An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Wu Renchen 吳任臣

Feb 4, 2014 © Ulrich Theobald

Wu Renchen 吳任臣 (c. 1628-c. 1689), original name Wu Zhiyi 吳志伊 or Wu Hongzheng 吳鴻征, courtesy name Erqi 爾器, style Tuoyuan 托園, was an early Qing period 清 (1644-1911) collector and publisher. His ancestors hailed from Putian 莆田, Fujian, but his father moved to Renhe 仁和 near Hangzhou 杭州, Zhejiang (or to Pinghai 平海衛, prefecture of Xinghua 興化府, modern Pinghai). He loved books, but his family was too poor to purchase a greater amount of texts. Only during the turmoils of the war against the Three Feudatories (sanfan zhi luan 三藩之亂), many wealthy families sold their books for cheap money. During that time, Wu Renchen was able to acquire the stock of his library. He began specializing in books on astronomy, music and harmony, as well as metaphysics and divination.

The great philosopher Gu Yanwu 顧炎武 (1613-1682) learned of him and helped him to make himself a name. In the end he was as famous as the collector Wu Nongxiang 吳農祥 (1632-1708). Both were known as the "two Wus" 二吳.

In 1679 Wu Renchen was appointed erudite literatus (boxue hongci ke 博學鴻詞科), then examining editor (jiantao 檢討) of the Hanlin Academy 翰林院. In this function he participated in the compilation of the official dynastic history of the Ming dynasty 明 (1368-1644), Mingshi 明史, as compilator of the Treatise on Calendar (ch. 31-39 Li zhi 曆志).

Wu Renchen profited from his collection of books to reconstruct a history of the Ten States 十國 (902-979) that ruled over southern China during the Five Dynasties period 五代 (907-960), and compiled the history Shiguo chunqiu 十國春秋. This book is structured according to the model of the great history Shiji 史記, whith imperial biographies (benji 本紀) and normal and collective biographies (liezhuan 列傳), so that the book appears as a kind of supplementary official history of the Ten States.

He also wrote several scholarly books on Confucian Classics and other texts, like the commentaries Zhouli dayi 周禮大義, Litong 禮通, Chunqiu zhengshuo kaobian 春秋正朔考辨, Nan-Beishi hezhu 南北史合注, Shanhaijing guangzhu 山海經廣注, Zihui bu 字彙補 or Chunqiu zhengshuo kaobian 春秋正朔考辨. His collected writings are called Tuoyuan shiwen ji 托園詩文集.

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), 184.