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Chapter 7 Cutting Loose The Provocative Style of Yin Chih (1427-1511)
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Chapter 7
Cutting Loose
The Provocative Style of Yin Chih (1427-1511)

The last grand act of patronage that the T'ai-ho ascendancy in central government in Peking undertook was in connection with the metropolitan examinations of 1454. Grand Secretaries Ch'en Hsun and Hsiao Tzu and Minister of Personnel Wang Chih were chief examiners on that occasion.

They passed six men from T'ai-ho. One of them was Yin Chih, whom they ranked second overall in a rank-order list of 349. In the palace exam immediately following, a different set of examiners dropped him to ninety-ninth. Nevertheless, when twenty-one of the new chin-shih were selected to be Han-lin bachelors, i.e., elite trainees, Yin Chih was included. In 1456, his traineeship completed, he was appointed a Han-lin junior compiler (7A) and was thus launched on Ming China's most promising career track. He was twenty-nine years old. But he would soon have to make his way through Ming bureaucracy's uncertain and dangerous world without a support group of T'ai-ho sponsors and colleagues.

Yin Chih was completely different from Yang Shih-ch'i, who, as a personality, was complex and elusive. Yang could pontificate; he could dictate ethical principles, but only those that pertained to individual and social behavior. Among friends and peers, he was companionable. Harmony and cooperation were his key values. In 1402, in the interest of


achieving national political harmony, he blunted his own moral vision, bowed to the usurper of the Ming throne, and forever after laid himself under a cloud of personal opportunism. He never questioned the moral bases of national power and national policy, or sought to control them, but served his imperial masters with all the finesse he could muster.

Yin Chih (1427-1511) came from T'ai-ho's Hung-fu Ward (township 24).[1] Tales were told of the brilliance he had shown as a child. You measured the intelligence of children by engaging them in verbal challenge-and-response games. You made up a five- or seven-word poetical line, and it was the child's job to think up a matching line that responded to yours in some clever or insightful way. Yin Chih's childhood responses were legendary as put-downs; people long remembered them. It is related that one day he wore a round collar to school. "So even a herd boy has learned to wear a round collar," prompted the schoolmaster. "Surely a blind fellow has never seen an overcoat!" retorted Yin Chih, and everyone roared with laughter.[2] Once Yin Chih fell off a horse and broke his arm. "Breaking the arm was caused by falling off the horse," said Hsiao Huan (1397-1461), a kinsman of Yin's mother and a chin-shih degree holder. "When I get back on my feet, I'll mount a dragon!" retorted Yin.[3] Amazing! The lines matched perfectly, and the boy divulged his great ambition in a strikingly direct way.

Born and raised in T'ai-ho as he was, young Yin Chih was fully aware of the advantages of shih-hao (generational friendships) and patronage. One day, after having achieved his degree, he paid a call on his metropolitan examiner, Minister of Personnel Wang Chih. He brought with him a portrait of his grandfather, Yin Tzu-yuan. He showed it to Wang Chih and asked him to write an "appreciation" (tsan ) for it. The elderly minister of personnel was very glad to do that because Yin Tzu-yuan had been an old personal friend. Wang Chih recalled how in 1413 he and Yin Tzu-yuan had shared a house in the capital when Yin was there on temporary assignment as a copyist for the Yung-lo ta-tien encyclopedia project; how Yin Tzu-yuan had amused everyone with his jocular recitations of bad poems; and how he had coaxed Wang Chih into drinking far into the night, more than he really wanted. Yin Tzu-yuan left the capital to assume the very low (unranked) post of commissioner of a fishing tax office. When he left, he wondered how Wang Chih would ever manage to have any fun without him. Some years afterwards, home on mourning leave, Wang Chih gave lessons to Yin Tzu-yuan's son (Yin Chih's father)—a private citizen who spent much of his adult life in legal trouble of some sort.[4]


Yin Chih's visit to Wang Chih and Wang's written remarks were quintessential examples of how shih-hao was expressed in the T'ai-ho style. They were also among the last such examples. The coup of 1457 not only put an end to the careers of Wang Chih and the other senior men but also lowered the value of county-based friendship and patron-protégé ties, the value of knowing all the intimate details of family and descent-group history. Yin Chih is not known ever to have extended to other T'ai-ho men the net of collegial fellowship that Wang Chih extended to him. After 1457, it no longer mattered to Yin Chih's political identity or career prospects that he was a T'ai-ho native at all. So he sought patronage ties elsewhere. Furthermore, he came to the realization that native-place ties were a political liability and should be avoided.

After the coup of 1457, Junior Compiler Yin Chih placed himself under the patronage of certain other senior officials, including especially Grand Secretary Li Hsien (1408-67), a northerner from Honan Province. There was an old link between Li Hsien and Wang Chih. Early on, Wang Chih had spotted Li Hsien as a young man of character and talent. Li Hsien had served under Wang Chih as his vice minister of personnel (3A). Li Hsien had asked Wang Chih to write his mother's epitaph. Later, Li Hsien wrote Wang Chih's career biography. He also wrote Yin Chih's mother's epitaph. (A story has it that on one early occasion, Yang Shih-ch'i expressed a desire to meet the young Li Hsien. A mutual friend offered to bring Li to Yang's house. Li refused to go. "To go to his house without ever having met him would simply be recognition seeking," he explained; and for that act of self-restraint, Li won much praise for himself.)[5]

Yin Chih served in Peking until 1479 (when he was transferred, in effect politically exiled, to Nanking). From Han-lin junior compiler he was successively promoted to reader-in-waiting (6A), academician ex-positor-in-waiting (5B), and in 1475 vice minister of rites (3A). In 1486 he returned to Peking, and for several months, during the last year of the Ch'eng-hua emperor's life, he served as a grand secretary. Then the new emperor dismissed him.

