Tan Ssu-Tung

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

T’an Ssu-T’ung


Born Mar. 10, 1865, in Peking; died there Sept. 27, 1898. A leader of the left-wing reformist movement in China in the late 19th century. Poet and philosopher.

The son of a prominent government official, Tan Ssu-t’ung entered government service in 1896 in the office of the imperial vicegerent in Nanking. In 1897 he was transferred to Hunan, where he became active as a reformer: he organized the Shih Wu Hsüeh-t’ang (Contemporary Tasks) school and became the head of the Nan-hsüeh hui (Southern Scholarly Union), a reformist club. T’an Ssu-t’ung was presented by K’ang Yu-wei to the emperor, Kuang Hsu, in the summer of 1898 and became one of the emperor’s closest associates in the preparation and publishing of the decrees on reforms. He planned the forcible removal of the reactionary palace clique headed by Tz’u Hsi. After the palace coup of Sept. 21, 1898, T’an Ssu-t’ung was arrested and executed.

In his early poems, T’an Ssu-t’ung celebrated the romance of military campaigns; examples are “In Western Lands” (1884) and “The Ch’inling Mountains” (1888). He also composed forceful poems depicting his native landscape, for example, “Mount K’ungt’ung” (1889). Turning to folklore, he wrote folk ballads, including “The Phantom” (1885), “Three Faithful Married Couples” (1888), “The Chaste Maiden” (1893), and “The Miraculous Stone.” T’an Ssu-t’ung satirized pedants in “Verses on Chiang Piao’s painting Confucius Writing a Book” and denounced feudal exploitation in “Song About the Opium Poppy and the Sack of Rice” (1888) and “Song of How Provisions Were Carried Through the Liup’anshan Mountains” (1888).

T’an Ssu-t’ung enriched the content and form of Chinese poetry and was instrumental in altering traditional meters. His main philosophical work, Doctrine on Humaneness (1896–98), was materialist in its approach and rejected despotism.


T’an Ssu-t’ung ch’üan chin. Peking, 1954.


Tikhvinskii, S. L. Dvizhenie za reformy v Kitae v kon. XIX v. i Kan-Iu-vei. Moscow, 1959.
Semanov, V. “Tan’ Sy-tun.” In Vostochnyi al’manakh, fasc. 1, Moscow, 1957.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.