Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Yüan Ch'ang

YÜAN Ch'ang 袁昶 (T. 重黎, H. 爽秋, original ming 振蟾, T. 磢秋, 穉符, 穉巖), Sept. 27, 1846–1900, July 28, martyr in the Boxer Uprising of 1900, was a native of T'ung-lu, Chekiang. He came from a well-to-do family and among his ancestors were a. number of scholars. His father, Yüan Shih-chi 袁世紀 (T. 用疇, H. 鑛巖), helped in fighting the Taiping rebels and was posthumously given the hereditary rank of a Yün-ch'i-yü. Most of the writings of Yüan Ch'ang's ancestors were destroyed in 1861 when the Taiping forces took T'ung-lu; and in the course of that conflict two of his uncles and eight of his brothers lost their lives. In 1866 he attended the Academy, Ku-ching Ching-shê (see under Juan Yüan), in Hangchow; and there, a year later, he became a chü-jên. In 1874 he purchased the rank of a secretary in the Grand Secretariat. Two years later he became a chin-shih and was appointed a secretary in the Board of Revenue, but he had to wait many years before there was a vacancy. Late in 1876 he left Peking and went to Nanking where he stayed in the Hsi-yin 惜陰 Academy, probably as an assistant to the principal, Hsüeh Shih-yü 薛時雨 (T. 慰農, 澍生, H. 桑根老人, 1818–1885), who was an uncle of Yüan's wife.

Yüan Ch'ang returned to Peking in 1878 and five years later was admitted by examination to the Tsungli Yamen, or Foreign Office (see under I-hsin), as a Chinese secretary. F'or a number of years he had been interested in foreign affairs, and took this opportunity to advance his know ledge of China's international relations. He soon became an important member on the staff of the Tsungli Yamen, as evidenced by his being selected in 1885 to serve as a secretary to the mission which negotiated at Tientsin the treaty of peace with France over the Annam question (see under Fêng Tzŭ-ts'ai). During his eleven years (1883–94) in the Tsungli Yamen he served concurrently as an assistant department director of the Board of Revenue (1888–94), as one of the eighteen assistant examiners in the metropolitan examination of 1892, and in other capacities.

In 1894 he was appointed intendant of the Circuit of Southern Anhwei (Hui-Ning-Ch'ih-T'ai-Kuang Tao 徽寧池太廣道) with headquarters at Wuhu, a treaty port on the Yangtze River. The pest was important because the incumbent had to regulate foreign trade, collect customs' duty and maintain cordial relations with foreigners. It was also a lucrative post, given usually to a secretary of the Tsungli Yamen who had made a good record. During his five years as intendent he effected the following reforms in his Circuit: (1) He encouraged education by enlarging the physical plant of the local Academy, Chung-chiang Shu-yüan 中江書院, which, owing to a contribution by him, of over 4,000 taels was enabled to engage a learned principal and later to build up a library. Instruction was given not only in the Confucian classics, history, philosophy and belles lettres, but also in current events and science. (2) By himself setting a good example he promoted honesty and clean living among his subordinates. (3) During the critical period of the Sino-Japanese war he promoted good relations with Europeans by training a militia to keep his part of the Yangtze area tranquil and to protect Christian churches and other foreign property. (4) He encouraged commerce and trade. (5) By reforms in the tax system he increased the government's revenue. In 1894 he remitted 8,000 taels to Peking for the war chest against Japan; and in the following year his tax reforms resulted in a surplus of 18,000 taels, all of which he sent to Peking. (6) He encouraged agriculture by teaching the farmers better methods; and conserved their land by erecting a dike, fourteen li in length, along the Yangtze. To this enterprise, which employed some 67,500 workmen, he personally contributed more than 5,000 taels.

