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Ruan Yuan Biography


Who was the top academic leader or cultural master after Ji Xiaolan in Qing Dynasty? The answers may be quite different and diverse, but a figure surely would be mentioned mostly, and he was Ruan Yuan(阮元), many historians and scholars highly comment him as "The Most Celebrated and Talented Official and Confucian in Qing Dynasty", and did an unprecedented contributions to the cultural development of Zhejiang province, especially Hangzhou, though his hometown was Yangzhou, another picturesque and humanistic city in northern Yangtze River. Who was he exactly? Let us show you in details:

Biography of Ruan Yuan About Gujing Jingshe

The Portrait of Ruan Yuan

Who was Ruan Yuan?

Ruan Yuan(1764~1849), courtesy name was Boyuan(伯元), and literary name Yuntai(云台) or Leitang Anzhu(雷塘庵主,), and in later period, he called himself Yixing Laoren(怡性老人, literarily translated into The Senior of Cultivating Disposition). Ruan Yuan was born in Yizheng(仪征), under the administration of Yangzhou, Jiangsu province. Ruan Yuan was a quite well-known official, writer, Confucian, thinker during the reign of Emperors Jiaqing and Daoguang of Qing Dynasty. Ruan Yuan’s life-long influence and contributions were mainly embodied in the academic realms like Confucianism Sutras Interpretation, Ancient History, Astronomical Calculation, Math Study, Geographic Study, Seal Study, Ancient Classics Proofreading and Interpretation, Traditional Chinese Characters Study, Chinese Calligraphy Study, even his study extended all the branches of Chinese Traditional Study. He was a rarely-seen talented and academic official and highly regarded as a Master of Humanity.

In 1764, Ruan Yuan was born at a traditionally influential and big family for private literature and martial-art education. Ruan Tang(阮堂), Ruan Yuan’s grandfather was a Jin Shi(进士) of Martial Art in Imperial Examination of Qing Dynasty. Used to be a military officer in Hunan province, he lead a troop to combat the rioters of Miao Minority and captured thousands of rioters. Ruan Yuan’s father was named Ruan Chengxing(阮承信), and he was a student of National Imperial Academy(国子监), and expert in study of the Spring and Autumn Annals by Zuo Qiuming(左氏春秋), and surely he was a master of ancient classics. Ruan Yuan’s mother was born at an official family and talented in the aspect of poems and classics, and was said to be a quite elegant and well-cultivated lady.

At the age of 5, Ruan Yuan began to learn Chinese characters from his mother, and at the age of 6, he attended at the small-size private school. His mother was apt to characters recognition and his father taught him how to understand the meanings and connotations of the articles and shaped the resolution to life-long study. Ruan Chengxing read up Zizhi Tongjian(资治通鉴, Comprehensive Mirror for Aid in Government mainly compiled by Sima Guang of Northern Song Dynasty) and taught the knowledge of social stabilization, the methods of success from failure and the strategy of war, also he taught Ruan Yuan the technique of horsemanship and shooting, besides, he also told Ruan Yuan that these were all that the Confucians should be specialized and they were also the business of his family. All in all, Ruan Chengxing wanted Ruan Yuan to be a multi-oriented talent both in martial arts and literariness.

In 1789, Ruan Yuan was 25 years old and became one of Jin Shi in the imperial examination when the whole China was under the reign of Emperor Qianlong. Ruan Yuan since then stepped into the government and was promoted gradually. From 1793 to 1795, Ruan Yuan acted as the Educational Supervisor of Shandong province, and amid this phase, he visited the famous springs of Jinan for many times and left a large number of poems, and he also wrote a book named Xiao Canglang Bitan(Little Note of Canglang, 小沧浪笔谈) mainly highlighted with the anecdotes and local customs. Also, he extensively made friends with the masters and calligraphists of seals of Shandong or those famous cultural masters who temporarily lived in Shandong. He almost visited all the sites or relics of calligraphy or cliff calligraphic carvings. Thanks to the charge of Ruan Yuan, a quite influential book named Shanzuo Jinshi Zhi(山左金石志), which did a great contributions to the development and popularity of Chinese ancient characters study, cultural archeology as well as criticism and appreciation of real objects or carved text outdoors in Shandong.

