An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Nalan Xingde 納蘭性德

Mar 20, 2013 © Ulrich Theobald

Nalan Xingde 納蘭性德 (1655-1685), original name Chengde 成德, courtesy name Rongruo 容若, style Lengjia shanren 楞伽山人, was an early Qing-period 清 (1644-1911) collector and writer. His ancestors were nobles of the Tümed people 吐默特, a Mongolian tribe. Because they once subdued the tribe of the Nalan 納喇部 they adopted this designation as their family name, but in the more civilized form of Nalan 納蘭 "harvesting orchids". In the early seventeenth century they submitted to Nurhaci (Emperor Taizu of the Qing 清太祖, r. 1616-1626), ruler of the Manchus, and became members of the imperial Manchurian Plain Yellow Banner (zhenghuangqi 正黃旗, see Eight Banners), as members of the Nala 那拉氏 or Nalan Clan 納蘭氏. Xingde's father Mingzhu (Mingju) 明珠 served the Kangxi Emperor 康熙 (r. 1661-1722) as a Grand Academician (da xueshi 大學士).

From his youth on Xingde loved books as well as the martial arts. With the age of 18 sui he obtained the juren degree, with 22 sui the jinshi degree, and was appointed imperial guardsman of the third rank (sandeng shiwei 三等侍衛), then first-rank guardsman of the Gate of Heavenly Purity (Qianqingmen yideng shiwei 乾清門一等侍衛), and so belonged to the closer entourage of the Kangxi Emperor. The latter highly admired Xingde's talents and once sent him out on a mission to Hölön 呼倫, Heilongjiang, to explore the situation at the border to the Russian empire. During that mission he also secured the loyalty of the Daghurs 達斡爾.

During these years, Xingde published a collection of Tang poetry, Quantangshi xuan 全唐詩選, and a phonetic analysis for rhymes in poetry, Ciyun zhenglüe 詞韻正略. He practiced calligraphy and was also known as an excellent connoisseur of painting and calligraphy. His own collection of poems, Zemao ji 側帽集, was published in 1678, when Xingde was only 24 sui old. A further collection, Yinshui ci 飲水詞, was published in Suzhou 蘇州, Jiangsu. Xingde was very interested in all genres of poetry, from regular poems (shi 詩) and lyric-metre poetry (ci 詞) to rhapsodies (fu 賦), and published a further collection of poems called Tongzhitang ji 通志堂集. Xingde's poetry collection Yinshui ci was so popular that everybody used to sing his ballads. Experts rated the words his poetry as "sentimental and refined", the thoughts as profound, and his style as distinct and clear, in one word: as the "crown of contemporary poetry" (Zheng Zhenduo 鄭振鐸). His old home, parents, and friends are oftenly mentioned themes in his poems. Wang Guowei 王國維 (1877-1927) later said that the natural and authentic atmosphere of his poetry was refreshing and something new that was not found until then in Chinese poetry.

Xingde's most scholarly publication is the series Tongzhitang jingjie 通志堂經解, a collection of commentaries on the Confucian Classics that had actually been initiated by Xu Qianxue 徐乾學 (1631-1694). Xingde's broad interest in literature was hardly compatible with his job in the imperial guard, and therefore resigned before he was 30 sui old, explaining this decision that he felt like a seagull that incessantly moves without finding a place to dwell. In later years his friends Qin Songling 秦松齡 (1637-1714) and Zhu Yizun 朱彝尊 (1629-1709) supported him in the acquisision of Song 宋 (960-1279) and Yuan 元 (1279-1368) period manuscripts that were stored in Xingde's library "Coral Hall" (Shanhuge 珊瑚閣).

His collected writings are called Tongzhitang ji 通志堂集. Other books written by Nalan Xingde are called Lushuiting zashi 淥水亭雜識, Ciyun zhenglüe 詞韻正略 and Chenshi Liji jishuo buzheng 陳氏禮記集說補正.

Li Yu'an 李玉安, Chen Chuanyi 陳傳藝, ed. (1989). Zhongguo cangshujia cidian 中國藏書家辭典 (Wuhan: Hubei jiaoyu chubanshe), 183.
Yu Zhixian 俞智先 (1986). "Nalan Xingde 納蘭性德", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo wenxue 中國文學 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 1, 582.