Yin's collected works have disappeared,[6] but his personal memoir, the controversial Chien-chai so-chui lu (Bits from the studio of candor) survives; and much of it sets down in vivid detail the opinions the author held and the sharp political conflicts he engaged in. Taken together with other sources, it is a useful guide to the exploration of several issues current in the late fifteenth century, among them (1) the pitfalls of


patronage based on native-place ties; (2) high-level political infighting, in which Yin Chih was a major player; (3) statecraft; and (4) the rise of philosophical Neo-Confucianism, to which Yin Chih was heatedly opposed.

Yin Chih's Negative Assessment Of Yang Shih-Ch'i

The Bits from the Studio of Candor is notable for its assault on the old T'ai-ho ethic of collegiality, of which the author himself had been a beneficiary in his youth. Yin Chih aimed his shafts directly at Yang Shih-ch'i.

Why assault Yang? After all, it was the common understanding that Grand Secretaries Yang Shih-ch'i, Yang Jung, and Yang P'u (the Three Yangs) had together created an early Ming golden age of peace, prosperity, and political harmony. Later people could not only read about that era but also visualize it. A famous group portrait, done in 1437 in Yang Jung's Apricot Garden in Peking, featured the Three Yangs, plus Wang Chih and Ch'en Hsun and several others, seated or standing in attitudes of lofty elegance and calm repose, crystallizing the mood and sense of the time. The mood was infectious. Several young Han-lin men had a look at it in 1477 and wanted portraits of themselves done just like it.[7]

Yin Chih agreed that the early fifteenth century had been a golden age, but he argued that the Three Yangs had had nothing to do with it. What had happened was a fortuitous conjuncture of larger historical forces—an absence of civil strife, an adequacy of tax revenues, a favorable man-to-land ratio, an effective system of laws, and long official tenures. Far from having created those conditions, the Three Yangs had merely been their passive beneficiaries.

Yin Chih further argued that the practice of friendship, patronage, and protection in imperial bureaucracy could not be based in native-place identities. That practice, he pointed out, had in fact led to a split among the grand secretaries and had opened the way to the rise, in the Cheng-t'ung reign period, of the palace eunuchs who complicated Ming power relations in his own day. He thought Yang Shih-ch'i personally to blame for that development.

What had happened was this. In 1438, T'ai-ho man Liao Mo (1392-1448) was assistant surveillance commissioner (5A) for Fukien Province. He was strict and feared as a supervisor of local officials there. One day, when he was held up by rain en route to the capital with an


official document, he was angered by what he took to be acts of disrespect toward him, and he ordered the flogging of the responsible parties, a county magistrate and a local stationmaster. The stationmaster died of his wounds.

This incident occurred in Chien-an County, Fukien, home of Grand Secretary Yang Jung. Friends of the injured parties appealed to Yang Jung for his help. Yang Shih-ch'i was bound to do what he could to defend his local compatriot, Liao Mo. Grand Secretaries Yang Jung and Yang Shih-ch'i agreed that some penalty should be dealt to Liao Mo, but they could not agree on its severity. So they appealed the issue to the throne, specifically the dowager empress, acting as regent for the eleven-year-old Cheng-t'ung emperor. She in turn consulted the palace eunuch Wang Chen. Wang Chen's view was that both grand secretaries were prejudiced in behalf of local protégés and that a compromise penalty, transfer to a post at the same rank but lower in responsibility, should apply to Liao Mo. The empress agreed and, on the child-emperor's behalf, so ordered. That incident, argued Yin Chih, had been key to the rise of Wang Chen and the whole problem of eunuch power in the Ming (Yin lived long enough to witness three successive "eunuch dictatorships").

Yin Chih also castigated Yang Shih-ch'i for his reticence in all the major issues of his long tenure as chief grand secretary. He not only had never spoken out about eunuch power but also had actively, if unthinkingly, abetted it because of "personal interest" (ssu ) on behalf of "local friends" (hsiang-ku ). Furthermore, he had shied away from the great controversies of his time—the Vietnam intervention, the Burma campaign, and the Cheng Ho expeditions to Southeast Asia and the Persian Gulf.[8]

