Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/P'êng Yü-lin

P'ÊNG Yü-lin 彭玉麟 (T. 雪琴), 1816–1890, Apr. 24, admiral, was a native of Hêng-yang, Hunan, but was born and reared in Anhwei where his father held a government post. When he was sixteen he accompanied his family to Hêng-yang where soon thereafter his father died. The family lost much of its property to rapacious neighbors and as a youth P'êng had to support his mother as a copyist in the imperial regiment of his native city. By chance, his skill in penmanship came to the attention of the local prefect who took him under his personal tutelage, so that after a few years P'êng obtained a hsiu-ts'ai degree.

In 1850 P'êng Yü-lin accompanied the imperial regiment when it suppressed a riot and was offered the rank of sergeant, which he declined. Soon thereafter he became treasurer of a pawnshop in the neighboring city of Lei-yang. He was generous in his treatment of the poor and at one time by a loan from the shop gave financial aid to the local magistrate who was organizing the militia against a threat of the Taipings. In 1853 his liberality caught the attention of Tsêng Kuo-fan [q. v.] who was then at Hêng-yang building gunboats and enrolling troops to man them, and Tsêng placed him in command of a portion of the newly-organized river patrol. Both P'êng and Yang Yüeh-pin 楊岳斌 (original ming Tsai-fu 載福, T. 厚庵, 1822–1890), a native of Shan-hua, Hunan, were fitted by temperament and education to initiate plans and prepare reports for the naval forces. On February 25, 1854 Tsêng Kuo-fan led the newly-built flotilla in a punitive attack on the Taipings who had made Nanking their capital and were pressing upstream on the Yangtze to Hupeh and Hunan (see under Hsiang Jung). Unfortunately Tsêng's first effort met defeat at Yochow, making necessary a retreat to Changsha, the capital of Hunan. The Taipings followed him to a place sixty li north of Changsha, and after a detour, captured Hsiang-t'an. T'a-ch'i-pu [q. v.] then led a strong detachment to retake the latter city and dealt the rebels a crushing blow—aided by the naval craft of P'êng Yü-lin who set fire to much of the enemy's cargo—and compelled them to flee eastward in great confusion (May 1, 1854). The menace to Changsha was thus averted, and the disheartened Tsêng Kuo-fan was much encouraged. Following this victory P'êng Yü-lin was promoted to the rank of magistrate.

After reassembling his forces Tsêng Kuo-fan again attacked Yochow, with the result that this city fell into his hands (July 25, 1854). Wuchang having been taken by the Hunan forces on October 14, 1854, the Taipings concentrated at T'ien-chia-chên, a strategic point along the Yangtze about forty miles above Kiukiang, where they built a strong defense on the river in anticipation of a decisive battle. The Yangtze was blocked by a pontoon held together by a heavy iron chain fastened to Pan-pi-shan, a steep slope on the river's bank opposite Pien-chia-chên. It was guarded by a flotilla of gunboats, timber rafts, junks and sampans, giving it the appearance of a town on the river's surface. Assisted primarily by the land force of T'a-ch'i-pu and Lo Tsê-nan [q. v.] which attacked the hillside, P'êng Yü-lin and Yang Yüeh-pin stubbornly assaulted the flotilla in an effort to break the chain. Yang led a dare-to-die fleet in tactical formation which dashed through the enemy's position. Yang and P'êng attacked and set fire to the vessels from both sides, winning the engagement after a furious battle (December 2, 1854). The Taipings were forced to retire to Kiukiang, which they held for several years. Detailed plans of this engagement were brought to the attention of the Emperor, who caused them to be distributed as a model to naval circles within the empire. But the renown which the Hunan naval forces thus achieved and the successive victories which they won on their advance to Kiukiang, made them over-confident. Their flotilla of 120 boats and 3,000 marines went as far as Po-yang lake but there they were bottled up by the rebels, who then proceeded to attack with fire-boats, even capturing Tsêng's flagship. Thereafter the flotilla was divided, one part being stationed in Po-yang lake, the other outside of it. The latter had to withdraw from Kiukiang to a place near Yochow for necessary repairs while Tsêng went to Kiangsi to reorganize the forces within the lake.

On April 3, 1855 Wuchang again fell to the Taipings. The flotilla inside Po-yang lake was also harassed. Tsêng urgently called P'êng to Kiangsi, but the latter found all routes controlled by the enemy. Disguised as a merchant speaking the dialect of Anhwei, P'êng walked the long distance to Nanchang, where he was ordered by Tsêng to take command of the navy. While Hu Lin-i [q. v.], Lo Tsê-nan, Yang Yüeh-pin, and others attacked Wuchang (1856), Tsêng and P'êng fought in Kiangsi. But in the following year Tsêng had to return home to mourn the death of his father and Yang was made commander-in-chief of the navy with P'êng as associate commander. When the navy and the army advanced on Kiukiang, P'êng fought desperately to effect a reunion with the marines outside the lake. His efforts were eventually successful and Kiukiang was taken on May 19, 1858 by the combined forces.

