Wang Qingcheng and Research on Taiping Heavenly Kingdom
The major taken by Mr. Wang Qingcheng was sociology, and after graduation, he didn’t work in historical research or teaching history for a long time. He researched the history of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom because of chance, said Mr. Wang.
He was admitted to the sociology department of Shanghai Fudan University, and two years later he transferred to Nanjing Central University (later renamed Nanjing University), learning sociology again. He began to write during his study, and he has published essays and small articles on literature and history in newspapers and periodicals, and published a small pamphlet called Women and Families of the Soviet Union. In addition, he translated the Report Literature Collection called Heroical Leningrad from English to Chinese. In the summer of 1951, on the eve of graduation, 23-year-old Mr. Wang saw the Autobiography of Li Xiucheng written by Luo Erna in a small book store near the campus. At that time, research on the history of Taiping Heavenly Kingdom was highly valued; and the one-hundredth-anniversary memorial exhibition of the Taiping rebellion was held in many cities on January 11th, 1951. After talking a quick look, he was interested in the history of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom and Li Xiucheng involved in this book. He had ever learned history under the guidance of Professor Zhou Yutong, but he was not familiar with many things discussed in this book. After buying it, he read through the book he made notes in it, to get his ideas into shape. Mr. Wang recalled: “from then on, this book accompanied me. It was one of several books carried with me when I went down to do manual labor in 1958 and went to the “Five-Seven” cadre school in 1970. Since then, although I have changed my work place many times, I have always been interested in reading books on the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom and researching the history of Taiping Heavenly Kingdom even in my spare time, to become a “disbanded soldier and wandering police” in my research on the history of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. ”
After graduation, Professor Zhou Yutong introduced him to work in the Beijing Kaiming Bookstore. He considered it over and over, and finally he obeyed the job assignment and resigned from the cadre training class of the Propaganda Department of the Central Committee of the CPC. After studying in the early summer of 1953, he was assigned to the Theory Propaganda Department of the Propaganda Department of the Central Committee of the CPC officially, working under the guidance of Yu Guangyuan and Wang Huide. After work, he devoted a lot of time and energy to research the history of Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. In 1955, he saw the detailed content of historical data collectives that were to be published, which were announced by the “one-hundredth-anniversary compilation committee of the Taiping rebellion” in an old magazine by accident, and he thought that this can broaden researchers’ horizons besides the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom “Data Collection of Modern History of China II” was already published, so he wrote to the compilation committee established in Nanjing immediately to ask for the publication and sale of this book. The compilation committee replied that these historical materials had already been compiled but the China Society of History thought that these were negative historical materials and they were not suitable for publishing. Mr. Wang disapproved, and he reflected on this condition and his own ideas to the leaders of his unit, so that his problem was solved --- six books on the Historical Material Collection of Taiping Heavenly Kingdom were published. In 1956, historical circles developed the discussion on the truth and falsifying of the confession of Li Xiucheng (called “paraphrasing” at that time). Some scholar in Shanghai thought that this confession was forged by Tseng Kuofan, and he affirmed that the confessions of Li Xiucheng were true, namely saving the nation indirectly. Mr. Wang paid much attention to this, and he has taken advice from Rong Mengyuan and Luo Erna, famous scholars at the Modern History Research Institution of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Mr. Luo is one of the pioneers in researching the history of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom in China, who is famous at home and abroad because of his outstanding achievements. “That was the first time for me to see my teacher admire me for a long time”, although a century later, Mr. Wang is filled with feelings when talking about this meeting. When they were talking, Mr. Luo compared the confession of Li Xiucheng with the letter by Li Xiucheng to Li Zhaoshou word by word, affirming that chirographies of these two were different on the surface, but in fact, they were the same, and both were the authentic work of Li Xiucheng. Mr. Luo emphasized: as for doing research, you must seek out the roots; the autography of Li Xiucheng was not written by himself, which was identified by legal medical experts --- if it is an affair of murder, and judicial expertise is like this, doesn’t it make big mistakes! When talking about this past event, Mr. Wang said with feeling: “I have had a profound impression of Mr. Luo’s sincerity and simplicity; in this research, he educates me that we must be serious and inquire deeply, which I have benefited from.”
