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The life of Wang Chung, A. Forke,
By his own testimony Wang Ch‘ung was born in the third of the Chien-wu cycle, i. e. in A. D. 27, in Shang-yü-hsien, the present Shao-hsing-fu of the province of Chekiang. His family had originally been residing in Yuan-ch‘êng=Ta-ming-fu in Chihli. His father’s name was Wang Sung. Owing to their violent temper his ancestors had several times been implicated in local feuds, which are still now of frequent occurrence in Fukien and Chekiang, and were compelled to change their domicile. Wang Ch‘ung’s critics are scandalized at his coolly telling us that his great-grandfather behaved like a ruffian during a famine, killing and wounding his fellow-people.
If Wang Ch‘ung’s own description be true, he must have been a paragon in his youth. He never needed any correction neither at the hands of his parents nor of his teachers. For his age he was exceptionally sedate and serious. When he was six years old, he received his first instruction, and at the age of 8 he was sent to a public school. There the teacher explained to him the Analects and the Shuking, and he read 1,000 characters every day. When he had mastered the Classics, one was astonished at the progress he made, so he naïvely informs us. Of his other attainments he speaks in the same strain and with the same conceit. The Hou Han-shu confirms that he was a good son.
Having lost his father very early, he entered the Imperial College at Loyang, then the capital of China. His principal teacher was the historian Pan Piao, the father of Pan Ku, author of the History of the Former Han dynasty. In Loyang he laid the foundation of the vast amount of knowledge by which he distinguished himself later on, and became acquainted with the theories of the various schools of thought, many of which he vigorously attacks in his writings. His aim was to grasp the general gist of what he read, and he did not care so much for minor details. The majority of the scholars of his time conversely would cling to the words and sentences and over these minutiæ quite forget the whole. Being too poor to buy all the books required to satiate his hunger for knowledge, he would saunter about in the market-place and book-shops, and peruse the books exposed there for sale, having probably made some sort of agreement with the book-sellers, who may have taken an interest in the ardent student. His excellent memory was of great service to him, for he could remember, even repeat what he had once read. At the same time his critical genius developed. He liked to argue a point, and though his views often seemed paradoxical, his opponents could not but admit the justness of his arguments.
Having completed his studies, Wang Ch‘ung returned to his native place, where he became a teacher and lived a very quiet life. Subsequently he took office and secured a small position as a secretary of a district, a post which he also filled under a military governor and a prefect. At last he was promoted to be assistant-magistrate of a department. He would have us believe that he was a very good official, and that his relations to his colleagues were excellent. The Hou Han-shu, on the other hand, tells us that he remonstrated so much with his superiors and was so quarrelsome, that he had to leave the service. This version seems the more probable of the two. Wang Ch‘ung was much too independent, much too outspoken, and too clever to do the routine business well, which requires clerks and secretaries of moderate abilities, or to serve under superiors, whom he surpassed by his talents. So he devoted himself exclusively to his studies. He lived in rather straitened circumstances, but supported his embarassments with philosophical equanimity and cheerfulness.
« Although he was poor and had not an acre to dwell upon, his mind was freer than that of kings and dukes, and though he had no emoluments counted by pecks and bushels, he felt, as if he had ten thousand chung to live upon. He enjoyed a tranquil happiness, but his desires did not run riot, and though he was living in a state of poverty, his energy was not broken. The study of ancient literature was his debauchery, and strange stories his relish.
He had a great admiration for superior men, and liked to associate with people rising above mediocrity. As long as he was in office and well off, he had many friends, but most of them abandoned him, when he had retired into private life.
In A. D. 86 Wang Ch‘ung emigrated into the province of Anhui, where he was appointed sub-prefect, the highest post which he held, but two years only, for in 88 he gave up his official career, which had not been a brilliant one. The reason of his resignation this time seems to have been ill health.
So far Wang Ch‘ung had not succeeded in attracting the attention of the emperor. An essay which he had composed, when the emperor had visited the college of Loyang, had passed unnoticed. In the year 76, when parts of Honan were suffering from great dearth, Wang Ch‘ung presented a memorial to the Emperor Chang Ti in which he proposed measures to prohibit dissipation and extravagancies, and to provide for the time of need, but his suggestions were not accepted. He did not fare better with another anti-alcoholic memorial, in which he advocated the prohibition of the use of spirits. When finally the Emperor became aware of Wang Ch‘ung, it was too late. A friend and a countryman of his, Hsieh I Wu recommended him to the throne for his talents and great learning, saying that neither Mencius or Hsün Tse nor in the Han time Yang Hsiung, Liu Hsiang or Sse Ma Ch‘ien could outshine him. The Emperor Chang Ti (76-88 A. D.) summoned him to his presence, but owing to his ill-health Wang Ch‘ung had to decline the honour. His state had impaired so much, that already in 89 he thought that his end had come. But the next two years passed, and he did not die. He found even the time to write a book on ‘Macrobiotics’, which he put into practice himself, observing a strict diet and avoiding all agitations in order to keep his vital fluid intact, until he expired in the middle of the Yung-yuan period (89-104) about the year 97. The exact year is not known.