After the capture of Kiukiang, P'êng Yü-lin and Yang Yüeh-pin encountered the Taipings in the next few years along the middle course of the Yangtze. When Anking, the capital of Anhwei, was retaken (see under Tsêng Kuo-ch'üan), P'êng was rewarded for his naval effort in the campaign with the governorship of Anhwei, which he declined. To facilitate his command of the river forces he was, however, promoted in 1862 to the rank of junior vice-president of the Board of War, after which he co-operated with Tsêng's land forces then fighting their way from Anking to Nanking. In 1863 P'êng and Yang crushed the important Taiping base at Chiu-fu-chou opposite Hsia-kuan (Nanking) on the Yangtze. The Taiping onslaught was furious, but the result was a victory for the Ch'ing forces and was the turning-point in the siege of Nanking. When another detachment of Taipings came from Fukien to Kiangsi to attack the rear of the government forces, Yang Yüeh-pin was placed in command of these government troops. But soon thereafter he was appointed governor-general of Shensi, Kansu, and Sinkiang, and command of the flotilla devolved upon P'êng Yü-lin.

After the taking of Nanking in 1864, Yang Yüeh-pin and P'êng Yü-lin were each rewarded for their share in the naval operations with the title of Junior Guardian of the Heir Apparent snd the hereditary rank of Ch'ing-ch'ê tu-yü of the first class. Yang was installed in his position as governor-general in 1865 and retired in 1866. Peng was made (1865) director-general of grain transport. But true to his professed intention not to be hampered by any official post, nor to be dependent on a government salary, he declined the office. Appreciating the sincerity of his motives, the Emperor acquiesced, but ordered him to discuss with Tsêng Kuo-fan the organization of the Yangtze flotilla. Detailed regulations were drawn up in 1868 and printed as a supplement to the Chiao-p'ing Yüeh fei fang-lüeh (see under I-hsin). The greater part of the surplus funds which P'êng had raised, through many hardships, to meet the military needs of the government he utilized to reward meritorious generals and for the welfare of his native district. In a memorial to the throne requesting leave to retire to observe the customary mourning period for his mother who had died in 1853, he asserted that he had willingly joined the service empty-handed and was content to retire the same way. In nearly twenty years of service with the navy he had never accumulated property, had not asked leave for a single day, and had never gone ashore for self-enjoyment. His simple request was granted and his self-effacement was suitably lauded by the throne. From 1869 to 1872 he lived at home.

But while P'êng was living a life of austere retirement the morale of his marines was beginning to deteriorate. He was recalled in 1872 to resume his task and it was not long before a number of officers were dismissed or punished. After he had revived good order and spirit among his forces he was granted an audience with the Emperor and was appointed acting senior vice-president of the Board of War. This appointment, too, he declined in repeated memorials. He was authorized instead to inspect the Yangtze and was allowed the privilege of reporting directly to the throne. His opinion about important national affairs was consulted, and he was deputed to investigate cases affecting high local officials. Not only did the naval officers fear his careful inspection but local officials stood in awe of his coming. During this period he maintained peace and good order in the Yangtze Valley, though he opposed the introduction of railways, whose future importance he did not perceive.

In 1881 P'êng Yü-lin again declined the post of acting governor-general of Kiangsu and Chekiang. But two years later he was appointed president of the Board of War and this time was unsuccessful in declining the post. This was the year of the Franco-Chinese imbroglio over Annam. P'êng Yü-lin and Yang Yüeh-pin (then retired) were ordered to the front. Though ill and aged, P'êng proceeded to Kwangtung with 4,000 Hunan veterans, prepared to carry on a defensive campaign. Protesting in vain at the proposed negotiations with France (1884), he begged leave to retire on grounds of illness, after the signature of the treaty on June 9, 1885. Despite his illness his frequent entreaties to retire were unheeded until the close of 1889. One year later both P'êng and Yang died and both were posthumously rewarded with the title of Grand Guardian of the Heir Apparent. P'êng was canonized as Kang-chih 剛直; Yang as Yung-ch'üeh 勇愨.

P'êng Yü-lin was one of four outstanding leaders among the Hunan Braves (see under Hu Lin-i) and was a man of unquestioned integrity. Though his energies were devoted to military affairs he found time to achieve some distinction as a calligrapher, and as a painter-particularly of the prunus. His poems were collected under the title P'êng Kang-chih kung shih-chi (公詩集) and his memorials to the throne under the title P'êng Kang-chih tsou-kao (奏稿)—both collections in 8 chüan, published in 1891.


[1/416/1a; 2/54/30a; 58/10a; 5/14/1a, 30/11b; 8/7 shang 1a, 7 hsia 1; 19 hsin-hsia 27; 26/4/16a; Hsiang-chün chih, chüan 6, (see bibliography under Tsêng Kuo-fan); 湘綺樓文集 Hsiang-ch'i-lou wên-chi, chüan 7, 8 (1900).]

Teng Ssŭ-yü