Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Ch'ên Kuo-jui

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3633525Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period, Volume 1 — Ch'ên Kuo-juiFang Chao-ying

CH'ÊN Kuo-jui 陳國瑞 (T. 慶雲), 1837-1883, Feb. 7, general, was a native of Ying-ch'êng, Hupeh. He was about eight sui when his father died. During the years 1852–54 the Taiping forces, then in Ying-ch'êng, detained him but he managed to escape, either by his own efforts or by the help of government troops. Before long he became a soldier in the camp of General Huang K'ai-pang 黃開榜 (T. 殿臣, posthumous name 剛愍 d. 1884) who was then a minor officer under Shêng-pao (see under Lin Fêng-hsiang) and later under Tsêng Kuo-fan [q. v.]. Huang liked him and adopted him as his son. In a few years he became a second captain and was raised to first captain in 1859 when he shared in the recovery of Fêng-yang, Anhwei. For special bravery in a battle south of Fêng-yang in 1860, he was given the title, Chi-yung baturu 技勇巴圖魯. In the same year he was raised to major. From 1860 to 1862 he fought mostly in northern Kiangsu to stem the southward advance of the Nien bandits (see under Sêng-ko-lin-ch'in). He won a number of battles and was made first a colonel and then a brigade-general. Late in 1862, on the recommendation of Wu T'ang (see under Li Hung-chang), who was then director-general of grain transport, he was detached from Huang K'ai-pang's camp and was put under Wu's command. A few months later he was transferred to Shantung where he won several spectacular victories. In 1863 he was rewarded with a yellow jacket and with the decorations of a first grade general. At the same time he was permitted to resume his own surname, Ch'ên, in place of Huang, by which he had been known up to this time. His bravery and his military talents were highly appreciated by the prince, Sêng-ko-lin-ch'in [q. v.].

In the autumn of 1863 he was sent to retake Mêng-ch'êng, Anhwei, from the rebel, Miao Pei-lin (see under Sêng-ko-lin-ch'in). He was made commander of an army composed of his own men, numbering 4,000, and also of troops from another command. Late in 1863 Meng-ch'êng was recovered and Miao was killed. In 1864 Ch'ên was appointed a brigade-general in Chekiang, but was detained in Honan to fight the rebels. For his failure to obey Sêng-ko-lin-ch'in's order to advance on Hupeh, he was degraded and was deprived of his command. When reported as plotting to rebel, he proved his loyalty by going to Sêng-ko-lin-ch'in in person to offer his services. He was given a small detachment with which he won a battle late in 1864, and so regained his former ranks. After retiring for a few months, owing to illness, he was specially recommended by Chang Chih-wan [q. v.] and was recalled to service. In 1865 he pursued the Nien bandits from Honan to Shantung, then to northern Kiangsu, and then back to Shantung where Sêng-ko-lin-ch'in was killed in battle. Ch'ên was severely wounded, but he managed to lead a remnant of his men for the recovery of the prince's body. In consequence he was not punished for the defeat.

About the middle of 1865 Ch'ên Kuo-jui was placed under the command of Tsêng Kuo-fan and was sent to Honan to fight bandits. Becoming envious, we are told, of Liu Ming-ch'uan's [q. v.] troops because they were supplied with new rifles, he secretly led five hundred men to attack Liu's camp in order to seize the rifles, but in the affray all his men were killed. Unwilling to acknowledge his error, he continued to argue with Tsêng Kuo-fan. The latter finally reported Ch'ên's faults in a memorial, with the result that Ch'ên was deprived of his titles and decorations. While living in retirement at Huai-an, Kiangsu, he became so unruly that he threatened to execute his adopted son. When his former benefactor, Wu T'ang, gave refuge to that son Ch'ên was so angered that he led his servants to attack Wu's office. For these offenses he was reduced to a commoner.

In 1867, again on the recommendation of Chang Chih-wan, Ch'ên Kuo-jui was recalled to service. Early in 1868 he was made an Imperial Bodyguard and was sent to join Tso Tsung-t'ang's [q. v.] camp in Shensi. Before he left Peking he was ordered to hurry to Paoting which was threatened by the northern advance of the Nien bandits. At Paoting he commanded seven battalions and was also placed in command of the Peking Field Force (see under I-hsin). After winning several battles he again became arrogant. Charged with insubordination, he was severely reprimanded. Yet he was relied on to fight the Nien bandits on the border districts of Chihli, Shansi, Honan, and Shantung. After Li Hung-chang [q. v.] reported that the Nien bandits had been annihilated, Ch'ên Kuojui, for his part in the campaign, was rewarded with the decorations of the yellow jacket and the peacock feather, and was given back his original rank of a brigade-general with the title of provincial commander-in-chief. In addition he was granted the minor hereditary rank of a Yün-ch'i yü 雲騎尉.

As he had several times been wounded, Ch'ên Kuo-jui was granted leave to recuperate, and lived for some time at Yangchow. In 1870 he was passing through Tientsin on his way to Peking when the mob attacked the Catholic missionaries (see under Ch'ung-hou). The French minister accused Ch'ên, the prefect, and the magistrate of Tientsin as being responsible for the attack, and demanded that they be executed. However, Prince Ch'un (see under I-huan [q. v.]), then in command of the Peking Field Force, spoke up for Ch'ên and saved him the disgrace of being tried at Tientsin. According to Ch'ên's own account, he had nothing to do with the attack by the mob and only went to Ch'ung-hou's yamen when he heard a rumor that Ch'ung-hou had been killed by the French consul. In view of his past conduct, however, it is difficult to believe that he was entirely innocent. After the Tientsin case was settled Ch'ên made his home in Yangchow. In 1871 he had an encounter with another general which resulted in his capture and imprisonment in a boat on the Yangtze. Only an urgent order from Tsêng Kuo-fan, then governor-general at Nanking, saved his life. For the sake of discipline, however, Tsêng saw to it that Ch'ên's rank was reduced and that Ch'ên's captor was stripped of all ranks. Ch'ên was ordered to go back to Hupeh, but disobeyed and continued to live at Yangchow. In 1875, when one of his relatives was murdered by a retired general, Ch'ên was falsely accused by that general as responsible for the death. Although he was cleared of any complicity in the case, punishment was meted out to him for his refusal to return to Hupeh. He was banished to Heilungkiang where he died in exile early in 1883. A few months later, on the plea of a censor, his ranks were posthumously restored, and a sketch of his life was permitted to be included in the dynastic history. Early in 1884 his hereditary rank was given to his son, and special temples to his honor were erected in Shantung, Chekiang, and Kiangsu. In 1893, 1894, and 1895 many more temples were erected to his memory. He was a brave general, but lacked self-control. He doubtless often repented of his rashness, but lacked the will to avoid repetition.

[1/434/6b; 2/56/38a; 5/51/23a; 清朝野史大觀 Ch'ing-ch'ao yeh-shih ta-kuan, 7/102; Shên Pao-chên, Shên wên-su kung tsou-i (奏議) 6/25a; Ch'ou-pan I-wu shih-mo (see under I-hsin), chüan 73, 74]

Fang Chao-ying