Since 1955, Mr. Wang has begun to publish several articles related to this, respectively talking about the family background of Wei Changhui and the reasons why political conditions were in chaos in the latter stage of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. After 1957, political life of the state was one climax after another, and it was very difficult for him to make a contribution through his duties and responsibilities, and his spare-time research was intermittent. Mr. Wang was delegated to Ding County of Hebei province in 1958, and he went back to Beijing at the end of the year and was assigned to the periodical office of New Construction published by the Philosophy and Social Science Department of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, taking charge of the history edition group, from then on, he had close connections with historiography research. In the few years after 1960, through articles of Li Yimang recording and narrating conditions in the Red Army fighting their way across Dadu River and the description of Liang Chichao and Zhang Taiyan towards Shi Dakai, Mr. Wang was interested in Shi Dakai, a historical figure with individuality. In addition, he has written a 100 thousand word book called Shi Daka. However, when the book was typeset, and the political movement criticizing Li Xiucheng came along, publication was suspended. In the later period of “the Great Cultural Revolution in China”, Mr. Wang was temporarily transferred to the periodical office of Cultural Relics. He was admitted by the Modern History Research Institution of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
After working in the Modern History Research Institution, Mr. Wang assumed the office of all kinds of different academic, administrative, and spare-time work, which took up a large amount of time, but when compared with before, after all, environments and conditions of research work are greatly different. Mr. Wang said frankly that, with the change of operating post, his leisure interests became special interests on the whole, which were advantages, but at the same time he also met some tests --- knowledge and experiences gained and books written by him over the past twenty and thirty years have nothing to do with the Modern History Research Institution. Compared with long-time professional workers, this performance and bases are weak. However, research work includes much common knowledge and experience. In addition, it is very important to have all kinds of social science knowledge, especially the ability of theoretical thinking. Mr. Wang said: “I have trained in these aspects in the past, which has helped me to make up my shortcomings. As for persons with shortcomings like me, such training and experience can make up the shortcomings; as for persons without these shortcomings, they would have to try twice as hard; without this training and experience, we only can get half the result with twice the effort, even issues and opinions with meaning can not be put forward.”
In the first years after “the Great Cultural Revolution in China” ended, it was an important turning period in historical circles to get rid of the influence of “left” thought and to step into rational and scientific research. From 1977 to 1982, Mr. Wang published seven to eight articles in the magazine Historical Research, and new ideas were put forward in some articles like Discussion on Hong Xiuchuan’s Early-Stage Thinking and Development, About “Heavenly Father, Heavenly Brother, and Heavenly King Taiping Heavenly Kingdom”, History and Method for the Research of Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, and “Big Family” and “Small Family” of the God of Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, which have had a great influence.
Discussion on Hong Xiuchuan’s Early-Stage Thinking and Development is an important article for Mr. Wang’s research of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, which was serialised in the eighth and ninth edition of Historical Research. In this article, he researched Hong Xiuchuan’s thought development process before the Jintian Uprising using Hong Xiuchuan’s books and activities, and he thought the early thoughts of Hong Xiuchuan were developed by pursuing fame and transforming the way of the world and the heart of a human being by way of moralization, to overturning the Qing Dynasty. In 1847, he revisited Guangxi, and began to establish the ambition of anti-Qing; he emphasized “the source of the Taiping revolution lies in class struggle, rather than religious doctrine”. This article also raised doubts about the idea that the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom was the revolutionary movement putting forward equality in politics, economics, nationality, and men and women for the first time in Chinese history, pointing out “if we believe that Hong Xiuchuan has put forward this equality spirit and this idea was the theoretical basis for the Taiping revolution, then we can not explain Hong Xiuchuan and the history of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, nor the history of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom for more than one hundred years”. In May of the same year, Mr. Wang submitted this article for academic discussion on the history of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom held in Nanjing, and Mr. Luo Erna said it was like “throwing heavy bombs in to the discussion”. The article was valued by scholars at home and abroad after it was published. In addition, comparatively important books on the modern history of China have absorbed its main views. In 1979, the American Ming-Qing history scholar delegation introduced this article in detail in Research on Chinese Ming and Qing History; Professor Charles Curwen, expert on the history of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, has translated this article to English, which was published in Renditions in the spring of 1981.