As for himself, Yin Chih did not favor local friends, and he was not silent in issues of controversy. He was in every way Yang Shih-ch'i's opposite. Yin Chih's biography in the Ming dynastic history excoriates him at length as a wire-pulling practitioner of dirty politics and concludes that "he was intelligent and learned, and versed in bureaucratic procedure, but he was too eager to advance himself, and was by nature conceited and abrasive."[9] Even Yin's panegyrist conceded as much. Fei Hung (1468-1535, from northeastern Kiangsi), later a grand secretary himself, described his old mentor as "tall and so impressive-looking that you could tell at a glance he was a high-ranking official . . . He was knowledgeable, intelligent, and talented," Fei went on to say,


and his constant urge was to take personal charge of the affairs of the realm, without affecting an attitude of petty scruple. There were people who disliked his independence and his strong opinions, [which is one reason why] he came to assume authority [as grand secretary] only very late, and was never able to achieve all he wanted. Some people say that because people feared what he wrote, and because he was frank, uninhibited, hard, and resolute, it is no wonder that others shied away from him, and it was just his good fortune that he was able to retire from office with his body still in one piece.[10]

High-Level Power Games

A big battle over control of official appointments broke out in January, 1469. The target was Minister of Personnel Li Ping, a northerner. His principal attackers were Han-lin Reader-in-Waiting P'eng Hua (a younger cousin of Grand Secretary P'eng Shih) and Wang Kai, chief minister of the Court of Judicial Review (3A). Both were southerners, from Chi-an Prefecture. Rumor had it that Wang Kai wanted Li Ping's position for himself.

P'eng and Wang had an important helper in T'ai-ho man Hsiao Yen-chuang, who was supervising secretary of the Office of Scrutiny for Justice (7B) and son of the former Grand Secretary Hsiao Tzu. P'eng and Wang approached Hsiao Yen-chuang with a request that he draw up a detailed impeachment of Li Ping listing examples of irregularities in Li's handling of official selections and appointments.

Hsiao Yen-chuang complied. He wrote and submitted the bill of impeachment. The Ch'eng-hua emperor then gathered a large court conference to consider the charges. Li Ping "admitted his guilt," and the emperor ordered his immediate retirement.

But among the charges against Li was a vague one, "secretly allying with long-time censors, who supported him in his autocracy [chuan-ch'üan ]." The emperor was prompted to ask Hsiao Yen-chuang exactly whom he was referring to, and he was visibly angered when Hsiao could or would not give an immediate answer to that question. Hsiao's credibility was further damaged when an official whom he had cited in his long bill of impeachment gave a vigorous and credible defense of himself and his record.

Inevitably, then, someone lodged a counterimpeachment against Hsiao Yen-chuang for having made groundless accusations. Although the original indictment against Li Ping was allowed to stand, the em-


peror agreed that Hsiao had been recklessly malicious, and ordered him removed and demoted to a post station in Szechwan. It is said that Hsiao was widely disliked for his "intrigue in behalf of powerful people." No one was sorry to see him go. (Five years later, he was murdered in Szechwan.)[11]

Yin Chih was Han-lin reader-in-waiting (6A) at the time, and he detailed this whole affair in his personal memoir. He held no brief for his county compatriot, Hsiao Yen-chuang. He did side with P'eng Hua and Wang Kai, and he shared their dislike of Li Ping. He identified one of the "long-time censors," unnamed in Hsiao's indictment, as one Liu Pi, who supported Li Ping's effort once again to shift appointment powers from the grand secretaries to the Ministry of Personnel. He also asserted that those censors, after having been alluded to in Hsiao's bill of impeachment, concocted in retaliation the falsehood that Wang Kai, P'eng Shih, P'eng Hua, and Hsiao Yen-chuang were all linked in a conspiracy.

By his own testimony, Yin Chih's power brokering saved the day. "I feared," wrote Yin,

that everyone from our prefecture was headed for deep trouble, and so I asked Grand Secretary Shang [Lu] to hurry and appoint Ts'ui [Kung, a northerner] as minister of personnel, as a sop to the censors and supervising secretaries, and to put people's minds at ease. Shang Lu understood that Wang [Kai] and P'eng [Hua] had been slandered, and indeed Ts'ui was soon given the promotion. Ts'ui furthermore relied on my contacts with the grand secretaries to secure the appointments of Yin [Min, a northerner] and Yeh [Sheng, a southerner] as his two vice ministers. Hsiao Yen-chuang was demoted to a post station, and Liu Pi [and several others] were demoted to various local positions, and those fellows have no one but themselves to blame for the disaster that befell them.[12]

Yin Chih went on to relate at length aspects of a long struggle carried on by his faction of Peking bureaucracy against another, which was allied to the powerful palace eunuch Wang Chih (fl. 1476-81).

The bureaucratic infighting that plagued the Ch'eng-hua emperor's reign (1465-87) has sometimes been characterized as having been based on regional cliques: northerners versus southerners, or to some extent Shantung men versus Kiangsi men. There is some substance to these characterizations. After all, regional distinctions among men from the north, south, and center were built into the quota system for metropolitan examination degrees, and, similarly, provincial citizenship was fun-


damental to the awarding of chü-jen degrees. In bureaucracy, there was the rule of avoidance whereby officials were forbidden to hold office in their native provinces. There were also special observances, like the quasi-official "old rule" that placed Ministry of Revenue posts off-limits to men from Chekiang or Kiangsi.[13]

But to call a bureaucratic clique regional or provincial was only valid as a kind of shorthand. The cliques of the Ch'eng-hua era were fuzzily bounded, not sharply defined in regional membership, and they were not useful as rallying symbols in any positive sense. One did not assert one's own membership of a regional clique; one castigated one's enemies as members of a regional clique. One also acted under the fear of being so stigmatized by others. Regional cliques were nothing to boast of, but they did serve as constructs of the paranoid imagination, as in 1469, when Yin Chih feared that certain others were out to "ruin everyone from our region."[14]

The struggle between factions in the Ch'eng-hua era was mainly about spoils. The parties did not raise ideological or philosophical issues. Factional alignments in those years were built on personal connections drawn across powerful institutions—the palace, the grand secretariat, and the Peking ministries, especially the Ministry of Personnel.

