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This is a Chinese name; the family name is 李 (Li).
Li Hongzhang

In office
Preceded by Zeng Guofan
Succeeded by Wang Wenzhao
In office
Preceded by Yu Lu
Succeeded by Yuan Shikai

Viceroy of Huguang
In office
Preceded by Guan Wen
Succeeded by Li Hanzhang

In office
Preceded by Tan Zhonglin
Succeeded by Tao Mo

Born February 15, 1823(1823-02-15)
Hefei, Anhui, China
Died November 7, 1901 (aged 78)
Qing Dynasty Beijing
Occupation Official

Li Hongzhang (simplified Chinese: 李鸿章traditional Chinese: 李鴻章pinyin: Lǐ HóngzhāngWade-Giles: Li Hung-chang), Marquis Suyi of the First Class (Chinese: 一等肅毅侯), GCVO, (February 15, 1823 – November 7, 1901), also spelled Li Hung-chang, was a Chinese civilian official who ended several major rebellions, and a leading statesman of the late Qing Empire. He served in important positions of the Imperial Court, once holding the office of the Viceroy of Zhili.

Although he was best known in the West for his diplomatic negotiation skills, after the 1894 First Sino-Japanese War, Li became a literary symbol in China for late Qing-dynasty Chinese weakness vis-a-vis foreign powers. His image in China remains largely controversial, with criticism on one hand for his lack of political insight and failure to win a single external military campaign against foreign powers, and praise on the other hand for his role as a pioneer of industrial and military modernization, his diplomatic skills, and the success of his military campaigns against the Taiping Rebellion. For his life work the British Queen Victoria made him a Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order.


Early life and career

Li Hongzhang was born in the village of Qunzhi (Chinese: 群治村) in Modian township (Chinese: 磨店鄉), 14 kilometers (9 miles) northeast of central Hefei, now the capital of Anhui province. From very early in life, he showed remarkable ability, and he became a shengyuan in the imperial examination system. In 1847, he obtained jinshi degree, the highest level in the Imperial examination system. Two years later gained admittance into the Hanlin Academy. Shortly after this the central provinces of the Empire were invaded by the Taiping rebels, and in defence of his native district he raised a regiment of militia. His service to the imperial cause attracted the attention of Zeng Guofan, the generalissimo in command.

In 1859, Li was transferred to the province of Fujian, where he was given the rank of taotai, or attendant of circuit. At Zeng's request, he fought the rebels. He found his cause supported by the "Ever Victorious Army," which, having been raised by an American named Frederick Townsend Ward, was placed under the command of Charles George Gordon. With this support Li gained numerous victories leading to the surrender of Suzhou. For these exploits, he was made governor of Jiangsu, was decorated with an imperial yellow jacket, and was enfeoffed as an earl.

An incident connected with the surrender of Suzhou soured Li's relationship with Gordon. By an arrangement with Gordon, the rebel princes yielded Nanjing on condition that their lives should be spared. In spite of the agreement, Li ordered their instant execution. This breach of faith so infuriated Gordon that he seized a rifle, intending to shoot the falsifier of his word, and would have done so had Li not fled. On the suppression of the rebellion (1864), Li took up his duties as governor, but was not long allowed to remain in civil life. On the outbreak of the Nian Rebellion in Henan and Shandong (1866), he was ordered again to take to the field, and after some misadventures, he succeeded in suppressing the movement. A year later, he was appointed viceroy of Huguang, where he remained until 1870, when the Tianjin Massacre necessitated his transfer to the scene of the outrage. He was appointed to the viceroyalty of the metropolitan province of Zhili, and justified his appointment by the energy with which he suppressed all attempts to keep alive the anti-foreign sentiment among the people. For his services, he was made imperial tutor and member of the grand council of the Empire, and was decorated with many-eyed peacocks' feathers.

To his duties as viceroy were added those of the Superintendent of Trade, and from that time until his death, with a few intervals of retirement, he created the foreign policy of China. He concluded the Chefoo Convention with Sir Thomas Wade (1876), and thus ended the difficulty caused by the murder of Mr. Margary in Yunnan; he arranged treaties with Peru and the Convention of Tientsin with Japan, and he directed the Chinese policy in Korea.