In the article About “Heavenly Father, Heavenly Brother, and Heavenly King Taiping Heavenly Kingdom”, Mr. Wang stressed researching the specific time, reasons, and meanings for the “Taiping Heavenly Kingdom” to be renamed as “Heavenly Father, Heavenly Brother, and Heavenly King Taiping Heavenly Kingdom”. In the article, he thought that politics and religious faith in the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom were seriously harmed after the inner contradiction event of Yang, Wei, and Shi, and it cried out to make a fresh start. However, Hong Xiuchuan regarded “changing title” as “changing politics”, intended to strengthen his own authority, which had no results in fact. In the article of History and Method for the Research of Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, he reviewed the history of the research in to the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom over the past thirty years. He pointed out that correctly handling the relationship between science and politics was very important for the achievements and faults in the research of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom; sticking points are that they understand how historical research serves politics wrongly, not emphasizing that historical research shall have its own independent objects, tasks, and requirements; both simplifying class standpoints and viewpoints and copying mechanically and wrong formulas are sources of the mistake in the research of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. In the article of “Big Family” and “Small Family” of the God of Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, he points out that Hong Xiuchuan regards god as the creator of heaven, earth, people, and all things on earth, from this, the theory that all people are sons and daughters of god and we are the world; and at the same time, the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom regards Hong Xiuchuan as the son of god and Hong Tiangui, son of Hong Xiuchuan, therefore the grandson of god, form this, there is the small family; big family and small family interlace and mutually contradictions, including the positive sides and negative sides of Hong Xiuchuan’s ideas.
During these years, Mr. Wang has risen abruptly based on his accumulated strength, executed scholarly research with great concentration, and written a lot of articles with new ideas and qualities. In 1982, he finished the book called History and Method of Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. This book was published in 1985 by the Zhonghua Book Company, 470 thousand words in all. In addition, most of the researched issues in this book were not involved with and or perfected in the research of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, and the content was mainly ideas and the religion of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom and some other historical events. Religion was an intangible forbidden zone in the research of the history of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom before then. In this book, Mr. Wang researched the relationship and similarities and differences between the religion of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom and western Christianity and the concept of god, heaven, hell, the devil, and rewarding goodness and punishing the evil in the religion of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom; he thought that the religion of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom has the features of a combination of Chinese and Western elements, having western sources, influenced by Chinese folk religion, and possessing sources of Confucianism and Mohism. In this book, Mr. Wang paid special attention to the actual effect of the religion of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, revealing its influences on ideas, policies, and systems of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. History and Meaning of Holy Ghost and Holy Electricity is one of his representative articles. This article has not been published, which was written in 1981. In this article, he pointed out that Hong Xiuchuan was awarded the titles of “Holy Ghost” and “Comforter”, with holy meaning in Christianity, to Yang Xiuqing, but his understanding of “Holy Ghost” and “Comforter” was only literal, and he didn’t regard them as another name for god and didn’t admit Yang Xiuqing was god. Later, Hong Xiuchuan awarded the title of “Holy Electricity” to Shi Dakai, which was a promotion from Shi Dakai’s original title. Later, Hong Xiuchuan cancelled the title of “Holy Electricity” of Shi Dakai, and finally he also cancelled the priesthood “electrician” of Shi Dakai, only “Wing King” was kept, so that Shi Dakai became a “common person” totally. In the later period, Hong Xiuchuan emphasized the organic whole of “father, son, grandfather, and grandson”, and Yang Xiuqing and Xiao Chaogui were regarded as spokespersons of the “heavenly father” and “heavenly brother”, and other figures, such as “heavenly mother” and “heavenly aunt” were also created, so that a “small family” where god was regarded as the head of a family was established. And on the other hand, he proposed the “big family” theory of “we are the world”. This article was linked with the article “Big Family” and “Small Family” of the God of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, which has made groundbreaking research on the main features of Hong Xiuchuan’s religious and political theory and positions of father and son of Hong, Yang Xiuqing, and Xiao Chaogui. Mr. Wang newly explored and put forward new views towards some important issues, such as preparation, realization, and date of the Jintian Uprising, discussions inside the Taiping Army and influences, and early military system of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom and quantity of “army”. A remarkable feature of this book is that it not only explores historical events, but also interprets, mostly starting from a specific question, and deepens through layer upon layer of textual research and analysis, to reveal facts and meanings in the hidden layers.
