Bingqian and Wei Guangwei" translated by John W. Dardess is licensed under
Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
See also John W. Dardess, Blood
and History in China: the Donglin Faction and its Repression, 1620-1627
(Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2002)
26/306/7843-7846 Gu Bingqian and Wei Guangwei.
Gu was from Kunshan. He achieved his jinshi degree in 1595 and was made
a Hanlin Bachelor. Eventually he was made a Vice Minister of Rites with
the special duty of mentoring the Bachelors. In 1621, he was promoted
to Minister of Rites with concurrent charge of the Household
Administration of the Heir Apparent. In 1622, as eunuch Wei Zhongxian
was growing in power, Gu was impeached by Zhou Zongjian and others. Wei
Zhongxian was looking for ways to win the support of court officials,
and Gu and Wei Guangwei were among the first to pander to him. Others,
including Huo Weihua and Sun Jie, soon joined in. In the following
year, Gu Bingqian and Wei Guangwei entered the Grand Secretariat along
with Zhu Guozhen and Zhu Yanxi.
Wei Guangwei was from Nanle. He was the son of
Vice Minister Wei Yunzhen. He achieved his jinshi degree in 1604. He
was first a Hanlin Bachelor, then Vice Minister f Rites in the
secondary capital of Nanjing.
/7843 Wei Zhongxian made furtive approaches to him on the basis of
their coming from the same region and sharing the same surname. That’s
how he got promoted to Minister of Rites. In 1623, he and Gu Bingqian
were made concurrent Ministers of Rites and Grand Secretaries of the
East Hall. In the seventh lunar month, Gu was made Grand Guardian of
the Heir Apparent, and was moved to the Hall of Literary Profundity. In
the 11th month, he was made Junior Guardian and Grand Mentor of the
Heir Apparent. In the 1st month of 1625, he was made Junior Mentor,
Grand Preceptor of the Heir Apparent, and Minister of Personnel. He was
moved to the Jianji hall. In the 9th month, he was made Junior
As a personality, Gu Bingqian was crude,
commonplace, and shameless, while Wei Guangwei was secretive and sly.
Zhao Nanxing was a good friend of Wei’s father, and he once sighed and
said: “Jianquan has no son.” “Jianquan” was Wang Yunzhen’s studio name.
Wei Guangwei was deeply offended when he heard that. When he became a
Grand Secretary, he thrice tried to pay Zhao Nanxing a visit, but each
time the doorman refused to let him in. Wei said angrily: “He can
refuse to see anyone he chooses, but certainly he cannot refuse to see
a Grand Secretary.” And he hated Zhao all the more.
When Yang Lian impeached Wei Zhongxian for 24
crimes, the eunuch was put in fear and had Wei Guangwei compose the
imperial rescript to it, which he did, to Wei Zhongxian’s
specifications. And Gu Bingqian was angered because Yang Lian referred
to him as “the protégé Grand Secretary.”
Later, there was a winter sacrifice and the
promulgation of the calendar, and Wei Guangwei showed up late for these
ceremonies. Both the Supervising Secretary Wei Dazhong and the Censor
Li Yingsheng impeached him. That angered Wei Guangwei to such an extent
that he vowed to destroy the good species (i.e. the Donglin partisans).
He and Gu Bingqian planned together to drive out all the upright men.
They identified their enemies by marking in the roster of officials as
members of the “deviant faction” such names as Ye Xianggao, Han Kuang,
He Ruchong, Cheng Jiming, Miao Changqi, Yao Ximeng, Chen Zizhaung, Hou
Ke, Zhao Nanxing, Gao Panlong, Qiao Yunsheng, Li Banghua, Zheng Sanjun,
Yang Lian, Zuo Guangdou, Wei Dazhong, Huang Zunsu, Zhou Zongjian, and
Li Yingsheng—more than a hundred in all. They identified some 60 men as
upright—among them Huang Kezan, Wang Yongguang, Xu Dahua, Jia Jichun,
and Huo Weihua. These lists they submitted through the eunuch Wang
Chaoyong, so that they could be used as the basis upon which to advance
people or reject them.
Wei Zhongxian’s power expanded, now that he
had the support of the Grand Secretariat. Gu Bingqian and Wei Guangwei
served Wei Zhongxian just as though they were his slaves.
Grand Secretaries Ye Xianggao and Han Kuang
were dismissed, and He Zongyan died. Thus Gu became Chief Grand
Secretary. From the 12th lunar month of 1624 until the 9th month of
1626, Gu Bingqian drafted every imperial rescript that dismissed or
abused a loyal and upright official. He was the general editor of the
Sanchao yaodian, for which he wrote the imperial preface so as to
stifle all criticism of it. Every court action was answered by an
imperial rescript lavishly praising Wei Zhongxian. Whenever Wei
Guangwei sent a written communication to Wei Zhongxian, he would
address it “A Family Letter from the Grand Secretariat” on the
envelope. He was called “the outside Wei.”
