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Zhang Zhidong

Zhang Zhidong
Zhang in official robes
Viceroy of Liangguang
In office
Preceded by Zhang Shusheng
Succeeded by Li Hanzhang
Personal details
Born September 4, 1837
Died October 5, 1909(1909-10-05) (aged 72)
Occupation Politician

Zhang Zhidong (simplified Chinese: 张之洞; traditional Chinese: 張之洞; pinyin: Zhāng Zhīdòng; Wade–Giles: Chang1 Chih1-tung4; courtesy name Xiàodá (孝達); Pseudonyms: Xiāngtāo (香濤), Xiāngyán (香岩), Yīgōng (壹公), Wújìng-Jūshì (無竟居士), later Bàobīng (抱冰); Posthumous name: Wénxiāng (文襄)) (September 4, 1837 – October 5, 1909) was an eminent Chinese politician during the late Qing dynasty who advocated controlled reform. Along with Zeng Guofan, Li Hongzhang and Zuo Zongtang, he was one of the "Four Famous Officials of the Late Qing" (四大名臣). He served as the Governor of Shanxi, the Viceroy of Huguang, Viceroy of Liangguang, the Viceroy of Liangjiang, and also as a member of the Grand Council. In 1966, during the Cultural Revolution, his tomb was destroyed by the Red Guards and his bones were rediscovered in 2007.


  • Early life 1
  • First Sino-Japanese War 2
  • Taiwan 3
  • Modernization of China's military 4
  • Later life 5
  • Footnotes 6
  • References 7

Early life

A native of Nanpi, Hebei, Zhang Zhidong earned a Jinshi degree in 1863 and was elevated to the Hanlin Academy in 1880. In 1881, he was appointed the Governor of Shanxi. The Empress Dowager promoted him to the Viceroy of Huguang in August 1889.

During the Dungan revolt (1862–1877), Russia occupied the Ili region in Xinjiang. After China successfully crushed the Dungan Rebellion, they demanded Russia withdraw from Ili, which led to the Ili crisis.

After the incompetent negotiator Ch'ung-hou, who was bribed by the Russians, without permission from the Qing government, signed a treaty granting Russia extraterritorial rights, consulates, control over trade, and an indemnity, a massive uproar by the Chinese literati ensued, some of them calling for the death of Ch'ung-hou. Zhang Zhidong demanded the beheading of Ch'ung-hou and for the government to stand up to Russia and declare the treaty invalid, and stated that "The Russians must be considered extremely covetous and truculent in making the demands and Ch'ung-hou extremely stupid and absurd in accepting them . . . . If we insist on changing the treaty, there may not be trouble; if we do not, we are unworthy to be called a state.'[1] The Chinese literati demanded the government mobilize the arm forces against Russia. The government acted after this, important posts were given to officers from the Hunan Army and Charles Gordon advised the Chinese.[2]

First Sino-Japanese War

Zhang Zhidong became involved in the First Sino-Japanese War, although not on the frontlines. He initially advocated foreign aid from European forces near Tianjin in fighting Japan. In October 1894, he telegraphed Li Hongzhang, the Viceroy of Zhili, proposing the purchase of naval equipment, and loans from foreign banks. He further advocated this, and in addition the purchase of arms, alliance with European powers, and the "clear division of rewards and punishments" for troops, once the Japanese crossed the Yalu River into China in late October, threatening the Manchurian provinces. In early 1895, the Japanese had begun an assault on Shandong, and Zhang telegraphed Li Bingheng, the Governor, in an emergency that suggested fast civil recruitments, the building of strong forts, and the use of land mines, to prevent further Japanese advance. He had also sent arms and munitions to aid the campaign.


Zhang held a strong opinion on the issue of Taiwan, and in late February 1895, he made clear to the Court in Beijing his complete opposition to Taiwan being ceded to Japan. He further offered several methods to prevent such an event. Zhang suggested that huge loans be taken from Britain, who would in turn use its strong navy to protect Taiwan. In addition, Britain would be given mining rights on the island for "ten to twenty years". Developments in May, however, became disappointing to Zhang, as the Qing Court ordered all civil and military officials out of Taiwan. He counted on defence by the people of Taiwan themselves. A request for aid by the troops in Taiwan was refused by Zhang, facing an increasingly hopeless situation after Keelung fell and Taipei became the only stronghold remaining. On October 19, 1895, Liu Yongfu, the last of Qing generals in Taiwan, was defeated and withdrew to Xiamen.