Subsequently, Ruan Yuan acted as the Educational administrator of Zhejiang province, and returned to Beijing in 1798 as a ministry-level official and partially took charge of the imperial examination, but later, he returned to Zhejiang as the Provincial Governor, and stayed in Zhejiang for ten years or so. During his administration, he paid a lot of attentions to compile the books aside from managing the troops and politics. In 1801, he created the famous academy on the lakefront of West Lake of Hangzhou, and this academy was widely known to be Gujing Jingshe(诂经精舍). This was maybe the biggest gift that Ruan Yuan presented people of Zhejiang province. In social stabilization, his greatest contribution was suppressing the pirates. In 1813, he moved to Jiangxi as provincial governor and awarded highly by Qing government for he capturing a badly-influential rioter named Hu Bingyao. In 1815, Ruan Yuan was promoted to be the Governor of Hubei and Hunan provinces. During his administration, he built the riverbank of Yangtze River in Wuchang, constructed the Fanjia Bank of Jiangling and Stone Floodgate of Dragon King Temple in Mianyang. In 1816, he acted as the governor of Guangdong and Guangxi provinces. During this phase, he highly recommended to prohibit the opium business and took some strict measures to sanction these British businessmen, and he submitted a governmental report to Emperor Jiaqing of Qing Dynasty and said:”Putting them down via power and force, and we never compromised and appeased”. In 1820, Ruan Yuan established Academy of Xuehaitang(学海堂书院). In 1821, Ruan Yuan held a concurrent post of custom supervisor, and took many firm measures to prevent smuggling of opium. In 1826, Ruan Yuan moved to being governor of Yunan and Guizhou provinces. During this phase, he dismissed many corrupted officials from their posts and strengthend the management and expropriation of salt tax. On the other hand, Ruan Yuan organized the remote people reclaimed the wastelands to be farmland and managed them to fight against the attack of uncivilized ethnics. In 1835, Ruan Yuan returned to the central government and took charge of the Ministry of Justice, and later the Ministry of Defense, and he was highly respected by Emperor Daoguang, the inherit of Emperor Jiaqing. In 1838, Ruan Yuan retired and Emperor Daoguang specially paid half salary of his official payment to show the extraordinary treatment of government to him. Ruan Yuan returned to Yangzhou and also had a honorary title of Tai Zi Tai Bao, which roughly equated to the teacher of royal prince. In 1849, Ruan Yuan passed away in his private mansion of Kangshan Hill at the age of 86 in Yangzhou.

As the governor of Zhejiang, Ruan Yuan made friends with a lot of social famous figures, and the expenditure of meeting, dining and visiting was a little bit over his acceptance. For balancing the income and expenditure, he largely printed The Si Ku Quan Shu(the largest book series compiled by government in the world ), and sold them to fill up the deficit. This act largely promoted the prosperity and development of Zhejiang education and culture. Ruan Yuan stayed in Hangzhou for 12 years, and he had a habit to have an outdoor journey on the Tomb-Sweeping Day. Where he liked best was Banshan Hill or Gaoting Hill. And He even compared Banshan Hill to be the Lanting of Shaoxing, because Banshan Hill(Half Hill,半山) in his mind was also the place for meeting with his friends of literature and culture, and they could stay there for reciting, creating and drinking freely. And traditionally, this kind of scene is quite adorable among learners and scholars.

About Gujing Jingshe

Jingshe originally means the buddhist residence for cultivating. During the Sakyamuni's leadership of Buddhism, the famous Jingshe included Zhulin Jingshe(Bamboo Forest Vihara), Qiyuan Jingshe(The Vihara of Crowned Prince of Qituo Kingdom, and to get more, please see in The Diamond Sutra of Buddhism) and Luyeyuan Vihara. Whether a place is called Jingshe or not is absolutely not decided by its size and proportion, in other words, the small places also can be called Jingshe. In East Han and Wei-Jin Period of China, Jingshe was popularized and welcomed, but it was not exclusively used by buddhists but more largely used by many non-Buddhists, who were highly represented by many reclusive people or anchorets. Besides, in this period, the residences of Confucians, Taoists, Buddhists and Metaphysical believers(Xuan Xue, 玄学, a native academic theory based on the mixture of Chinese Taoism and Buddhism) were also called Jingshe, and especially, it was extensively used to be another name of the schools or academies of Confucianism. Gujing Jingshe(诂经精舍) was a typical example of this kind of Confucian School.

On the southern side of The Solitary Hill and northern side of scene of Autumn Moon Over The Calm Lake, there used to be nationwide famous school or academic center of China in Qing Dynasty, which was widely called Gujing Jingshe. To most people who are unfamiliar to Confucianism and Academic System of Confucian Knowledge, it is really difficult to understand the meaningfulness and significance of this Academy in Chinese Academic Intellectual History in late period of Qing Dynasty. Concisely, annually, there used to be several students won in the final Imperial Examination or Keju. and many of them was also the champions in this most special and hardest examination of ancient China.

In 1801, Gujing Jingshe was established by Ruan Yuan (阮元, 1764—1849), the governor of Zhejiang province in Qing Dynasty, and the aspiration of building this Jingshe was mainly for supplying a better place for those well-selected students who indulged and specialized in reading and studying the ancient knowledge. In ancient times, there were four top famous academies in Hangzhou, but Gujing Jingshe was totally different from the other three, and it was more inclined to an academe highlighted with educating the talents of Confucian classics and history. Unfortunately, in 1809, Ruan Yuan left from Hangzhou and the whole Gujing Jingshe was out of management, furthermore, it was also seriously short of fees for operating. More than 50 rooms were also gradually ruined. The Gujing Jingshe was paused for nearly two decades. During the reign of Emperor Daoguang (1821—1850) of Qing Dynasty, the buildings of Gujing Jingshe were rebuilt gradually, and students also came. However, as the worsening of the current situation, it was operated difficultly in great trouble. It was not long stopped until the coming of troops of Taiping Heavenly Kingdom to Hangzhou, the whole Gujing Jingshe was destoryed.

