Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Liu K'un-i
LIU K'un-i 劉坤一 ( 峴莊), Jan. 21, 1830–1902, Oct. 6, official, was a native of Hsin-ning, Hunan. He began his career as a senior licentiate and entered (1855) the Hunan army as an officer under the command of a relative, Liu Ch'ang-yu [q. v.]. During the next ten years he assisted in quelling the Taiping rebels and bandit groups in Hunan, Kiangsi, Kwangsi and Kwangtung; and as a reward for his services was promoted to the position of governor of Kiangsi (1865–74). In the meantime he devoted much time to administrative affairs—he dismissed corrupt officials, reformed long-standing political evils, reduced taxes, and carried on social relief. In January 1875 he became acting governor-general of Liang-Kiang (Kiangsu, Kiangsi and Anhwei) and served concurrently as superintendent of trade for southern ports. In September 1875 he was transferred to the post of governor-general of Kwangtung and Kwangsi (1875–79). While filling this office he increased the provincial revenue, improved local administration, curbed gambling, and maintained peace and order. On December 27, 1879 he was re-instated in his earlier position as governor-general of Liang-Kiang and remained there until 1881. In addition to his routine duties, he was asked (1880) to submit to the throne suggestions concerning the Empire's diplomatic policy toward Russia in regard to Ili (see under Tsêng Chi-tsê). He strongly recommended preparation for war with Russia, but took a moderate stand toward Japan concerning her ambitions in Korea and the Loochoo Islands. He suggested limiting Chinese opposition to one power while keeping on good terms with the United States and other Western powers in the hope of securing their aid. The negotiations over Ili were peacefully concluded by the signing of the Russo-Chinese treaty at St. Petersburg on February 24, 1881. At this time France invaded Annam; hence on December 29, 1881 Liu again memorialized the throne, urging co-operation with the Annamese in the country's preparation for war with France. His proposals were received with high favor by the emperor.
After several years of retirement, Liu K'un-i was recalled in 1890 to his previous post at Nanking as governor-general of Liang-Kiang which he assumed in the spring of 1891. A few months later anti-missionary riots broke out at Wuhu and other points along the Yangtze, but Liu quickly suppressed them. The anti-missionary movement was closely connected with the secret society, Ko-lao-hui 哥老會 whose members contemplated rebellion with arms to be secured through Charles Welsh Mason 美生 (b. 1866), a British subject who had previously been employed in the Customs at Chinkiang. The arms were seized (1891) before detivery at Chinkiang and the rebellion was frustrated. In 1892 Liu strengthened the fortress at Chinkiang, adding some new cannon. After declaration of the Sino-Japanese war on August 1, 1894 he was made Imperial Commissioner in command of troops at Shanhaikuan, a strategic pass between Chihli and Manchuria. As soon as he heard that negotiations for peace were in progress he repeatedly urged the Court to prolong the war which he believed might end favorably for China. Nevertheless, the Sino-Japanese treaty of peace was eventually signed at Shimonoseki on April 17, 1895, whereupon Liu returned to his post at Nanking.
