Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Li Shih-yao

3643638Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period, Volume 1 — Li Shih-yaoFang Chao-ying

LI Shih-yao 李侍堯 (T. 欽齋), d. 1788, Nov., official, was a descendant of Li Yung-fang [q. v.], the first Ming officer to surrender to the Manchus and the recipient of the hereditary rank of viscount of the third class. Li Yung-fang's fifth son, Bayan 巴顏 or 霸彥 (1620–1652), was made (1642) the first lieutenant general of the Chinese Plain Blue Banner to which his family thereafter belonged. For his own merits Bayan was elevated to an earl of the first class. In remembrance of the services of Li Yung-fang, Emperor Kao-tsung ordered in 1749 that Li's earldom be given the designation, Chao-hsin 昭信伯)—an earldom that for some time seems to have been reduced to the second class.

Li Shih-yao was a great-great-grandson of Bayan. An honorary licentiate of 1736, he became an adjutant in 1743, a lieutenant colonel in 1744, and an adjutant general in 1748. In 1749 he was made a deputy lieutenant general of his own Banner, and early in 1753 was appointed military governor of Jehol. In 1755 he was made a vice-president, first of the Board of Works and then of the Board of Revenue. Late in 1755 he was appointed acting Tartar general at Canton, a post he held until 1759. Concurrently he was twice (1757, 1758) acting governor-general of Kwangtung and Kwangsi, but early in 1759 received full appointment as governor-general. Recalled to Peking in 1761, he was promoted to the post of president of the Board of Revenue, succeeding his father, Li Yüan-liang 李元亮 (posthumous name 勤恪), who retired after holding that office for two years. In 1763 Li Shih-yao was made governor-general of Hupeh and Hunan, and a year later was transferred to Canton. In July 1765 he retired to observe the period of mourning, but three months later was recalled to serve as acting president of the Board of Works. Beginning in 1766, he acted for more than a year as president of the Board of Punishments. In 1767 he was sent to Canton for the third time as governor-general, remaining at that post for ten years. During these ten years he inherited the earldom, Chao-hsin (early in 1768), was made concurrently a Grand Secretary (1773). and was honored by having the company to which his family belonged raised to the higher Chinese Bordered Yellow Banner (1774).

In 1777 Li was made governor-general of Yunnan and Kweichow to supervise the yet unsettled Burmese affairs (see under A-kuei). In 1780 Emperor Kao-tsung heard that Li was false to his trust, and sought evidence from Hai-ning 海寧 (d. 1790, posthumous name 勤毅), who had been grain intendant of Yunnan in 1777–78. According to the Emperor, Hai-ning at first hesitated to incriminate Li, but when pressed dilated on Li's alleged malpractices. The emperor sent his favorite, Ho-shên [q. v.], to conduct the trial in Yunnan—a trial which resulted, as was expected, in Li's conviction. Li was escorted to Peking, was deprived of all ranks, and sentenced to immediate death by a tribunal headed by Ho-shên. But the sentence was commuted by the Emperor to imprisonment awaiting execution. Li's earldom was given to his brother, Li Fêng-yao 李奉堯 (d. 1789, posthumous name 簡恪), then provincial commander-in-chief of Kiangnan. This was the first case in which Ho-shên, then rising in the Emperor's favor, tested his power to intimidate high provincial officials with a view to bringing them into submission. The case smacks of collusion, for Hai-ning, upon whose testimony Li was convicted, at first declined to give evidence against Li but laid stress on Li's ability as an administrator. Yet when subjected by imperial command to "severe questioning" (嚴詢), he finally testified that Li had accepted gifts from his subordinates and had sold them some pearls. It was not difficult for Ho-shên to prove the truth of these allegations since most officials of that day received—even demanded, as in the case of Ho-shên himself—gifts from subordinates. It is significant that Li's successor as governor-general of Yunnan and Kweichow was Fu-k'ang-an [q. v.], nephew of the Emperor and a close friend of Ho-shên.

In 1781, after a year in prison, Li Shih-yao was released. He was given the rank of a third grade official and was sent to Lan-chou, Kansu, to take charge of the suppression of a Mohammedan rebellion (see under A-kuei). Soon he was appointed acting governor-general of Shensi and Kansu. The rebellion was put down in a few months and he remained at his post. In the same year he and A-kuei reported on the corrupt practices of some seventy officials in Kansu and their report resulted in the immediate execution of twenty-three of the accused and the confiscation of all their property. In 1782 Li's rank was raised to the first grade and he was given the title of Grand Guardian of the Heir Apparent. But two years later, when remnants of the rebels of 1781 staged another uprising, he was discharged for failure to overpower them. Fu-k'ang-an, again Li's successor, accused him of negligence and failure to strike quickly. For the second time Li was tried and sentenced to death, but the sentence was again commuted to imprisonment awaiting execution. Apparently Fu-k'ang-an made the most of the charge in order to advance his own interests. Having now at his command a large force he moved against the Mohammedans and suppressed them. Consequently he was raised from a baron to a marquis. Ho-shên, for his part, was created a baron. Such honors would not have come to either of them had Li been successful in the first instance.

