Li Hung Chang

Author Tenney, Charles Daniel

ms numberms794-007

Persistent Identifier
LI HUNG CHANG by Charles D. Tenney.
Charles D. Tenney, 2021 Waverly Street, Palo Alto, California. 1505 words.
C.D. Tenney 1001 Cowper St Palo Alto Callifornia
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]n^invitation 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]T^he 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]i^ed 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 dismissed.
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.