The so-called northern faction was headed by a cooperative link-up among key men at each of these three levels. Eunuch Wang Chih and his secret police bureau, known as the Western Depot constituted the palace component. The key player in the grand secretariat was Liu Hsu. The key player in bureaucracy was Yin Min, who was promoted to minister of personnel in 1473.

The central players in the southern faction (with which Yin Chih aligned himself) were, in the palace, Li Tzu-hsing, an adventurer and charlatan from Kiangsi, whose skills at divination won the confidence of the emperor, and who served as a secret channel for making direct imperial appointments, by-passing the Ministry of Personnel; and in the grand secretariat, Wan An, from Szechwan Province.[15]

There were northerners such as Li Ho and Chang P'u in the southern faction. There were at least three T'ai-ho officials who belonged to the northern faction. One was the courtly and affable Chang Ta (1432-1505) from Hsiu-ch'i in T'ai-ho's western suburb, who held a series of midlevel posts in the Ministry of Works—and who, years later, with his white hair and dark complexion and furrowed face, was featured in a famous group portrait of high officials who were classmates of 1464.[16] Another was Tseng Yen (1425-1497+) of Nan-ch'i in township 4. He


was famous because, after many years of failure, he had finally achieved his chin-shih degree in 1478 at the advanced age of fifty-three, and with the final palace rank of number one. People said that Tseng's belated triumph inspired aging examination hopefuls all over China.[17] He was appointed Han-lin junior compiler. And yet another was the frank, friendly, and easygoing Lo Ching (1432-1503), Yang Shih-ch'i's step-grandson and librarian to the heir apparent (5B).

In 1475, Yin Chih was promoted to the position of vice minister of rites (3A), five grades above his previous post (5B). This unusual upward leap did not have the endorsement of Minister of Personnel Yin Min. It came directly from the palace, almost certainly through Li Tzu-hsing's special channel to the emperor.[18] It was said that Yin Chih flaunted his new promotion right in Yin Min's face.[19] In any event, in 1479, when Yin Chih returned to Peking after having observed the mourning period for his father, Yin Min managed to engineer his exile to the bureaucratic backwater of Nanking, as vice minister of personnel in the secondary capital. And there Yin Chih languished until 1486.

In 1486, circumstances changed. Yin Min's ally in the grand secretariat had retired the year before. His replacement was P'eng Hua. P'eng Hua and Grand Secretary Wan An were supporters of Yin Chih. Together they arranged with their palace channel, Li Tzu-hsing, to have the emperor recall Yin Chih to assume a post as vice minister of war. The Ministry of Personnel objected to this irregular summons, to no avail.

The recall was joyous news to Yin Chih. His friends in Nanking arranged a send-off banquet in his honor. An older colleague, northerner Wang Shu, wrote the customary covering remarks (hsu ). Wang conceded that there was no opportunity in Nanking for anyone who aspired to be a statesman. Peking was the hub for information and news, foreign affairs, and important decision making. Peking was where the true statesman had to be. Wang Shu joined everyone in congratulating Yin Chih for having gotten the opportunity at last to put his great talents to use.[20]

Within a few months of his recall to Peking, Yin Chih's friends and factional allies brought about the dismissal of Minister of Personnel Yin Min. They undermined him by pressing corruption charges against his son. A further dozen or so Peking officials were purged for having been allies of Yin Min. (One of those purged was T'ai-ho man Lo Ching. Both Lo Ching and Yin Min's son were married to women of the same K'ung family. Someone else from Chi-an Prefecture was vying with Lo


for a position with the heir apparent. Reportedly, Yin Chih helped to smear Lo Ching and arrange his exile to a post in Nanking. Tseng Yen was also sent there.)[21]

Yin Chih As Statesman

Long and often unscrupulous political infighting finally paid off for Yin Chih. On October 22, 1486, he was appointed a grand secretary and was at last in a position to influence the high policy matters that had long exercised his mind. Yin Chih was, among other things, a statecraft intellectual and scholar, a man who knew and admired Ch'iu Chün (1420-95) and was himself author of a number of statecraft works, now lost or unavailable, which he had began work on as early as 1470.[22]

Over the objections of the other grand secretaries, his ally Wan An in particular, Yin Chih made efforts to involve the often otiose Ch'eng-hua emperor more regularly and personally in the work of government. The emperor was painfully awkward and shy, and Wan An urged that he continue to be approached through his eunuchs, rather than be dealt with face-to-face.[23] Yin Chih disagreed. He wrote as follows:

As soon as I was appointed [a grand secretary], I wanted to show my gratitude. I was too naive to have inhibitions, and so I spoke up in full [to the emperor], hiding nothing. [Grand Secretaries] Wan An and Liu Chi cautioned me about that, because they were afraid of upsetting the ruler, who might then stop communicating. I said: "If he doesn't consult us, then we're not responsible for bad policy. If he consults us, and we don't respond fully, then we're deceiving him and betraying our traditions and the office we hold."