There were 13,000 copies of History and Thought of Taiping Heavenly Kingdom published. In the “preface”, Mr. Luo Erna praised Mr. Wang as “the first spare-time expert in the history of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom with great achievements among comrades known by me”, “a careful and fine person”, and he also thought that the author “makes a nice effort and cultivated in theoretical practice, so he closely observes issues and at the same time he can see the essence in micro things.” In the article of Holy Ghost, Holy Electricity, and Others he had a grasp on very small things ignored by others, such as “Holy Ghost” and “Holy Electricity”; nevertheless, they are important things reflecting the history of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, to analyze, to carry out related connection research, and to point out the important history of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, especially history in the later period of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. In the “preface”, Mr. Luo also said “his fine effort, and the Chinese ancient master in the world” and “it makes him exceed his predecessors”. Mr. Wang didn’t dare to accept that, so he deleted some sentences. However, Mr. Luo published his collected works Trapped Learning Collection, and this “preface” was included, which was written according to his original manuscript.
Another outstanding performance of Mr. Wang in the research of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom is gathering literature and related historical materials. After the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom was destroyed, its books and documents were ruined. It is lucky that some western missionaries and diplomats have visited the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, because they have books that were donated and other materials and took them back to their own countries, which are kept in libraries. Since the 1920s and 1930s, predecessors, such as Cheng Yansheng, Xiao Yishan, and Wang Chongmin and so on, have found large quantities of literatures in the libraries of England and France, and returned them to China, which has supplied important first-hand materials for research, but this work hasn’t ended. Since he visited America as a visiting scholar in 1983, he has visited other countries, such as America, England, Germany, France, Japan, and Russia, Hong Kong and Taipei, and he has found 240 books of 43 types of books printed by the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom and more than one hundred documents, and some of them haven’t been seen by his predecessors. Mr. Wang found Decree of Heavenly Father and Decree of Heavenly Brother in a library in England in 1984, which wasn’t known about or seen by others. And later, they were compiled as the book of Decree of Heavenly Father and Heavenly Brother, and the long article Decree of Heavenly Father and Decree of Heavenly Brother and History of Taiping Heavenly Kingdom written by him was regarded as an appendix, which was published by Liaoning People Publishing in 1986. The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom built a country with religion, and “Decrees” conveyed by Yang Xiuqing and Xiao Chaogui in the name of the heavenly father and heavenly brother are supreme instructions from the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. Both of thesef books have provided the literary basis for unlocking some historical doubtful cases, which are indispensable historical materials for researching the early history of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. One of the great discoveries by Mr. Wang in terms of documents is Heavenly King Photos, making Mr. Wang one of the scholars who have made the greatest contribution to gathering literature of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom over seas since 1949.
In 1993, the book Literature and History of Taiping Heavenly Kingdom --- Publication of Oversea New Literature and Research on Literature Historical Events by Mr. Wang was published, and the book was inscribed by comrade Hu Sheng. In the book there are 108 pages of literature pictures, 8 pages of which are colorful pictures; the text is distributed into seven chapters, and the first chapter “Introduction” is divided into Formation and the Dissapearance of Taiping Heavenly Kingdom Literature, the Early Collection and Discovery of Taiping Heavenly Kingdom Literature, and Compilation and New Discoveries of Taiping Heavenly Kingdom Literature; in the following chapters, “book paper” and “document” are introduced, proofread, and explained. Mr. Wang has opened up new fields for researching the history of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, put forward the system of Taiping Heavenly Kingdom printed books and their evolution, and gave an in-depth explanation. In the book, Mr. Wang points out that there are versions from different years of the same kind of book, and their content is the same at first glance, but small places are modified and these modifications are concerned with historical events surrounding the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom and include important information. In this book, the author used content, version, and emendation to research and analyze the uniqueness of Taiping Heavenly Kingdom printed books, and he thought “as for version and emendation, researching Taiping Heavenly Kingdom printed books is not about finding a “good edition” to revise the facts, but exploring all kinds of versions, comparing and studying their similarities and differences, so as to discover historical events”; there are slight modifications at the time of republication of the same book, “the change of policies and ideas are implied in these modifications, which are important historical materials for researching Taiping Heavenly Kingdom”, “the more different versions there are, the greater the value will be”. In this book, the system of “Issued Imperial Rescript Catalogue Permitted by Imperial Edict”, the author thinks that Taiping Heavenly Kingdom began to carry out this system in 1853, stipulating that only books listed in the “catalogue” and “permitted by imperial edict” can be spread and read, or else they will be punished. However, later this system was changed, and it was abandoned in 1861. In addition, in the book, the author also researches related historical events in accordance with new literature, and content involving the relationship between Hong Xiuchuan and I. J. Roberts, the American missionary, Taiping Heavenly Kingdom’s international concept and external relations, the relationship between Taiping Heavenly Kingdom and rise of the Shanghai Small Swords Society, and the fate of Confucianism in the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, and new views are put forward on the basis of clarifying facts. In the book of Literature and History of Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, the author announces newly discovered literature from the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, and he also explains the historical content included in literature with the combination of literature and historical events, which reflects his progression and deepening of the research in to the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, and it makes a positive contribution to research work.
