Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Tsêng Kuo-ch'üan

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TSÊNG Kuo-ch'üan 曾國荃 (T. 沅浦, H. 叔純), Oct. 12, 1824–1890, Nov. 13, a native of Hsiang-hsiang, Hunan, and younger brother of Tsêng Kuo-fan [q. v.], was the leading general in the taking of Nanking after it had been eleven years in the hands of the Taiping Rebels. He obtained a hsiu-ts'ai degree in 1847 and a senior licentiate in 1855, at the same time greatly assisting his brother, Tseng Kuo-fan, in organizing the "Hunan Braves". In 1856 he raised reinforcements and rescued his brother who was being harassed in Kiangsi. In the following four years he fought in various places in Kiangsi until the Taipings were fairly well cleared from the province. In May 1860 he left Kiangsi to take part in the advance on Anking, the capital of Anhwei province. This move was the first step in Tsêng Kuo-fan's far-sighted plan for the taking of Nanking. Though the imperialists had previously suffered a severe defeat at Nanking (see under Hsiang Jung) and though his brother was dangerously harassed at Ch'i-mên, Anhwei, in the winter of 1860–61, Tsêng Kuoch'üan held steadfastly to his policy of besieging Anking. In this campaign he had the help of Pao Ch'ao, P'êng Yü-lin [qq. v.], Li Hsü-i (see under Li Hsü-pin) and others. He had to defend himself not only against the rebels' sorties from the city, but also against the fresh Taiping relief forces brought from outside the region by Ch'ên Yü-ch'êng and Li Hsiu-ch'êng [qq. v.]. His campaign to take Anking was a prolonged one—lasting from May 17, 1860 to September 5, 1861—the city having been held by the strongly entrenched Taipings for nine years. For his prowess and his military strategy in this campaign he was given the title of financial commissioner (1861), was made an expectant provincial judge, and was allowed the privilege of wearing the yellow riding jacket.

Undeterred by other alluring appointments, Tsêng Kuo-ch'üan pressed on with the campaign to Nanking, the capital of the Taipings. With a force of about 30,000 veterans (including P'êng Yü-lin's marines) he fought his way from Anking down to Yü-hua-t'ai 雨花臺 under the very walls of Nanking where he encamped on May 31, 1862. This date marks the beginning of the great campaign which the Hunan Braves waged against Nanking, as distinguished from the seven-year attempt of the imperialist forces which had ended unsuccessfully in May 1860 (see under Hsiang Jung). Tsêng Kuo-fan and other imperialist generals looked with apprehension on his brother's deep penetration into rebel territory with so small a force, and made plans for the victorious troops under Li Hung-chang [q. v.] to aid in the final assault upon the city. But Tsêng Kuo-ch'üan desired to complete the campaign unaided, relying, for the accomplishment of this purpose, on the indomitable spirit of his soldiers. They had triumphed so far, and regardless of obstacles, they harassed the Taipings almost daily. By making use of deep trenches and other protective devices he not only defended his position from assault but, in one encounter, dealt the assailants such a blow that they dared not make another attempt. Instead, they closed the city gates to wait for reinforcements. Tsêng's own army was so terribly decimated by pestilence that he likewise welcomed a truce. However, before the epidemic could be stamped out the long-awaited reinforcements of the Taipings—said to number 300,000 under the command of Li Hsiu-ch'êng—arrived and encircled Tsêng's army. They attacked with explosive shells obtained from Western countries, with mines, and by every method available at the time. But with careful strategy and desperate fighting all their efforts proved fruitless. Though Tsêng himself did not ask for relief from other generals who were occupied elsewhere, some 200,000 rebel recruits are said to have arrived on October 25 to augment the enemy's forces. This enormous army then assaulted Tsêng's position in relays day and night, while Tsêng counter-attacked in the same manner. The rebels, too, in their over-crowded quarters, suffered greatly from epidemics and from hunger and cold. By November 26, 1862, after forty-six days of almost continuous fighting, their onslaught subsided, leaving Tsêng's forces still intact.

In view of this temporary success, Tsêng Kuo-fan urged his brother to retreat. The latter, however, not only refused to do so, but declined the aid of the "Ever Victorious Army" which Henry Burgevine (see under Fêng Kuei-fên) was then commanding. After strengthening his defense he decided to continue the attack, and after a personal inspection at the front, the senior Tsêng acquiesced in the undertaking. The favorable military developments of the following year (1863) deprived the rebels of almost every strategic point around Nanking, and the encirclement of the city was completed in the following February (1864). Chiefly by means of elaborate tunnels under the city wall, Tsêng eventually (July 19, 1864) recovered Nanking—it having been proclaimed the Taiping capital in March 1853. In the final encounters many rebel leaders and thousands of insurgents were mercilessly killed (see under Li Hsiu-ch'êng) and the city was looted and burnt. For his success, achieved after long and patient resistance, Tsêng was rewarded with the rank of Junior Guardian of the Heir Apparent, the hereditary rank of an earl of the first class (1864) with the designation Wei-i 威毅, "Brave and Courageous" (1866), and the double-eyed peacock feather.

