Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Su-shun

SU-shun 肅順 (T. 裕亭, 豫庭), 1815?–1861, Nov. 8, official, was an Imperial Clansman who belonged to the Bordered Blue Banner. He was a descendant of Jirgalang [q. v.], the first Prince Chêng. His father, Ulgungga [q. v.], twelfth inheritor of Jirgalang's princedom, died in 1846 and was succeeded by his third son, Tuan-hua 端華 (T. 端友, d. 1861). In 1850, when Emperor Hsüan-tsung died, Tuan-hua was one of the courtiers present at the deathbed—two of the group being Sêng-ko-lin-ch'in [q. v.] and Tsai-yüan (see under Yin-hsiang). These princes were enjoined to assist the succeeding Emperor Wên-tsung, and this they did loyally throughout his reign of eleven years. It was through Tuanhua that Emperor Wên-tsung came to know Su-shun.

Su-shun was the sixth son of Ulgungga. In 1836 he passed the regular examination for sons of princes and was made a noble of imperial lineage of the tenth rank. He was also given the title of a junior assistant chamberlain of the Imperial Bodyguard. In 1849 he was made a director of the Imperial Gardens and Hunting Parks. A year later, under Emperor Wên-tsung, he was made a sub-chancellor of the Grand Secretariat, and was successively promoted to a senior vice-presidency of the Board of Works (May 1854), of the Board of Ceremonies (November 1854), and of the Board of Revenue (1855). In the meantime he served as deputy lieutenant-general of one or another of the Banners. Early in 1857 he became president of the Censorate, and in October he was transferred to the Colonial Court. In October of the following year he was made president of the Board of Ceremonies. From February 1859, until a few days before his death, he served as president of the Board of Revenue. In the meantime he served concurrently as an adjutant general (1859–61), as a minister of the Household (1860–61), as an associate Grand Secretary (1861), and in other capacities.

In the last three or four years of his reign Emperor Wên-tsung turned to sensual pleasures to escape from worry regarding the chaotic condition of the empire. Most of the affairs of state, which previously had been decided by the Emperor in conjunction with the Grand Councilors, were now attended to by adjutant generals, particularly Tsai-yüan and Tuan-hua. But since both had indecisive personalities they often turned to Su-shun for advice. In this way Su-shun gradually assumed great power. Being a man of strong convictions, he used drastic measures in dealing with incompetent or corrupt officials. In 1858 he first showed his hand in the case of Ch'i-ying [q. v.]. When that diplomat met with difficulties in his negotiations with the British and French Allies at Tientsin and returned to Peking without permission, high officials were ordered to deliberate on a just punishment. It was chiefly owing to Su-shun's insistence, that Ch'i-ying was sentenced to die. In another case Su-shun was equally adamant. In November 1858 the directors of the Shun-t'ien (Peking) provincial examination for the chü-jên degree were accused of corruption and partiality. It was found that the chief examiner, Grand Secretary Po-chün 柏葰 (T. 靜濤, H. 泉莊, d. 1859, chin-shih of 1826), at the request of a servant, had withdrawn the papers of a successful candidate and had substituted those of another who had failed. The servant, who presumably had been bribed to make this request, died in prison before the case was closed. There was not enough evidence to show that Po-chün himself had knowledge of the bribery, but on the insistence of Su-shun, Tsai-yuan, and a collaborator, Ch'ên Fu-ên (see under Ho Ch'iu-t'ao), reasons were found to punish Po-chün by decapitation (March 17, 1859). Three other officials involved were likewise executed, one being the assistant examiner, P'u-an 浦安 (T. 遠帆, chin-shih of 1853). Whether or not such drastic measures were necessary to prevent corruption and inefficiency, they nevertheless resulted in making Su-shun and those in power both feared and hated.

Soon after Su-shun became president of the Board of Revenue (February 1859), he tried to introduce reforms designed to increase the national income, since the financial condition of the government was very unstable owing to the disturbances after 1850. Early in 1853 paper currency (silver notes) had been introduced, and in that year the government began to melt old copper cash to be replaced by new ones of larger denominations. Still later, cash made of iron, and notes to take the place of cash, were also introduced. At first there was some profit for the government, but before long counterfeit money appeared in great quantities, and the new cash became unacceptable outside the walls of Peking. As the currency depreciated and prices rose, the lives of many became miserable. The government tried to maintain the depreciated cash by accepting it from purchasers of official titles. As such transactions required large sums of the depreciated cash, the government banks, which were established to render this service, were permitted to issue notes. Before long, however, some bankers misappropriated the notes and made profits for themselves.

