1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Li Hung Chang

LI HUNG CHANG (1823–1901), Chinese statesman, was born on the 16th of February 1823 at Hofei, in Ngan-hui. From his earliest youth he showed marked ability, and when quite young he took his bachelor degree. In 1847 he became a Tsin-shi, 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, 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 Tsêng Kuo-fan, the generalissimo in command. In 1859 he was transferred to the province of Fu-kien, where he was given the rank of taotai, or intendant of circuit. But Tsêng 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 Ward, was finally placed under the command of Charles George Gordon. With this support Li gained numerous victories leading to the surrender of Suchow and the capture of Nanking. For these exploits he was made governor of Kiangsu, was decorated with a yellow jacket, and was created an earl. An incident connected with the surrender of Suchow, however, left a lasting stain upon his character. By an arrangement with Gordon the rebel wangs, or princes, yielded Nanking 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 rebellion of the Nienfei, a remnant of the Taipings, in Ho-nan and Shan-tung (1866) he was ordered again to take the field, and after some misadventures he succeeded in suppressing the movement. A year later he was appointed viceroy of Hukwang, where he remained until 1870, when the Tientsin 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 Chihli, 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 emperor T’ungchi in 1875 he, by suddenly introducing a large armed force into the capital, effected a coup d’état by which the emperor Kwang Sü 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 Chihli he raised a large well-drilled and well-armed force, and spent vast sums both in fortifying 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. But in 1894 events forced his hand, and in consequence of a dispute as to the relative influence of China and Japan in Korea, war broke out. The result proved the wisdom of Li’s fears. Both on land and at sea the Chinese forces were ignominiously routed, and in 1895, on the fall of Wei-hai-wei, the emperor sued for peace. With characteristic subterfuge his advisers suggested as peace envoys persons whom the mikado very properly and promptly refused to accept, and finally Li was sent to represent his imperial master at the council assembled at Shimonoseki. With great diplomatic skill Li pleaded the cause of his country, but finally had to agree to the cession of Formosa, the Pescadores, and the Liaotung peninsula to the conquerors, and to the payment of an indemnity of 200,000,000 taels. By a subsequent arrangement the Liaotung peninsula was restored to China, in exchange for an increased indemnity. During the peace discussions at Shimonoseki, as Li was being borne through the narrow streets of the town, a would-be assassin fired a pistol point-blank in his face. The wound inflicted was not serious, and after a few days’ rest Li was able to take up again the suspended negotiations. In 1896 he represented the emperor at the coronation of the tsar, and visited Germany, Belgium, France, England, and the United States of America. For some time after his return to China his services were demanded at Peking, where he was virtually constituted minister for foreign affairs; but in 1900 he was transferred to Canton as viceroy of the two Kwangs. The Boxer movement, however, induced the emperor to recall him to the capital, and it was mainly owing to his exertions that, at the conclusion of the outbreak, a protocol of peace was signed in September 1901. For many months his health had been failing, and he died on the 7th of November 1901. He left three sons and one daughter.  (R. K. D.)