Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Shih Ta-k'ai

3654367Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period, Volume 2 — Shih Ta-k'aiTêng Ssŭ-yü

SHIH Ta-k'ai 石達開, 1821 or 1831–1863, June, general and leader in the Taiping Rebellion, was a native of Kuei-hsien, Kwangsi. He was born in a well-to-do peasant family and was versed in literature as well as in the military arts, but he belonged to the social class in South China known as Hakka—a class often oppressed by the dominant groups. In order to gain collective security against these oppressors and the local bandits who infested the region, he joined the religious movement of Hung Hsiu-ch'üan [q. v.]. Together with five other leaders he laid down the plans for the Taiping Rebellion which broke out in Kwangsi in 1850 (see under Hung Hsiu-ch'üan). His property was sold and the proceeds given to the common military fund. When the government of the Celestial Kingdom of Peace was organized at Yung-an, Shih Ta-k'ai was made I-wang 翼王 or Assistant King, and was appointed commander of the left wing of the army. During the development of the Rebellion from Kwangsi to Nanking (1850–53) he participated in many battles, but was never defeated. Hence his antagonists had ample reason to respect his ability and prowess.

When in September 1853 he was stationed at Anking to quiet the people, he ruled them with justice and treated them with consideration. Men who commanded local respect were placed in positions of authority, bandits were suppressed, and peace and order were restored. The people of Anking not only respected his administration but praised him personally. Later he was recalled to Nanking to assist the Taiping government, and when Tsêng Kuo-fan [q. v.] mobilized his forces at Hêng-chou for the attack on Yochow (July 1854), Shih was sent to the relief of Hupeh. Learning, when he reached Wuhu, that Wuchang had fallen to the government forces, he set up his headquarters at Anking and prepared to make a strong defense at Kiukiang. He bottled up Tsêng Kuo-fan's flotilla in Po-yang Lake and by a sudden attack on the night of January 13, 1855, captured Tsêng's flagship—a signal victory that was followed by another (April 3, 1555) in which the Taipings retook Wuchang. Soon after, however, Shih was forced by Hu Lin-i and Lo Tsê-nan [qq. v.] to evacuate Hupeh and go to Kiangsi where, by skillful manoeuvers, he took most of the cities and towns. When a strong government force guarded Chang-shu, a town about 180 li southwest of Nanchang, capital of Kiangsi, Shih Ta-k'ai had only a few thousand men with whom to attack the town. By lighting many lanterns on the hills adjacent to Changshu and making a fierce assault at night, he misled the government forces into the belief that an unexpected number of Taipings had invested their positions, and they retreated (March 24, 1856) to Nanchang, making little or no resistance. Henceforth Nanchang was under martial law, and here Tsêng Kuo-fan was harassed for a long time until rescued by P'êng Yü-lin, Tsêng Kuo-ch'üan [qq. v.] and others. Shih Ta-k'ai was then entrusted by Hung Hsiu-ch'üan, the Celestial King, with all military operations on the upper course of the Yangtze, including Hupeh, Kiangsi and Anhwei.

But in 1856 a great internal dissension broke out among the Taiping leaders. The Eastern King, Yang Hsiu-ch'ing [q. v.], tried to usurp the throne of Hung Hsiu-ch'üan. The Western King, Wei Ch'ang-hui (see under Hung Hsiu-ch'üan), consulted with Shih Ta-k'ai to kill the usurper, but Wei went beyond the agreement and not only killed Yang (September 2 or 3, 1856) but murdered thousands of Yang's adherents and his relatives. Upon receiving this news, Shih hurried back from Hung-shan, Hupeh, to Nanking to admonish Wei to pay more heed to his religious principles and to refrain from further slaughter. Unexpectedly Wei plotted to murder Shih also. Apprised of this intention, Shih escaped from Nanking by being secretly lowered from the city wall but Wei murdered Shih's mother, his wife and children, and many of his adherents. So incensed was Shih that in revenge he attempted to concentrate all his forces in Kiangsi and Anhwei for an attack on Nanking. But before he could give effect to this plan Wei Ch'ang-hui was himself murdered by the Celestial King, his head being carried into the presence of Shih Ta-k'ai for verification. Thereupon Shih was recalled to Nanking, presumably to fill, as he deserved, the important place that Yang Hsiu-ch'ing had held. Though he was welcomed by all the officials at Court, the Celestial King, apprehensive of further murders, relieved him of his military power and even kept him from participating in important state affairs, which were then under the control of Hung's brothers. Uneasy over his treatment in the capital Shih, with an enormous number of followers, left the Taiping court, never to return, and set out for Szechwan, which he planned to develop as an independent state after the model of the ancient principality of Shu 蜀, one of the Three Kingdoms (221–280 A.D.). He hoped thus to avoid any contest of power with other Taiping leaders and to be free to spread Taiping doctrines in distant wreas to which others would not go.

