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Li Hongzhang

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Li Hongzhang

Li Hongzhang, GCVO
Li Hongzhang in 1896
Viceroy of Zhili and Minister of Beiyang
In office
Monarch Tongzhi Emperor
Guangxu Emperor
Preceded by Zeng Guofan
Succeeded by Wang Wenshao
In office
Preceded by Yu Lu
Succeeded by Yuan Shikai
Viceroy of Huguang
In office
Preceded by Guan Wen
Succeeded by Li Hanzhang
Viceroy of Liangguang
In office
Preceded by Tan Zhonglin
Succeeded by Tao Mo
Personal details
Born (1823-02-15)15 February 1823
Hefei, Anhui, Qing Empire
Died 7 November 1901(1901-11-07) (aged 78)
Beijing, Qing Empire
Relations Li Wenan (father)
Li Hanzhang (brother)
Occupation Official, general, diplomat
Military service
Allegiance Beiyang Fleet
Huai Army
Battles/wars First Sino-Japanese War
Li Hongzhang
Traditional Chinese 李鴻章
Simplified Chinese 李鸿章
Nanjing Jinling Arsenal (金陵造局), built by Li Hongzhang in 1865, during the Self-Strengthening Movement
Portrait of Li Hongzhang, 1871
Li Hongzhang with Lord Curzon
Photographic portrait of Li Hongzhang by Baoji Studio, Shanghai. Date unknown.
Woodcut of Li Hongzhang with Otto von Bismarck in Friedrichsruh in 1896.

Li Hongzhang, GCVO (also romanised as Li Hung-chang) (15 February 1823 – 7 November 1901) was a Chinese politician, general and diplomat of the late Qing dynasty. He quelled several major rebellions and served in important positions in the Qing imperial court, including the Viceroy of Zhili Province.

Although he was best known in the West for his generally pro-modern stance and importance as a negotiator, Li antagonized the British with his support of Russia as a foil against Japanese expansionism in Manchuria and fell from favor with the Chinese after their loss in the 1894 Sino-Japanese War. His image in China remains controversial, with criticism on one hand for political and military mistakes and praise on the other for his success against the Taiping Rebellion, his diplomatic skills defending Chinese interests in the era of unequal treaties, and his role pioneering China's industrial and military modernization. He was presented the Royal Victorian Order by Queen Victoria.


  • Biography 1
    • Early life and career 1.1
    • Later career 1.2
    • Legacy and assessment 1.3
    • Bribery controversy 1.4
  • Works 2
  • See also 3
  • Notes 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


Li Hongzhang
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)

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 (8.7 mi) northeast of central Hefei, now the capital of Anhui province. His brother, Li Hongzao, was also to become a high official. 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 defense 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 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.[1]

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. Among Li's projects to open China to the world on Chinese terms was support for the Chinese Educational Mission, which sent Chinese boys to the United States for education starting in 1872. The Mission, however, was aborted in 1881.[1]

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 Ci'an and Cixi. 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 Japan and had a well-founded dread of coming into conflict with that nation.[1]

In 1885 Li founded the Tianjin Military Academy for Chinese army officers, with German advisers, as part of his military reforms.[2][3] The move was supported by Anhui Army commander Zhou Shengchuan.[4] The academy was to serve Anhui Army and Green Standard Army officers. Various practical military, mathematic and science subjects were taught at the academy. The instructors were German officers.[5] Another programme was started at the academy for five years in 1887 to train teenagers as new army officers.[6] Mathematics, practical and technical subjects, sciences, foreign languages, Chinese Classics and history were taught at the school. Exams were administered to students. The instruction for Tianjin Military Academy was copied at the Weihaiwei and Shanhaiguan military achools.[7] The 'maritime defense fund' supplied the budget for the Tianjin Military Academy, which was shared with the Tianjin Naval Academy.[8]

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. 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 misappropriated ammunition funds for personal use. As a result, shells ran out during battle, forcing one navy commander, Deng Shichang, to resort to ramming the enemies' ship. The defeat of his modernized troops and a naval force at the hands of the Japanese undermined his political standing, as well as the wider cause of the Self-Strengthening Movement. Yet the court entrusted Li to go to Japan and negotiate with Japanese Minister Ito Hirobumi. 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 agreed to the immediate ceasefire Li had urged in the days before the incident.[9]

