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Li Hung Chang
Tenney, Charles Daniel


Charles D. Tenney.

Charles D. Tenney,
2021 Waverly Street,
Palo Alto, California. 1505 words.
C.D. Tenney
1001 Cowper St
Palo Alto

Li Hung Chang.
I confess to a real admiration for Li Hung Chang, the
great Chinese statesman of a generation ago. I shall never
forget my feeling of elation in the year 1888, when I recei­
ved a[inline]ninvitation from Viceroy Li to spend two hours every af­
ternoon as English tutor to his two young sons and a grandson.
A year earlier than this, I had established a school at Tien­
sin for Chinese boys, without any idea of receiving the Vice­
regal patronage. The Viceroy’s invitation came to me as
proof that my school work was appreciated.
The yamen, or combined office and residence of the
Viceroy was in the Chinese city about two miles from the for­
eign concession where my school was located. Every day, for
several years, two horses were sent for me, and leaving my
school in charge of an assistant, I rode to the Yamen.
At that time, it seemed to us in China that Viceroy Li
was easily the greatest man in the Empire, and that he rank­
ed among the great men of the world. To show you that this
impression was not confined to us in China, let me quote the
words of Mr. Basil Williams, a member of the British Parli­
ment. t[inline]The occasion to which he refers was when Li Hung Chang
made his trip around the world in 1896, after attending the
coronation of the Czar, Nicholas II.
Says Mr. Williams: "As I was making my way out of
the House I was suddenly brought face to face with Li Hung
Chang, who was being ushered in to hear a debate. A won­
drously tall beneficent-looking stranger from another world
he seemed,—glorious in his blue robes, dignified in his
gait and bearing, and beaming with courtly smiles of appre­
ciation at all he saw. In distinction of appearance it
would be hard to think of any man of this or the last gener­
ation to approach Li Hung Chang. It was not that he gave
you the impression of great achievement or personal power,
but his mien conveyed a sense of personal dignity as of some
demi-god self-sufficient and detached, yet suave and condes­
cending to struggling mortals."
At this time the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had not
yet been organized at Peking, but a bureau called the Tsung­
Li-Yamen conducted business with the Legations. The ineffi­
ciency of this bureau was notorious and one Minister after
another used to weary of futile discussions at Peking and
come to Tientsin to settle matters with Li Hung Chang. So
really, though not nominally, he was Minister of Foreign
Affairs. He was also Northern Superintendent of Trade and,
of course, Viceroy of Chili, the Metropolitan province.
As a young man, Li Hung Chang had won the highest
honors in the competitive examinations in the Chinese
classics. He was said to have been so familiar with the
classics that he could repeat any one of them, either for­
ward or backward. In spite of this purely civilian train­
ing, he won his standing in his generation by military
activities. Early in the fifties he took the field against
the T'ai P'ing rebels, and in this work became associated
with Ward and Gordon.
Ward, the American, was a typical adventurer. He had
served in the French army in the Crimean campaign and had
been engaged in a fillibustering expedition in Nicaragua.
In 1860, he came to China and offered his services to Li
Hung Chang. He collected foreign adventurers at Shanghai
and formed a mixed brigade of foreigners and Chinese, which
soon won so many victories over the T'ai P'ings that it was
called the "Ever Victorious Army." Two years later he was
killed and after various vicissitudes Gordon succeeded to
the command of his army.
Li Hung Chang became Governor of the province of Kiang­
su (in which Shanghai and Nanking are located) during
the war with the T'ai P'ings. After the collapse of the Re­
bellion in 1865 he became Viceroy of the Kuang at Wuchang
on the Yangtze river. In 1870 when a massacre of Roman
Catholics and the French Consul at Tientsin showed that
a strong hand was needed there, he was transferred to the
Metropolitan province of Chili. There he continued until
1894 when the Japanese beat the Chinese armies and destroy­
ed the fleet which Li Hung Chang had so laboriously built
up. After this calamity he lost prestige.
Before the Boxer outbreak, he was sent to Canton as a
cting Viceroy, and was only brought back to his old post
when the Court had fled from Peking, in order to straighten
out the tangle which the folly of the Court had caused.
I shall never forget my call upon him the morning
after his arrival at Tientsin. He came tottering toward
me (he was then only three years short of eighty) with both
hands outstretched saying, "Ah, if I had only been here,
this would not have happened."
I feel strongly the truth of that remark. As it
was, the influence of the old statesman prevented the spread
of the movement. The Yangtze River Viceroys received a
decree from Peking in the summer of 1900, ordering them to
exterminate all foreigners within their jurisdictions.
Before they acted, however, they reported the receipt of
the order to Li Hung Chang at Canton and asked his advice.
He telegraphed immediately "Ignore the order."
You will not find this in any history of the Boxer
outbreak, but I know it to be true.
I saw a good deal of Viceroy Li, during the years of
my tutorship, as he was fond of coming to the schoolroom,
after he had finished his official business. One afternoon
in the summer of 1889, our studies were interrupted by a
rather violent earthquake shock. I hustled the small boys
out into the middle of the court on which the schoolroom
opened. As we stood, huddled together, we saw through the
open gate into the next court the Viceroy and his brother
Li Han Chang, also a Viceroy from South China who was visit­
ing him. They came out of the Viceroy's office with much
more haste than dignity. Seeing us standing in the next
court, they joined us, and we stood in a group until the
earth tremors had ceased. While the ground was still shak­
ing, the Viceroy insisted that I should then and there lec­
ture on the cause of earthquakes!
I remember another day when, as the Viceroy sat lis­
tening in the schoolroom, one of the little boys asked me
to explain the doctrine that the missionaries taught. So
in a few words, I told them the chief points of the Chris­
tian religion. When I had finished, the Viceroy turned to
the boys and said ,"That is a very good doctrine, but do not forget that you are Confucianists."
I once asked the children if they had ever heard of
Gordon, because I was curious to know in what form the
Gordon legend had been handed down in the family. They
reply[inline]ied eagerly that they knew all about General Gordon,
that he had given splendid service to their father in the
war against the T'ai P'ing rebels, but that, unfortunately,
he had, at last, rebelled against their father and had been
What really happened was this:
When the rebel army at Foochow surrendered[inline], the leaders
had been promised their lives and Major Gordon had guarran­
teed the promise. But after they had fallen into Imperialist
hands, Li Hung Chang ordered their heads to be cut off. When
Gordon heard what had been done, he was furious and searched
for his Generalissimo with a revolver, intending to shoot him.
One of the Viceroy's sons said to me one day that his
father had told him that when he had first had dealings with
foreigners he thought that they were much more truthful than
the Chinese, but that further experience had shown him his
error. In truthfulness and honesty he had come to rate Chinese
and foreigners alike; among both there were honest men and
dishonest. The general average, he considered the same.
This judgement of Li Hung Chang's is to be explained,
I think, by the fact that his early experience of foreign­
ers was with a man of the ideals and high sense of honor
that Gordon had, while his later contacts were, too often,
with concession hunters and traders of the adventurer type.
Li Hung Chang was by no means a perfect man. As we
have seen, he did not feel it necessary to keep faith with
rebels. He was steeped in the traditions of the Mandarinate.
Like them all, he believed fully in the command, "Thou shalt
not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn." During
his long official career, he had always an eye to his own
interests, his own purse. But he realized as no others of
his training and environment did realize that the times had
changed for China.
He was, conservatively, a reformer.
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