Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Yang Hsiu-ch'ing

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YANG Hsiu-ch'ing 楊秀清 (original ming 嗣龍), d. Sept. 2 or 3, 1856, commander-inchief and prime minister of the Taiping Rebels, was a native of Kuei-p'ing, Kwangsi. His family migrated from Lei-yang, Hunan, to Chia-ying, Kwangtung, and thence to Kuei-p'ing where Yang made a living as a dealer in firewood and charcoal. Before he joined the Taiping Rebels he had no knowledge of military tactics and what he learned later he attributed to "divine revelation." When the Rebellion broke out in Kwangsi in 1850 he was made senior commander under Hung Hsiu-ch'üan [q. v.]. He advised Hung to create five assistant kings in order to pacify the various rebel chiefs, some of whom had wavered in their loyalty when they were surrounded by government troops at Yung-an, Kwangsi, in the winter of 1851. Hung acquiesced and began by proclaiming himself the Celestial King of the Tai-p'ing T'ien-kuo, or Celestial Kingdom of Peace. He made Yang Hsiu-ch'ing King of the East and commanderin-chief; Hsiao Ch'ao-kuei, King of the West; Fêng Yün-shan, King of the South; Wei Ch'anghui, King of the North (for these three see under Hung Hsiu-ch'üan); and Shih Ta-k'ai [q. v.], Assistant King.

Yang Hsiu-ch'ing was talented and clever and made apt use of transcendental claims to accomplish his political purposes. While Hung Hsiu-ch'uan declared himself to be the son of God, Yang Hsiu-ch'ing professed to be the mouthpiece of God. Perhaps to inspire the loyalty and esteem of his co-generals he laid claim to visions which are recorded in two works of the same name but of different content, entitled 天父下凡詔書 T'ien-fu hsia-fan chao-shu, or Books of Declarations of the Divine Will made during the Heavenly Father's Descent upon Earth (published in 1852 and 1853). In December 1851, when the four assistant kings met in Yang's dwelling for a conference, it was revealed to him that there was a traitor to the Taiping cause who ought to be punished. When the accused was arrested Yang seemed mysteriously to know all the details—a fact which duly impressed his followers with his occult powers. In December 1853 there took place in Yang's house another alleged revelation which declared to the officials present that the utterances of Yang, the Eastern King, coincided with those of God Himself. Not only did he claim for himself this peculiar connection with God, but gradually appropriated the titles of Comforter, Holy Ghost, Healer of Disease, etc. By reason of his alleged supernatural guidance, and by virtue of the strict orders and the rewards and punishments he meted out, the Taiping rebels advanced rapidly from Kwangsi to Nanking. On April 6, 1852 they eluded the siege of Yung-an by an unfrequented pass in the mountains. After wasting some time in futile attacks on Kweilin, capital of Kwangsi (April 18-May 19, 1852), Hung Hsiu-ch'üan proposed to return to Yung-an, but Yang strongly advised him to proceed to Hunan because in his view it was unwise to confine the movement to one province. Consequently the rebels passed through Hsing-an (May 22, 1852) to Yung-chou, Hunan (June 9, see under Hung Hsiu-ch'üan). They abandoned an attempted siege of Changsha (November 30) and advanced to Wuchang (January 12, 1853). Meeting no great resistance they took Nanking on March 19–21, 1853.

Yang Hsiu-ch'ing went to Nanking on March 22, 1853 and discussed with Hung Hsiu-ch'üan the advisability of taking Lo-yang, Honan, and making it a temporary capital—proceeding from there to take Peking. But this plan is said to have been negated by Yang's old boatman who pointed out that Honan was poor in resources compared with Kiangsu and that it would be better to establish the Taiping capital at Nanking. However that may be, Nanking was declared the Celestial Capital (天京) of the T'ai-p'ing T'ien-kuo, and Yang was concurrently made prime minister. Peace and order were soon restored by him in Nanking. After a short period of mad violence and wholesale slaughter, he declared that any soldier or officer who entered a private dwelling would be executed; all workers were ordered to resume their normal occupations; men and women were compelled to live in separate dwellings and were prohibited from walking together or talking to each other. At the same time there were separate military camps for men and women soldiers. Yang's commands were strictly enforced and anyone violating them was summarily punished. Both soldiers and people feared him and even the other Assistant Kings stood in awe of him.

