Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Hsü Kuang-chin

HSÜ Kuang-chin 徐廣縉 (T. 仲升, 靖侯), d. ca. 1858 age 73 (sui), official, was a native of Lu-i, Honan. His ancestral home was in Anhwei. His father, Hsü Han 徐瀚, a chin-shih of 1811, was a secretary of the Grand Secretariat. Taking his chin-shih degree in 1820, Hsü Kuang-chin became a compiler of the Hanlin Academy in 1822. In 1830 he was made a censor and three years later was appointed prefect of Yü-lin-fu, Shensi. In 1836 he was promoted to grain intendant of Kiangsi and then became successively provincial judge of Fukien and prefect of the metropolitan prefecture (Shun-t'ien)—both in 1840. After observing a period of mourning for his mother (1842–45), he became financial commissioner at Nanking, and in 1846 governor of Yünnan, whence he was soon transferred to the governorship of Kwangtung. Because he contributed ten thousand taels to famine relief in Honan, the emperor ordered the ministry of civil appointments to give him credit for promotion. On February 3, 1848 Hsü Kuang-chin was appointed acting governor-general of Kwangtung and Kwangsi and concurrently deputed Imperial Commissioner for foreign affairs in succession to Ch'i-ying [q. v.].

Hsü took charge of foreign relations at Canton at a time when the era of cordial cooperation in Anglo-Chinese relations, inaugurated by Ch'i-ying and Pottinger (see under Ch'i-ying), was rapidly drawing to a close. Following the British evacuation of Kulangsu and Chusan—places held in pledge since 1842—there had been a series of incidents and a gradual increase of Anglo-Chinese friction, particularly at Canton where the question of entrance to the walled city had become the chief point of contention. The British versions of the treaties of 1842–43 had provided for residence in the "cities and towns" of Canton, etc., which the Chinese versions had generally translated as "harbors" or "anchorages". At any rate, the strong anti-foreign sentiments of the Cantonese gentry had become fixed upon this issue, and in April 1847 the British were obliged to agree with Ch'i-ying to defer their entrance into the city until April 1849 (see under Ch'i-ying). In June 1848 Bonham (see under Yeh Ming-ch'ên), governor of Hongkong, wrote to Hsü suggesting that preliminary arrangements be made for entrance into the city in 1849. Hsü temporized; excitement mounted among the people of Canton, and as the time approached, placards and processions of militia were much in evidence. After an inconclusive interview with Bonham at the Bocca Tigris in February 1849, Hsü sent to him on April 1 a copy of an Imperial Rescript which declared that the emperor could not overcome the unanimous opposition of the people of Canton. Meanwhile the local gentry and merchants, headed by Wu Ch'ung-yüeh [q.v., Howqua], and encouraged by Hsü Kuangchin, held a meeting at which it was decided to stop the foreign trade, and the American and French consuls were told that England alone would be held responsible for the resulting loss. A joint letter was also sent to Bonham. Under these circumstances the British were obliged to content themselves with a formal protest (August 1849). Their defeat on this issue, which had grown out of all proportion to its original importance, marked a turning point in Anglo-Chinese relations in the period between 1842 and 1858, and brought honor to Hsü Kuang-chin whom the emperor praised as having got the greatest diplomatic success in ten years. Hsü was given the hereditary title of a viscount of the first rank and a double-eyed peacock's feather. Yeh Ming-ch'ên [q. v.], governor of Kwangtung, was made a baron. A few leaders among the gentry were also secretly rewarded with brevet titles and buttons of the third rank. A British protest in 1850 was fruitless (see under I-chu). From this time, in fact, it became increasingly difficult for the ministers of foreign powers to communicate or to have interviews with the Imperial Commissioner at Canton, to whom all diplomatic affairs were referred by the Chinese authorities elsewhere. In October 1848 the American commissioner, John W. Davis 德威士, (1799–1859), was received by Hsü outside the walls of Canton in a warehouse; the American chargé, Peter Parker 伯駕 (1804–1888), did not obtain an interview in 1850-52, nor did the French minister, Bourboulon (see under Chi-êr-hang-a), in 1852–55. The policy of non-communication inaugurated by Hsü Kuang-chin and carried further by his successor, Yeh Mingch'ên, formed part of the background for the second Anglo-Chinese war.

Beginning in 1850, Hsü was confronted with the problem of the Taiping Rebellion, which broke out in Kwangsi in that year. He impeached the governor of that province as weak and incompetent and the latter was thereupon replaced by Lin Tsê-hsü [q. v.]. Having been ordered to suppress local insurrections in Kwangtung, Hsü succeeded in executing numerous bandit leaders at Kao-chou, Lien-chou, and other places (1851–52), and was rewarded with the title of Grand Guardian of the Heir Apparent. In the summer of 1852 he was succeeded in the office of Imperial Commissioner and governor-general at Canton by Yeh Ming-ch'ên and was sent to Wu-chou in Kwangsi to manage military affairs. Before he reached that place the Taiping forces had advanced into Hunan. The Imperial Commissioner, Sai-shang-a (see under Ch'ung-ch'i), was dismissed, and his place was taken by Hsü who was appointed concurrently governor-general of Hupeh and Hunan (September 1852). When he reached Hêng-chou, however, the rebels captured Yochow; when he reached Yochow, they had taken Wuchang, capital of Hupeh. For the slowness of his advance he was severely reprimanded by the emperor and deprived of his rank and titles; his property was confiscated, and he was imprisoned to await execution. Fortunately, in the summer of 1853 the Taipings invaded Honan (see under Lin Fêng-hsiang) and Hsü was ordered to protect Kuei-tê and so gain merit to offset his punishment. This he did by fighting against the Nien bandits (see under Sêng-ko-lin-ch'in) in the region around Kuei-tê. In 1858 he was despatched to Huai-yuan and Fêng-yang in Anhwei to fight the same banditti, and was restored to the fourth rank. Two months later he was stricken by paralysis and soon died.

[1/400/1a; 2/48/10b; Lu-i hsien-chih (1896); Ch'ou-pan i-wu shih-mo (see under I-hsin), Tao-kuang period 79–80, Hsien-fêng period 1–2; F. O. 17/164-168, Public Record Office, London; Morse, H. B., International Relations of the Chinese Empire, I, ch. XIV (London, 1910); P'ing-ting Nien-fei fang-lüeh (see under I-hsin), chüan 45, 47.]

J. K. Fairbank

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