In May 1898 Yüan Ch'ang was promoted to be provincial judge of Shensi, and a month later lieutenant-governor of Kiangsu, but he declined both posts. The year 1898 was a critical one for China, being marked by forced territorial concessions to various Western powers. In this crisis the Emperor ordered the governors of provinces to submit their plans—or those of their subordinates—to increase the country's revenue for national defense and for training a modern army. Yüan Ch'ang submitted, through the governor of Anhwei, a memorial of some twenty thousand words. In it he stressed the danger from foreign aggression, and from internal deterioration, as evidenced by a corrupt officialdom, by luxurious living, and by empty formalism—the internal dangers being regarded by him as the more serious. He analyzed the intentions of the various foreign governments toward China and concluded that Germany and France were not an immediate menace. England, being interested chiefly in commerce, had, in his opinion, no territorial designs. China would do well to enter into an alliance with her and negotiate a loan. Since Japan and China are near neighbors and use the same written characters, he thought it prudent to deal with Japan on the plane of dignity and good faith, pointing out, however, that "she speaks sweet words but is not faithful" (日言甘而寡信). Though he regarded the United States as friendly and willing to help, he pointed out that she had few soldiers, is far off, and therefore could not be depended on. In a lengthy argument, supported with numerous historical facts, he concluded that Russia was China's greatest immediate menace, as shown by her aggression in Mongolia, Sinkiang and Manchuria. In conclusion, he submitted various proposals having, among others, such objectives as reform in the civil service, selection of talented and moral men for the highest posts, economies in public expenditure, and increase of governmental revenue through state-controlled enterprise. The Grand Council and the Tsungli Yamen reported favorably on the memorial. Several of the reforms suggested—particularly those relating to the encouragement of Bannermen to earn their own livelihood; improvement in the diplomatic service; extension of the land settlement program for soldiers, enforcement of the tax laws, and restrictions on the export of gold, silver and currency-were sent by imperial decree to the provincial governors for adoption.

In September 1898 Yüan Ch'ang was appointed lieutenant-governor of Chihli province. Pending the assumption of this post, he was given the rank of a third-grade official to serve as one of the ministers in the Tsungli Yamen. In January 1899 he was made concurrently director of the Banqueting Court and, in the following July, director of the Court of Sacrificial Worship—continuing, however, to serve in the Tsungli Yamen. High officials having been instructed in May 1899 to devise plans for raising revenue for national defense, Yüan seized the opportunity to submit a memorial on the improvement of the likin system (see under Kuo Sung-tao). In it he stressed the fact that the Win, having been instituted as a temporary measure at the beginning of the Taiping Rebellion, was really harmful to the people; but since it was still in operation he suggested improvements which may be summarized as follows: (1) Eliminate long-standing corruption by the appointment of honest collectors; (2) install a system of rewards and punishments to promote efficient service; (3) readjust the likin from time to time to conform to the production and distribution of the commodities assessed; (4) report in detail to the Central Government any local expenditure of likin revenue; (5) revive the old system of taxing (at place of production) native goods intended for foreign markets, with a view to off-setting the loss of revenue which resulted from the foreign demand that such goods be exempted from likin in lieu of an over-all tax of 2½ percent; (6) establish a rigorous system of punishment to curb corrupt inspectors and constables.

When the Boxer Uprising overtook North China in the spring and summer of 1900 (see under Jung-lu and Hsiao-ch'in), Yüan Ch'ang was one of the few enlightened ministers who courageously raised their voices against the Boxers and their misguided supporters at Court. At three different audiences (June 17, 19 and 20) he declared to the throne that he regarded the Boxers as wholly undependable, and that he viewed any attack on the Legations as a grave breach of international law. Other ministers who expressed similar views were Hsü Ching-ch'êng [q. v.], Lien-yüan (see under Pao-t'ing), Li-shan 立山 (T. 豫甫, d. 1900, posthumous name 忠貞), president of the Board of Revenue, and Hsü Yung-i 徐用儀 (T. 吉甫, 小雲, d. 1900, posthumous name 忠愍), president of the Board of War. By their fearless utterances they incurred the enmity of the pro-Boxer group, led by Prince Tuan (i.e., Tsai-i, see under I-tsung), who denounced them as pro-foreign traitors. Their words and acts so angered the Boxer supporters that they lodged false charges against Yüan and against his close friend, Hsü Ching-ch'êng. Both were arrested on July 26 and two days later, at one o'clock in the afternoon, they were beheaded on the public execution ground in Peking. The decree ordering their execution asserted that their reputations had been bad, that they had frequently managed foreign affairs to serve their own interests, that in their audiences they had made false statements designed to mislead the Court, and that by their utterances they had attempted to alienate the Emperor from his foster mother, the Empress Dowager. After their decease their families did not dare even to claim their bodies, and it was left to their friend and colleague in the Tsungli Yamen, Hsü Yung-i, to look after the burial. On August 11, only three days before the Allied Expeditionary Forces entered Peking, Hsü Yung-i, Lien-yüan and Li-shan were also executed on the false charge of pro-foreign activities. [A year or so later there circulated three memorials alleged to have been submitted to the throne by Yüan Ch'ang and Hsü Ching-ch'êng in June and August 1900, denouncing the Boxer leaders. Though these documents were taken by many writers to be genuine, they are now known to be forgeries, written, as in the case of Ching-shan's diary (see under Jung-lu), to gloss over the part that important personages played in covertly sponsoring the Boxers].

