Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Ch'êng Hsüeh-ch'i

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
3634149Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period, Volume 1 — Ch'êng Hsüeh-ch'iTêng Ssŭ-yü

CH'ÊNG Hsüeh-ch'i 程學啟 (T. 方忠), d. Apr. 15, 1864, age thirty-five (sui), a leading general of the Anhwei army, was born in a peasant family in T'ung-ch'êng, Anhwei. When that city fell into the hands of the Taipings Ch'êng aligned himself with the rebels and later, in a minor official capacity, defended the city of Anking against the attacks of Tsêng Kuo-ch'üan [q. v.]. In May 1861 he was persuaded by a relative to go over to the side of the government and was made commander of a battalion. Thereafter he fought bravely at the front for the recovery of Anking (September 5, 1861) and other cities. He was rewarded for his merits with the rank of a lieutenant-colonel. In the spring of 1862 Li Hung-chang [q. v.] mobilized the newly-organized Huai-chün 淮軍 or Anhwei forces, for the rescue of Shanghai. Ch'êng Hsüeh-ch'i was ordered by Tsêng Kuo-fan [q. v.] to assist Li in command of the fighting. He was placed in command of a thousand veterans at the front, and his soldiers seem to have been more effective in battle than the other Anhwei troops.

At this time a large part of Kiangsu was in the grip of the Taipings. Chiefly owing to the effectiveness of the British and French forces and the so-called "Ever Victorious Army" organized by Frederick T. Ward (see under Fêng Kuei-fên), Shanghai was saved from complete occupation by the rebels, but was nevertheless menaced by frequent assaults. As soon as Ch'êng Hsüeh-ch'i's re-enforcements came upon the scene they defeated the Taipings at Hung-ch'iao, a town west of Shanghai, and took part in raising the siege of Sungkiang. Then, in co-operation with Ward, they took Ch'ing-p'u and a number of small towns and villages near Shanghai. For these achievements Ch'êng was rewarded in 1862 with appointment to the rank of brigade-general and his force was increased to 3,000 men.

In 1863 Ch'êng Hsüeh-ch'i advanced to the capture of Soochow which was protected by a moat and other defenses difficult to negotiate. Fighting again in co-operation with Charles George Gordon (see under Li Hung-chang), then commander of the "Ever Victorious Army," Ch'êng conquered T'ai-ts'ang (May 2), K'un-shan (May 31), and other strategic points and outworks in the vicinity of Soochow. At this juncture the Taiping commander-in-chief, Li Hsiu-ch'êng [q. v.], went to a place near Ch'ang-chou in the hope of persuading the Heavenly King, Hung Hsiu-ch'üan [q. v.], to consent to a general retreat from Nanking. During his absence from Soochow Li entrusted T'an Shao-kuang 譚紹洸, commonly known as Mu Wang 穆王, with the difficult task of holding the city. Eight other Taiping chiefs (wang) in Soochow were so harassed however by the onslaught of the government forces that they secretly communicated with the imperialists in regard to surrender. Ch'êng Hsüeh-ch'i, together with Colonel Chêng Kuo-k'uei 鄭國魁 and General Gordon, went to confer with the chiefs. As a result of this conference it was agreed that the capitulating chiefs would present the head of T'an Shao-kuang as a pledge of their loyalty to the Imperial Government, and that they in turn would receive from Ch'êng Hsueh-ch'i military commissions of the second class. The Taiping chiefs murdered T'an, in accordance with the agreement, and delivered his head (and by that token the city of Soochow) to the government forces (December 5, 1863).

When the surrendered chiefs met Ch'êng Hsüeh-ch'i in Soochow they asked him to convey their demands to Li Hung-chang that they be made brigade-generals or colonels, as stipulated, and that they be left in control of half the city of Soochow with a force of some 20,000 men at their command. Ch'êng pretended to adhere to the request but secretly informed Li Hung-chang that though the Long-haired Rebels had shaven their heads in token of submission, the heads of the eight chiefs remained unshaven. This he interpreted as perfidy. Since the Taipings in the city were far greater in number than the government forces Ch'êng feared that if these chiefs were not put to death the rebel forces under them could not be controlled. For this reason he urged Li to end their lives. Li at first demurred, but as Ch'êng insisted he finally acquiesced. The eight chiefs were told to visit Li at Ch'êng's headquarters; they were given the official robes of their respective ranks, entertained at a banquet, and after Li had departed, the hapless men were put to death. Since Chêng Kuo-k'uei and Gordon were witnesses to the terms of surrender they considered the execution of the capitulating chiefs an unjustifiable act of treachery. To show his intense disapproval of his superiors' act Chêng Kuo-k'uei refused to work or eat for three days. Gordon, too, was so infuriated with Li Hung-chang that he set out to arrest him, but fortunately Li had left the camp and could not be found. The storm of resentment blew over when Li paid his respects in formal services to the victims and when a degree of reconciliation was established through go-betweens. After some months of estrangement amicable relations between Gordon and Li Hung-chang were restored.

Later Ch'êng Hsüeh-ch'i took part in the advance on Kashing which was taken (March 25, 1864) after a difficult siege in which Ch'êng was wounded. He died at Soochow a little later. The title Grand Guardian of the Heir Apparent was posthumously conferred upon him, and he was canonized as Chung-lieh 忠烈. In addition he was granted the hereditary rank of a baron of the third class. This title was inherited by his son.

[1/422/1a; 2/51/22b; 5/51/16a; 8/24上/1a; Fêng Kuei-fên [q. v.], Hsien-chih-t'ang kao 6/5a; Mossman, Samuel, General Gordon's Private Diary of his Exploits in China (London, 1885); Douglas, Robert K., Li Hung-chang (London, 1895); Allen, Barnard M., Gordon in China (London, 1933); Chien Yu-wên 簡又文, 嘉興訪碑記 in I-ching 逸經, no. 14, pp. 747–51 (September, 1936).]

Têng Ssŭ-yü