This was the financial situation when Su-shun took over the Board of Revenue in 1859, with the thought of making sweeping reforms. He had had nothing to do with the introduction of these unsound policies, but now had to assume the responsibility of remedying them. In November 1859 he caused the arrest of several managers of the government banks for corruption, and ordered the imprisonment of those clerks in the Board of Revenue who had been affiliated with the banks. A month later, on the report of Tuan-hua, a servant of I-hsin [q. v.] was arrested for his connection with one of the banks. Late in 1859 the office buildings of the Board of Revenue were almost entirely destroyed by fire, and this Sushun suspected was the work of some desperate clerks who had hoped thus to get rid of incriminating evidence. Following this there were more arrests. But there was no relief in repressive measures for they merely antagonized yet more those princes and officials who had profited by the situation. As the currency depreciated the suffering in Peking became worse, and some holders of worthless coins are said to have thrown them into Su-shun's face as they passed him on the streets.

Su-shun also had a part in diplomatic affairs. Between July 1859 and May 1860 he and Jui-ch'ang 瑞常 (T. 芝生, posthumous name 文端, chin-shih of 1832, d. 1872) conducted several conferences in Peking with the Russian envoy, General Ignatieff. Two separate treaties with Russia had been concluded in 1858 (see under I-shan), by which she gained many concessions from China. To consolidate her gains in these treaties, the envoy came to negotiate a supplementary treaty. The negotiations began in 1859, just after the British and French fleets had been repulsed at Taku (see under Sêng-ko-lin-ch'in), and after I-shan [q. v.] had been punished for having granted too much to Russia in the Treaty of Aigun. For ten months the negotiations dragged on without results, and finally the Russian envoy withdrew from Peking. Su-shun, however, was on friendly terms with him personally.

In September 1860, after Kuei-liang [q. v.] had failed to make peace with the British and French envoys at Tientsin, Tsai-yuan and Grand Councilor Mu-yin 穆蔭 (T. 清軒) were sent to Tungchow to forestall the Allied advance by peace negotiations. But on September 18 Tsaiyüan, acting on Emperor Wên-tsung's order, arrested the British interpreter, Harry S. Parkes (see under Yeh Ming-ch'ên), and his escort, and took them to Peking as prisoners. The Allied forces then attacked and defeated the Chinese troops near Tungchow. On September 21 Tsai-yüan and Mu-yin were replaced by I-hsin as negotiator for peace, but the Allies continued to advance on Peking. The following day Su-shun escorted the Emperor and the Court in their flight from the Yüan-ming Yuan to the Palace at Jehol, which they reached on September 30.

At the conclusion of the Convention of Peking and the evacuation of the Allied troops (see under I-hsin), the Court remained in Jehol. The Emperor entrusted the conduct of the government to the four adjutant generals, Tsai-yüan, Tuan-hua, Su-shun and Ching-shou (see under Ming-jui). Early in February 1861 Su-shun was made concurrently an Associate Grand Secretary. By this time the powerful Grand Council was under the complete control of the four adjutant generals. The Grand Councilors, Mu-yin, K'uang Yüan (see under Ma Kuo-han), Tu Han (see under Tu Shou-t'ien), and Chiao Yu-ying 焦祐瀛 (T. 桂樵, H. original ming 有𩆩, chü-jên of 1839), became tools of the adjutant generals in transmitting imperial decrees. When the Emperor lay dying on August 22, 1861, he was too feeble to write the edict naming his son, Tsai-ch'un [q. v.], successor to the throne. Hence, by his order, the edict was composed and written by the four adjutant generals and the four Grand Councilors. These eight men were entrusted with forming a co-regency during the minority of Tsai-ch'un and were given the titles of Tsan-hsiang chêng-wu ta-ch'ên 贊襄政務大臣, or Imperial Assistants in National Affairs. Any edict they issued, however, required the approval of the two Empresses, Hsiao-ch'in [q. v.] and Hsiao-chên (see under the former). According to a series of letters written by a clerk then in Jehol (published in 清列朝后妃傳稿 Ch'ing lieh-ch'ao Hou-fei chuan kao, 1929, 下/71–73), the co-regents attempted to ignore this restraint and thus came into conflict with the Empresses. When a censor suggested that the regency should be entrusted to the Empresses, assisted by a near relative of the Emperor (meaning I-hsin), Su-shun and the co-regents drew up a decree reprimanding him. The Empresses at first declined to approve this decree, but were forced by the co-regents to issue it. Moreover, as chief Minister of the Household, Su-shun controlled the expenses and supplies of the Empresses, and there were rumors in Peking that he was starving them.