In his military capacity Yang Hsiu-ch'ing sent Lin Fêng-hsiang [q. v.] and Li K'ai-fang (see under Lin) to prosecute the so-called northern expedition against Peking (see under Lin Fêng-hsiang). He commissioned Hu I-kuang 胡以晄 (Prince Yü 豫王, d. 1855), a native of Kuei-p'ing, Kwangsi, to take Anking, and ordered the Minister of State, Lai Han-ying 賴漢英, brother-in-law of Hung Hsiu-ch'uan, a native of Chia-ying, Kwangtung, to attack Kiukiang, Hu-k'ou and Nanchang—this latter movement constituting the so-called western expedition (see under Tsêng Kuo-fan). In the meantime the imperial forces under Hsiang Jung [q. v.] arrived at the suburbs of Nanking about ten days after the Taipings took the city, and repeatedly harassed the Taiping capital. Yang regarded Hsiang's force in that vicinity as he would "a needle in his eye" and tried his best to extirpate it.

As an administrator, Yang Hsiu-ch'ing effected many reforms in the Taiping régime. Most of the Taiping official publications (see under Hung Hsiu-ch'üan), including the pronouncements on military, land, ceremonial, and calendrical reforms were issued in 1852–53, when Yang was at the height of his power. After the conquest of Nanking the Celestial King was content to live a maudlin life in the Palace with but little concern for national affairs. Yang reported to him once a day, and sometimes only once in several days. We are told that the Celestial King usually acquiesced in Yang's plans.

In August 1856, Yang Hsiu-ch'ing actually dispersed the imperialists under Hsiang Jung who invested Nanking. He devised a plan to divide their forces by luring them to send relief expeditions to other cities. As soon as Hsiang fell into this plot Yang ordered a general attack on the imperialists outside the city—using all his available forces. Thus he dealt the imperialists a crushing defeat and compelled them to make a general retreat to Tan-yang, in the course of which Hsiang Jung committed suicide (August 9, 1836). In consequence of his great victory over the imperialists Yang himself became so proud and arrogant that he attempted to usurp the throne of the Celestial King. He forced Hung Hsiu-ch'üan to grant him the right to be addressed as Wan Sui 萬歲, "[Lord of] Ten Thousand Years"—a salutation reserved only for Emperors, and one which Hung had in 1852 taken for himself. Fearful of Yang's growing power in the Taiping government, the Celestial King complied temporarily with his demand and immediately ordered inferiors to salute him as desired. Having thus for the moment pacified him, the Celestial King quickly summoned the Western King, Wei Ch'ang-hui, and ordered Wei to put Yang to death. In this move Wei was supported by the Assistant King, Shih Ta-k'ai, for both Wei and Shih despised Yang for his arrogance. But instead of restricting his wrath to Yang alone, Wei murdered all the members of Yang's family and thousands of his adherents. Unhappily, however, Wei himself became as arrogant as Yang, attempting even to murder the able Shih Ta-k'ai. It is not surprising, therefore, that he too was murdered by order of the Celestial King. From this time on the power of the Taipings steadily waned.

Although Yang Hsiu-ch'ing was murdered, apparently for just cause, the date of his death is marked in the Taiping calendar of 1859 as "The Ascension Day of the Eastern King"—one of the six holidays of the Taiping year. The date of his birth is uncertain; one source stating that he was thirty-two sui about the year 1853, another that he was born in 1813, still another giving his birth as October 9, 1805. According to one investigation, he was younger than Hung and was probably born on September 27, 1817. His ability as both soldier and administrator was acknowledged by the imperialists and the Taipings alike.


[1/481/1a; 5/50/20b; Li Hsiu-ch'êng kung-chuang (see under Li Hsiu-ch'êng); Chung-kuo chin pai-nien shih tzŭ-liao (see under Li Hsiu-ch'êng) 1st series pp. 75–115; for characters of following three works see bibl. under Hung Hsiu-ch'üan: Tsei-ch'ing hui-tsuan, chüan 1; T'ai-p'ing T'ien-kuo shih-liao ti-i-chi; T'ai-p'ing T'ien-kuo yeh-shih, chüan 12, 15; Brine, Lindesay, The Taiping Rebellion in China (1862); T'ung-chih Shang-Chiang liang-hsien chih (see under Wang Shih-to) chüan 18 (1874) survey of Taiping calendar after 1853; Wang Shih-to [q. v.], I-ping jih-chi; Bul. Natl. Lib. of Peiping, vol. 8 no. 4 showing recently-discovered Taiping documents; Kuo-wên chou-pao (see bibl. under Ting Pao-chên), vol. 14 no. 15 April 1937 for a study, in Chinese, of Yang's ancestry and time of birth.]

Têng Ssŭ-yü