Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Li Hsiu-ch'êng

LI Hsiu-ch'êng 李秀成 (original ming 以文), d. Aug. 7, 1864, age 40, commander-in-chief in the Taiping Rebellion, was a native of T'êng-hsien, Kwangsi. He was born in a poor family which eked out a precarious livelihood on mountain land. Between the ages of eight and ten (sui) he was taught by his maternal uncle to read, but thereafter assisted his parents in making a living. In 1850 Hung Hsiu-ch'üan [q. v.] began his rebellion in Li Hsiu-ch'êng's native province. When at the age of twenty-six or twenty-seven (sui) Li heard that Hung was preaching a new doctrine, the extreme poverty of his family was his sole incentive for leaving home and joining the rebel chief, Wei Ch'ang-hui (see under Hung Hsiu-ch'üan) when Wei was stationed in a neighboring village. As the insurgent movement advanced from Kwangsi to Hunan and on to Kiangsu, Li Hsiu-ch'êng was only a common soldier in the army, but he did not abate his study of the Classics and histories even though such works were prohibited by the Taiping leaders. After the taking of Nanking (March 19, 1853), he became head of a battalion. In November 1853 he served as an officer under the Assistant King, Shih Ta-k'ai [q. v.], in Anhwei, and in 1854 under the minister of state, Hu I-kuang (see under Yang Hsiu-ch'ing), in the attack on Lu-chou, Anhwei. As a reward he was made twentieth commander (1854).

Li Hsiu-ch'êng rose to power because of the abilities he displayed in a crisis. When murderous internal dissention overtook the Taipings (1856, see under Hung Hsiu-ch'üan), the Eastern King, Yang Hsiu-ch'ing [q. v.] and the Northern King, Wei Ch'ang-hui and thousands of their adherents were killed. Equally disturbing was the fact that the Assistant King, Shih Ta-k'ai, led an enormous number of soldiers from Nanking to wage a private campaign in southwest China (see under Shih). A search was then made for capable leaders, with the result that the eighteenth commander, Ch'ên Yü-ch'êng [q. v.], the twentieth commander, Li Hsiu-ch'êng, and the minister of state, Mêng Tê-ên 蒙得恩 (d. 1861 or 1862), were recommended to the Celestial King, Hung Hsiu-ch'üan, to take charge of military affairs. Mêng Tê-ên, a native of Kuei-p'ing, Kwangsi, was later made Tsan-wang 贊王, or Prince Tsan, and finally became generalissimo—Ch'ên Yü-ch'êng and Li Hsiu-ch'êng being his assistants. The Celestial King's brothers, Hung Jên-fa and Hung Jên-ta (see under Hung Hsiu-ch'üan) were entrusted with state affairs. Soon after his appointment, Li Hsiu-ch'êng was ordered to guard the city of T'ung-ch'êng, Anhwei, and to strengthen the defenses of that province. He invited a large number of Nien banditti under Chang Lo-hsing (see under Sêng-ko-lin-ch'in) to join the Taipings, thus stabilizing for a time the insurgents' position in Anhwei.

In 1857 Li Hsiu-ch'êng was recalled to Nanking to be made marquis with the designation, Ho-ch'êng 合成. He remained at the capital in order to attempt reform in the government. At this time the Celestial King's brothers controlled all important affairs and permitted many corrupt practices. Li submitted a memorial advocating enforcement of the laws against bribery, the bestowal of proper rewards and punishments, the reduction of taxes, and more reliance on the able Assistant King, Shih Ta-k'ai. The Celestial King, irritated by the memorial, deprived Li of his ranks which, however, were soon restored to him. Li was made chief civil administrator, but before long the military situation made it necessary for him to leave Nanking to combat government troops. Before leaving the capital he appointed Lin Shao-chang 林紹璋 (d. 1861), later designated Chang Wang 章王 or Prince Chang, to assist Mêng Tê-ên in the hope of curtailing the latter's rising influence.

