Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Chang Hsien-chung

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3633268Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period, Volume 1 — Chang Hsien-chungTu Lien-chê

CHANG Hsien-chung 張獻忠 (H. 敬軒), c. 1605–1647, Jan. 2, notorious freebooter in the last years of Ming rule, was a native of Yen-an-wei, Shensi. Early in life he entered the army. While there he was sentenced to death for disobedience to military rules, but a superior officer, Ch'ên Hung-fan (see under Tso Mou-ti), impressed by his appearance, secured his pardon. The province of Shensi, harassed by years of corrupt government and economic depression, was in 1628 afflicted by a disastrous famine. By the year 1630 it was over-run with brigands and robbers. Chang Hsien-chung established himself in the district of Mi-chih as the leader of a band of freebooters, styling himself Pa-tai-wang 八大王. In the winter of 1631 he surrendered to Hung Ch'êng-ch'ou [q. v.], but soon broke away and went into Shansi. Such outlaws were difficult to suppress, for in the mountains they could assemble or disperse at will. When opportunity permitted they could advance in strength, and when hard-pressed they found safety in the hills. As the result of a conference of thirteen bandit leaders, held in Jung-yang, Honan, in 1635, Chang Hsien-chung carried on his activities farther eastward in Anhwei. He returned to Shensi, and once more proceeded eastward through Honan to Hu-kuang where he was decisively defeated by government forces. Learning that Hsiung Wên-ts'an (see under Chêng Chih-lung) was in 1637 placed in charge of bandit suppression in the afflicted provinces, with Ch'ên Hung-fan as his assistant, Chang Hsien-chung sent a messenger to the latter with a present of money requesting that he be allowed to surrender to Hsiung Wên-ts'an. This was granted and in 1639 his men were quartered at Ku-ch'êng, Hupeh.

After this breathing-spell Chang Hsien-chung rebelled again early in the summer of the same year. In the following spring he was defeated by Tso Liang-yü [q. v.] on the border of Shensi and Szechwan. From his retreat in the mountains he made several forays into Hupeh and then entered Szechwan. From there he advanced to the northeast and was again defeated in 1641 by Tso Liang-yü at Hsin-yang, Honan. For a brief time he co-operated with Li Tzŭ-ch'êng [q. v.], but the two were not friends; hence he shifted his activities to Anhwei where in 1642 he recovered much ground and from there entered Hupeh. After the fall of Wuchang he styled himself "King of the West" (西王), changing the name of Wuchang prefecture to T'ien-shou-fu 天授府. Twenty-one districts of Hupeh were under his sway. When Li Tzŭ-ch'êng heard of Chang's success he was further embittered and sent him a letter couched in harsh and threatening language. Meanwhile Tso Liang-yü's forces were also advancing toward him. Under this double pressure Chang Hsien-chung retreated into Hunan, harassed Kiangsi, moved along the Yangtze into Szechwan, and finally took Chengtu. There on December 4, 1644, he enthroned himself "King of the Great Western Kingdom" (大西國王) with the reign-title, Ta-shun 大順. His capital, Chengtu, was renamed Hsi-ching 西京 "Western Capital", where government departments were established and new officials were appointed. His foster sons, Sun K'o-wang and Li Ting-kuo [qq. v.], were given his own surname, Chang, and were made generals. The campaigns of Chang Hsien-chung were marked by indescribable cruelty and under his regime the province of Szechwan endured untold suffering. When the province was bled white, both financially and in human lives, he planned in 1645 to proceed northward into Shensi. But the Manchus had by then established themselves in northern China and their forces were moving toward the southwest. At Hsi-ch'ung, Szechwan, Chang Hsien-chung met them, was defeated, and executed (see under Haoge). It is recorded that he was tall of stature, had a yellow complexion, a heavy chin and hence was called "Yellow Tiger" (黃虎).

[M. 1/309/24b, translated in full by Erich Hauer, "Li Tze-ch'êng und Chang Hsien-chung", Asia Major III; M. 41/2/9a; Tung-hua-lu, Shun-chih 3:2; For additional sources see W.M.S.C.K.]

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