Reminiscences of Li Hung-Chang

Written By Tenney, Charles Daniel


Reminiscences of Li Hung-chang.
When I lived at Tientsin Li Hung-chang loomed large on the horizon, and I did not suppose that I should ever have to explain to anyone who he was. I suppose however that he is only a name to you.
He became Viceroy of the metropolitan Province in 1870 and until the Japanese War of 1894, he stood as the real executive officer of the Manchu Court at Peking. There was during this time a sort of Foreign Office at Peking called the Tsung-li Yamen, but it was not uncommon for foreign ministers to get weary of the delays caused by the tactics of the Tsung-li Yamen, and so come to the Tientsin to settle things with the great Viceroy. His power seemed to us almost without limits.
Li Hung-chang was a native of Ho Fei Hsien in Anhui Province. Physically he was a large man, standing three or four inches over six feet in height.
The real Chinese of North China
are much larger than the Cantonese whom you know as Chinese in California. They seem to breed a tall and strong race of men in that part of Anhui Province from which the great Viceroy came. I have known several of his fellow- [illegible: townsmen] who were over six feet tall. The Chinese giant Chang whom Barnum showed to the world was 7 feet 9 inches in height and I believe that scientists agree that his was a natural growth not caused by any disease, as is generally the case with the "giants." I have often been told by the Anhui Chinese that Chang had a sister who was taller than he.
Li Hung-chang showed his ability in youth by passing with distinction the various examinations that were formerly held in China, finally passing the highest at Peking, and winning for himself the coveted distinc­ tion of being enrolled as a Han-lin at
Peking. It was as a military leader that he first became famous however. He joined the force of the Chinese general who was fighting the T'ai P'ing Rebels and soon had an independent position in the great civil war. He came in contact with foreigners by employing Ward, a mass, man, to organize an auxiliary force composed of Chinese and foreigners to fight against the T'ai P'ings. At Shanghai in these days a confusion there were many foreign adventurers, of whom Ward was one. He had already been connected with the filibustering expedition against Nicaragua before he came to Shanghai. His foreign and Chinese force did good called ^given the name of^ the "Ever Victorious Army." After two years he was killed and turned ov the "Ever Victorious Army" was turned over to Burgeoine, a North Carolina man.
Burgeoine soon quarrelled with his
Chinese superiors and changed sides, joining the rebels. After his capture and death Gordon took charge of the army and won great honor by his manner of conducting it. I think it is not generally realized in this country that the leader of the T'ai P'ing Rebels was nominally a Christian. At all the gatherings of the army a sort of religious service was held, but Christian doctrine in his hands soon took grotesque form and the essence of Christianity soon changed into savagery. He overran half of China and his operations have been estimated to have accounted, directly and indirectly, for 100,000,000 deaths. I think that this illustrates the folly of the misssionary's expending his force in merely teaching Christian doctrine. All missionaries ought to regard themselves as representatives of the higher form of civilization which has been developed in the Western
nations as the practical result of Christianity. Those of you who are planning to go out as missionaries ought to learn all that you can of engineering in its different forms and wherever you go, you should take the lead in lifting ^elevating^ ^[below]elevating^ the people by introducing proper measures of sanitation by establishing schools, by guarding against floods, by improving methods of agriculture and by establishing hospitals. In modern times, because many of the missionaries stand for these things, the church is looked upon with a new respect. Out of the military leaders now, ^Gen.^ teng Yü-hsiang is a Christian ^of the Methodist Church,^ and as a Christian he regards himself as necessarily and naturally a reformer. He has devoted himself to the general welfare of the people in every line.
The history of Christianity in the Far East has shown that mere Xian doctrine is soon submerged. I have recently been reading Marco Polo ^who^ was in China during the 13th Century of our era. Christian churches
existed then in nearly every city of North China that he described. Now they have all disappeared. The doctrine has gradually been changed, until it has so assimilated the Buddhist or Mohametan doctrines that the distinction ^of churches^ has not been kept up.