Because Tsêng Kuo-ch'üan mistakenly reported to the throne the death of Hung Fu, Hung Hsiu-ch'üan's successor (see under the latter), he was slandered by those who envied his achievements. Accordingly he asked leave to return home to recover his health. Though he declined in 1865 to be governor of Shansi, he did accept, in the following year, the governorship of Hupeh. As such it fell to his lot to suppress the Nien bandits (see under Sêng-ko-lin-ch'in) on the border of Honan. He fought them from time to time for a year and a half but in the summer of 1867 they gradually pressed through Honan to Shantung. Consequently he and other generals engaged in the task were degraded. He retired on the plea of ill health, remaining at home from 1867 to 1875. In the latter year he was made director-general of Yellow River and Grand Canal Conservancy. In June 1877 he became governor of Shansi where for four years he rendered excellent service, particularly in social relief during the terrible famine which afflicted that province in 1878–80. He raised large sums of money to help those who were in need, persuaded the metropolitan government to remit the usual taxes, distributed seed and animals for the cultivation of the soil, and strictly prohibited the planting of opium and the sale of children. When he was transferred to another post (August, 1880) the people of the province erected, at various places, temples to his memory.

In 1880 Tsêng Kuo-ch'üan was ordered to proceed with a large force to Shanhaikuan. At this time negotiations were in progress between China and Russia over Ili, and Tsêng was sent to the northern borders to reinforce the Chinese demands with a show of resistance, holding himself in readiness to fight, should the parley fail. Fortunately, the Russo-Chinese treaty concerning Ili was concluded February 24, 1881, and Tsêng and his troops withdrew. He was then appointed governor-general of Kansu, Shensi and Sinkiang, but he declined the post owing to ill health. After a few months' rest at home he was appointed (August, 1882) acting governor-general of Kwangtung and Kwangsi; and about a year later was called to Peking (1883) where, for a fortnight in February 1884, he was acting minister of the Board of Ceremonies. Thereupon he was made acting governor-general of Liang-Kiang (Kiangsu, Kiangsi and Anhwei) and concurrently superintendent of trade for the southern seaports.

When Tsêng Kuo-ch'üan assumed his duties at Nanking (April, 1884) one fleet of French warships was menacing Annam and another Shanghai. He was ordered to strengthen the forts along the Yangtze delta, and to dispatch warships to Formosa. On July 20, 1884 he served as imperial commissioner to negotiate terms of peace at Shanghai with Jules Patenôtre 巴德诺 (1845–1925), French minister to China. From July 25 to August 18 the parley at Shanghai was at a deadlock because of the indemnity the French demanded. Soon afterwards war between France and China was resumed at Foochow and Formosa (see under Chang P'ei-lun and Liu Ming-ch'uan). Tseng Kuo-ch'üan returned to Nanking to strengthen the defenses of Kiangsu. Finally the peace treaty was signed on June 9, 1885 (see under Li Hung-chang). Tsêng's able services in this critical period, and his wise middle-course policy in governing the LiangKiang, were praised by the emperor who rewarded him, in 1889, with the title of Grand Guardian of the Heir Apparent. When Tsêng died in office in the following year he was posthumously elevated to the title of Grand Tutor and was canonized as Chung-hsiang 忠襄. His name was celebrated in the Temple of Eminent Statesmen. A complete collection of his writings, entitled 曾忠襄公全集 Tsêng Chung-hsiang kung ch'üan-chi, 67 chüan, including his nien-p'u, was published in 1903.


[1/419/1a; 2/59/18a; 5/30/1a; 8/10 hm/1a; Hsiang chün chi (see bibl. under Tsêng Kuo-fan) chüan 6, 9 (1889); Li Hsiu-ch'êng [q. v.] Li Hsiu-ch'êng kung-chuang; Hail, W. J., Tsêng Kuo-fan and the Taiping Rebellion pp. 260–262 (New Haven, 1927); Morse, H. B., The International Relations of the Chinese Empire, vol. II, pp. 355–366 (London, 1918).]

Teng Ssŭ-yü