However, in 1785, after another year in prison, Li Shih-yao was released. Early in 1786 he acted, first as lieutenant-general of the Chinese Plain Yellow Banner, and then as president of the Board of Revenue. Late in the same year he was made governor-general of Hunan and Hupeh. Early in 1787, owing to a rebellion in the Island of Taiwan (see under Ch'ai Ta-chi), he was transferred to Foochow to supply the troops under Ch'ang-ch'ing 常青 (d. 1793, posthumous name 恭簡) who were then fighting on the Island. In September 1787 Fu-k'ang-an was made commander-in-chief of this campaign also, and Ch'ang-ch'ing was ordered to withdraw his entire force to the mainland. If the order had been strictly carried out the rebels on the island might well have had time to consolidate. Aware that the wording of the decree was too sweeping, Li Shih-yao, in transmitting it, left out the reference to entire withdrawal; and thus gave Fu-k'ang-an an opportunity to win the campaign with ease, and achieve another raise in rank. No blame was imputed to Li Shih-yao for altering the decree. To him fell the task of transporting and supplying food-stuffs to some 100,000 men under the command of Fu-k'ang-an. Yet even these services did not save Li from an imperial reprimand for defending Ch'ai Ta-chi [q. v.], a general who was falsely accused by Fu-k'ang-an. Early in 1788 Li had reported a number of Ch'ai's "crimes", but solely in order to avoid incriminating himself. After the war was won Li was given back his earldom and was numbered among the twenty men responsible for the victory in Taiwan. He died in November 1788 and was canonized as Kung-i 恭毅. His earldom was inherited by his son, Yü-hsiu 毓秀.

In 1795 it was charged that while Li Shih-yao was governor-general in Yunnan, he profited from the mint by decreasing the amount of copper in each coin. On this charge the earldom was taken from Li's son and given to his nephew, Yü-wên 毓文.

According to Chao-lien [q. v.], Li Shih-yao was short of stature, energetic, clever, and had a good memory. Nevertheless, he was haughty, lived luxuriously, and certainly was not incorruptible. He was noted for his ability to get hold of curious contrivances which he presented to the emperor; but in doing so he set an example to other provincial officials to be extravagant and to compete for imperial favor. Chao-lien does not explain that Li's ability to get these contrivances was due to his long term of service at Canton in charge of the foreign trade.

Canton had been a port for foreign trade since the seventh century when Emperor Yang-ti 煬帝 of the Sui dynasty established there a Superintendent of Customs. In modern times European contact with Canton began about 1516 when the Portuguese arrived, and some forty years later established a permanent settlement at Macao. The Portuguese were followed in the seventeenth century by the Dutch, English, French and others. Nevertheless, from time to time foreign trade was forbidden at Canton. In 1683, after Taiwan was conquered, Chinese ports were re-opened to commerce and in 1685 a customs house was established at Canton. Following an old practice, foreigners were allowed to trade only with specified merchants, some twenty in number. In 1745 the authorities selected from them a few "security merchants" (保商) who, by their wealth, could guarantee the payment of taxes. Foreigners, especially the English whose volume of trade gradually surpassed others, tried to avoid such restrictions. In 1755 Mr. Flint (洪任 or 洪任輝), an Englishman, managed to trade at Ningpo and others followed him. However, in 1757 Emperor Kao-tsung restricted by imperial decree all foreign trade (with the exception of Russian) to Canton, presumably in consequence of a plea from the officials and merchants of that port. In 1759 Flint returned to Chekiang to test this decision, but was refused a landing. He proceeded to Tientsin and there delivered a plea accusing Li Yung-piao 李永標, Superintendent of Customs at Canton, of irregularities, including the collection from foreigners of more money than was his due. Flint was escorted to Canton by an imperial commissioner who, together with Li Shih-yao and another official, investigated his accusations against Li Yung-piao, with the result that the latter was found guilty of failure to check the corrupt practices of his subordinates and servants.

At this time Li Shih-yao, as governor-general, began to be interested in foreign trade. The Flint case showed what trouble a foreigner could cause, particularly if he spoke the language. A Chinese who taught foreigners the language was beheaded, and Flint was sentenced to a three-year imprisonment at Macao. Li Shih-yao suggested to the throne five principles for regulating foreign trade at Canton and these were immediately approved. Then he issued nine rules regulating the life of foreigners in the city, such as restricting their movements to the premises of the factories, forbidding them to retain women or arms in their quarters, and holding the Hong merchants responsible for their conduct. In the following year (1760) a corporation of nine merchants was established to monopolize the European trade which came to be known as Co-hong 公行 (one such corporation had been established in 1720 but lasted only a year). During his third term as governor-general at Canton (1767–77) Li Shih-yao was instrumental in bringing about the dissolution of the Co-hong for about a decade (1771–80), but for a time after he left Canton it was virtually re-established (1780–82). It is said that his decision to dissolve the Co-hong was the result of a bribe of 100,000 taels paid to him by the English through a merchant. Thus, besides receiving his due share of "presents" according to regulations, he was enriched by other expedients. At any rate, owing to the European trade, official posts at Canton were regarded for more than a century as among the most lucrative in the empire, and Li Shih-yao, being the highest official there for more than fourteen years (longer than any other governor-general in that port in the Ch'ing period), probably amassed a fortune. It may be assumed that it was this fortune that prompted Ho-shên, or even Emperor Kao-tsung himself, to have Li Shih-yao incriminated time and again so that his property might be confiscated. It is perhaps significant that Sun Shih-i [q. v.] and Fu-k'ang-an, both henchmen of Ho-shên, served successively as governors-general at Canton.

[1/329/9b; 2/23/13a; 3/26/1a; 2/78/10a; 3/265/37a; 34/22/10a; Pritchard, E. H., Anglo-Chinese Relations During the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (1929); Liang Chia-pin 梁嘉彬, 廣東十三行考 Kwangtung shih-san-hang k'ao (1937); Shih-liao hsün k'an (see Lin Tsê-hsü) nos. 3–6, 9, 10, 12, 13; Stifler, Susan Reed, "Language Students of the East India Company's Canton Factory" in Jour. N. Ch. Br. Royal Asiatic Society 1938, pp. 48–50.]

Fang Chao-ying