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.


Wêng T'ung-ho

[866]
Wêng T'ung-ho 翁同龢 (T. 笙階, 訒夫, 聲甫 H. 叔平, 松禪, 瓶笙韻齋), May 19, 1830-1904, July 3, official, calligrapher and writer, a native of Ch'ang-shu, Kiangsu, was the youngest son of the Grand Secretary, Wêng Hsin-ts'un [q.v.]. In 1856 Wêng T'ung-ho passed first in the examination for the chin-shih degree, and was made a first class compiler of the Hanlin Academy. Two years later he was appointed assistant director of the provincial examination of Shênsi, the chief director being P'an Tsu-yin [q.v.]. Late in 1865 he was appointed Hung-tê<> tien hsing-tsou 弘德殿行走, or tutor to Emperor Mu-tsung. His duties as tutor included the expounding of the historical work, Chih-p'ing pao-chien (see under Chang Chih-wan), to the Regent Empresses. Meanwhile he was promoted to libationer of the Imperial Academy (1868-71) and to sub-chancellor of the Grand Secretariat (1871-76). Early in 1875 Emperor Mu-tsung died. Later in the same year Wêng was appointed tutor to the new child Emperor Tê-tsung, with the title Yü-ch'ing-kung hsing-tsou. He and Sun Chia-nai [q.v.] were to instruct the Emperor in the classics and in other subjects while another tutor, Hsia T'ung-shan 夏同善 (T. 舜樂 H. 子松, posthumous name 文莊, 1831-1880), was to instruct him in calligraphy. Wêng began to teach the child Emperor in 1876 and thus started a long and intimate relationship which lasted for twenty-two years, until Wêng retired. To the young Emperor, Wêng was more than a tutor--he filled the place of an adviser, a guardian, and almost a father. He gave the Emperor books to read and urged on him the necessity for governmental reform.

During the ten years from 1876 to 1886 Wêng T'ung-ho served as a vice-president of the Board of Revenue (1876-78), president of the Censorate (1878-79), president of the Board of Punishments (1879), and president of the Board of Works (1876-1886). During the dispute with Russia over Ili, Wêng, P'an Tsu-yin, and the princes, I-huan and I-tsung [qq.v. ], formed an inner cabinet to deal with the crisis. Wêng also served for two years as a Grand Councilor (1882 84). In April 1884 he was discharged from the Grand Council, but was allowed to retain all his other posts including his tutorship of the Emperor (see under I-hsin).

Early in 1886 Wêng T'ung-ho was made president of the Board of Revenue, a post he held for twelve years until his retirement. In the meantime he was concurrently appointed a Grand Councilor (1894), a member of the Tsungli Yamen (1895), and an Associate Grand Secretary (1897). During this period his most important service was in connection with national finance. He did not agree with Chang Chih-tung's [q.v.] policy of spending freely on reform and would have put a stop to his introduction of new industries had Chang not engaged the sup port of Prince I-huan. As a financier of the old school, Wêng tried to balance the expenditures of the government with the small revenue from agriculture. He opposed the provincial officials who were experimenting with commercial and industrial capitalism with funds borrowed from foreign banks. After the Taiping Rebellion provincial officials possessed almost independent powers and Wêng's contest with Chang typifies the conflict between the central and the local governments. Wêng similarly was not on cordial terms with Li Hung-chang[q.v.], their disagreement being on the question of the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95. While Li and his faction sought to avoid a war, Wêng and his colleagues pressed for a test of arms. But when Li was later blamed for China's defeat, Wêng is said to have persuaded the throne to deal leniently with him. It seems that the Sino-Japanese conflict awakened Wêng to the necessity of reforms in China, for thereafter he began to introduce to the Emperor books on world history and on other subjects, and so spurred him to a reform policy. As his influence increased, Wêng was hated by members of the conservative party (mostly northerners) who recognized Empress Hsiao-ch'in[q.v.] as their leader.

