This study was made with the purpose of reconsidering the way of existence of literati(文人), the meaning of writing, and the relationship between cultural power and political power, focusing on Zhang Xuecheng(章學誠, 1738-1801) in the middle of the Qing dynasty. Here, ‘Wenren(文人)’ was used as a concept equivalent to ‘the literary intelligentsia’, in other words, ‘literati’ of English rather than the concept of ‘the literary man’.
Firstly, Zhang Xuecheng was the person who had lived 64 years of life from Qianlong(乾隆) 3 to Jiaqing(嘉慶) 6, in particular, one of the representatives of the Chinese literati and scholar in the mid and late 18th century. He was born in a typical Gangnam gentry family from Kuaiji(會稽) in Zhejiang province. During adolescence he was grown and educated in hometown Shaoxing(紹興) and Yingcheng(應城) in Hubei province, but Beijing was the city that had the greatest influence on him. After he entered Guozijian(imperial capital academy) at the age of 25 in Qianlong 27(1762), he was mainly active in Beijing and had lived a life of wandering in Zhili(直隸), Henam, Anhui, Hubei province etc. He exchanged ideas with many literati and scholars who led the 18th century. He had many patrons Such as Shen Yefu(沈業富), Ou Yangjin(歐陽瑾), Zhu Fenyuan(朱棻元), Zhu Yun(朱筠), Liang Guozhi(梁國治), Bi Yuan(畢沅), Xie Qikun(謝啓崑) etc, who were prominent government officials and scholars of the time.
In spite of passing imperial examinations and becoming the jinshi(進士), he gave up being a bureaucrat, and decided to live as a marginal literati out of office. With the help of his patrons, he solved economic problems mainly through non-regular workers such as tutor, the chief of the local academy, muliao(幕僚, provincial official’s adviser) etc. Most of non-official literati in the middle of the Qing dynasty resolved their livelihood problems through irregular jobs like Zhang Xuecheng, while they kept maintaining their identity as intellectuals.
Secondly, in intellectual discourses of the 18th century, the academic world was largely divided into moral philosophy(義理), philology(考據), literature(文章, or 詞章). The question of how to define and evaluate the value, relation and status of these three was different according to discussants. However, overall, literary texts were valuated as being less meaningful and worthy than the scholarly texts to deal with moral philosophy and philology. The writings of Zhang Xuecheng generally had the character of a scholar rather than of a literary man, and the meaning and value of his writings could be found in scholarly writings rather than in literary writings. As summarized in the words, “moral philosophy could be proved by philology, literature was the tool to express it,” he established the scholarly identity he should seek through the way of integrating moral philosophy and philology centering on the historical writings.
Thirdly, including Zhang Xuecheng, Quan Zuwang(全祖望), Yuan Mei(袁枚), Wang Mingcheng (王鳴盛), Zhao Yi(趙翼), Quan Daxin(錢大昕), Yao Nai(姚鼐) etc, represented the Chinese literati and scholars in the 18th century. Coincidentally, they all resigned early and left office, or gave up being official despite passing imperial examinations, and engaged in teaching and writing as marginal literati out of institutional power for a very long time. The backgrounds of their abandonment or early resignation were different, but the ambition and desire to leave the endless works for posterity could be said a common part. In addition, it was necessary to consider that it was a matter of choosing one of the two, in which the 18th century literati could hardly combine official and scholar because of specialized scholarships. It also seemed to be related to the situation that cultural power was becoming a part of the individual choice of Han Chinese literati, for the Manchu regime could not create the leading cultural power.