The execution of these men was regarded throughout the Empire as an act of signal injustice; and at the peace negotiations in Peking, early in 1901, the foreign envoys demanded that some restitution be made. Following this pressure the Court, then at Sian, issued a decree, dated February 13, 1901, restoring posthumously to all five men their former ranks. A year later Yüan Ch'ang's eldest son, Yüan Yün-su 袁允橚, was given the rank of an assistant department director of a Board. In the spring of 1902 Yüan Ch'ang's body was taken by his sons to Hangchow where interment was made at a beautiful site near West Lake. In 1909 Yüan was further honored by being given the posthumous name, Chung-chieh 忠節; and on the petition of the gentry of Chekiang a shrine was erected in Hangchow to perpetuate his memory, together with that of Hsü Yung-i and Hsü Ching-ch'êng—all natives of Chekiang. The following year another shrine was erected to Yüan's memory in Wuhu where he had rendered distinguished service.

Yüan Ch'ang was not only a great patriot and a brilliant statesman, but also a poet and a writer of elegant prose. Most of his writings are incorporated in a collectanea, entitled 漸西村舍叢刻 Chien-hsi-ts'un-shê ts'ung-k'o, which contains more than fifty items printed between the years 1890–98—thirteen being his own compositions, the remainder having been edited by him. In the compendium are three collections of his poems with the following titles: Chien-hsi-ts'un-jên ch'u-chi (人初集) , 13 chüan; 安般簃詩集 An-pan-i shih-chi, 10 chüan; and 于湖小集 Yü-hu hsiao-chi, 6 chüan. There exist two more collections of his poems, entitled 水昍樓集 Shui-hsüan-lou chi, 2 chüan, and 朝隱卮言 Ch'ao-yin chih-yen, 2 chüan, printed in 1909 under the collective title Yüan Chung-chieh kung i-shih pu-k'o (公遺詩補刻). His poems were highly praised by his senior contemporary, Li Tz'ŭ-ming [q. v.]. His memorials and other official papers are scattered in various collections, and apparently have not yet been assembled. A partial collection of his letters to famous contemporaries, such as Chang Chih-tung [q. v.], was published in 1940 in facsimile (photolithographically) by his third son, Yüan Jung-sou 袁營叜 (T. 道冲), under the title Yüan Chung-chieh kung shou-cha (手札). His pen names were numerous—the most well-known being Chien-hsi ts'un-jên and Fang-kuo tun-sou 芳郭鈍叟. His residence in his native place he designated Chien-hsi ts'un-shê; and the one in Peking he called, among other names, An-pan-i—both designations appearing in the titles of his collected verse.

Not a few descendants of Yüan Ch'ang have achieved distinction in educational and industrial pursuits. The above-mentioned Yüan Jung-sou served as a member of the first Republican Parliament, and as a Counselor in the Ministry of Education. One of his granddaughters is the wife of the present director of the National Library of Peiping, Yüan T'ung-li 袁同禮.


[1/24/14a; 1/472/2a; 2/63/28b; 5/17/22a; Hsü Ching-ch'êng, Hsü Wên-su kung wai chi; Chung-kuo chin san-pai nien shih tzŭ-liao, first series (see under Li Hsiu-ch'êng), p. 558–65; Chin-shih jên-wu chih (see under Wêng T'ung-ho); Li Tz'ŭ-ming, Yüeh-man t'ang jih-chi, passim; Duyvendak, J. J. L., "Ching-shan's Diary, a Mystification", in T'oung Pao, vol. 33 (1937), pp. 268–94; Wên-hsien ts'ung-pien (see bibl. under Dorgon), no. 5, (telegrams of 1900–01, p. 6); Kêng-tzŭ hsin-hai chung-lieh hsiang tsan (see bibl. under Ch'ung-ch'i); Ch'ing-chi wai-chiao shih-liao (see under I-hsin), chüan 143; Hui-shih t'ung-nien ch'ih-lu (see bibl. under P'êng Yün-chang) of 1876; U. S. Foreign Relations for 1901, appendix, pp. 75–82].

A. K. Ch'iu