In 1896, by order of the Empress Dowager, Wêng's tutorship of the Emperor terminated. As an official, however, he still had access to the Emperor and in 1898 helped him to decide on a reform policy. On June 11 of that year the Emperor ordered the provincial officials to recommend able men to serve at Court, and on the same day he iSsŭed an edict endorsing the introduction of reforms. On the 14th he ordered the leading reformers, K'ang Yu-wei (see under T'an Ssŭ-t'ung) and Chang Yüan-chi 張元濟 (T. 小齋 H. 菊生, b. 1868), to prepare for an audience two days later. Other reformers like Huang[861] Tsun-hsien, T'an Ssŭ-t'ung [qq.v. ], and Liang Ch'i-ch'ao (see under T'an Ssŭ-t'ung), were also mentioned in the edict as eligible for an audience. This so alarmed the conservatives that they began to maneuver for key positions (see under Jung-lu) and to effect the discharge of Wêng T'ung-ho. On the 15th an edict was iSsŭed charging Wêng with mismanagement of state affairs, and with displaying temper in the presence of the throne. On these vague charges he was ordered to retire and return to his native town. The edict was doubtless written by the Empress Dowager, and the Emperor was powerless to countermand it. Thus at the beginning of his attempts at reform Emperor Tê-tsung was deprived of the only intimate friend he had at Court who might have carried his policies to a successful conclusion. After Wêng left, the Emperor still worked hopefully for his program, but three months later the conservatives struck, the movement collapsed, and the Empress Dowager and the conservatives returned to power. Some reformers were executed or exiled (see under T'an Ssŭ-t'ung). On December 4, Wêng was denounced for having recommended K'ang Yu-wei to the throne. He was punished by being deprived of all his ranks and was confined to his home under the survoillance of local officials. He died in 1904. In 1909, the year after Empress Hsiao-ch'in died, the gentry of Kiangsu succeeded in persuading the Court to return posthumously to Wêng all his former ranks, aud to canonize him as Wên-kung 文恭.

Though Wêng T'ung-ho was much occupied with affairs of state, it seems likely that he was by nature a scholar and rnan of letters. His perseverance in the field of letters is clear from the diaries he kept continuously for forty-six years from 1858 until a few days before his death. This valuable document was reproduced (ca. 1925) in facsimile in forty volumes, entitled 翁文恭公日記 Wêng Wên-kung kung jih-chi. It contains much information, especially concerning the government in Peking before 1898, though it is claimed by some that sections of it relating to his share in the reform movement were in part re-written. From this and similar diaries Chin-liang 金梁 (T. 息侯 H. 瓜圃) compiled his important record of men and events of the late Ch'ing period, entitled 近世人物志 Chin-shih jên-wu chih, printed in 1934. A collection of Wên's poems, entitled 瓶廬詩稿 P'ing-lu shih-kao, 8 chüan, was printed in 1919. Two years later there appeared a supplement, (P'ing-lu shih-pu 補), in 1 chüan, with collation notes and a collection of poems in irregular meter (tz'ŭ). Besides exhibiting some skill as a painter of landscapes, Wêng T'ung-ho achieved fame as a calligrapher, particularly in the k'ai 楷 style which was favored in the examinations. Examples of his calligraphy, which underwent changes in later years, may be observed in his printed diary and in several collections of correspondence which also were reproduced in facsimile. One such collection, entitled 翁松禪相國真蹟 Wêng Sung-ch'an hsiang-kuo chên-chi, 12 volumes, was reproduced in 1920. Another, entitled Wêng Sung-ch'an shou-cha 手札, 10 volumes, was compiled by a nephew and was reproduced in the years 1905-11.

[ 1/442/3a; 2/63/56a; 6/1/-1b; 19 hsin hsia 13b; 26/4/15a; Chin-shih jên-wu chih (see above) p. 1; Chiu-ching wên-ts'un 1/la and Shih-shih ko jên-kuei shih-ts'un 6/30b (for both see Sun Yüan-hsiang); Richard, Timothy, Forty-five Years in China, pp. 242-64; see bibl. under T'an Ssŭ-t'ung.]

FANG CHAO-YING