of these efforts many backward communities of Hunan were enlightened-steamships were introduced, the police system was modernized, industries were developed, and railways were projected.

During this time the reform movement also made great headway in Peking. The repeated memorials which K'ang Yu-wei submitted in 1895, 1897, and 1898, and his books on reforms in Russia and in Japan, which were presented to the Court in the spring of 1898, raised the issueof reform among some liberal officials, and above all in the mind of the Emperor. At the same time the Reverend Timothy Richard 李提摩太 (1845-1919), a far-sighted missionary of long experience who had intimate contacts with higher officials, helped the reform movement a great deal by the publication of his Tracts for the Times (時事新論 Shih-shih hsin-lun) and [703] other works. K'ang Yu-wei, Liang Ch'i-ch'ao and high officials of the Court frequently consulted Richard and profited by his suggestions. On June 11, 1898 the Emperor iSsŭed his first reform decree--a state document announcing in general terms the necessity for change. On the same day a reader of the Hanlin Academy, Hsü<> Chih-ching 徐致靖 (T. 子靜, chin-shih of 1876), at the suggestion of his son, the above-mentioned, Hsü<> Jên-chu, submitted a memorial to the throne recommending K'ang Yu-wei, T'an Ssŭ-t'ung, Liang Ch'i-ch'ao, Huang Tsün-hsien and others as the Emperor's advisors in the promulgation of the proposed reforms. K'ang was given the privilege of a personal audience with the Emperor (June 16), and T'an, Liang, and others were summoned from Hunan to Peking. After this audience, in which he outlined his program in some detail, K'ang was appointed a secretary in the Tsungli Yamen and was granted the privilege of submitting his memorials directly to the throne. Thereafter the reform movement was fairly launched, and decrees wereiSsŭed with bewildering rapidity by the young and liberal-minded Emperor who was now completely under K'ang's influence. These decrees, iSsŭed during the so-called "Hundred Days' Reform" (June 11-September 20, 1898), dealt with the importance of scientific studies, improvement of agriculture, adoption of Western military drill, establishment of a University at Peking, modernization of district schools to be carried on in temples, abolition of the traditional essay in the official examinations, promulgation of a published budget of annual receipts and expenditures, abolition of sinecure offices, removal of conservative officials, etc., etc. These decrees evoked strong opposition from officials entrenched in lucrative posts and from students who had pinned their political and social future on skill in the traditional examination requirements. Time and again these officials either delayed, or failed to transmit, the memorials of the Emperor's advisers.

T'an Ssŭ-t'ung arrived in Peking early in September. After an impressive audience with the Emperor he was appointed (September 5) a fourth-rank secretary in the Grand Council to take charge of reform measures, transmit memorials, draft decrees, facilitate contacts between K'ang and the Emperor and in other ways circumvent the tactics of obstructive officials. Simultaneously three other secretaries were appointed to the Council to carry on similar tasks: Yang Jui 楊銳 (T. 叔嶠鈍叔, 1857
1898), a native of Mien-chu, Szechwan, a chü-jên of 1885, a disciple of Chang Chih-tung [q.v.], and chairman of a reform society of his province; Lin Hsü林旭 (T. 暾谷, H. 晚翠, 1875-1898), a native of Hou-kuan, Fukien, a chü-jên of 1893, a student of K'ang Yu-wei, and chairman of the reform society of his province; and Liu Kuang-ti 劉光策 (T. 裴村, 1859-1898), a native of Fu-shun, Szechwan, a chin-shih of 1883, who had been secretary of the Board of Punishments for more than ten years. These four secretaries pressed their reforms vehemently and efficiently but, in doing so, committed the nation to rash and premature action which was bound to rouse the enmity of the Empress Dowager, Hsiao-ch'in [q.v.], and of the conservative officials whose positions were imperiled. The Empress Dowager, who actually wielded predominating political and military power, resolved to end this rising menace by forcing the Emperor to abdicate the throne. Fully aware of his danger, the Emperor personally sent a note (September 14) to K'ang and to four secretaries ordering them to devise a way to save him "without delay". K'ang, having previously deputed a close friend to urge Yüan Shih-k'ai (see under Yüan Chiasan) to support the reforms, memorialized the Emperor to grant to Yüan audiences which took place on the 16th and 17th. One result of these audiences was that Yüan was given the honorary rank of a vice-president of a ministry. At midnight on the 17th, T'an repaired to Yüan's residence to urge him to revolt against his superior, Jung-lu [q.v.], who was the Dowager's mainstay, and to get rid of the leaders of the conservative party. It is reported that Yüan at first acquiesced, but later revealed the entire scheme to Jung-lu who in turn informed the Empress Dowager. On the 21st the Emperor was deprived of his seals and placed in seclusion in a hall in the Winter Palace; and the Empress Dowager resumed the regency (see under Hsiao-ch'in).