In 2004, Twelve Kinds of Photocopy Taiping Heavenly Kingdom Literature was published by the Zhonghua Book Company, and eight kinds of printed books and four kinds of documents were edited, which had high value as historical relics and historical material. It is necessary to photocopy Taiping Heavenly Kingdom literature, because: firstly, this literature left behind overseas are not only historical materials, but also historical relics, so photocopying has double meaning in protecting historical relics and historical materials; secondly, it can avoid mistakes because of copying; thirdly, Taiping Heavenly Kingdom literature have specific forms and systems, which reflect the specific systems and ideas of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, whose original appearance can not be revealed through typography, which is adverse to research. Publishing these twelve kinds of literature also links up the tradition of scholars photocopying literature collected since the 20th century. In the book, “captions” are attached to the head of each kind of literature, explaining its collection place, system, and form, and stating and correcting its main ideas and values as historical material. In consideration that all of the literature is handwritten, and there are sketches, so “captions” of most of the literature also has an upright letter attached. The tenth “Army File” is the register and soldier book handwritten by Chen Kuishu, the King of Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, after being captured by Ge Deng, the leader of the Foreign Gun Brigade, some of whose pages have been lost and is disordered. Taiping Heavenly Kingdom Material and Taiping Heavenly Kingdom Literature Collection published in earlier years haven’t solved this problem properly. Mr. Wang adjusted its pages and got his ideas into shape through repeat verification.
Mr. Wang has also done other work in compiling literature and historical materials. In 1982, Taiping Heavenly Kingdom Literature and Historical Material Collection compiled and settled through cooperation between him and others was published by China Social Sciences Press, 330 thousand words in all, compiling 215 historical-material documents, including a batch of Taiping Heavenly Kingdom documents newly discovered in England. In 2004, “Continuation of Material Collection of Modern History of China” Taiping Heavenly Kingdom edited by Mr. Wang and Mr. Luo Erna was published by Guangxi Normal University Press, 3520000 words and 10 books in all, including three parts, namely Taiping Heavenly Kingdom Literature, Record of Qing Government, and Record of Outsiders, which was a great collection of new materials published and to be published since the 1960s. This large material collection was started in 1982 as the project of the National Ancient Books Settlement, Publication, and Planning Group, whose compilation process was hard. Under the impact of the market, the press was going to publish this material collection went back on its words immediately. Mr. Wang failed through several negotiations, and the translation of foreign language materials was not finished, so that publication was delayed. After gaining a doctoral degree in 1991, I began to translate the foreign language parts in accordance with the teacher’s mission and compiled and modified all draft translations. With the death of four teachers, such as Mr. Luo Erna and Wu Liangzuo who participated in this project, Mr. Wang became more and more worried, and finally persuaded the press to publish the book. With the assistance of Mr. Zhao Yuntian and me, he examined and verified all drafts, so that it was finally published.