Thereafter Li Hsiu-ch'êng was occupied in the active defense of the Taiping capital, Nanking. The reorganized imperialists under the command of Ho-ch'un and Chang Kuo-liang (see under Hsiang Jung) who had conquered Chü-jung (July 16, 1857) and Chinkiang (December 27, 1857) both in Kiangsu, marched on Nanking. Li rushed to Wu-hu with a detachment of 5,000 soldiers and then marched northeast and captured Ch'üan-chiao (May 10, 1858), Ch'u-chou (May 11), and Lai-an (May 13) in the hope of relieving the peril to Nanking. As Li's forces were inadequate, he retired to Ch'üan-chiao leaving a garrison at Ch'u-chou under Li Chao-shou 李昭壽 (original ming 兆受, later changed to 世忠), a native of Ku-shih, Honan, and a Nien Bandit chief, who had joined the Taipings. After a military conference of all their leaders the Taipings defeated the government forces at Pukow opposite Nanking. From Pukow Li Hsiu-ch'êng led a detachment eastward and took Yangchow (October 9, 1858) while Ch'ên Yü-ch'êng led another brigade northward and took Liu-ho, Kiangsu (October 24, 1858). But simultaneously Li Hsü-pin [q. v.] pursued the Taipings from T'ung-ch'êng (October 13, 1858) and ShuCh'êng (October 24) to San-ho-chên, a strategic town, south of Lu-chou, Anhwei. Li Hsiu-ch'êng and Ch'ên Yü-ch'êng hastened to San-ho-chên with all speed and after severe fighting delivered the government forces a crushing blow—causing Li Hsü-pin to die on the battlefield (November 15, 1858). Thus the Taiping positions in Anhwei and Nanking were again secure.

By an unexpected turn of events Li Hsiu-ch'êng was made Chung Wang 忠王 or Loyal Prince in 1859. In November of the year 1858 Li Chao-shou had treacherously turned over the cities of Ch'u-chou and Lai-an to the Manchus. Li Hsiu-ch'êng then wrote him a letter, dated December 6, 1858, begging him to return to the Taiping cause. Li Chao-shou not only ignored the invitation but in an official dispatch (1859) urged Li Hsiu-ch'êng to join the Ch'ing government—at the same time twitting him because Ch'ên Yü-ch'êng had been made a prince while Li Hsiu-ch'êng was then only a general. It happened that Li Chao-shou's dispatch was reported to the Celestial King who decided that instead of punishing Li Hsiu-ch'êng for corresponding with the enemy he would make him Chung Wang, allowing him to retain his post as generalissimo of the Taiping kingdom. These honors were conferred upon him to encourage him to further effort.

Thanks to Li Hsiu-ch'êng's tactics, Pukow was recovered in November 1859 and Hangchow was occupied from March 19 to 23, 1860. The imperialists, unaware of the strategy being used against them, dispatched relief forces to Hangchow, with the result that their main troops outside of Nanking were conclusively defeated (May 1860) and the imperial commandem, Ho-ch'un and Chang Kuo-liang lost their lives. This so disheartened the government troops in Kiangsu and Chekiang, that Li Hsiu-ch'êng was able also to take Changchow (May 24, 1860) and Soochow (June 2). At the fall of Soochow Li did all he could to prevent unnecessary destruction. He ordered his soldiers to refrain from killing the inhabitants or their cattle or from destroying their homes. Violators were punished with death and peace was soon restored to the city.

