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Li Hongzhang

Li Hongzhang (February 15, 1823 - November 7, 1901) was a general who ended several major rebellions, and a leading statesman of the late Chinese Qing Empire.

He was born Li Tongzhang (李銅章), a name later changed to Li Hongzhang. He had two Chinese courtesy name|courtesy names (字): Jianfu (漸甫) and Zifu (子黻). His Chinese courtesy name#Hao|pseudonym (號) was Shaoquan (少荃), but in the end of his life he also used the pseudonyms Yisou (儀叟) and Shengxin (省心). Being the second son of his father, he was popularly nicknamed Mr. Li the Second (李二先生). His posthumous name is Wenzhong (文忠 - meaning "literate and loyal").

Li Hongzhang was born in the village of Qunzhi (群治村), located in Modian township (磨店乡), 14 km./9 miles northeast of downtown Hefei (合肥), Anhui province. From his earliest youth he showed marked ability, and when quite young he took his bachelor degree. In 1847 he became a Jinshi, or graduate of the highest order, and two years later was admitted into the imperial Hanlin college. Shortly after this the central provinces of the empire were invaded by the Taiping rebels (see: Taiping Rebellion), and in defence of his native district he raised a regiment of militia, with which he did such good service to the imperial cause that he attracted the attention of Zeng Guofan, the generalissimo in command.

In 1859 he was transferred to the province of Fujian, where he was given the rank of taotai, or intendant of circuit. But Zeng had not forgotten him, and at his request Li was recalled to take part against the rebels. He found his cause supported by the "Ever Victorious Army," which, after having been raised by an American named Frederick Townsend Ward|Ward, was finally placed under the command of Charles George Gordon. With this support Li gained numerous victories leading to the surrender of Suzhou and the capture of Nanjing. For these exploits he was made governor of Jiangsu, was decorated with a yellow jacket, and was created an earl.

An incident connected with the surrender of Suzhou, however, left a lasting stain upon his character. By an arrangement with Gordon, the rebel wangs, or princes, yielded Nanjing on condition that their lives should be spared. In spite of the assurance given them by Gordon, Li ordered their instant execution. This breach of faith so aroused Gordon's indignation that he seized a rifle, intending to shoot the falsifier of his word, and would have done so had not Li saved himself by flight. On the suppression of the rebellion (1864) Li took up his duties as governor, but was not long allowed to remain in civil life. On the outbreak of the Nian Rebellion (捻軍起義), a remnant of the Taipings, in Henan and Shandong (1866), he was ordered again to take the field, and after some misadventures be succeeded in suppressing the movement. A year later he was appointed viceroy of Hukwang, where he remained until 1870, when the Tianjin massacre necessitated his transfer to the scene of the outrage. He was, as a natural consequence, appointed to the viceroyalty of the metropolitan province of Zhili, and justified his appointment by the energy with which he suppressed all attempts to keep alive the anti-foreign sentiment among the people. For his services he was made imperial tutor and member of the grand council of the empire, and was decorated with many-eyed peacocks' feathers.

To his duties as viceroy were added those of the superintendent of trade, and from that time until his death, with a few intervals of retirement, he practically conducted the foreign policy of China. He concluded the Chifu convention with Sir Thomas Wade (1876), and thus ended the difficulty caused by the murder of Mr Margary in Yunnan; he arranged treaties with Peru and Japan, and he actively directed the Chinese policy in Korea. On the death of the Tongzhi Emperor in 1875 he, by suddenly introducing, a large armed force into the capital, effected a coup d'etat by which the Guangxu Emperor was put on the throne under the tutelage, of the two dowager empresses; and in 1886, on the conclusion of the Franco-Chinese War, he arranged a treaty with France. Li was always strongly impressed with the necessity of strengthening the empire, and when viceroy of Zhili he raised a large well-drilled and well- armed force, and spent vast sums both in fortifying L?shunkou|Port Arthur and the Taku forts and in increasing the navy. For years he had watched the successful reforms effected in Japan and had a well-founded dread of coming into conflict with that empire.

Because of his prominent role in Chinese diplomacy in Korea and of his strong political connections in the north-eastern provinces (Manchuria), Li Hongzhang found himself leading Chinese forces during the disastrous Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895). In fact, it was mostly the armies that he established and controlled that did the fighting, whereas other Chinese troops led by his rivals and political enemies did not come to their aid. The fact that some of his men were extremely corrupt further disadvantaged China from the beginning of the war. For instance, one official used ammunition funds for personal use. As a result, shells ran out for the some of the battleships during battle such that one navy commander, Deng Shichang, resorted to ramming the enemies' ship. The defeat of his relatively modernized troops and a small naval force at the hands of the Japanese greatly undermined his political standing, as well as the wider cause of the Self-Strengthening Movement.

In 1896 he toured Europe and then the United States|United States of America, where he advocated reform of the American immigration policies that had greatly restricted Chinese immigration after the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 (renewed in 1892).

Li Hongzhang played a major role in ending the Boxer Rebellion. In 1901 he was the principal Chinese negotiator with the foreign powers who had captured Beijing, and on September 7, 1901 he signed the treaty ending the Boxer crisis, obtaining the departure of the foreign armies at the price of huge indemnities for China. Exhausted, he died two months later in Beijing.

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