Later career

On the death of the Tongzhi Emperor in 1875, he introduced a large armed force into the capital and effected a coup d'etat which placed the Guangxu Emperor on the throne under the tutelage of the two dowager empresses. In 1886, on the conclusion of the Sino-French War, he arranged a treaty with France. Li was impressed with the necessity of strengthening the empire, and while Viceroy of Zhili he raised a large well-drilled and well-armed force, and spent vast sums both in fortifying Port Arthur and the Taku forts and in increasing the navy. For years, he had watched the successful reforms effected in the Empire of Japan and had a well-founded dread of coming into conflict with that nation.

Li Hongzhang with Lord Salisbury and Lord Curzon

Because of his prominent role in Chinese diplomacy in Korea and of his strong political connections in Manchuria, Li Hongzhang found himself leading Chinese forces during the disastrous Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895). In fact, it was mostly the armies that he established and controlled that did the fighting, whereas other Chinese troops led by his rivals and political enemies did not come to their aid. Rampant corruption in the army further weakened China's military. For instance, one official missapropriated ammunition funds for personal use. As a result, shells ran out for the some of the warships during battle, forcing one navy commander, Deng Shichang, to resort to ramming the enemies' ship. The defeat of his modernized troops and a small naval force at the hands of the Japanese undermined his political standing, as well as the wider cause of the Self-Strengthening Movement. Li paid a personal price for China's defeat, while signing the Treaty of Shimonoseki ending the war: a Japanese assassin fired at him and wounded him below the left eye. Due to the diplomatic loss of face, Japan dropped some of its harshest compensation demands in said treaty.

Li Hungzhang
Names (details)
Known in English as: Li Hongzhang or Li Hung-chang
Traditional Chinese: 李鴻章
Simplified Chinese: 李鸿章
Pinyin: Lǐ Hóngzhāng
Wade-Giles: Li Hung-chang
Peerage : Marquis Suyi of the First Class 一等肅毅侯
Courtesy names (字): Jiànfǔ (漸甫)
Zǐfù (子黻)
Pseudonyms (號):
(Yisou and Shengxin
used in his old age)
Shǎoquán (少荃)
Yísǒu (儀叟)
Shěngxīn (省心)
Nickname: Mr. Li the Second (李二先生)
(i.e. 2nd son of his father)
Posthumous name: Wénzhōng (文忠)
(Refined and Loyal)

In 1896, he toured Europe and the United States of America, where he advocated reform of the American immigration policies that had greatly restricted Chinese immigration after the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 (renewed in 1892). (He also witnessed the 1896 Royal Naval Fleet Review at Spithead.) It was during his visit to Britain in 1896 that Queen Victoria made him a Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order.[1]

Li Hongzhang played a major role in ending the Boxer Rebellion. He understood early that the Qing Dynasty was making a mistake by supporting the Boxers against the foreign forces. He wrote to Empress Dowager Cixi:

My blood runs cold at the thought of events to come. (...) Under an enlightened sovereign these Boxers, with their ridiculous claims of supernatural powers, would most assuredly have been condemned to death long since... your Majesties... are still in the hands of traitors, regarding these Boxers as your dutiful subjects, with the result that unrest is spreading and alarm universal.

In 1901, as his last task for the Qing Dynasty, he was the principal Chinese negotiator with the foreign powers who had captured Beijing, and, on September 7, 1901, he signed the treaty (Boxer Protocol) ending the Boxer crisis, obtaining the departure of the foreign armies at the price of huge indemnities for China. Exhausted from the negotiations, he died from liver inflammation two months later at Shenlian Temple in Beijing.[2] Guangxu created him the title Marquis Suyi of the First Class (等肅毅候). After his death, this Peerage was inherited by his grandson Li Guojie.

Legacy and assessment

Since the First Sino-Japanese War (1894), Li Hongzhang has been a target of criticism and was portrayed in many ways as a traitor to the Chinese people, an infamous name that lives in history. Well-known negative comments from common Chinese people, such as "Actor Yang the Third is dead; Mr. Li the Second is the traitor" (楊三已死無蘇丑,李二先生是漢奸), have made the name Li Hongzhang a notorious trademark for traitors. In the Mainland this negative verdict is echoed through history textbooks and other media until today.