The emperor's assumption was that when officials presented him with long memorials full of admonition, they were simply out to make reputations for themselves at his expense. So whenever I had matters to discuss with him, I just spoke to him without preparing a formal memorial. He'd always agree to what I had to say. Sometimes he hesitated at first, and came around later; sometimes he listened eagerly and agreed right away. For a year, we had good policy results.

Ruler-minister relations have never been easy, but the [Ch'eng-hua] emperor was well meaning and disposed to achieve good rule. If only the grand secretaries who served him had done so with sincerity, outstanding results might have been achieved. But most of them were only looking out for themselves, and the emperor was never able to achieve his aim of being an active ruler who accomplished good things.[24]

Yin Chih's forte lay in formulating reasonable and clear-cut resolutions of difficult and emotion-laden issues. As grand secretary, he had a


hand in the shaping of several high-level decisions that have traditionally been well received. He argued successfully against a planned military suppression of the Miao minority in Kweichow; he helped negotiate the settlement of a war between Annam and Champa in the Indo-Chinese peninsula.

Less well received was his work in removing Min Kuei (1430-1511) from his position as civil governor (hsun-fu ) responsible for suppressing violence in the far south of Kiangsi Province. Many T'ai-ho people were establishing themselves down there. "Powerful families took in vagabonds to serve as family servants and tenants, who in turn leagued together as robbers, dividing the spoils [with their masters]." Min Kuei's strategy was to prosecute the powerful families. The families complained of unjust harassment. Yin Chih took up their cause. Through Li Tzu-hsing, the palace appointments broker, Min Kuei (a southerner attached to the northern faction) was removed from his position and transferred elsewhere.[25]

Yin Chih's tenure as grand secretary was cut unexpectedly short by the death of the thirty-nine-year-old Ch'eng-hua emperor on September 9, 1487. His son and successor, the Hung-chih emperor, age seventeen, was soon presented with vehement impeachments of the incumbent grand secretaries. (The most sensational of these impeachments was that presented by a brilliant Han-lin bachelor, the twenty-one-year-old Tsou Chih, a native of Szechwan, who castigated all the grand secretaries as self-serving "small men" and Yin Chih in particular as "a shameless and dishonest intriguer of villainous intentions".)[26] The southern faction, which had only just triumphed the year before, was purged by the new emperor late in 1487. Li Tzu-hsing was put to death in prison. Yin Chih was dismissed on November 30 on the grounds that he had achieved his promotions through procedural irregularities. He was allowed to retire with full honors, however.[27]

In 1508 and 1510, when Yin Chih was very old and living in retirement, the regional issue of north versus south came up again, this time with special virulence. Eunuch dictator Liu Chin and his ally, Grand Secretary Chiao Fang, made two forceful moves to enhance the place of northerners in imperial bureaucracy.

First, in 1508, they revised the provincial and metropolitan degree quotas to bring the north into a position of full equality with the richer and more heavily populated south.[28] Then, in 1510, they struck a heavy blow, specifically at Kiangsi. The opportunity to do that came up when a man from Wan-an County (just south of T'ai-ho) was caught imper-


sonating an ambassador from Southeast Asia. His case came up for adjudication. The dossier crossed Grand Secretary Chiao Fang's desk. There was some blank space at the end of it, in which the grand secretary scribbled a note, unburdening himself of some deeply felt prejudice:

Kiangsi society has long featured scofflaws like P'eng Hua and Yin Chih and [several others]. Nobody likes them. We should reduce their provincial quota by fifty. Nobody from there should be chosen for positions in the capital. This should be made an order. And the crimes of Wang An-shih, who ruined the Sung dynasty, and Wu Ch'eng, who served the Yuan, [both of them Kiangsi natives], should be posted up in public so that in future we won't hire so many Kiangsi men![29]

The Kiangsi provincial quota was indeed cut for that year. But in that same year, 1510, Liu Chin was executed and his ally Chiao Fang dismissed; and the Kiangsi quota was restored. Clearly, regional struggle in high bureaucracy had gone too far.

Indeed, as the sixteenth century wore on, the fires of regionalism subsided under the impact of a Confucian moral revival—led by such figures as Wu Yü-pi, Ch'en Hsien-chang, and Wang Yang-ming—whose appeal was to the individual and the moral universe, not to the locality or region. It is interesting to note that Yin Chih was a lifelong enemy of the two earlier revivalists, Wu and Ch'en.

Yin Chih's Assault On The Confucian Revival

A major new phenomenon that surfaced during Yin Chih's years in government, and provoked his hostility, was the revival of philosophical Confucianism, which had been in limbo since the death of Fang Hsiao-ju in the Nanking slaughter of 1402. In question was not routine knowledge of the approved Confucian curriculum, which every regular official in government studied as a matter of course, but rather the sustained and systematic rethinking of Confucianism's essential meaning, a quest for moral truth and inner certitude. Two great names in this endeavor were Wu Yü-pi (1392-1469) and Ch'en Hsien-chang (1428-1500), both revered icons in their own lifetimes and later. Yet Yin Chih condemned both of them, not so much on purely ideological grounds as for their behavioral shortcomings. Why? What was it about Wu Yü-pi and Ch'en Hsien-chang that angered Yin Chih?