In 1886 I established a school at Tsu for teaching English and Chinese, mathe­ matics and elementary science. At the end of the first year I was greatly pleased to receive an invitation from the Viceroy, Li Hung-chang, to spend two hours every afternoon at the Yamen or official residence, tutoring his sons and grand-sons. I was glad to turn over my school to my assistants and to devote myself for a part of the day to the new work. I thought it indicated that my school was building up a good reputation and I felt that with this sign of the Viceroy's approval it would prosper still more. This was at the beginning of the movement for modernizing China. Times have changed now. It is not uncommon now for officials to send their sons
to foreign schools, but at that time it was unheard of to place a foreigner in the position of a tutor in an official family. I happened to know that some of the Viceroy's friends protested vigorously against his placing young children under the influence of a foreigner. The Viceroy insisted upon having his own way and up to the year 1894, when the Sino-Japanese War took place, two house were placed at my disposal from the vice-regal stables and I continued to act as tutor ^rode to the Yamen every afternoon to act as tutor^.
After the Viceroy had finished the day's official business he was in the habit of sauntering into the school room to listen to the children ^recite,^ so that I saw a great deal of him. He was certainly a bigger man than any that have come to the front in these days of the Republic of China. His faults were those of his class, for he was an old­ fashioned Mandarin, at the same time
that he was progressive. His wealth was, of course, against him. He did not believe "in muzzling the ox that treadith out the corn." I remember once asking the boys what they knew of Gordon. They at once bega became animated and said that he was an Englishman who fought under their father, but who unfortunately rebelled against their father in the end, and so had to be dismissed. This was the way the story had been handed down in the Li family. The foreign version is that on the surrender of the T'ai P'ing leaders at Soochow they were promised their lives ^by Gordon and the Chin, Gen. with^^[right]whom he was cooperating^, but General Li treacherously ordered them all to be executed, which so outraged Gordon that he tried to shoot his general. Gordon seems to have impressed Li Hung-chang ^however,^, for he said once that when he first began to deal with foreigners he had the impression that they were more truthful than the Chinese, but that further experience
had shown him that he was wrong in his early conclusion; that there were truthful and untruthful foreigners but that the general average was about the same as among the Chinese. From this you may perceive the quality of the diplomats and concession hunters with whom he came in contact as Viceroy of the metropolitan Province.
Among the paraphernalia of the school room I had the usual small set of apparatus for illustrating science all of which had to be shown and explained to the Viceroy; and I also had the first form of the phonograph, with wax cylinders for taking records and a glass pointed needle for repro­ ducing the record just taken. This aroused the greatest possible interest of course. I remember once that the Viceroy ordered one of his attendants to sing into the phonography. The poor man had to sing a Chinese song, but
but it was a trying ordeal and in the midst of the song his embarrassment caused him to break down and to have a fit of the giggles. I suppose he thought that I would stop the machine until he had recovered, but I let it run on. When I reproduced the record, his break­ down and embarrassed giggling all came out faithfully. I have never seen a man more amused than the Viceroy was. I thought he would never finish laughing. I remember one afternoon we had a rather severe earth-quake at Tientsin. I gathered my small boys in the middle of the square compound onto which the school ^[inline]room^ opened and we were all bunched together there to be free from the danger of falling walls. The next compound connected with ours by a gate which generally stood open was that on which the Viceroy's office opened. At that time Li Hung-chang's brother, Li Han-chang who was also a Viceroy, at Canton,
was his guest. After we had taken our position, we saw these two elderly men come out from the office with the same idea ^as ours^, but as they saw us in the middle of our compound they came through the open gate and joined us. Then as the walls were still creaking and groaning, ^and we were all crowded together,^ the Viceroy asked me to explain the cause of earth-quakes. I have never forgotten the peculiar circumstances under which I delivered that scientific lecture. As I have spoken of the Viceroy's brother I would like to explain that leading families in China have a system by which you know when you hear a man's name just where he stands among the generations. For example the character Chang as used in Li Hung ^Chang^, Li Han-Chang, serves to place the man. Ching is chosen as the name of the next generation. So you have Li Ching-fang, Ching Su, Ching Hsi Ching-chin, Ching-mai. Kuo makes the next generation, as Li Kuo-chich, Kuo Yun [illegible: etc].