After he had taken Soochow, Li Hsiu-ch'êng is said to have been asked by disaffected imperialists in correspondence with him and by some Westerners living in Shanghai to attack that city. He set out with this objective in mind and established his headquarters (August 18, 1860) near the Catholic Cathedral at Zikawei about 18 li southwest of Shanghai. His forces destroyed many barracks of government troops 9 li from Shanghai, and then attacked the west, south and north gates of the city. But hindered by inclement weather, they could not make a speedy entrance. Contrary to Li's expectations the Western powers, jealous of their trade, decided to help the Ch'ing government. The traitors who had corresponded with Li were beheaded and the assault of the Taipings was repulsed by the imperialists, aided by the American adventurer, Frederick T. Ward (see under Fêng Kuei-fên), who was in command of a nondescript but effective force paid by the local government of Shanghai. In several inconclusive engagements Li was slightly wounded by shrapnel (August 22, 1860). As government troops at Kashing, Chekiang, were threatening his rear he went to rescue that city and thence to Soochow. When he arrived at Soochow he had word of a large number of volunteers in Kiangsi and Hupeh who desired to join him. On his way west he stopped at Nanking and urged the Celestial King and his high officials to lay up provisions against a probable long siege. The Celestial King reproached him for his anxiety, but the high officials thought well of his advice. Their plan, however, was frustrated by Hung's brothers. When Li reached Kiangsi he found many followers of Shih Ta-k'ai under the command of T'an T'i-yüan and Wang Hai-yang (see under Hung Jên-kan) ready to join him. Others, also from Kiangsi and Hupeh, flocked to his standards, so that his force is said to have been increased by 300,000 men. He conquered most of the cities in Kiangsi and harassed Tsêng Kuo-fan [q. v.] at Ch'i-mên in southern Anhwei (1860–61). He also overran a considerable part of Hupeh. But as Tso Tsung-t'ang [q. v.] defeated Li's cousin, Li Shih-hsien 李世賢 (d. Aug. 23, 1865, Prince Shih 侍王, a brave general of the Taipings), at Lo-p'ing, Kiangsi, and as Tsêng Kuo-ch'üan [q. v.] was persistently besieging Anking, Li Hsiu-ch'êng, fearful of being shut up in Kiangsi and Hupeh, withdrew his forces to attack Chekiang. There he quickly took many cities, including Hangchow (December 29, 1861). In these victories he was considerate of his enemies. All government officials who lost their lives in the conflict were buried with due ceremony and those captured were treated with respect. He provided some 10,000 coffins to inter the refugees who died of hunger, and those in need were supplied with rice and were granted loans without interest until they recovered their means of livelihood. In the meantime the Taipings lost Anking (September 5, 1861). In this reverse they also lost their brave general, Ch'ên Yü-ch'êng who was pursued and died in May 1862. The loss of Anking was a step toward the fall of Nanking, and the death of Ch'ên deprived Li of his best general.

Li Hsiu-ch'êng went from Hangchow to Soochow to spend the Taiping New Year (February 10 or 11, 1862). On his way he received many petitions charging his able subordinate, Ch'ên K'un-shu 陳坤書 (d. 1864), with misgovernment in Soochow. Li had entrusted Ch'ên with the rule of that city after it was taken in June 1860. Fearing Li's wrath, Ch'ên fled with his forces to Changchow before Li could arrive. Hoping to gain for himself equal rank with Li, Ch'ên had offered large bribes to the high officials of the Taiping court to make him Hu Wang 護王 or Prince Hu. Ch'ên, now no longer under the command of Li, encamped his force at Changchow and fought effectively in the area west of Shanghai and south of Nanking but was finally besieged at Changchow by Li Hung-chang, Liu Ming-ch'uan [qq. v.] and the Ever Victorious Army. After sanguinary battles, the government forces took that city on May 11, 1864, and Ch'ên K'un-shu was captured and was soon afterwards executed.

After remaining in Soochow for four months to reorganize the local government and improve the people's condition, as was his custom, Li Hsiu-ch'êng again proceeded (1862) to attack Shanghai which in 1861 had been assaulted only by small brigades. On January 8, 1862 he publicly announced to the people of Shanghai and Sung-chiang that the Taipings were about to take those cities. He urged the imperialists to submit to him, the Westerners to remain neutral, and the populace to be quiet. A few days later he advanced upon the city, but his assault was repulsed, chiefly by French and English forces and by Ward's "Ever Victorious Army" (常勝軍)—so called by the Ch'ing government to encourage the Chinese to enlist in it. Simultaneously Li Hung-chang ordered 5,500 Anhwei soldiers under the command of Ch'êng Hsüeh-ch'i [q. v.] and Liu Ming-ch'uan to come to the rescue of the city (April 8, 1862). These allied forces captured Chia-ting (May 1, 1862) and Ch'ing-p'u (May 12) and then proceeded to attack T'ai-ts'ang and K'un-shan, all in the neighborhood of Shanghai. At this critical moment Li Hsiu-ch'êng took personal command of 10,000 veterans and proceeded from Soochow to the front. After furious encounters Li defeated the allied forces of Ward and Li Hung-chang at T'ai-ts'ang (May 21, 1862), retook Chia-ting (May 26) and Ch'ing-p'u (June 9) and subjected Sung-chiang to a long siege. When the latter city was about to fall, Li Hsiu-ch'êng received three messages daily from the Celestial King, begging him to relieve Nanking which Tsêng Kuo-ch'üan's Hunan Braves were assaulting.