In the meantime K'ang Yu-wei, after repeated warnings by the Emperor, escaped to Tientsin and to Hong Kong, espousing for the rest of his life the cause of constitutional monarchy as over against revolution. Liang Ch'i-ch'ao fled to Japan and lived to be the leading publicist of China until his death in 1929. T'an Ssŭ-t'ung, disdaining flight, calmly awaited arrest, trying in vain, with the help of professional boxers, to rescue the Emperor. T'an was strongly urged by his Japanese friends to take refuge in Japan but he refused, declaring that without shedding [704] of blood there was no hope for a new China. He preferred to be the first martyr to the cause of reform in modern Chinese history. Arrested on the 25th, he was executed the 28th, together with the following five active proponents of the movement: Yang Jui, Lin Hsü, Liu Kuang-ti, K'ang Kuang-jên 康廣仁 (original ming 有溥 H. 幼博, died age 32 sui), younger brother of K'ang Yu-wei and persistent advocate of the abolition of the official examinations; and Yang Shên-hsiu 楊深秀 (original ming 毓秀 T. 毓秀, 村儀, 儀村, 漪春, 1849-1898), a native of Wên-hsi, Shansi, chin-shih of 1889, a censor, who made many proposals for reform, and submitted to the throne a large number of memorials, prepared by others, which could scarcely have been presented otherwise. These six persons are now honored as the Six Martyrs of the Reform Movement of 1898. Other supporters, such as Ch'ên Pao-chên and Hsü<> Chih-ching, were cashiered or imprisoned. After this event the conservative and anti-eform groups of Peking and of Hunan held full sway, and their policies culminated in the Boxer Uprising of 1900.

The earliest collection of T'an Ssŭ-t'ung's works, entitled 東海褰冥氏三十以前舊學 Tung-hai ch'ien-ming-shih san-shih i-ch'ien chiu-hsūeh, was printed about 1897 and contained four volumes. Three of these works, namely: 廖天一閣文 Liao-t'ien-i ko wên, in 2 chüan;集外文 Chi-wai wên, in 1 chüan; and 莽蒼蒼齋詩 Ts'ang-ts'ang-ts'ang chai shih, in 2 chüan, were included in a collection of works by the Six Martyrs, entitled 戊戌六君子遺集 Wu-hsü<> liu chün-tzŭ<> i-chi (1917). A complete collection of T'an's writings, bearing the title 譚瀏陽全集 T'an Liu-yang ch'üan-chi, comprising 5 items, 4 + 1 chüan, with an appendix containing his nien-p'u, was published in 1925.

Though T'an Ssŭ-t'ung is chiefly remembered as a martyr of the reform movement, he nevertheless occupies a prominent place in the history et Chinese philosophy owing to his important work, 仁學 Ji>Jên-hsüeh, "A Study of Benevolence", 2 chüan, written in the years 1896-98 and printed in December 1898. The Jên-hsüeh represents T'an's dynamic philosophy which he evolved by an ingenious combination of Confucian, Buddhist and Christian ideas together with what he had learned about Western science. He hoped by this eclecticism to arrive at a new way of life more congenial to human beings. As it states in his preface, his purpose in writing at book was to break the net of fame, self-interest and traditionalism; lay aside all thought [705]of emperor-worship and blind respect for antiquity; transcend all particular philosophies and religions in favor of the boundless, the unrestricted, and the revolutionary. Although the ideas in the Jên-hsüeh constitute an obviously premature attempt at synthesis, they nevertheless permit T'an to be regarded as a "new comet" in the intellectual circles of his time.

[ 1/460/la, 470/lb; 2/59/38a; 5/30/15a; 6/6/llb, 10/24a, 12/3b, 37/16; 19 jên-shang 45b; Chang Po-chên 張伯楨, 南海康先生傳 Nan-hai K'ang hsien-shêng chuan (1932);"A Chronological Sketch of the Life of K'ang Yu-wei", Shih-hsüeh nien-pao (Historical Annual), vol. 2, no. 1 (1934);"A Critical Study of the Philosophy of K'ang Yu-wei", Tsing-hua hsüeh-pao (Tsinghua Journal), vol. XI, no. 3 (1936) ;"Liang Ch'i-ch'ao, a Biographical Sketch", T'u-shu kuan hsüeh chi-k'an (Library Science Quart.), vol. 3, nos. 1-2; Tao Liang Cho-ju hsien-shêng (Obituary of Liang Ch'i-ch'ao), Hsüeh-hui (The Critical Review) no. 67 (1929); Liang Ch'i-ch'ao, Yin-ping shih wên-chi (Collected Works), chüan 9, article entitled Wu-hsü<> chêng-pien (The Reforms Advocated in 1898); Liang Ch'i-ch'ao, Ch'ing-tai hsüeh-shu kai-lun (see bibl. under Fang Tung-shu); Fung Yu-lan, Chung-kuo chê-hsüeh shih (History of Chinese Philosophy, 1934) ; Kuo Chan-po 郭湛波, Chin wu-shih-nien Chung-kuo Ssŭ-hsiang shih (History of Chinese Thought in the Last Fifty Years, 1935);戊戌奏藁 Wu-hsü<> tsou-kao (1911); Soothill, William E., Timothy Richard of China (1924);"On the Effort to Introduce Legal and Other Reforms in the Years 1894-98" (in Chinese), Wu-Han Quart. Jour. of Liberal Arts, vol. 3, no. 1 (1933).]