(Filial piety outraged by Am. Consul + son)
In 1894 came the Sino-Japanese War in which Li Hung-chang was disgraced. He had built up a navy, but although the ships were there, the Empress Dowager had used the naval maintainance fund to embellish the Summer Palace, so that the well-equipped Japanese navy made short work of destroying it. The Chinese armies too made a poor showing in face of the well-disciplined Japanese forces. Corea had been a tributary state of China's before the war but now became attached to Japan. Li Hung-chang was relieved of his post as Viceroy of the metropolitan province in consequence of his failure in the war and might have lost his life, if it had not been for the friendship of the Empress Dowager. In 1896 he was appointed special envoy to attend the coronation of the Czar of Russia and later he passed on through Europe and America. It was sad to see his great career ending in disgrace. I think that no one was more surprised than himself at the inferiority of his
army and navy. Then too no one, least of all China, realized the rapid strides that Japan had made in modern warfare. I remember that after the capture of Port Arthur by the Japanese he^Li Hung-chang^ said to me that the engineers who constructed the fortifications of Port Arthur had made the mistake of placing the cannon so that they commanded the approaches from the sea but could not be turned so as to command an attack by land, which was what the Japanese army carried out. This pitiful excuse was, I suppose, only a repetition of what some one of his military officers had told him. After his return from the round the world trip he was given an appointment at Peking. But when the Empress Dowager was preparing her one great folly in allying herself with the so-called Boxer Society to expel all the foreigners from China it was necessary to be rid of Li Hung-chang from Peking, because he never would
have countenanced the folly. So several months before the storm broke in 1900, he was sent to Canton to be Viceroy of the province in which Canton is situ­ ated and only recalled when the consequences of the folly had become evident. I remember well when he arrived at Tientsin to make peace with the foreigners. He arrived at night and I called on him the next morning. He dispensed with the usual salutations and only said "Oh Mr. Tenney, if I had been here this would not have happened." He was then nearly 80 years of age and the next year he died, with the work of peace negotiations still incomplete. Though he was in the extreme South when the Boxer attempt was made, he was still able to influence the course of events somewhat. Orders were sent to the Yang-Tzŭ River Viceroys from Peking ordering them to exterminate all
the foreigners in their section. They had become so accustomed to follow the guidance of Li Hung-chang that the telegraphed to him at Canton telling him that these orders had been received and asking him what they should do. He at once telegraphed his reply. "Ignore the orders." They did so and thus the disorders of that fateful year were confined to the North, to the region immediately around Peking. Whatever circumstances may be made of Li Hung-chang no one can doubt his loyalty to the Manchu Dynasty and its head, the old Empress Dowager. Confucian morality requires that when a man has once held office under a dynasty he must be faithful to that dynasty to the end and never serve under any rulers who may take its place. I often wonder what he would have said to the China of today. A republic in name, but really under
the rule of military dictators and dis­ united. A few of the officials who served under the Empire have taken office in the Republic. I suppose that they satisfy their consciences by saying that the Republic exists by Imperial order and so differs from another dynasty which might have supplanted the old dynasty. Li Hung-chang would never have su allowed this sophistry to satisfy him. His sons and grand-sons have almost without exception held themselves aloof from Republican China. One of his sons, with whom I correspond, is living in hope that the young emperor may take up the reins again and reinstate the Ta Ch'ing Dynasty. I have had to tell him frankly that it is quite impossible. The revolution of 1911 was directed mainly against the corruption and inefficiency of the Manchu government. No family of
China is powerful enough to set up a new dynasty, and so the Republic has come to stay. The people will never submit to the Manchus again, discour­ aging as is the present outlook of the Republic. I have great respect for the mental power and essential saneness of the Chinese, and I believe that in some way they will solve their present difficulties and evolve a stable government.