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.

Wu Ch'ung-yüeh

Wu Ch'ung-yüeh 伍崇曜 (T. 良輔 H. 紫垣, original ming 元薇), Mar. 9, 1810-1863, Dec. 2, a native of Canton, was the fifth son of the famous Hong merchant, Wu Ping-chien [q.v.] . Like his father, he was known to Westerners as Howqua. In 1822, at the age of thirteen ( sui), he obtained the hsiu-ts'ai degree and two years later was commended for his literary talent by the educational commissioner of Kwangtung, Wêng Hsin-ts'un [q.v.] . Early in 1831 Emperor Hsüan-tsung conferred upon him a chü-jên degree in consideration of his father's contribution of 33, 000 taels--presented in his son's name--to repair the Sang-yüan-wei 桑園圍 dikes on a delta of the Pearl River in the district of Nan-hai, Kwangtung. During the ensuing sixteen years (1831-47) Wu Ch'ung-yüeh went to Peking four times to compete in the metropolitan examination, but was unable to obtain the chin-shih degree. In September 1833, while he was in Peking, his brother, Wu Yüan-hua (see under Wu Ping-chien), died, and upon his return to Canton a few months later he succeeded his brother as Hong merchant, adopting in this capacity the name, Wu Shao-jung 伍紹榮. Ten years later his father died, leaving him the family fortune. The prosperity of the family seems to have continued to the days of Wu Ch'ung-yüeh's grandson.

After the Anglo-Chinese war the Kwangtung provincial government was in financial straits and was forced to ask the support of wealthy merchants. As Wu Ch'ung-yüeh was the most affluent of the Canton traders, he not only contributed a large sum toward the war and for the promotion of public works, but aided the government in various financial and diplomatic negotiations as well. In 1854, when Canton was threatened by rioters known as Hung-chin-tsê<>i (see under Liang Lun-shu), he negotiated with Western merchants to obtain a loan for suppressing the insurgents. During the war of 1857-58 (see under Yeh Ming-Ch'ên), when Governor-general Yeh Ming-Ch'ên and other anti-foreign officials stubbornly resisted the British demands, Wu several times negotiated with Lord Elgin and Harry Parkes (for both see under Yeh Ming-Ch'ên) in an effort to restore peace in Canton. He was also instrumental in organizing volunteer corps which maintained order at Canton during the Taiping Rebellion, in times of riot, or when disturbances arose with Western powers. His efforts to keep Canton at peace were, of course, partially motivated by commercial interests, for civil wars interfered with the transport of tea and silk from Central China to Canton, and conflict with foreign countries hindered his foreign trade. For his public services he was honored with the rank of financial commissioner and was decorated with the Red Coral Button of the second class--the [868] highest button granted to those who were not officials.

Wu Ch'ung-yüeh had a taste for literature and the fine arts and patronized scholars and literary men. He built at great cost a luxurious garden, styled Wan-sung Yüan 萬松園 to which he often invited poets and artists; and he owned a rich collection of rare books, manuscripts, paintings and calligraphy which he deposited in his library known as Yüeh-ya T'ang 粵雅堂. On the basis of this collection he printed numerous books, and gained distinction as the publisher of four collectanea. In these ventures he merely played the role of financier--the actual editorial duties falling to the scholar T'an Ying [q.v.] whom he patronized. The most significant of the collectanea published under the name of Wu Ch'ung-yüeh was the Yüeh-ya t'ang ts'ung-shu, printed in 30 instalments over a period of some thirty years in the middle of the 19th century--a supplement being printed in 1875 by his son. This collectanea comprises some 200 rare works composed between the T'ang and Ch'ing periods inclusively. The other three collectanea consist of writings by natives of Kwangtung. Their titles are as follows: 嶺南遺書 Ling-nan i-shu, printed in 6 instalments during the years 1831-63, comprising 55 works by Ming and Ch'ing scholars, and 6 by scholars of an earlier period;粵十三家集 Yüeh shih-san-chia chi, printed in 1840, consisting of the literary collections of thirteen writers of the Sung, Ming and Ch'ing periods; and 楚庭耆舊遺詩 Ch'u-t'ing ch'i-chiu i-shih, 21 + 21 + 34 chüan, printed in the eighteen-forties, comprising a collection of poems written by contemporary authors. Among other books printed by Wu must be mentioned the 輿地紀勝 Yüeh-ti chi-shêng, a geography of China in the Southern Sung period, completed in 1227 by Wang Hsiang-chih (see under Li T'iao-yüan)--his preface being dated 1221. It was long regarded as lost and was overlooked even by the compilers of the Ssŭ-k'u ch'üan-shu (see under Chi Yün). Nevertheless, manuscript copies of a text lacking 32 chüan were preserved by several bibliophiles, and of these Wu obtained two copies: one owned by a fellow-townsman, Ch'ên Ch'i-k'un 陳其錕 (T. 棠溪), chin-shih of 1821); the other by Yang Wên-sun 楊文蓀 (T. 秀實 H. 實芸士 1782-1853), a bibliophile of Hai-ning, Chekiang. On the basis of these texts, Wu printed the Yüeh-ti chi-shêng during the years 1855-60. Neither Wu nor his editor, T'an Ying, seem to have been aware that this work had been printed at the end of the eighteen-forties by the Chü-ying Chai 懼盈齋 Library of the Ts'ên ( 岑) family at Yangchow. Ts'ên's edition contains a reconstruction, in 10 chüan, of the missing 32 chüan, compiled by Ts'ên Chien-kung 岑建功 (T. 紹周). It contains also a criticism of the entire text in 52 chüan, written by Liu Wên-ch'i and his son, Liu Yü-sung [qq.v. ]--both accomplished scholars of the School of Han Learning (see under Ku Yen-wu and Tai Chên).

[T'an Ying [q.v.], Lo-chih t'ang t'ang-lüeh 4/186, 23a; Kuang-chou fu-chih (1879) 129/25b; Nan-hai hsien-chih (1873) 14/48a; Liang Chia-pin, "Negotiations on the Stoppage of Trade at Canton" (in Chinese), National Sun Yat-sen University Monthly, Institute of History and Language, vol. 1, no. 1 (1932); see bibl, under Yeh Ming-chên and Wu Ping-chien.]