Besides research work, Mr. Wang has also held quite a few academic organization positions. In July, 1978, he participated in preparing to construct the Beijing Taiping Heavenly Kingdom Historical Institute, and he served as chairman in 1981. Besides organizing academic discussions and exchanges, another constant work of the institute, he is compiling and printing the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom Research Communication. Communication specially reports on the trends of Taiping Heavenly Kingdom research in various regions, and has been compiled and printed forty or fifty times, which is mainly managed by Mr. Wang. Since 1983, Mr. Wang edited the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom Journal, mainly publishing theses, basically one per year, and about 400 thousand words each, and published by the Zhonghua Book Company; in addition, from 1981 to 1985, he edited the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom History Translation Collection, mainly compiling and translating materials in western languages, and it was also published by the Zhonghua Book Company. The Journal is a professional journal for Taiping Heavenly Kingdom research which is authoritative in China, to be a window reflecting the newest research achievements and research trends in this field. These two journals were stopped finally because of outlay problems which Mr. Wang can’t do anything.
The research of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom has lasted for about one century so far. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, the American Civil War, and the Great French Revolution were hot selected topics for doctoral dissertations of European and American history majors. In China, the research of farmer war history whose main part is Taiping Heavenly Kingdom has been praised as one of the “five golden flowers” in historical circles, and scholars within this circle have named the research of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom “the Imperial College” at one time. However, since the middle and later period of the 1980s, research in this field has gradually dropped off. As for this, Mr. Wang is not surprised. In his opinion, with the increase in research difficulty’s and the transfer of scholars’ research interests it is inevitable that research would drop off. Although this research field is mature, the potential for continually cultivating it is still very big. Mr. Wang expressed: “in order to gain good harvest in cultivating a mature field, we must use “intensive cultivation”. In accordance with my experience, we shall put in the time and energy to make full use of historical materials, enlarging research perspective, and strengthening theoretical thinking.” Aimed at previous research, Mr. Wang mainly concentrates on war, military affairs, and figure evaluation. If we just concentrate on “knowing” the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, researching “who” is the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, and “who” is carrying out these fights, maybe it is more close to science and it is easy to gain a common view. As it is the remaining literature of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom will be valued even more by researchers, because this literature was written by them, which can reflect upon them the most. About enlarging the research view, as early as the 1980s, Mr. Wang put forward that we must analyze the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom’s politics, economics, culture, and thinking comprehensively and dialectically, especially researching problems from the angle of social history --- we can regard various characters (from the executive level and generals to soldiers and grassroots administrative staff) of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom as components of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, to carry out research on various aspects; or choosing a certain county or town within the borders of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom to research economic positions, political attitudes, living conditions, grassroots administration, and the relationship between officers and citizens and so on, so as to understand the influences and changes of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom towards these places. Mr. Wang especially emphasized the importance of enhancing theoretical and thinking ability and expressing thinking and analysis effects. He said: “of course, researching history must rely on historical materials, but no matter how rich these historical materials are, they can not record all the things that occurred in the past. Researching history with local historical materials needs to give full play to the effect of thinking and analysis, so as to give that correct explanation of the history. On the contrary, because historical materials recorded in the past are incomplete, so historians can give full play to their own abilities.” And then, Mr. Wang said: “thinking and analysis shall break through the whole research process, and at the same time we shall carry on thinking, so as to form problems; through further accumulating historical materials, maybe the ranges of original problems are enlarged or original problems are solved, and new problems emerge. Like this, through reading and research for a period of time, we may discover problems and at the same time have answers for solving problems; or maybe, we have discovered problems, but the basis for solving these problems is not enough, and then we shall seek further basis. As for this kind of process, its effects lie on the researchers’ thinking and analytical abilities. Therefore, putting forward problems is the necessary condition for the research process, and it is also an essential stage of the research process, which can not be solved through accumulating historical materials, and the effect of thinking shall be expressed fully. People who are trained through research can combine accumulating historical materials and thinking analysis.” Mr. Wang pins great hopes on future academic research, he said: “we have obtained great achievements through the efforts of several generations on the research of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, but we shall continue to deepen further. From the general rule of scientific research and development, many problems can be researched again. Scholars can achieve abundant new topics and new results only through making full use of historical materials, expanding research view, and strengthening theoretical thinking.”