Toward the end of August 1862 Li Hsiu-ch'êng withdrew his force, said to number 300,000 men, from Shanghai to Nanking. Day and night, for 46 days after October 12, 1862 he attacked Tsêng Kuo-ch'üan's quarters at Yü-hua t'ai on the outskirts of Nanking. But owing to Tsêng's superior tactics and to the fact that Li's men were spent by continuous assaults and were suffering from cold, hunger and illness, Li had finally to abandon the effort. At this point, his cousin, Li Shih-hsien, suggested that as the Ch'ing forces were inadequately prepared to protect the area north of the Yangtze it would be wise to take Yangchow, and that with added provisions he might also attack Tsêng's base at Anking and so remove the menace to the Taiping capital. Li Hsiu-ch'êng accepted the suggestion. At the end of 1862 he sent a detachment across the Yangtze and took Ho-chou, Han-shan and Ch'ao-hsien, all in Anhwei. In the spring of 1863 he personally proceeded to Anhwei and took many cities. But he had no chance to approach Anking since he was forced by Pao Ch'ao, P'êng Yü-lin [qq. v.] and others to go northwestward as far as Liu-an, a city near the border of Hupeh (May 1863). Finally he ordered his troops back from the west to retake Yangchow. Though he forced his way through Ch'u-chou and T'ien-ch'ang with Yangchow in view, he had to abandon this hope because his hungry soldiers could not maintain themselves in the devastated areas through which they passed. Moreover the Celestial King at Nanking urgently needed Li's help after Tsêng Kuo-ch'üan strengthened his base at Yü-hua-t'ai (June 1863) and occupied many strategic points round the city. Thus the campaign against Anking and Yangchow failed and Li had to face the necessity of a direct attack on Nanking.

When Li Hsiu-ch'êng was again near Nanking he advised Hung Hsiu-ch'üan to lead half a million men in a general retreat to some other region. But Hung stoutly declined to do so, in the belief that God would take care of him. At that time (1863) Nanking, Soochow and Hangchow were three important headquarters of the Taipings. But Nanking was doggedly attacked by Tsêng Kuo-ch'üan, Soochow was menaced by Li Hung-chang, and Hangchow by Tso Tsung-t'ang [q. v.]. The Taiping generals holding Soochow and Hangchow begged Li Hsiu-ch'êng to come to their rescue, but the Celestial King would not permit it. Finally Li did obtain permission to aid Soochow which was harassed by the forces of Li Hung-chang (see under Ch'êng Hsüeh-ch'i). Though Burgevine (see under Fêng Kuei-fên) with 300 veterans fought with the Taipings at Soochow from August 2 to October 17, 1863, the insurgents were gradually forced to retire into the city. [Burgevine had been a commander of the Ever Victorious Army in 1862, but owing to arrears in salary had mutinied (January 3, 1863) against the Chinese government at Sungkiang and Shanghai, and when dismissed (January 15, 1863) joined the Taipings.] When Li Hsiu-ch'êng came to the relief of Soochow the combined Taiping forces made an effort to take the city, but without success. Realizing that the situation was serious, Li went west of Soochow (December 1) to a point not far from Changchow in order to attack the government forces in the rear or go to Nanking to give the Celestial King time to effect a general retirement from Nanking. But in the meantime eight Taiping chiefs, who by this time were very hard pressed in Soochow, made arrangements with Li Hung-chang to surrender, which they did on December 5, 1863 (for details see under Ch'êng Hsüeh-ch'i).