In 1896, he attended the coronation of Emperor Nicholas II of Russia on behalf of the Qing government and toured Europe, Canada 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). While in Britain, he toured parts of the country by train in keeping with his desire to inspire railway development in his own country,forever fighting against the prejudices of China's conservative leaders. He visited the industrial area of Barrow in Britain's north-west and even toured Lake Windermere () on a steamer operated by the Furness Railway Company. 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.[10]

In 1900, Li once more played a major diplomatic role in negotiating a settlement with the Eight Nation Alliance forces which had invaded China to put down the Boxer Rebellion. His early position was that the Qing dynasty was making a mistake by supporting the Boxers against the foreign forces. During the Siege of the International Legations (Boxer Rebellion), Sheng Xuanhuai and other provincial officials suggested that the Qing court give Li full diplomatic power to negotiate with foreign powers. Li telegraphed back to Sheng Xuanhuai on June 25, describing the War declaration a “false edict” (luanming). This tactic gave the "Southeast Mutual Protection" provincial officials a justification not to follow Empress Cixi’s declaration of war.[11] Li refused to accept orders from the government for more troops when they were needed to fight against the foreigners, which he had available.[12] Li controlled the Chinese Telegraph service, whose despatches asserted falsely that Chinese forces had exterminated all foreigners in the Legation siege, convincing many western readers.[13]

In 1901 Li was the principal Qing dynasty negotiator with the foreign powers who had captured Beijing. On 7 September 1901, he signed the Boxer Protocol treaty 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.[14] The Guangxu Emperor awarded him the title Marquis Suyi of the First Class (一等肅毅候). This title was inherited by his grandson Li Guojie, who was assassinated in Shanghai on 21 February 1939, allegedly as a result of his support for the Nanking Reformed Government.[15]

Legacy and assessment

Li left a word as his self-evaluation: "To know me and judge me is a task for the next millennium (知我罪我,付之千载)".

Because of Li's reputation for welcoming foreign influence and his 1896 visit to the United States, he was regarded favourably there. He was wrongly credited with inventing

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
  • Hung-chang Li, Hirobumi Itō, Verbal Discussions During Peace Negotiations between the Chinese Plenipotentiary, Viceroy Li Hung-Chang, and the Japanese Plenipotentiaries, Count Ito and Viscount Mutsu, at Shimonoseki, Japan, March–April, 1895 (Tientsin Press, 1895). GOOGLE BOOK: [1]. Transcripts of the talks and negotiations.
  • Mrs. Archibald Little (1903). Li Hung Chang: his life and times. Cassell & Co. Retrieved 8 December 2011. 
  • Alicia E. Neve Little (1903; rpr. 2010). Li Hung-Chang: His Life and Times. Cambridge University Press.  

External links

  • 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.
  • Samuel C. Chu and Kwang-Ching Liu, Li Hung-Chang and China's Early Modernization. Armonk, New York: M. E. Sharpe, 1994. viii, 308 pp. ISBN 1563242427.
  • Mutsu, Munemitsu. (1982). Kenkenroku (trans. Gordon Mark Berger). Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press. ISBN 9780860083061; OCLC 252084846



