Wang Xianqian 王先謙 (1842-1918), courtesy name Yiwu 益吾, style Kuiyuan xiansheng 葵園先生, was a late Qing period 清 (1644-1911) scholar. He hailed from Changsha 長沙, Hunan, and earned his jinshi degree in 1865. He was thereupon appointed junior compiler (bianxiu 編修) in the Hanlin Academy 翰林院 and later served in the provinical examination staff in Yunnan, Jiangxi and Zhejiang, and as libationer (jijiu 祭酒) of the Directorate of Education (guozijian 國子監) and provincial educational commissioner (xuezheng 學政) of Jiangsu 江蘇. In 1889 he withdrew from office and became the head of the Southern Academy 城南書院 and the Yuelu Academy 岳麓書院 in Changsha.
He nevertheless remained politically active and in 1898 argued against the implementation of the political reforms in his home provice. In the last decade of the Qing period he served as Senior Councillor in the Office of the Commissioner of Education (xuewu gongsuo yizhang 學務公所議長) and Associate Chief in the Offices for Arranging for Provincial Assemblies (ziyiju choubanchu huibian 諮議局籌辦處會辦). After the 1911 Revolution Wang Xianqian again chose to become a private person and dedicated himself to the study of literature and history.
Wang Xianqian was a very productive publisher who compiled quite a number of important historiographical and philosophical collections, like the Donghualu 東華錄, Donghua xulu 東華續錄 and Huang-Qing jingjie xubian 皇清經解續編. The latter is a sequel to Ruan Yuan's 阮元 (1764-1849) collection of Qing period commentaries to the Confucian Classics. Wang Xianqian collected books missing in Ruan's reprint series and put these together to a supplement. He also published the series Nanqian shuyuan congshu 南菁書院叢書.
Wang belonged to the school of text-critical scholars of the mid-Qing period that compared various transmitted texts and tried amending writing errors. His supplementary commentary to the history Hanshu, the 120-juan long Hanshu buzhu 漢書補注, for instance, is based on a version of the Jigu Library 汲古閣 that includes the commentary of the Tang period 唐 (618-907) scholar Yan Shigu 顏師古 (581-645). Wang enriched this text with the commentaries of 22 scholars living before Yan Shigu. He was so able to compare the wording of the Hanshu text. His studies are especially important in respect to the chapter on administrative geography, Dili zhi 地理志.
Wang Xianqian did the same with Hui Dong's 惠棟 (1697-1758) supplementary commentary on the Houhanshu, the Houhanshu buzhu 後漢書補注, a work which resulted in his book Houhanshu jijie 後漢書集解. Yet he died before work as finished, and the book was only published by his disciples. Wang Xianqian also compiled the critical collections Xunzi jijie 荀子集解, Zhuangzi jijie 莊子集解, Shangshu Kongzhuan canzheng 尚書孔傳參正 and Shi sanjia yi jishu 詩三家義集疏. These collections of various commentaries through the ages have been rated by contemporaries as the best of this sort.
Wang's further writings include the scholarly books Shiming shuzheng bu 釋名疏證補, Wuzhou dili tuzhi lüe 五洲地理圖志略, Riben yuanliu kao 日本源流考, Waiguo tongjian 外國通鑒, Hejiao Shuijingzhu 合校水經注, Xu guwen ci leizuan 續古文辭類纂, Pianwen leizuan 駢文類纂, Lüfu leizuan 律賦類纂, Shijia siliu wenchao 十家四六文鈔, and Liujia cichao 六家詞鈔. He furthermore published excellent prints of the catalogues Tianlu linlang shumu qianhoubian 天祿琳瑯書目前後編 (in two parts) and the books Yantielun 鹽鐵論 and Shishuo xinyu 世說新語, as well as a study to Nestorian inscriptions in China, the Jingjiao beiwen jishi kao 景教碑文紀事考.