Finally the Empresses conspired with I-hsin and I-huan [q. v.] to overthrow the regency. When the Court moved back to Peking, late in October 1861, Su-shun was entrusted with escorting the deceased Emperor's remains. The Empresses took the young Emperor to Peking a day in advance of Su-shun, ostensibly to be able to meet the funeral procession as it approached the city. But as soon as the Empresses reached Peking (November 1) a decree was issued for the arrest of Su-shun and the other co-regents. That night I-huan and another prince hurried with an escort of horsemen to Su-shun's encampment, where he was surprised in his bed and arrested, without opposition. In Peking the other co-regents were likewise taken unawares, and by the following day, when the edict ordering their arrest was made public, their fate had already been sealed. On November 8, Su-shun was beheaded at the public execution ground; Tsai-yüan and Tuan-hua were allowed to die less disgracefully by taking their own lives. Contemporary reports agree that before Su-shun was executed he mentioned the Empresses and I-hsin in abusive terms, and blamed the other co-regents for failure to follow his suggestion to make their own powers absolute.

Other members of Su-shun's party were punished lightly. Ching-shou was spared, probably because he was I-hsin's brother-in-law. The four Grand Councilors were discharged from their offices. Ch'ên Fu-ên, regarded as a close associate of Su-shun, was banished to Ili where he was murdered in 1866 by bandits. A son of Ch'i-ying asked that his father's name be cleared, but this was denied on the ground that the father had in any case deserved punishment. The death penalty for Ch'i-ying had admittedly been too severe, and for Su-shun's part in it his descendants were forbidden to hold office.

The downfall of Su-shun resulted in the regency of the two Empresses and finally in the concentration of almost all power in the person of Empress Hsiao-ch'in. It is owing to her vindictiveness perhaps that the official reports relating to Su-shun are unfavorable to him. But in the opinion of Hsüeh Fu-ch'êng [q. v.] Su-shun was a real statesman, and the victory of the Government over the Taiping Rebels was due at least in part to his policy of recommending and putting absolute trust in a few talented Chinese such as Hu Lin-i, Tsêng Kuo-fan and Tso Tsung-t'ang [qq. v.]. Su-shun was apparently on good terms with the secretary-teachers in his home—men like Kao Hsin-k'uei 高心夔 (T. 碧湄, 1835–1883), Shêng K'ang (see under Ho Ch'ang-ling), Kuo Sung-tao [q. v.], and Wang K'ai-yün 王闓運 (T. 壬秋, 壬甫, Jan. 1833–1916)—and on many questions he accepted their advice.

Su-shun had another older brother, Ên-hua 恩華 (T. 緘庵, d. 1854), who attained some note. Having served in various posts after 1833, he was made president of the Colonial Court (1853) and was sent to Yangchow to help Ch'i-shan [q. v.] and others in combating the Taipings. Later in 1853, he was transferred to northern Honan where he won a battle over the rebels, but was soon cashiered for his failure to reach Chihli in time to stem the rebel advance. He was then allowed to redeem himself by serving under Sêng-ko-lin-ch'in, but died a few months later. He left a volume of verse entitled 求眞是齋詩草 Ch'iu-chên-shih chai shih-ts'ao, 2 chüan, printed in 1861.


[1/393/1a; 2/47/27b; 1/221/11b; Li Tz'ŭ-ming [q. v.], Yüeh-man-t'ang jih-chi, pu, 己/89a, 庚上/21b, 庚末, 辛上/1a, 91a, 95a, 107b, 辛下/12b–31b; Rennie, D. F., Peking and the Pekingese (1865), vol. 2, pp. 1252–66; Hsüeh Fu-ch'êng [q. v.], Yung-an pi-chi, chüan 1; Wang Kai-yün, 湘綺樓詩集 Hsiang-ch'i lou shih-chi, 7/5a, 19b; idem., 王志 Wang-chih, 1/39a; idem., 祺祥祕辛 Ch'i-hsiang mi-hsin in 安雅 An-ya, vol. 1, nos. 5,7,9,11 (1935); Lo Tun-jung 羅惇曧 (d. 1924), 賓退隨筆 Pin-t'ui sui-pi, in 庸言 Yung-yen, vol. 2, no. 5 (1914).]

Fang Chao-ying