With the Yung-lo emperor's suppression of Confucian freethinking (in the Chu Chi-yu case of 1404) and his sponsorship of the orthodox


Ta ch'üan (Great compendia) on the Five Classics, the Four Books, and Sung Neo-Confucian metaphysics, individual philosophical inquiry was effectively discouraged. One of the first men to resume it, working carefully within the bounds of the official orthodoxy, was Wu Yü-pi.

His father had been a Nanking official. Wu Yü-pi had been with him in Nanking in 1402, and although he was only ten years old at the time, he must have experienced something of what happened in that city. In any case, at the age of seventeen, he gave up his studies for the civil service exams, broke with his father, and returned home to Ch'ung-jen County, Kiangsi (about a hundred miles northwest of T'ai-ho). There he managed his family's small estate, living and dressing as a common peasant while pondering Confucianism's inner meaning. He had no interest in history or institutions, no interest in current politics, no interest in large-scale questions of national sociomoral order or the future of the realm, all issues that had earlier on obsessed Fang Hsiao-ju. Wu's obsession was personal psychic reconstruction, the individual quest for a perfect moral state of mind, an obsession rooted in doctrine that he took from the state-sanctioned orthodoxy itself. This quest he deliberately pursued in conjunction with (rather than as an escape from) the labor, the discomforts, and the random irritations of life at the everyday level of a working commoner.

As word of Wu Yü-pi's endeavor spread, he attracted a following of men who had, for one reason or another, dropped out of the race for socioacademic success. But Wu had to tread carefully for fear that too large a following would attract the suspicions of the authorities, and he drove many would-be truth seekers away. He assured those who became his disciples that there was no easy path to ethical enlightenment. One imagines Wu and his small band of followers (none came from T'ai-ho) looking like so many common peasants grubbing at chores, talking little, each absorbed in using Wu's formula of "seriousness" and "reverence" (ching ) to advance by slow and halting steps to some final psychic peace.[30]

Wu Yü-pi became a national celebrity, and he was several times invited to come to Peking for consideration for a possible appointment. Finally, in 1457, he accepted, invited by none other than General Shih Heng, one of the leaders of the coup that had just deposed the Ching-t'ai emperor and restored his older brother to the throne of Ming China.

Wu Yü-pi arrived in Peking in June 1458 and stayed there most of the summer. General Shih recommended that he be made an adviser to


the heir apparent (5B). The emperor himself arranged a banquet and urged Wu to accept the offer. Wu gave the matter some thought.

The philosopher's behavior in the summer of 1458 struck some observers as seriously flawed. For example, so deep was his gratitude to Shih Heng that he wrote a preface for the general's genealogy. He even went so far as to style himself the general's "protégé" (men-jen ).[31] Thirty-year-old Yin Chih, at the time a Han-lin junior compiler, described the celebrated philosopher, a man more than twice his age, in disdainful detail:

When Wu Yü-pi arrived, the court treated him with courtesy. High officials and eunuchs went to pay calls on him. At first, Wu addressed every official as "excellency." Later on he discriminated, treating powerful people with excessive courtesy, while addressing those without the chin-shih degree dismissively (as hsiu-ts'ai ), and not even escorting them to the door [of his lodging]. Whenever he received rich gifts from people in high places, he would go to their homes to express his gratitude. He collected their calling cards and made an album of them, telling people: "This is for my descendants, so they'll see the great honor of this moment." People disparaged Wu for doing that.

I didn't go visit Wu, but one day when Ch'iu Chün and I went to [Grand Secretary] Li Hsien's home to deliver some poems, Wu Yü-pi happened to be there. I noticed that he was wearing a palm-fiber hat with a peaked crown and wide brim. The grand secretary said [to us, in a tone of mock politeness,] that he was too poor a student to grasp Wu's advanced views, so he and Wu were talking on a lower level that he could understand. Li looked at me and grinned: "I just can't follow the old gentleman!" Wu brought out some confused written proposal, and after a while, Li got up in such a way as to suggest that the interview was over. I rose too. Wu bowed to me and said: "May your excellency leave first, because I have a private matter to discuss with the grand secretary."

I bowed and left, and [Wu's] disciple Huang Shun-chung accompanied me partway. I stopped and spoke to him. "Scholars don't wear palm-fiber hats," I said. "Why does Master Wu wear one?" Huang said: "It's just to keep off the sun." "Public affairs can be discussed in public," I continued. "Private affairs shouldn't be discussed at all. By what right does a private person [like Wu] get to discuss private affairs with a grand secretary?" Huang said: "They're just discussing the question whether to accept or decline the offer of an appointment." "He should decide that for himself," I replied. "Why should he ask the grand secretary to decide it?" To that Huang replied: "The court appointed Master Wu adviser to the heir apparent, and it won't accept his refusal; but he feels he can't take the position unless he has the grand secretary's firm support. That's what he's asking about." I said: "How can he tell whether the grand secretary will really support him or not? What he


should think about is his own fitness for the job. I looked at the six-point proposal he prepared. It consists of nothing but the commonplace remarks of a classics student. There's nothing of any use in it. One can gauge his scholarship from the emptiness of his verbiage. You'd best convince him to decline the offer and retire home. Otherwise, he'll be mocked when people find out his substance doesn't match his reputation." "I guess he shouldn't stay," replied Huang.[32]

