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Ruan Yuan, 1764-1849

The Life and Work of a Major Scholar-Official in Nineteenth-Century China before the Opium War

Betty Peh-T'I Wei

Publication Year: 2006

This study explores the life and work of Ruan Yuan (Juan Yuan 1764-1849), a scholar-official in 19th century China prior to the Opium War, before traditional institutions and values became altered by incursions of forces from the West.

Published by: Hong Kong University Press, HKU

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. v-vi

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

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Preface and Acknowledgements

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pp. ix-xiii

Thirty years have elapsed since I first began this project. It was a hot summer day in 1976 when I called on Beatrice Bartlett, renowned authority on Qing documents, at that time conducting research in the newly opened Qing Archives at the National Palace Museum in Taipei. I had moved to Hong Kong after years ...

Chronology of Ruan Yuan’s Government Appointments

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pp. xv-xvii

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Notes on Transliteration and Other Matters

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pp. xix

I have opted for the pinyin, which makes it easier to use the Chinese software. For quotations from sources using the Wade-Giles, I have kept the original, followed by pinyin in case a particular name or term is of significance. Since I have placed the Chinese characters immediately after the transliteration ...

Reign Titles of Qing Emperors

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pp. xx

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pp. 1-14

This study explores the life and work of Ruan Yuan (1764–1849), a scholar-official of significance in mid-Qing China prior to the Opium War, before traditional institutions and values became altered by incursions from the West. His distinction as a scholar and patron of learning has been recognized by both his contemporaries ...

Part One The Making of a Scholar-Official

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1. The Formative Years: Yangzhou, 1764–86

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pp. 17-36

Although official records indicate Ruan Yuan as being from Yizheng, a county in the Yangzhou Prefecture of Jiangsu Province, actually he was a native of the County of Beihu in the prefecture.1 It was his grandfather, Ruan Yutang (1695–1759), who first adopted Yizheng as the Ruan native place when he registered for ...

Image plates

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2. Intellectual Foundations and Political Beginnings: Beijing, 1786–93

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pp. 37-58

It was during this period of Ruan Yuan’s sojourn in Beijing as a candidate for the metropolitan examinations that the direction for his intellectual development and political future was set. As a young man from an obscure background without independent financial means, Ruan Yuan was distinguishable from other candidates ...

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3. Director of Studies: Shandong, 1793–5; Zhejiang, 1795–7; and Expectant Official in Beijing, 1797–9

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pp. 59-78

The system of selecting government officials by examination made the position of the director of studies (xuezheng) in each province an extremely important one. Although this office carried no rank of its own, for the holder it could be a stepping stone to higher appointments. During the mid-Qing the director of studies ...

Part Two The Provincial Official at Work

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4. Internal Security and Coastal Control: Piracy Suppression in Zhejiang, 1799–1809

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pp. 81-108

In the winter of 1799–1800 when Ruan Yuan first arrived in Zhejiang as governor, his most urgent task was the suppression of coastal piracy.2 The initiation and implementation of a comprehensive programme to halt the pirate activities off the southeast coast of China within the directives of Jiaqing remained a major challenge ...

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5. Internal Security and Local Control: Investigations of Secret Societies in Jiangxi, 1814–6, and Guangxi, 1817–26

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pp. 109-134

My objective in this chapter is not to analyze the Chinese secret societies from a historical, or economic, or even social perspective. Recent scholarly studies in Chinese as well as in foreign languages, all based on archival documents, have already enlightened readers on the origin and development of the secret societies ...

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6. Management of Foreign Relations at Canton, 1817–26

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pp. 135-164

Ruan Yuan was Governor-General of Guangdong and Guangxi from November 1817 to August 1826. As ‘trade and tribute in the Confucian view were cognate aspects of a single system of foreign relations,’1 the governor-general at Canton was the highest Chinese authority dealing with foreigners in China on specific issues ...

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7. Management of Ethnic Minorities and Border Security in Yunnan, 1826–35

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pp. 165-180

After Canton Ruan Yuan was Governor-General of Yunnan and Guizhou in Southwest China. Topographically, the region was ‘rugged with high local relief, and the canyons of western Yunnan (were) characterized by a vertical zonation of climate, soils, and vegetation’.1 These mountainous provinces boasted a multi-cropped ...

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8. Ruan Yuan’s Social Welfare Programmes

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pp. 181-198

Whereas this research on Ruan Yuan’s government work heretofore has concentrated on the area of security and control, it was his social welfare programmes in Zhejiang that showed his humanitarian concerns both as an official and as a private individual. As in his handling of other issues, he managed ...

Part Three Ruan Yuan at Leisure

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9. Scholar and Patron of Learning of the Mid-Qing Era

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pp. 201-220

As a scholar and patron of learning Ruan Yuan is well known. His intellectual interests encompassed a wide range of research. With more than eighty extant publications with his name as author, compiler, or editor, there are also scores of forewords and epilogues to other scholars’ works, indicating that at least he was familiar ...

Part Four The Private Ruan Yuan

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10. Son and Father: Man of the Confucian Persuasion

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pp. 223-238

Upon achieving success as an official, Ruan Yuan took on certain responsibilities for his family and community, as expected in the Confucian persuasion. Beneficiaries included his parents, ancestors up to four generations, members of the Ruan clan individually and in general, and, through programmes such as compilation ...

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11. The Women in Ruan Yuan’s Life

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pp. 239-258

Despite popular claim that traditional Chinese society deemed a woman ‘virtuous’ (de) only when she was without ‘talents’ (cai ), respectable women in gentry families had been educated in the classics throughout the ages. This fact was especially evident during the mid-Qing when publication of works by women proliferated. ...

Part Five The Senior Statesman

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12. Glories of Long Service: Grand Secretary in Beijing, 1835–8

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pp. 261-282

In 1835, when Ruan Yuan was seventy-two sui, he was recalled to Bejing, whereby ending a career of more than thrity years in the provinces. Until 1838 when he retired to Yangzhou he remained in the capital, enjoying the life and status of a first rank senior official. His schedule was not demanding, and, although not in the inner court, ...

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13. The Golden Years: Retirement in Yangzhou, 1838–49

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pp. 283-304

Ruan Yuan left Beijing for the last time on 12 October 1838, a fortnight after the Mid-Autumn Festival that year, three months after he received permission to retire. Travelling by water, he boarded his boat at Tongzhou, and arrived at Yangzhou on 30 November. The journey by canal was leisurely. Family tradition ...

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pp. 305-316

This book, which has taken me more than a score of years to complete, has been worthwhile. Ruan Yuan’s accomplishments were legion, and some of his work has remained relevant today, two hundred years after his time. At any rate, scholars and students in many areas of endeavour are still benefiting from ...


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pp. 317-340


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pp. 341-380

Glossary and Index

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pp. 381-392

E-ISBN-13: 9789882203686
Print-ISBN-13: 9789622097858

Page Count: 416
Publication Year: 2006