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Zhang Zhidong (4 September 1837 – 5 October 1909) was a Chinese official who lived during the late Qing dynasty. Along with Zeng Guofan, Li Hongzhang and Zuo Zongtang, Zhang Zhidong was one of the four most famous officials of the late Qing dynasty. Known for advocating controlled reform, he served as the Governor of Shanxi Province and Viceroy of Huguang, Liangguang and Liangjiang, and also as a member of the Grand Council. The Red Guards destroyed his tomb in 1966 during the Cultural Revolution. The remains of Zhidong were rediscovered in 2007 and reburied with honors.

Zhang Zhidong
Zhang in official robes
Viceroy of Liangguang
In office
Preceded byZhang Shusheng
Succeeded byLi Hanzhang
Personal details
Born(1837-09-04)4 September 1837
Xingyi Prefecture, Guizhou Province, Qing Empire
DiedOctober 5, 1909(1909-10-05) (aged 72)
Beijing, Qing Empire
Zhang Zhidong
Traditional Chinese張之洞
Simplified Chinese张之洞


Other namesEdit

Zhang Zhidong was also known by other names. His courtesy name was Xiaoda (孝達; 孝达; Xiàodá) or Xiangtao (香濤; 香涛; Xiāngtāo). His pseudonyms were Xiangyan (香岩; Xiāngyán), Hugong (壺公; 壶公; Húgōng), Wujing Jushi (無競居士; 无竞居士; Wújìng Jūshì) and Baobing (抱冰; Bàobīng). The posthumous name given to him by the Qing government was Wenxiang (文襄; Wénxiāng).

Early lifeEdit

Zhang was born in Xingyi Prefecture (興義府), Guizhou Province, but his ancestral roots were in Nanpi, Tianjin, Zhili Province. He was the cousin of Zhang Zhiwan. In 1852, he sat for the provincial-level imperial examination in Shuntian Prefecture (present-day Beijing) and achieved the top position as jieyuan (解元) in the juren class. In 1863, he sat for the palace-level examination and emerged as tanhua (探花), the third highest-ranked candidate of the jinshi class. He was then admitted to the Hanlin Academy as a bianxiu (編修; editor) before taking up other positions, including jiaoxi (教習), shidu (侍讀) and shijiang (侍講). In 1881, he was appointed as the xunfu (provincial governor) of Shanxi Province. Empress Dowager Cixi promoted him to Viceroy of Huguang in August 1889.

During the Dungan Revolt of 1862–1877, the Russian Empire occupied the Ili region in Xinjiang. After Qing imperial forces successfully crushed the Dungan Revolt, they demanded that the Russians withdraw from Ili, which led to the Ili Crisis.

After the incompetent negotiator Chonghou, 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 Chonghou's death. Zhang demanded for Chonghou's execution and urged the Qing government to stand up to Russia and declare the treaty invalid. He said, "The Russians must be considered extremely covetous and truculent in making the demands and Chonghou 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 Qing government mobilise their armed forces against the Russians. The Qing government allocated important posts to officers from the Xiang Army, while British military officer Charles George Gordon advised the Chinese.[2]

First Sino-Japanese WarEdit

Zhang became involved in the First Sino-Japanese War, although not on the frontline. He initially advocated foreign aid from European forces near Tianjin in fighting the Japanese. 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 northeastern provinces. In early 1895, the Japanese had begun an assault on Shandong, and Zhang telegraphed the governor Li Bingheng in an emergency that suggested fast civil recruitments, the building of strong forts, and the use of landmines, to prevent further Japanese advance. He had also sent arms and munitions to aid the campaign.


Zhang held on a strong opinion on the issue of ceding Taiwan to the Japanese, per the 1895 Treaty of Shimonoseki that ended the First Sino-Japanese War. In late February 1895, he made his stance clear to the Qing government, and even offered ideas on how to prevent the loss of Taiwan. He suggested that they take huge loans from the British, who would in turn send their navy to defend Taiwan from the Japanese. In addition, he proposed giving mining rights to the British on Taiwan for about 10 to 20 years. In May 1895, the Qing government ordered all civil and military officials to evacuate Taiwan. Zhang also refused to provide aid to the remaining Qing forces in Taiwan, especially after the fall of Keelung and with Taipei as the sole remaining Qing stronghold in Taiwan. On 19 October 1895, the last of the Qing forces in Taiwan, led by Liu Yongfu, withdrew to Xiamen.