In the end, Wu Yü-pi did decide to go home. Yin clearly disliked Wu (the Ming dynastic history says the philosopher had earlier slighted him at a banquet).[33] He also related secondhand some derogatory things about Wu Yü-pi that may or may not have been true. But it is clear from the conversation that he thought all the adulation had turned the sixty-seven-year-old philosopher's head, and that intellectually and otherwise he was completely out of his depth in the sophisticated political world of Peking. Wu's continuing pretension to peasant status also irritated him. It was out of place. Wu Yü-pi's renown had stemmed from his lifelong commitment to a spartan regimen of farming and studying and a lonely and heroic quest for personal sagehood. His flirtation with power so late in his life appeared to Yin Chih a serious and unforgivable act of misjudgment. Wu Yü-pi was no sage. He was a shallow fraud.

Yin Chih's negative comments on Ch'en Hsien-chang came much later, and from a distance. In 1483, the Ministry of Personnel, acting on the fervent recommendation of provincial officials, summoned Ch'en to Peking. They wanted him to take a special exam, and then to appoint him to some suitable position.

Although he had been a student of Wu Yü-pi's for a time, times had changed, and Ch'en eventually threw off the restraints of the official Confucian orthodoxy that Wu had always accepted. Ch'en held the degree of B-list chü-jen and had attended the imperial college. But he was a committed truth seeker; and he returned home to Kwangtung Province, and there, after many years of arduous effort, he finally achieved "consciousness of the oneness of all things, and of his own participation in the dynamic transformation of the universe."[34] As word of Ch'en's unorthodox "philosophy of the natural" spread, his fame grew wider and wider, and his admirers in officialdom implored the court in Peking to place this tall visionary, with the seven moles displayed visibly across his face, in some suitable post high in court circles.[35]

There is no indication that Yin Chih had ever met Ch'en Hsien-chang. At least, when Ch'en gave in to the recommendations made in his behalf and made his celebrated trip to Peking, Yin was posted in


Nanking as vice minister of personnel. In any event, Yin's comments about him were thoroughly derogatory. He reviewed all the basic facts of Ch'en's career and noted that when, long before, Ch'en had finished job training as a chien-sheng , and should have taken an appointment, his friends urged him to win fame by refusing outright and going home, which he did. Then, continued Yin, "he devoted himself to strange ideas and high-flown discussion." Upon his arrival in Peking in 1483, Ch'en refused to take any test with the Ministry of Personnel. He then wrote ten poems in praise of his coprovincial, the palace eunuch Liang Fang, and Liang Fang prevailed upon the Ch'eng-hua emperor to let Ch'en go home with the honorary post of examining editor (7B) in the Han-lin Academy; and so philosopher Ch'en departed the capital, in splendor, borne on a palanquin, the road lined with crowds of admirers holding parasols to shade him from the rays of the sun. "How could anyone who knows Confucian morality [chih tao-i che ] act like that?" Yin demanded to know. "He never achieved his chin-shih degree, and so he made use of tao-hsueh [dissenting Confucian study] to delude people [about his intelligence]. Had he ever achieved [his degree], he would certainly have turned out to be insatiably ambitious."[36]

Yin Chih In Retirement

Yin Chih disbelieved those who laid claim to personal spiritual enlightenment, but he evidenced credulities of his own, particularly with regard to divination and the supernatural. In 1474, while in Peking, he consulted a certain diviner to find out whether his cousin, Yin Chia-yen, had passed his provincial exams in Kiangsi. The signs read positively, and, sure enough, nine days later when the results arrived in Peking, Yin Chia-yen's name was listed. He had passed![37] Yin Chih was reluctant to discuss Li Tzu-hsing, who was imperial appointments broker and a key player in behalf of the southern faction, but there are certainly grounds for supposing that Yin would have seen nothing amiss with either Li's claim to possess divinatory skills or the authority he derived therefrom.

Most of Yin Chih's reports of divination, dreams, and the supernatural have Tai-ho County, rather than Peking, for their stage. For example, he noted that on May 9, 1493, late in the day, two ghosts lured Madame Hsiao, wife of I Chü-sung of Hou-ku Ward (township 24) into a pond. Family members found her there the next morning, clinging to tree roots so as not to drown. Wife Hsiao stated that the ghosts had


identified themselves as I Chü-sung's dead cousin and his wife and had stated that they were taking revenge for I Chü-sung's having seized their tiny home and field and driven out their old mother, who had then died of cold and hunger. "I describe this in full," concluded Yin, "not just to record something about ghosts, but also to warn unfilial descendants who recklessly seize ancestral property and don't take care of their mothers."[38]