Thereupon Li Hsiu-ch'êng returned to Nanking. On March 31, 1864 Hangchow was taken by Tso Tsung-t'ang; and Nanking, the only remaining Taiping base, was closely besieged and fiercely attacked by Tsêng Kuo-ch'üan. Soldiers and civilians within the distressed city had nothing to eat and wept as they begged Li for help. Li distributed his own supplies of rice to the poor and his own money to his soldiers. At this juncture the Celestial King, Hung Hsiu-ch'üan, committed suicide (June 1864). Tsêng's forces undermined the city walls with elaborate tunnels and finally took Nanking on July 19, 1864. Hundreds of Taiping officials and maid-servants in the palaces drowned themselves or in other ways ended their lives. Thousands upon thousands of soldiers were mercilessly killed by the victorious army and a majority of government buildings were destroyed. Li Hsiu-ch'êng taking the Celestial King's successor, Hung Fa (see under Hung Hsiu-ch'üan), and several hundred others with him, rushed out through a break in the city wall at midnight July 19. But as soon as they emerged they were scattered by the pursuing soldiers. Having given his best war horse to Hung Fu, and having taken, in his haste, a poor one for himself, he was unable to flee any great distance and was forced near daybreak of the following morning to hide in a ruined temple at the top of the hill called Fang-shan 方山. There he relaxed and divested himself of his heavy burden of jewels and silver. Observing several villagers approaching, he ran away leaving his jewels behind. The villagers chased him, but knelt before him when they recognized that he was the Loyal Prince. For two days he was sequestered by them while they discussed how they could release him to the Taiping forces. As another group of villagers had seized the jewels, a quarrel ensued. This disturbance caught the attention of a general, Hsiao Fu-ssŭ 蕭孚泗 (posthumous name 壯肅, d. 1884), a native of Hsiang-hsiang, Hunan, who on the night of July 22 arrested Li and took him to Tsêng Kuo-ch'üan. Hsiao had served as an officer in the Hunan Army against the Taipings since 1853 and had been promoted to the post of provincial commander-in-chief of Fukien (1863). He was rewarded for his capture of Li by being given the hereditary rank of a first class baron.

In Nanking Li Hsiu-ch'êng was questioned by Tsêng Kuo-fan and ordered to put his answers into writing. From July 30 to August 7 he wrote the whole story of the Taiping Rebellion, particularly of his part in it. When he had completed the account he was executed on Tsêng Kuo-fan's order at Nanking at midnight August 7, 1864. According to Tsêng Kuo-fan's diary, Li Hsiu-ch'êng's sketch was abridged by Tsêng from some 40,000 words to 28,000. Tsêng's postface to Li's account states that the deleted portions related to the ten advantages of persuading the Taiping remnants to submit to the government, ten mistakes of Hung Hsiu-ch'üan which led to the downfall of the Taiping state, praise of the Hunan Army, and a plea for his own life. This abridged sketch was translated by Walter T. Lay under the title The Autobiography of the Chungwang (Shanghai, 1865). The original Chinese version usually has the title 李秀成供狀 Li Hsiu-ch'êng kung-chuang or Li Hsiu-ch'êng kung. It appears in an undated reprint in the 中國近百年史資料續編 Chung-kuo chin-pai-nien-shih tzŭ-liao hsü-pien under the title 太平天國始末 T'ai-p'ing T'ien-kuo shih-mo (1933). A photographic reproduction of an early block print, entitled Li Hsiu-ch'êng kung, has a preface by Professor Mêng Sên (see under Chao I-ch'ing) dated 1936.

From Li Hsiu-ch'êng's own account of his life we know that he was unfailingly loyal to the Taiping régime, filial to his mother, friendly to his inferiors, and considerate of his enemies. After 1858 he was the pillar of the Taiping régime. His loyalty and persistence doubtless prolonged the rebellion for several years. Some of his mandates, letters and poems are collected in the T'ai-p'ing T'ien-kuo wên-shu, T'ai-p'ing T'ien-kuo chao-yü, and T'ai-p'ing T'ien-kuo shih-wên ch'ao (see under Hung Hsiu-ch'üan).

[1/481/1a; 2/60/11b; T'ai-p'ing T'ien-kuo yeh-shih (see under Hung Hsiu-ch'üan); Chung-kuo chin-pai-nien shih tzŭ-liao, first collection (1931); Tsêng Kuo-fan [q. v.], Tsêng Wên-chêng kung nien-p'u and his diary; P'ing-Chê chi-lüeh (see under Tso Tsung-t'ang); Lin-le, Ti-ping Tien-kwoh, London, 1866); Shanghai hsien-chih (1871); Maybon, Ch. B., et Fredet, Jean, Histoire de la Concession Française de Changhai (Paris, 1929); Morse, H. B., The International Relations of the Chinese Empire, vol. II (London, 1918); Allen, Bernard M., Gordon in China (London, 1933).]

Têng Ssŭ-yü