Toward the close of 1856 Shih Ta-k'ai went from Nanking to Anking anticipating that Li Hsiu-ch'êng and Ch'ên Yü-ch'êng [qq. v.] would follow him, but they declined. Then he went through Fu-chou, Kiangsi, to relieve the distressed Taipings in Chi-an and Lin-chiang (1857). During his stay at Fu-chou he tried to revive the civil service examination, but many of the students had already fled the turmoil of war. Early in 1858 Tsêng Kuo-fan ordered Li Yüan-tu [q. v.] to write a long letter to Shih Ta-k'ai, urging him to join the Ch'ing government with promise of a high post. It is understood that Tsêng also personally corresponded with Shih. Though the latter responded politely, he addressed to Tsêng a long poem in which he freely expressed his hopes and desires and earnestly admonished Tsêng to cease aiding the Manchus. Shih expressed regret, too, that he had no chance to meet Tsêng since he was about to press his campaign in Chekiang. Shih took Sui-chang (May 4, 1858), Ch'u-chou (May 10) and other cities of Chekiang, and during his stay addressed a charming letter to the gentry of the province urging them to take a stand against the Manchus and to assert their loyalty to the Taiping cause. His troops penetrated to northernmost Fukien but were content to pass through as roving bandits without occupying cities. When Shih Ta-k'ai heard that many cities of Kiangsi were retaken by government forces he returned to that province and captured Nan-an (January 3, 1859). Failing in an attack on Kan-chou, he went to Hunan.

In Hunan Shih Ta-k'ai, in command of a great force, said to number 200,000 or 300,000 men, took Hsing-ning (March 15, 1859), I-chang (March 16), and also Ch'ên-chou and Kuei-yang. He met comparatively weak resistance because the Hunan Braves were then fighting the Taipings in other provinces. But the provincial governor, Lo Ping-chang [q. v.], alarmed by Shih's success; asked help from all possible sources, and before long some 40,000 men under the command of Li Hsü-i (see under Li Hsü-pin), Liu Ch'ang-yu [q. v.] and others came to the rescue. In the meantime Shih overran Hsin-t'ien and Ning-yüan and besieged Yung-chou (April 5–15, 1859) but without success. Then he encompassed Pao-ch'ing with a large force but as the government's relief armies came on the scene and as most of Shih's followers were natives of Kwangsi, and anxious to return home, he abandoned the siege (July 28, 1859) and led a teneral retreat (August 14) through Tung-an, Hunan, to Kwangsi. There, with divided forces, he overran not only Kwangsi but also the borders of Kwangtung and Kweichow. Though a strong detachment under Shih's command attempted to attack Kweilin, capital of Kwangsi (August 27, 1859), and even occupied adjacent cities, his smaller units were either scattered or gradually annihilated by militia. Even the strong detachment which attacked Kweilin was forced by Liu Ch'ang-yu, Hsiao Ch'i-chiang [q. v.] and others to move southwest to Ch'ing-yüan and Liu-chou. The latter city was recovered by Liu Chang-yu in February 1860, the former in May. Shih Ta-k'ai was driven southward to the region of Shang-lin and Wu-hsüan. Under these difficult conditions, some of his troops surrendered to the imperial government while others passed through Jên-hua, Kwangtung (September 8, 1860) to Kiangsi where they joined the central Taiping forces under Li Hsiu-ch'êng. Shih's power was further diminished when in 1861 still more of his troops yielded to the Ch'ing regime while others went to Kiangsi. In the meantime a detachment which had gone to Ting-fan, Kweichow, was forced to return to Ch'ing-yüan, Kwangsi. Then Shih assembled all his forces at Shang-lin (March 1861) from where in June he was compelled to move southeast to his native city, Kuei-hsien, which was not retaken by government amps until September. Thereupon he went back to Ch'ing-yüan (October 7) and thence to Lo-ch'êng and Jung-hsien. From here he was freed to go to Hunan where for a while he occupied Ching-chou, Yüan-chou and other cities. In this period Shih Ta-k'ai made it a practice to head his armies through narrow mountain passes at the borders of Kweichow, Hunan, Hupeh and other provinces in order to elude the attacks of the imperialists. But despite numerous detours, his ultimate goal was the province of Szechwan.