Modernisation of China's militaryEdit

Zhang created the Guangdong Naval and Military Officers Academy and the Guangdong Victorious Army (廣東勝軍), a regional militia, before 1894. He also established the Hubei Military Academy (湖北學堂) in 1896, where he employed instructors from the Guangdong Academy. The majority of the staff were Chinese. He also hired some German officers as instructors.[3]

While serving as the governor of Nanjing in 1894, Zhang invited a German training regiment of 12 officers and 24 warrant officers to train the local garrison into a modern military force. In 1896, acting under an imperial decree, Zhang moved to Wuchang to serve as the Viceroy of Huguang, an area comprising Hubei and Hunan provinces. Zhang drew on his experience in Nanjing to modernise 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, along with some other regional governors who commanded substantial modernised armies, refused to participate in the central government's declaration of war against the Eight-Nation Alliance, Zhang assured the foreigners during negotiations that he would do nothing to help the central government.[6][7] He told this to Everard Fraser.[8] This clique was known as The Mutual Protection of Southeast China.[9]

Zhang's troops later became involved in politics. In 1911, the Wuchang garrison led the Wuchang Uprising, a coup against the local government that catalysed the nationwide Xinhai Revolution. The Xinhai Revolution led to the collapse of the Qing dynasty and its replacement by the Republic of China.[10]

Later lifeEdit

In 1898, Zhang published his work, Exhortation to Study (勸學篇). He insisted on a method of relatively conservative reform, summarized in his phrase "Chinese Learning as Substance, Western Learning for Application" (中學為體,西學為用). In 1900, he advocated the suppression of the Boxer Rebellion. When the Eight-Nation Alliance entered Beijing, Zhang, along with Li Hongzhang and others, participated in The Mutual Protection of Southeast China. He quelled local revolts and defeated the rebel 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 central government.

He was aware that a change in Chinese affairs was necessary, and at the same time realized that the Chinese officials and people clung with unyielding tenacity to their ancient ideas and institutions and penned his ideas in a book: China's only hope: An Appeal.[11] The book was distributed to the Grand Council of State, Viceroys, Governors and Literary Examiners of China.

Zhang died of illness in 1909 in Beijing.



  1. ^ Fairbank, John King; Liu, Kwang-Ching; Twitchett, Denis Crispin, eds. (1980). Late Ch'ing, 1800-1911. Volume 11, Part 2 of The Cambridge History of China Series (illustrated ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 94. ISBN 0-521-22029-7.
  2. ^ Fairbank, John King; Liu, Kwang-Ching; Twitchett, Denis Crispin, eds. (1980). Late Ch'ing, 1800-1911. Volume 11, Part 2 of The Cambridge History of China Series (illustrated ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 94. ISBN 0-521-22029-7.
  3. ^ Fairbank, John King; Liu, Kwang-Ching; Twitchett, Denis Crispin, eds. (1980). Late Ch'ing, 1800-1911. Volume 11, Part 2 of The Cambridge History of China Series (illustrated ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 268. ISBN 0-521-22029-7.
  4. ^ Bonavia 30-31
  5. ^ Bonavia 31-33
  6. ^ Powell, Ralph L. (8 December 2015). Rise of the Chinese Military Power. Princeton University Press. p. 121. ISBN 978-1-4008-7884-0.
  7. ^ Rhoads, Edward J. M. (1 December 2011). Manchus and Han: Ethnic Relations and Political Power in Late Qing and Early Republican China, 1861–1928. University of Washington Press. pp. 74–75. ISBN 978-0-295-80412-5.
  8. ^ Rhoads, Edward J. M. (2000). Manchus and Han: Ethnic Relations and Political Power in Late Qing and Early Republican China, 1861–1928. University of Washington Press. p. 74. ISBN 978-0-295-98040-9.
  9. ^ Luo, Zhitian (30 January 2015). Inheritance within Rupture: Culture and Scholarship in Early Twentieth Century China. BRILL. p. 19. ISBN 978-90-04-28766-2.
  10. ^ Bonavia 33
  11. ^


  • Ayers, William (1971). Chang Chih-tung and educational reform in China. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Bays, Daniel H. (1978). China Enters the Twentieth Century: Chang Chih-Tung and the Issues of a New Age, 1895-1909. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0472081055.
  • Bonavia, David (1995). China's Warlords. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-586179-5.
  • Teng, Ssu-yu; Fairbank, John K. (1979) [1954]. China's Response to the West: A Documentary Survey, 1839-1923. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
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