In 1866, Jiang Yili(蒋益澧), an official of Zhejiang acted as Bu Zheng Shi(布政使), roughly as equal as the Governor of Zhe Jiang Province in Qing Dynasty, reconstructed Gujing Jingshe and assigned Ding Bing(丁丙) and Lin Yizhi(林一枝), two students of original Gujing Jingshe, to take charge of managing the whole construction project. Roughly five months later, the whole reconstruction was completed successfully. Ma Xinyi(马新贻), the governor of Zhejiang province, went to Suzhou by himself to invite Yu Yue(俞樾,1821-1907), and he promised the annual salary would be 600 Liang Yinzi(两, an old unit of currency in ancient times and Yin Zi, 银子,was also the currency of ancient times, which exactly was silver-made currency). This payment was 200 liang higher than the annual pay given by Ziyang Shuyuan(紫阳书院, Academy of Purple Sunlight) of Suzhu. 1868, Yu Yue formerly moved to Gujing Jingshe and began his 31-year educator's life in Hangzhou.

Yu Yue was also a native of Zhejiang and half native of Hangzhou according to the standpoint of today's people, because he was born in Deqing(德清), the northwest neighboring region of Hangzhou. Yu Yue was a Jinshi(进士, a honorary title of winner in Imperial Examination, but it was inferior to Zhuangyuan), particularly preferred by Zeng Guofan(曾国藩,1811-1872),a top official, literator, confucian, calligraphist and militarist of middle and late Qing Dynasty and roughly acted as many important officials like today's Minister of Defence Ministry and also a famous leader and reformist During Yangwu Movement(1861-1894) of Qing Dynasty, for his success in tackling the odd written question themed with the illustration of ancient poems in the form of poem-style answer composed by Zeng Guofan himself during the imperial examination.

Yu Yue was quite influential, so his arrival made the booksellers much joyful. Many learners rushed to being his students, because it was not only an honor but the realistic benefit to their future. His style of teaching and study was rooted in studying the ancient knowledge on the precondition of the interpretation of classics in the aspect of characters and words. Hence the book named Shuo Wen Jie Zi( 说文解字),Chinese oldest and first dictionary created by Xu Shen(许慎) of Han Dynasty, used to be out of stock. However, due to incomplete management, there were people lived in academy but refused to move out, even some rooms of Jingshe became the place to keep the coffins. It really annoyed Yu Yue. But via his network of guanxi, or social relationship, in political circle, this obstacle was cleaned away at once. Yu Yue was quite familiar with the regulations and hidden rules of Keju Examination or Imperial Examination. Under his guidance, the students paid much attention to study of classics and history and the orientation of imperial examination. In 1870, under his no more than 2-year management, there were 19 students won in Xiangshi Examination(乡试,an intermediate level of examination in the whole imperial examination system) and became Juren(举人, an honorary title of examination and also the status sign in society), besides, there were extra 3 students directly entered in Guozijian(国子监, the highest educational institute in Ming and Qing Dynasties). The whole Jiangnan Region was shocked. Since then many students from Fuwen Academy, Ziyang Academy and Chongwen Academy moved to Gujing Jingshe for learning and study. Moreover, majority of students of Gujing Jingshe was selected from other three academies, which were Fuwen Academy, Chongwen Academy and Ziyang Academy. In this way, Gujing Jingshe was the top educational institute in Hangzho. In 1897, Liao Shoufeng(廖寿丰), the governor of Zhejiang Province integrated six academies together, which included Gujing Jingshe, and specially built up a unique academy named Qiushi Shuyuan(Academy of Pursuing Truth,求是书院), which was the origin of today's Zhejiang University. Since then, Gujing Jingshe got declined.

In 1898, at the age of 78, Yu Yue resigned, in the meantime, a building named Yue Tower(俞楼) was constructed on the side of West Lake by his students, which is today's Memorial of Yu Yue near to Xiling Society of Seal Arts on the foot of The Solitary Hill. Gujing Jingshe was stopped in 1904 with a duration of 103 years, except the time of pause, the whole time is more than 70 years, and Yu Yue operated it for 31 years, which is really hardly available in Chinese history of education.

The famous teachers of Gujing Jingshe surely were Ruan Yuan and Yu Yue, and the famous students included Zhang Taiyan, Wu Changshuo, Yuan Chang, Wang Yishou and perhaps Yu Pingbo, the grand-grandson of Yu Yue, was another one. Today's cultural sites we can get are Memorial of Lord Ruan and Memorial of Yu Yue, both of which are for commemorating Ruan Yuan and Yu Yue respectively. Besides, there are also the former sites of other related academies like Ziyang Academy.

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Editor: Julius from Mildchina
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