Wu Dacheng

Photo: Elizabeth Mann

Wu Dacheng

Chinese, 1835-1902

Wu Dacheng???(1835-1902), [original ming: Dachun ??, zi: Zhijing??, Qingqing??, hao: Hengxuan ??, Kezhai ??, Baiyunshanqiao ????, Baiyunbingsou ????], was a civil military official, archaeologist, epigraphist, scholar of ancient Chinese characters, painter, calligrapher, and one of the most important collectors of the late Qing dynasty. He was a native of Wuxian ?? (current Suzhou) in Jiangsu province. His grandfather, Wu Jingkun ???, was a rich merchant who was interested in arts and letters. In 1860, when the Taipings occupied Suzhou, Wu Dacheng took refuge in Shanghai, and two years later went to Beijing where he failed in the Shuntian ??provincial examination. In 1864, Wu took his Juren degree in his native province, then kept studying at the Ziyang ?? Academy in Suzhou. He obtained the Jinshi degree in 1868, and became a bachelor of the Hanlin Academy in the capital. Soon afterwards he returned to his native place and engaged in editorial work for about 2 years at Jiangsu Provincial Printing Office at Suzhou (????). In 1870 he went to Wuchang, Hubei, where he worked as a secretary to Li Hongzhang??? (1823-1901). In the following year he went to the capital and worked as a compiler of the Hanlin Academy. During the years 1873-76, he was educational commissioner of Shannxi and Gansu, and about the same time (1871-73, 1876-79) engaged in relief work in Jilin ??province. Early in 1879 he was appointed intendant of the Hebei Circuit in Henan.
From the 1880, Wu Dacheng served several military official posts, along with the programs of the Qing authorities strengthening the defenses against Russia in eastern and northern Manchuria. With the rank of an official of the third grade, he was occupied in the improvement of defense on the eastern border. During the latter half of the year 1880 he organized a Qingbien Jun ??? (Border Pacification Army) to garrison the frontier, and at the same time pacified a party of gold-miners (some fifty thousand) led by Han Xiaozhong ??? (popularly called Han Bianwai ???), who had opposed the government. In 1881 he set about establishing an arsenal in European style, which was completed in 1883; and batteries at Hunchun??. For his men he wrote a guide-book to artillery practice, entitled Qiangfa Junsheng ???? which was published in 1884. In 1881 he established colonization offices in the basin of the Hunchun River to encourage Chinese settlement, owing to the fact that Russian and Korean emigrants illegally inhabited an area allotted to China by the Sino-Russian treaty of 1860. Late in 1882, he lodged a protest with Russian border officials against encroachment by Russians and, and some months later he with his troops moved to and was stationed at Tianjin to defend this area until the conclusion of the peace negotiation between China and France in the following year. Then he remained at Tianjin in the service of the Beiyang Fleet. Assisting Li Hongzhang, Wu was sent to Seoul, Korea, and Hunchun region to negotiate issues regarding Sino-Japanese problems, and Russo-Chinese border problem respectively. He left two works concerning his missions: one entitled Jilin Kanjie Ji ?????, a collection of official reports, printed in 1891, and Huanghua Jicheng ????, his personal diary during the mission, published in 1930. In 1887, he was appointed governor of Guangdong, where he took part in revising the custom duties on opium imported through European merchants. He was frustrated, when observing Qing government's concession of Portugeal exclusive jurisdiction over Macao in 1887, but completed his work as director-general of Yellow River and Grand Canal Conservancy. Transferred to the governorship of Hunan in 1892, he made effort to advance local industries, especially tea, but his scheme failed to materialize owing to the financial difficulties of the central government. With the declaration of the Sino-Japanese War (Aug. 1, 1894) Wu volunteered his services, and in September was ordered to defend Shanhaiguan with Hunanese and other troops. He was stationed there until March of the following year when he was deprived of his post because his troops met defeat at New Chwang (now Yingkou??). He returned to his former post in Hunan, but retired a few months later, In 1898 he became director of the Longmen ?? Academy at Shanghai, and he died at his native place three years later.
He not only zealously collected ancient bronze vessels but had composite rubbings made of them. All his leisure he could spare from his official duties, even in time of war, he devoted to the collecting and study of these objects. On the basis of his collection , he compiled many catalogues with critical notes on bronze and copper objects of antiquity: Hengxuan Suojiansuocang Jijin Lu ?????????, printed in 1886; Kezhaijigu Lu ?????, completed in 1886 and printed in 1917. He also compiled catalogues of ancient seals, ancient jade, and rubbings: Shiliu Jinfuzhai Yincun ???????, printed in 1888, Guyutukao????, printed in 1889, Guzhoubu ???, printed in 1883, and so on.
He was good at drawing landscape, flower paintings, and was also one of the most skilled calligrapher of his day, particularly in the zhuan ?style. He participated in painting and calligraphy circles such as Kelu and Pinghuashe in around late 1860s. Albums in his own handwriting of the Classic of Filial Piety and of the Analects were printed in 1885 and in 1886 respectively, and are well known among calligraphers.
< Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period, 1644-1912. (Library of Congress, Orientalia Division), "Wu Ta-ch'eng," pp. 880-882>

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