Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Yü-ch'ien

-ch'ien (Yukien) 裕謙 (T. 衣谷, 魯山, H. 舒亭, known as Yü-t'ai 裕泰 until 1826), 1793–1841, Oct. 11, official, belonged to the Borjigit clan and the Mongol Bordered Yellow Banner. His great-grandfather, Bandi [q. v.], the first Duke Ch'êng-yung (誠勇公 ), committed suicide in 1755 near Ili during the revolt of Amursana [q. v.]. His grandfather, Balu (see under Bandi), the second duke, fought under Chao-hui [q. v.] in the conquest of Turkestan, and served as military governor of Chahar (1768–70). His father, Ch'ing-lin 慶林 (麟) or the third duke, served in Tibet as Imperial Agent (1786–89, January), but because of mismanagement of border troubles with the Gurkhas (see under Fu-k'ang-an), was discharged and deprived of his hereditary rank. The dukedom was given to Kuan-hui 宮惠, a cousin of Ch'ing-lin.

Yü-ch'ien was well versed in Chinese literature. In 1817 he became a chin-shih and was selected a bachelor of the Hanlin Academy. In 1819, when the bachelors were graded, he was discharged from the Academy and was appointed an expectant secretary in the Board of Ceremonies. After a delay of five years he received the secretaryship, and a year later was promoted to be an assistant department director in the same Board. In 1826 he was sent to Hupeh as prefect of Ching-chou-fu. Up to this time his name was Yü-t'ai (see above), but because his superior, Yü-t'ai (see under Chih-jui), then financial commissioner of Hunan (1826-31), had the same name, he was ordered to change it to Yü-ch'ien. In 1829 he was transferred to Wuchang where he served for five years.

In 1834 Yü-ch'ien was promoted to be an intendant in Hupeh, but was soon made provincial judge of Kiangsu. In the years 1836–38 he retired to mourn the death of his mother and to convalesce from an illness. But in 1838 he was again sent to Kiangsu as provincial judge and in 1839 was made financial commissioner and concurrently acting governor of the same province. Early in 1840 he became full governor and as such was known for his strict enforcement of the law. In August, after the First British War had extended to Tinghai, Chekiang, he became acting governor-general of Kiangsu, Kiangsi, and Anhwei—the governor-general, I-li-pu [q. v.], being sent as Imperial Commissioner to Chekiang. During the following five months Yü-ch'ien spent most of his time at Pao-shan and in Shanghai, preparing the defenses of these cities. He disapproved of the conciliatory policy of Ch'i-shan [q. v.] and of I-Ii-pu, and maintained, late in 1840, that Tinghai could easily be recovered by force. His memorial about a proposed attack on Tinghai reached Peking just when Emperor Hsüan-tsung was determined to ignore the peace negotiations of Ch'i-shan at Canton and make war on England. The Emperor sent troops to Canton (see under I-shan) and urged I-li-pu to attack Tinghai from Chinhai on the mainland. In the meantime, however, Ch'i-shan had signed a truce with Elliot (see under Lin Tsê-hsü) which ceded Hong Kong in return for Chuenpi and Tinghai. I-li-pu, acting in accordance with information from Ch'i-shan, waited until the British returned Tinghai peaceably. But by refusing to recover Tinghai by force he greatly displeased the Emperor. On February 10, 1841, I-li-pu was ordered back to Kiangsu and Yü-ch'ien was made Imperial Commissioner to take charge of the attack on Tinghai. But before I-li-pu handed over his post to Yü-ch'ien he sent troops to receive Tinghai when it was evacuated by the British on February 24. Yü-ch'ien arrived on the 27th, pleased perhaps that the British had withdrawn; but he probably interpreted this as a sign of weakness on the part of the British, or as fear of his presence. He tortured several British captives to death and executed those natives on the Chusan Islands who were reported as having had relations with the invaders. He despised Ch'i-shan and I-li-pu for yielding to the foreigners and collected evidence that I-li-pu had corresponded and had exchanged presents with the British. As I-li-pu was incriminated on this evidence, and was removed, his post of governor-general was given to Yü-ch'ien. At this time the Emperor thought that British operations could be confined to Canton and actually ordered the withdrawal of some troops from Chekiang to the interior. Yü-ch'ien was ordered to go to his new post at Nanking, leaving the defense of Chekiang to Governor Liu Yün-k'o 劉韻珂 (T. 玉坡, d. 1853) and General Yü Pu-yün 余步雲 (T. 紫松, d. 1842).

When reports of possible British operations north of Canton reached Peking, Yü-ch'ien was again sent to Chekiang (July 1841) to look after the defenses. He vigorously fortified Tinghai and strengthened the garrison, particularly after the fall of Amoy on August 26. But despite his efforts, the British took Tinghai for the second time after a short engagement (October 1). One Chinese general was killed in action, two committed suicide, and the garrison was dispersed. The attack and capture of Chinhai took place on October 10. Yü-ch'ien directed the fighting there and when he perceived that the defense had collapsed he leaped into a pond to drown himself. Rescued, he was carried away in retreat, but died the following day. According to some accounts, he tock opium or poison to escape his disgrace. In fact, when the Emperor first heard of the loss of Chinhai he ordered that Yü-ch'ien be investigated and punished, but after he was told that Yü-ch'ien had died he granted him posthumous honors. A special temple to the memory of Yu-ch'ien was erected in Chinhai after the recovery of that port, and he was canonized as Ching-chieh 靖節. Since he left no male heir, a nephew was designated as his adopted son and was granted two minor hereditary ranks. Blame for the reverses in Chekiang was then heaped on Yü Pu-yün, the provincial commander-in-chief, who retreated before the British advance on Chinhai and Ningpo. Yü Pu-yün was arrested in 1842, was tried in Peking, and was beheaded for cowardice. It appears that the Court had to find a scape-goat, and Yü was the unfortunate victim,

After Yü-ch'ien died, a. collection of his works was printed under the title Yü Ching-chieh kung i-shu (遺書), 12 chüan, the last chüan comprising 16 documents written by him in the course of the Anglo-Chinese War. Other papers which he wrote while serving as prefect at Chingchou and at Wuchang were printed (about 1832) in the latter city under the title 勉益齋偶存稿 Mien-i chai ou-ts'un kao, 8 chüan. A continuation, containing his documents written from 1832 to 1840, entitled Mien-i chai hsü (續) ts'un kao, 16 chüan, was printed about 1840. These two collections were reprinted in 1876 under the new title (正續)外吏規型 (Cheng-hsü) Wai-li kuei-hsing.


[1/378/1a; 2/37/46a; 3/373/41a; 5/55/1a; 1/377/5a; 1/379/5a; (see bibl. under Ch'i-ying).]

Fang Chao-ying