  1. ^ a b c 1911 (1911), p. 681.
  2. ^ Kwang-ching Liu (1980). John King Fairbank, Denis Crispin Twitchett, ed. Late Ch'ing, 1800-1911. Volume 11, Part 2 of The Cambridge History of China Series. Cambridge University Press. p. 266.  
  3. ^ Kwang-ching Liu (1980). John King Fairbank, Denis Crispin Twitchett, ed. Late Ch'ing, 1800-1911. Volume 11, Part 2 of The Cambridge History of China Series (illustrated ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 267.  
  4. ^ John King Fairbank, 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. 267.  
  5. ^ John King Fairbank, 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. 267.  
  6. ^ John King Fairbank, 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.  
  7. ^ John King Fairbank, 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.  
  8. ^ John King Fairbank, 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.  
  9. ^ Mutsu, Munemitsu. (1982). Kenkenroku, p. 174.
  10. ^ Antony Best, "Race, Monarchy, and the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, 1902–1922,"Social Science Japan Journal 2006 9(2):171–186
  11. ^ Zhou, Yongming (June 2005). Historicizing Online Politics: Telegraphy, the Internet, and Political Participation in China. Stanford: Stanford University Press. p. 75.  
  12. ^ Marina Warner (1974). The dragon empress: life and times of Tz'u-hsi, 1835-1908, Empress dowager of China (illustrated, reprint ed.). Cardinal. p. 138.  
  13. ^ Robert B. Edgerton (1997). Warriors of the rising sun: a history of the Japanese military. W. W. Norton & Company. p. 86.  
  14. ^ Fenby, Jonathan (2009). The Penguin History of Modern China: The Fall and Rise of a Great Power, 1850–2009. Penguin Books. pp. 89–90. 
  15. ^ "Another Political Murder in Shanghai". Dundee Evening Telegraph. 21 February 1939. Retrieved 20 November 2014 – via  
  16. ^ William Francis Mannix. Memoirs of Li Hung Chang. (Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1913; Reprinted: Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1923; with "The story of a literary forgery," by Ralph D. Paine.
  17. ^ Li Hung-Chang and China's Early ModernizationSamuel C. Chu and Kwang-Ching Liu, . Armonk, New York: M. E. Sharpe, 1994), p. 286
  18. ^ Albert G. Hess, "The 'Memoirs' of Li Hung-chang: The story of a non-translation," in George Kao, ed., The Translation of Things Past: Chinese History and Historiography (Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, 1982), 155-67.
  19. ^ William J. Hail, "Li Hung-chang," in Arthur Hummel, ed., Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1943) Vol II, p. 470-471.
  20. ^ Samuel C. Chu and Kwang-Ching Liu, Li Hung-Chang and China's Early Modernization. Armonk, New York: M. E. Sharpe, 1994), p. 286
  21. ^ Albert Feuerwerker, History in Communist China (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1968), p. 235.
  22. ^ He wrote the name as Li Hung Chang
  23. ^ 《俄国的远东政策--1881~1904》 (商务印书馆 1977)
  24. ^ 《旅大租借交涉中李鸿章、张荫桓的“受贿”问题 (《学术界》2003年第2期)


See also

  • Trade Charter Precedents Collection (通商約章成案彙編 1886)


Sergei Witte dismissed some rumours during Li's visit to Europe that Li was bribed.[22] However, according to Russian account, Li had urged Russian government to build a 3 million rubles' "Li Hongzhang Foundation" to make Li and Zhang Yinheng to support Sino-Russia railway treaty and Lushun-Dalian Rent Treaty. And a payment of 0.5 million rubles is confirmed.[23] Ma Wenzhong questioned whether Russian account is reliable.[24]

Bribery controversy

For his life's work, Britain's Queen Victoria made Li a Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order.

Chinese nationalists criticized Li's relations with the western powers and Japan. Liang Qichao's 1902 biography of Li blamed him for China's woes and set the tone for further castigation. Li in this view was the chief culprit for the Self-Strengthening Movement, which these nationalists condemned for collaborating with the European imperialists and suppressing the masses. Liang Qichao's son, Liang Sicheng in 1951 denounced Li for "selling out" the country.[20] History textbooks in the People's Republic of China attacked Li as a "feudalist" and a traitor to the Chinese people.[21] It was not until the 1980s that mainland historians began a serious debate of the sort which had been taking place in Taiwan.

A scholarly biographer said Li "did perhaps all he could for a land where the conservatism of the people, a reactionary officialdom, and unrestrained international rivalry made each step forward a matter of great difficulty," and praised him as "always progressive, yet patient and conciliatory, it was his fate to bear blame for failures which might have been avoided if he had had his way."[19] The leader of China's New Culture Movement, Hu Shih was also sympathetic, remarking that if Li had been allowed the opportunity, his achievement for China might have equalled the achievement for Japan of his 1895 negotiating partner, Ito Hirobumi.


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