As early as 1885, General Zuo Zongtang, an equally famous but more respected Chinese military leader, accused Li Hongzhang of being a traitor.[citation needed] The Chinese navy had been eliminated in August 1884 at the Battle of Foochow, In July 1885, Li signed the Sino-French treaty to confirm the Treaty of Hué accepting conditions that did not reflect the decisive victory of the Chinese army in the Battle of Bang Bo in March 1885, which brought about the fall of the Jules Ferry government in France. General Zuo disapproved Li's behavior, predicting that Li would be notorious in Chinese history (“李鴻章誤盡蒼生,將落個千古罵名”).

According to Prince Esper Esperovich Ouchtomsky, Li Hongzhang accepted a bribe of 3,000,000 Russian rubles (about US$1,900,000 at the time) at the time of signing the "Mutual Defense Treaty between China and Russia" on June 3, 1896. In his memoir "Strategic Victory over the Qing Dynasty", Prince Ouchtomsky wrote: "The day after the signing of the Mutual Defense Treaty between China and Russia, Romanov, the director of the general office of the Department of Treasury of the Russian Empire, chief officer Qitai Luo and I signed an agreement document to pay Li Hongzhang. The document stipulates that the first 1,000,000 rubles will be paid at the time when the Emperor of the Qing Dynasty announces the approval of constructing the Chinese Eastern Railway; the second 1,000,000 rubles will be paid at the time of signing the contract to build the railway and deciding the route of the railway; the last 1,000,000 rubles will be paid at the time when the construction of the railway is finished. The document was not given to Li Hongzhang, but kept in a top secret folder in the Department of Treasury of Russia." The 3,000,000 rubles were deposited into a dedicated fund of the Russo Chinese Bank. According to the records of the Russian Department of Treasury, Li Hongzhong received 1,702,500 rubles of the three million, with receipts available at the Russian Winter Palace archive.[citation needed]

Although some Chinese historians reappraised Li's role already in the early 80ies when they discussed the Self-Strengthening Movement, Li Hongzhang's image in history education and the public in Mainland China remained negative until the TV series Towards the Republic was released in 2003. In this controversial history soap (历史电视剧) produced by China's Central Television station, Li was for the first time introduced as a hero to the Chinese audience. Although the series was patriotic in tone it was later banned due to its positive portrayal of Li Hongzhang and Yuan Shikai and unwelcome discussions of democracy it had triggered.

Many historians and scholars consider Li a sophisticated politician, an adept diplomat and an industry pioneer in the later Qing Dynasty era of Chinese history. Though many of Li's signed treaties were considered unequal and humiliating for China and he was for some decades named a traitor, more and more historical documents are being found showing some of Li's heroic episodes in his encounters with foreigners[citation needed].

See also


  1. ^ Antony Best, "Race, Monarchy, and the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, 1902–1922,"Social Science Japan Journal 2006 9(2):171-186
  2. ^ Fenby, Jonathan (2009). The Penguin History of Modern China: The Fall and Rise of a Great Power, 1850 - 2009. Penguin Books. pp. 89-90. 
  • Hummel, Arthur William, ed. Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period (1644-1912). 2 vols. Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1943.
  • Liu, Kwang-ching. "The Confucian as Patriot and Pragmatist: Li Hung-Chang's Formative Years, 1823-1866." Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 30 (1970): 5-45.
  • Liang Qichao,"Biography of Li Hongzhang"
Political offices
Preceded by
Zeng Guofan
Acting Viceroy of Liangjiang
Succeeded by
Zeng Guofan
Preceded by
Guan Wen
Viceroy of Huguang
Succeeded by
Li Hanzhang
Preceded by
Zeng Guofan
Viceroy of Zhili and Minister of Beiyang (1st time)
Succeeded by
Wang Wenzhao
Preceded by
Tan Zhonglin
Viceroy of Liangguang
Succeeded by
Tao Mo
Preceded by
Yu Lu
Viceroy of Zhili and Minister of Beiyang (2nd time)
Succeeded by
Yuan Shikai


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