/7845 Previously, all draft rescripts were
written by the Chief Grand Secretary. The other Grand Secretaries
simply acted as discussants. But Wei Guangwei wanted to seize some
control and he plotted with Wei Zhongxian to have the Grand Secretaries
divide the duties. So political power was divided from that point, and
that then became a new precedent.
When Yang Lian and the other five gentlemen
were arrested, Wei Guangwei was very much in on the strategy, and Gu
Bingqian drafted the harsh imperial directive ordering the restitution
of the alleged bribes in installments every five days. Minister Cui
Jingrong was afraid the flogging would soon kill them, and he pleaded
with Wei Guangwei to put a stop to it. Wei Guangwei too was uneasy
about it and he memorialized thus: “Today Yang Lian and the others are
surely guilty, but just yesterday they were central officials. Even if
they are rightly charged with having received bribes, they should be
turned over to the judicial authorities for judgment in accordance with
the law code. How can they be tortured day after day, and how can it be
the military police that recoup the bribes? The prisoners aren’t made
of wood and stone, and the floggings will soon kill them. Why can’t the
properly constituted judicial authorities recoup the bribes? We are not
only damaging the principle of benevolence that requires that we
cherish life, we are also defying the norms set by the imperial
ancestors. Our court government is becoming more disorderly by the day,
far from the model set by the rulers of ancient times.” This memorial
was sent up, and it greatly offended Wei Zhongxian. Wei Guangwei was
frightened, and he showed Cui Jingrong’s letter by way of explaining
what he had done. But Wei Zhongxian was not to be mollified, and so Wei
Guangwei begged to be allowed to retire. His plea was denied.
About two months later, a forged imperial
edict was issued scolding the court officials. In it were these words:
“I, the emperor, duly observe the old norms, yet you say court
government grows more disorderly by the day. I take the ancient sage
emperors Yao and Shun as models, yet you say I fall far short of them.”
The edict was referring to what Wei Guangwei had said in his memorial.
This frightened Wei Guangwei even more, and he begged Gu Bingqian to
make explanations in his behalf. So Wei Zhongxian’s anger was allayed
somewhat. But Wei Guangwei was still uneasy, and thrice he sent up
memorials asking to be allowed to retire. In the 9th lunar month of
1626, this was finally granted.
Before he retired, Wei Guangwei was made
Junior Guardian, Grand Preceptor of the Heir Apparent, and he was
allowed to have one son receive by inheritance a position as
Secretariat Drafter. He was given 100 ounces white gold, a dragon
emblem, and 4 bolts of colored silk. He was permitted to make private
use of the official transport service. Official messengers escorted him
home. He was generously rewarded because of his earlier friendships.
Two years later he died at home. He was posthumously made Grand Mentor,
and was further honored according to regulation.
Gu Bingqian always drafted rescripts as Wei
Zhongxian directed. He forged a rescript that punished the Provincial
Examiner Ding Qianxue, and he worked on the rescripts that killed Yang
Lian and Zuo Guangdou. But when Zhou Shunchang and Li Yingsheng were
placed in the Decree Prison, he requested that they be transferred to
the custody of the judicial authorities so that they might not die
falsely accused. When eunuchs went out to assume control of the
frontier military garrisons, it was Gu who wrote the imperial edict of
authorization. Then he showed a bit of resistance when he joined Ding
Shaoshi in asking for the termination of two abuses.
/7846 When Feng Quan entered the Grand
Secretariat, he was surrounded day and night by members of his own
faction, any many lower officials sought protection under him. Gu
Bingqian grew uneasy, and made several requests to be allowed to
retire. He retired a year after Wei Guangwei did.
In 1629, Gu was denounced by Zu Zong?, Xu
Shangxun, and Wang Yingyuan. He was removed from the official registry,
was listed in the Treason Case because of his inner palace connections,
and was sent into exile for three years. But then he was pardoned and
made a commoner.
In 1630, the Kunshan people, full of
longstanding hatred for Gu, gathered in a mob and burned his house
down. Gu, aged 80, escaped by hiding in a fishing boat. He sent the
court 40,000 taels that he had kept hidden in a hole in the ground. He
moved to another county and died there.
Wei Guangwei too was posthumously disgraced,
listed in the Treason Case, and sentenced to exile. The Grand
Secretaries that followed immediately after, men such as Huang Liji,
Shi Fenglai, and Zhang Ruitu, did as Wei and Gu had done and cooperated
closely with Wei Zhongxian.