The research field of Mr. Wang is not limited to the history of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. In 1998, Rare Historical Materials of Qing Dynasty and Explanations compiled by Mr. Wang was published by the Wuhan Press, 460 thousand words in all, and more than 190 historical artifacts from the Qing dynasty were collected, including from Shunzhi and Kangxi to Tongzhi and Guangxu, most of which are unknown or seen by scholars in the past in China, divided into seven catalogues, namely economics, religion, administration, Sino-foreign relation, military affairs, rebel documents, and society; explanation words are attached before the text, clearing up historical materials from the angle of literature, revealing backgrounds of related histories, and explaining intentions included in historical materials. In fact, several explanation articles in it are complete monographic study theses, for example, the investigation of Chinese merchants’ foreign trade conditions at the beginning of the Shanghai openness. Since 2002, Mr. Wang has begun to research North China villages of the late Qing dynasty regarding a “village picture” of Qing County and Shenzhou acquired in Japan several years ago, with the combination of local chronicles from each county of north China. He has published several theses on Historical Research and Modern History Research, and he plans to finally write a monograph.
When pursuing his studies, Mr. Wang pays much attention to the research of the development and creativeness and articles’ ideological content. In most of his articles, he researches problems not touched by his predecessors or puts forward new opinions for old problems. He expressed it like this: “the academic evaluation of my articles and books will be read by people in the same field. I insist on researching new problems, which is very important.”
Besides individual research, Mr. Wang has also made contributions to discipline construction. In 1986, the National Social Science Foundation and National Social Science Planning Committee were established, and Mr. Wang served as the group leader of the Disciplinary Team of Modern History of China, and confirmed the “Seventh Five-Year Plan” of this discipline. In the past, topics on the modern history of China mainly regarded political history, such as The Opium War, Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, Boxer Rebellion, and Xinhai Revolution and so on. At this time, Mr. Wang put forward new opinions, and he thought the modern history of China shall pay much attention to the research of countries, cities, border areas, culture, overseas Chinese, and modernization and so on. This opinion was approved by Deputy Director Li Zongyi and the Disciplinary Planning Team of Modern History of China, which were regarded as the main content of the “Seventh Five-Year Plan”, so that new fields were opened in disciplines of the modern history of China. From then on, researching modern cities and countries became common practice; there are perfect achievements in research on four cities, namely Shanghai, Tianjin, Wuhan, and Chongqing, and countries of Hebei province, Shandong province, and Henan province. In addition, Mr. Wang edited Translation Collection for the Research of Modern History of China, and he selected several influential academic books of foreign scholars, which has enhanced international academic exchange.
Since 1985, Mr. Wang has served as the Deputy Director of the Modern History Institute for three years and the Director of the Modern History Institute for five years, he retired in 1993. At the beginning of serving as Director, he talked with personnel within the institute for about one month, so as to understand their views towards the strong points and weak points of the institute. Mr. Wang has told me many times that in the past the Modern History Institute mainly made group projects and wrote history books, such as the modern history of China, Sino-foreign relation history, and imperialism’s aggression history against China and so on. As for this, Qian Hong, an old comrade of the Modern History Institute said: “most discussed problems are mainly “trees are in front of the temple” or “temple is in front of the trees”.” Therefore, Mr. Wang strongly advocated monographic study. He didn’t touch original projects for writing books, but he advocated that we should write books on the basis of monographic study, which has had some positive effects.
Mr. Wang is learned, refined, magnanimous, indifferent to fame and wealth, and pursues his studies with great concentration. He retired in 2003, and then he and his wife traveled to and from Beijing and America (his sons and daughters settled in America). He is nearly eighty, but he continues writing all the time no matter where he is. During Mr. Wang’s time in Beijing, we students who live in Beijing got together with Mr. Wang and his wife several times, with happiness. Mr. Wang still continues to take part in academic causes loved by him, and he publishes one or two articles every year.
Xia Chuntao, male, born in November, 1963, gained a doctoral degree in 1991, and started work in the Modern History Institute the same year. He served as a researcher in 1999. Professor and doctoral supervisor in the graduate school of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, enjoying special government allowances of the State Council. He is mainly engaged in research on the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom and socialism with Chinese characteristics. In 2003, he served as the full-time deputy director of the Deng Xiaoping Theory and “Three Represents” Important Thought Research Center.
Translated by Li Junwei.
Editor: Wang Daohang