Early in 1862 Shih Ta-k'ai went from Li-ch'uan, Hupeh, to Ch'ang-ning, Szechwan. Ftom there he was forced through Hsü-yung and Ch'i-chiang, Szechwan, to Kweichow where he took T'ung-tzŭ, Jên-huai and other cities October 1862). But as these districts were We poor to support his troops, he marched across de border to Chên-hsiung, Yunnan, where he reorganized his forces and promoted some of his subordinates in reward for their services. Toward the end of 1862 he divided his forces into three detachments, thus invading Szechwan from different points with the purpose of distracting the attention and weakening the power of his enemies. He personally led a strong detachment which conquered Yün-lien, Szechwan (November 18), and attempted to cross the Chin-sha River to attack Hsü-chou. But the governor of Szechwan, Lo Ping-chang, with his capable aide, Liu Jung (see under Lo), were fully prepared to check his advance and to meet his anticipated attacks. Though the other two detachments were defeated, and one remnant fled northeast to the distant province of Shensi, Shih succeeded in crossing the Chin-sha River and proceeded to cross another stream, the Ta-tu-ho 大渡河, near the border of Szechwan and Tibet. This area along the Ta-tu-ho is mountainous and full of the aboriginal Lolos who were bribed by Shih Ta-k'ai to lead the way and help him. But Lo Ping-chang offered more attractive rewards for their help, with the result that the government forces, in co-operation with the Lolos, not only stemmed the advance of Shih Ta-k'ai but also blocked all possible avenues of retreat. Shih tried to cross the river on April 30, May 5 and 9, 1863, and at several other times, but was frustrated by great floods and by government troops. Before long his provisions ran out. Horses were killed for food and even mulberries were no longer available. While in this hopeless situation, Shih spied an imperialist flag with the characters, "Those who submit will have their lives spared." On these terms he surrendered to the government on June 13, 1863. About 4,000 of his weak soldiers were disbanded and another 2,000 of his ablest men were slaughtered. Shih Ta-k'ai and his son, Shih Ting-chung 石定忠, only five years old, and a few officers were conveyed to Chengtu, capital of Szechwan (June 25, 1863). After the formality of a legal inquiry by Lo Ping-chang, Shih was executed.

Shih Ta-k'ai was one of the best educated leaders of the Taiping Rebellion. He was an able tactician and treated considerately those whom he conquered. The scholar, Wang Shih-to [q. v.], declared that Shih surpassed in ability many great scholars and high officials of the imperial government. His official dispatches, essays, and poems, which appear in the T'ai-p'ing T'ien-kuo shih-wên ch'ao (see under Hung Hsiu-ch'üan) and in the periodical, 逸經 I-ching, (1936, vol. 3), are superior to any other Taiping documents in point of literary style. There is extant an incomplete diary, Shih Ta-k'ai jih-chi (日記, 1927), attributed to Shih, but it is believed to be a forgery, or at least liberally re-edited. It is sprinkled with new terms non-existent in Shih's day, and the dates and place-names often conflict with the accepted accounts.

[1/481/1a; 2/43/6a, 54/21a, 59/27a, 65/45; 5/29/1a; Lo Ping-chang, Lo Wên-chung kung tsou-i, Lo Wên-chung kung tzŭ-ting nien-p'u; Tsêng Wên-chêng kung nien-p'u; Hsiang-chün chi, chapters 12–13 (see under Tsêng Kuo-fan); Hu Wên-chung kung nien-p'u (see under Hu Lin-i); I-hsin [q. v.], Chiao-p'ing Yüeh-fei fang-lüeh; Tsei-ch'ing hui-tsuan, T'ai-p'ing T'ien-kuo yeh-shih, Chung-kuo chin-pai-nien-shih tzŭ-liao (first collection), T'ai-p'ing T'ien-kuo tsa-chi (for all these see bibliography under Hung Hsiu-ch'üan); Bulletin of the National Library of Peiping, vol. 8, no. 4 (1934); 平桂紀略 in 廣西通志輯要 Kuang-hsi t'ung-chih chi-yao (1889); 樂昌縣志 Lo-ch'ang hsien-chih (1871); 仁化縣志, Jên-hua hsien-chih (1873); 撫州府志 Fu-chou fu-chih (1876); 邵陽縣鄉土志 Shao-yang hsien hsiang-t'u chih (1907); A study of Shih's supposed diary, in 史學年報 Shih-hsüeh nien-pao, no. 1 (1929); Ch'ên Po-Ch'ên 陳白塵, Shih Ta-k'ai ti mo-lu (的末路, 1936, not consulted).]

Têng Ssŭ-yü