He wrote an uncanny story about Lung Po of Kan-chu Ward (township 63), who was an old county-school classmate. Lung Po achieved his chin-shih degree in 1466, twelve years after Yin. He was then appointed magistrate (7A) in Tz'u-ch'i County in Chekiang, where the local gazetteers remember him as having been an unusually fair-minded and efficient judge in legal cases.[39] One day he went to see the prefect, collapsed while kowtowing, and expired moments after they carried him out of the yamen. His corpse was returned to his native T'ai-ho, where it was buried. But twelve years later, geomancers advised his widow and sons to bury him in some better site. They exhumed him and brought him home. They opened his coffin. Lung Po looked alive. His skin and hair were vibrant, and his clothing looked new. They pushed open his eyelids and observed in amazement how bright the pupils were. Four or five years they kept his corpse at home, until at last a suitable site for re-burial was found. "I was a schoolmate of Lung Po," wrote Yin, "and I knew how fine a man he was; and although I did not see for myself the extraordinary physical powers [yun-ch'i , that he showed in death], my local in-law Yang Kuang-pi, who is his wife's younger brother, saw it with his own eyes and told me it was so."[40]

Yin Chih's robust optimism about life shows in his speculations about portents. He believed that portents that appeared threatening might in fact be felicitous. Case in point, Tseng Ch'iung of T'ai-ho city dreamt he was holding a child with no arms and two right ears, a troubling omen perhaps, but one that Tseng's brother correctly interpreted as an acting out of two written characters (ch'ü liao ) that meant he would pass his provincial exams (which indeed he did, in 1477).[41]

Nor was it necessarily an ominous sign when a local landmark self-destructed. In 1424, an old pagoda collapsed. In 1485, another old pagoda collapsed. Bad signs? Perhaps not, argued Yin, because in 1424 Yang Shih-ch'i had entered the grand secretariat; and, in 1485, Yin Chih himself had done the same. Other interpretations were possible, he admitted. The collapse of things depended on fate, while the appointment of men to office depended upon the times; and these kinds


of events did not necessarily link together. But then, was not T'ai-ho county shaped geographically like a tally? The pagodas had sat in separate halves of it, and it was when you broke a tally that you placed it in use. So Yin guessed; but he was not absolutely sure of his conclusion. "I simply record this," he noted, "in the hope that in the future someone of intelligence can straighten the matter out."[42]

Yin was less puzzled about the giant fish people had seen swimming in the Yun-t'ing River starting in 1477. The strange part was that the fish swam with its body submerged and its head above the water's surface. The very next year after its first appearance, Tseng Yen became the nation's first-ranking chin-shih . In 1486, people saw that fish again, and later that year, Yin Chih became a grand secretary. In 1492 the fish made a third appearance, and, sure enough, the next year, Lo Ch'in-shun (1465-1457, of Hsi-kang Ward, township 28) became the nation's third-ranking chin-shih . Yin Chih seems to have felt that the fish portent needed no special explanation.

In the very next entry in his memoir, Yin Chih went on to remark on Lo Ch'in-shun's part in the only true example of "three phoenixes" in all of China's history. Lo Ch'in-shun won his chin-shih in 1493. His two brothers passed in 1499. They were coplacental brothers. Happily, their mother and father lived to witness their success. Never before had three brothers, all from the same womb, achieved China's highest socioacademic degree![43]

Lo Ch'in-shun lived to become one of Ming China's leading Confucian scholar-intellectuals. Yin Chih's life thus bridged two distinct ages. In his youth he knew Wang Chih (1379-1462), and in his old age, Lo Ch'in-shun. He must have known young Lo rather well; their homes were only a few miles apart, in Yun-t'ing Canton. When Yin Chih died in 1511, Lo composed a funerary ode in his honor.[44] Lo was certainly familiar with Yin's Bits from the Studio of Candor because he later penned his partial agreement with Yin's negative assessments of the philosophers Wu Yü-pi and Ch'en Hsien-chang.[45]

So Yin Chih, after his dismissal as grand secretary at the age of sixty, lived out the rest of his long life at home in T'ai-ho. There is talk of his consorting from time to time with retired tutor Li Mu (1426-1508, of Nan-kang Ward, township 53), with whom he and a few others formed a chen-shuai hui , or "club of candid directness," where people were free to say anything they desired, and where an older T'ai-ho tradition of


poems, drink, and raillery was carried on among the members.[46] There was talk of his forming a "friendship in which age-difference does not matter" (wang-nien chiao ) with a much younger fellow—the well-traveled and well-connected T'ai-ho artist Kuo Hsu (1456-1532, from T'ai-ho city).[47] Yin was a participant in local learned discussions. He was always eager to receive high-ranking visitors when they came through T'ai-ho; and his physical energies were such that even late in life he 'walked so fast that younger men complained that they could not keep up.[48]

He yearned, however, to leave T'ai-ho and return once again to high office in Peking. In 1496, in honor of the Hung-chih emperor's birthday, Yin Chih sent up a conventionally ornate expression of felicitations together with a cover statement, which the emperor correctly interpreted as a request for a recall to office. "Yin Chih was impeached, and he has been living in retirement many years, and now he violates regulations by sending up these documents," said the emperor upon receiving them. "Obviously he flatters me in the hope that I will do him a favor. His request is disallowed."[49]

Yin Chih died on December 20, 1511, and his provocative style died with him. Posterity tended to ignore him. The next generation of brilliant young T'ai-ho elites jumped enthusiastically into the new philosophical storms, whose early warning signs Yin Chih had seen and denounced.


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