Modernization of China's military

Zhang created the Guangdong Naval and Military Officer's Academy and also created the Guangdong Victorious Army (Guangdong Sheng Jun), a regional yong-ying army, before 1894. He created the Hupei Military Academy (wubei xuetang) in 1896, where he employed instructors who came from the Guangdong Academy. The majority of the staff were Chinese. He hired some German officers to instruct.[3]

While serving as the governor of Nanjing in 1894, Zhang had invited a German training regiment of twelve officers and twenty-four warrant officers to train the local garrison into a modern military force. After the First Sino-Japanese War, in 1896, Zhang was ordered by imperial decree to move to Wuchang to become the Viceroy of Huguang, an area comprising the modern provinces of Hubei and Hunan. Zhang drew on his experience in Nanjing to modernize the military forces under his command in Huguang.[4]

In Wuchang, Zhang effectively trained and equipped modern units of sappers, engineers, cavalry, police, artillery, and infantry. Of the 60,000 men under his command, 20,000 men were directly trained by foreign officers, and a military academy was established in Wuchang in order to train future generations of soldiers. Zhang armed the troops with German Mauser rifles and other modern equipment. Foreign observers reported that, when their training was complete, the troops stationed in the Wuchang garrison were the equal of contemporary European forces.[5]

During the Boxer Rebellion, Zhang Zhidong, along with some other Governors in China like Yuan Shikai who commanded substantial modernized armies, refused to join in the Imperial Court's declaration of war against the Eight Nation Alliance, Zhang assured the foreigners during negotiations that he would do nothing to help the Imperial Government. He told this to Everard Fraser.[6]

Zhang's troops later became involved in Chinese politics. In 1911 the Wuchang garrison led the Wuchang Uprising, a coup against the local government that catalyzed the nationwide Xinhai Revolution. The Xinhai Revolution led to the collapse of the Qing Dynasty and its replacement by the Republic of China.[7]

Later life

In 1898, Zhang published his work, Exhortation to Study (劝学篇, Quàn Xué Piān). He insisted on a method of relatively conservative reform, summarized in his phrase "Chinese learning for fundamental principles and Western learning for practical application" (中学为体,西学为用, Zhōngxué Wéi Tǐ, Xīxué Wéi Yòng). In 1900, he advocated the suppression of the Boxers. When the Eight-Nation Alliance entered Beijing, Zhang, along with Li Hongzhang and others, participated in the "Mutual Defense of the Southeast" (东南互保) plan. He quelled local revolts and defeated the rebellion army of Tang Caichang. He succeeded Liu Kunyi as Viceroy of Liangjiang in 1901, and moved to Nanjing, where he laid the foundations for the modern University of Nanjing. He was appointed the Minister of Military Affairs in 1906, and worked in Beijing for the Qing Court.

He died from illness in 1909.


  1. ^ John King Fairbank, Kwang-Ching Liu, Denis Crispin Twitchett, ed. (1980). Late Ch'ing, 1800-1911. Volume 11, Part 2 of The Cambridge History of China Series (illustrated ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 94.  
  2. ^ John King Fairbank, Kwang-Ching Liu, Denis Crispin Twitchett, ed. (1980). Late Ch'ing, 1800-1911. Volume 11, Part 2 of The Cambridge History of China Series (illustrated ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 94.  
  3. ^ John King Fairbank, Kwang-Ching Liu, Denis Crispin Twitchett, ed. (1980). Late Ch'ing, 1800-1911. Volume 11, Part 2 of The Cambridge History of China Series (illustrated ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 268.  
  4. ^ Bonavia 30-31
  5. ^ Bonavia 31-33
  6. ^ Rhoads 2000, p. 74.
  7. ^ Bonavia 33


  • Ayers, William. Chang Chih-tung and educational reform in China. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971.
  • Bonavia, David. China's Warlords. New York: Oxford University Press. 1995. ISBN 0-19-586179-5
  • Teng, Ssu-yu and Fairbank, John K. China's Response to the West: A Documentary Survey, 1839-1923, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1954 & 1979.
Government offices
Preceded by
Zhang Shusheng
Viceroy of Liangguang
Succeeded by
Li Hanzhang
Preceded by
Viceroy of Huguang
Succeeded by
Tan Jixun
Preceded by
Liu Kunyi
Viceroy of Liangjiang
Succeeded by
Liu Kunyi
Preceded by
Tan Jixun
Viceroy of Huguang
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Liu Kunyi
Viceroy of Liangjiang
Succeeded by
Wei Guangtao
Preceded by
Viceroy of Huguang
Succeeded by
Zhao Erxun
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