A few years later Liu K'un-i achieved distinction for remarkable success in keeping South China free from the excesses of the Boxer Movement which in 1900 harassed North China. Violently anti-foreign, the Boxers practiced magical rites which they believed rendered them invulnerable to the bullets of aliens. Late in 1899 and early in 1900 various attacks were made upon missionaries and Chinese converts, and before long the Boxers gained the tacit approval of powerful officials in North China—even of the Empress Dowager herself (see under Hsiao-ch'in). News of the arrival of Western troops excited yet more the suspicion of the Boxers who began to burn foreign buildings and slaughter native Christians. At this critical juncture Liu K'un-i sent (June 14) a telegram to Chang Chih-tung [q. v.], then governor-general of Hupeh and Hunan, suggesting that he and Chang send a joint memorial to the throne begging that steps be taken to suppress the Boxers in order to avert a serious international conflict. Chang examined Liu's draft and after making a few modifications in the wording the memorial was sent jointly by telegraph on June 15. Later both Liu and Chang repeatedly warned the Empress Dowager of the danger of the policy she was pursuing in North China—but without effect. On June 21 the Imperial Government issued an edict ordering the extermination of all foreigners, and government troops were brought in to assist the Boxers in besieging and attacking the Legation Quarter. At the same time high officials of all provinces were ordered to send troops to Peking and to kill all foreigners in their jurisdictions. Fortunately most of the provincial governors disapproved of the order and of the tactics of the Boxers—among them Liu K'un-i. Early in June Liu issued stringent orders to arrest all members of the Boxer Society within his jurisdiction and to execute them promptly without further reference to him. On June 20 two Boxers were executed at Nanking. Since the catastrophe which Liu and Chang had foreseen thus took place, these two powerful officials jointly decided to take a neutral attitude with regard to affairs in the North, though they still remained loyal to the Imperial Court. Y'uan Shih-k'ai (see under Yüan Chia-san), then governor of Shantung, and other high officials of Central and South China followed them in this step. On June 27 Liu ordered Yü Lien-yüan 余聯沅 (chin-shih of 1877, d. 1901), the intendant of Shanghai, to deliver to the consular body at that port a detailed statement in which Liu and Chang undertook to protect foreign life and property in the Yangtze area. The foreign authorities at Shanghai agreed to protect the concessions with their own forces and to refrain from sending warships up the Yangtze without consultation with the governors-general. A week later (July 3) Liu and Chang expressed their will more precisely in a joint telegram to the Chinese ministers at the various foreign capitals announcing their willingness to assume responsibility for the security of foreign life and property within their respective jurisdictions as well as in the province of Chekiang, so long as the treaty powers refrained from landing troops in the designated area. The example set by Liu and Chang in this matter was followed by the provincial authorities of the other maritime provinces. Thus the Boxer uprising was confined principally to the siege of the Legations and to the two provinces of Chihli and Shansi. Liu's stand greatly simplified the situation. After the signing of the protocol at Peking on September 7, 1901 he urged the Court, which had fled to Sian, to return to Peking. Soon after the Court returned (January 7, 1902) he was rewarded for his services to the country with the designation of Grand Guardian of the Heir Apparent.
On July 12, 19, and 20, 1902, Liu K'un-i and Chang Chih-tung submitted to the throne three joint memorials advocating a reform movement which would introduce Western sciences into China and would greatly improve the Chinese educational, administrative and military systems (see under Chang Chih-tung). Not long after this Liu died. He was given the honorary title of Grand Tutor and the posthumous name, Chung-ch'êng 忠誠. The hereditary rank of first-class baron (inherited by his son, Liu Nengchi 劉能紀) was also conferred upon him.
For forty years Liu Kun-i was a notably capable official. According to his contemporaries he was honest, far-sighted, and dependable when faced with difficult situations. His memorials, letters, poems, essays and other writings were collected under the title Liu Chung-ch'êng kung i-chi (遺集) 68 chüan, including nine different works written by him (1911, not consulted).
[1/419/6b; 2/59/27a, 62/43b; 5/31/1a; Chang Chih-tung [q. v.], Chang Wên-hsiang kung ch'üan-chi; Wang Yen-wei 王彥威, 西巡大事記 Hsi-hsün ta-shih chi (1933); Ch'ên Kung-fu 陳功甫, 義和團運動與辛丑和約 I-ho-t'uan yün-tung yü hsin-ch'ou ho-yüeh (1930); Chung-kuo chin-pai-nien shih tzŭ-liao (second collection, see under Li Hsiu-ch'êng); Paul H. Clements, The Boxer Rebellion (New York, 1915); Steiger, George Nye, China and the Occident (New Haven, 1927); Morse, H. B., The International Relations of the Chinese Empire, vol. III (London, 1918); Chin-shih jên-wu chih (see under Wêng T'ung-ho, 1934) p. 167; Mason, C. W., The Chinese Confessions of Charles Welsh Mason (1924); Chang Chih-tung [q. v.], Chang Wên-hsiang kung tsou-i 59/5a; I-hsin [q. v.], Ch'ing-chi wai-chiao shih-liao 85/9a; 青鶴 Ch'ing-ho, vol. V, no. 17.]