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 Welcome to Introduction on Ruan Yuan in Seeraa International, New and Updated Content as Below:

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Portrait of Ruan Yuan
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The old picture of Academy of Xuehaitang
in Guangzhou
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Snowy Scene of Hangzhou Banshan

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:


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.


The Literary Aspect of Ruan Yuan in Hangzhou

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.