Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Yüan Ch'ung-huan

3678460Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period, Volume 2 — Yüan Ch'ung-huanGeorge A. Kennedy

YÜAN Ch'ung-huan 袁崇煥 (T. 元素 and 自如), June 6, 1584–1630, Sept. 22, was a native of Tung-kuan, Kwangtung. He received the degree of chin-shih in 1619 at the age of thirty-five and was appointed magistrate of Shao-wu, Fukien. It was in this year that the Chinese armies in Liaotung under the command of Yang Hao [q. v.] met crushing defeat at the hands of the Manchus, losing the cities of K'ai-yüan and T'ieh-ling. Further losses in 1621 (see under Yüan Ying-t'ai) forced the Chinese to withdraw west of the Liao river, while the defeat of Wang Hua-chên [q. v.] at Kuang-ning in March 1622 created a panic in which all the Chinese forces retreated to Shanhaikuan, abandoning the whole Liao territory to the enemy (see under Hsiung T'ing-pi). Yüan Ch'ung-huan, who was in Peking at the time, went alone into the war area on a tour of investigation and on his return announced his readiness, if provided with the necessary troops and funds, to guarantee the safety of the passes. He was appointed a second-class secretary in the Board of War, promoted almost immediately to secretary, and supplied with funds for enlisting troops. After conferring with Hsiung T'ing-pi [q. v.], then a prisoner, he set out for Shanhaikuan where he took command of one of the three army divisions. The territory north of the pass had been occupied, since the Chinese withdrawal, by Karacin Mongols with whom Wang Tsai-chin [q. v.], successor to Hsiung T'ing-pi, now made a treaty. In July Yüan received orders to move forward for the reoccupation of Chung-ch'ien-so and later to proceed to Ch'ien-t'un for the purpose of relieving the destitute natives of Liaotung. His own bolder plans for building the first line of defense still farther north at Ning-Yüan, or even Chin-chou, received no support until September when Wang was replaced as commander-in-chief by Sun Ch'êng-tsung [q. v.]. For the next three years Yüan and his superior, Sun, worked together harmoniously, aided by the generalship of Man Kuei [q. v.]. Despite the prevailing pessimism of the time, they pushed the frontiers steadily northward, fortified Ningyuan in 1623, and by the summer of 1625 were ready to occupy Chin-chou, more than one hundred miles beyond the pass. On November 6, 1625, Sun Ch'êng-tsung, who had come into conflict with the all-powerful eunuch Wei Chung-hsien [q. v.], was relieved of his post. His successor, Kao Ti 高第 (T. 登之, chin-shih of 1589), decided on the abandonment of all defenses and ordered a general retreat to Shanhaikuan, but Yüan flatly refused to leave Ning-yüan.

Early in 1626 the Manchus, led by Nurhaci [q. v.], again crossed the Liao river and on February 19 appeared at Ning-yüan. Yüan made a compact with Man Kuei and Tsu Ta-shou [q. v.] to hold the city at all costs. They were successful in beating off the enemy, largely as a result of the havoc wrought by the newly mounted "foreign guns" (see under Sun Yüan-hua) which were fired off under the direction of Yüan's Fukienese cook. Pleased by this success—the only one in a long series of disasters at the hands of the Manchus—the Court revived the post of governor of Liaotung and on February 27, 1626, appointed yüan to it with full authority to handle all forces outside the pass. He now set himself to recover the gains surrendered by his predecessor and to this end took advantage of the death of Nurhaci, on September 30, 1626, to negotiate a truce with Abahai [q. v.] who succeeded Nurhaci. Abahai took advantage of the truce to give his undivided attention to Korea where Mao Wên-lung [q. v.] was proving a source of danger. Yüan was able to re-occupy Chin-chou and other points west of the Liao river, but Mao, left without assistance, was driven from Korea in March 1627. In June the Manchus re-appeared to take Chin-chou; failing in this, they attacked Ning-yüan on July 10 and engaged in an indecisive battle with Man Kuei and Tsu Ta-shou. Although the Manchus made no important gains, the campaign gave opportunity for criticism of Yüan by partisans of the eunuch Wei, in consequence of which he retired.

In 1628, under a new government, Yüan was reinstated as field marshal of all the forces in the northeast and was promised unqualified support. Arriving at the front again in September, he stationed three generals at Chin-chou, Ning-yüan. and Shanhaikuan respectively, and announced a five-year plan for the complete recovery of Liaotung. In 1629 he was granted the title of Senior Guardian of the Heir Apparent. Having now reached the height of his power he is thought by some to have become a prey to jealousy. Already, in 1626, he had broken with the talented general Man Kuei. For reasons that have been the subject of much discussion, he visited Mao Wên-lung in his island fortress and had him treacherously executed on July 24, 1629. Meanwhile the Manchus, repulsed in the Liao district, had been preparing for an invasion of China by way of Mongolia, and in the winter of 1629 they suddenly appeared in the neighborhood of Peking. Yüan rushed back from Ning-yüan to defend the capital, but was arrested during an interview with the Emperor on January 13, 1630. Although the responsibility for allowing the Manchus to cross the Great Wall was not his, partisans of the late eunuch Wei accused him, on the ground of his earlier truce proposals, of being in league with the enemy. On this charge, and on that of the murder of Mao Wên-lung, he was condemned to death and was cut to pieces in the marketplace. Liang Ch'i-ch'ao (see under T'an Ssŭ-t'ung), writing in the last days of the Manchu empire, characterized Yüan Ch'ung-huan as China's greatest soldier. With his death, the last hope of resistance to the Manchus outside the Great Wall vanished.

[M.1/259/24b; 3/236/15a; Tung-kuan hsien-chih (1921) 61, full account, compiled from all sources with references; Ming-chi pei-lueh (see bibl. under Chang Ch'üan) 2/7b, 4/3b, 5/8b, 10a; 袁督師事蹟 Yüan tu-shih shih-chi in Ling-nan i-shu (see under Wu Ch'ung-yüeh); Hauer, K'ai-kuo fang-lüeh 139–91, 172–79; Yüan tu-shih i-chi (遺集) with portrait and supplement containing a biography by Liang Ch'i-ch'ao, in the collection 滄海叢書 Ts'ang-hai ts'ung-shu; Yüan tu-shih chi chan Mao Wên-lung shih-mo chi (On the Execution of Mao Wên-lung by Yüan) in the collection 荊駝逸史 Ching-t'o i-shih of the Tao-kuang period].

George A. Kennedy