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Suppressor of Taiping Rebellion: Hakka Zeng Guofan
Pinyin ZENG GUOFAN, canonized name (Wade-Giles) WEN-CHENG (b. Nov. 26,
1811, Hsiang-hsiang, Hunan province, China--d. March 12, 1872, Nanking),
Chinese administrator, the military leader most responsible for suppressing
the Taiping Rebellion (1850-64)--thus staving off the collapse of China's
Early career in civil service.
Tseng Kuo-fan was born into a prosperous family dominated by his
grandfather Tseng Y|-p'ing, a farmer with social ambitions. Tseng Kuo-fan
passed the prefectural examination in 1833, one year after his father had
succeeded at his 17th attempt. The next year, he passed the provincial
examination, and, after failing the metropolitan examination at the capital
in 1835, he finally passed in 1838.
The chin-shih ("doctorate degree") led to his appointment to the Hanlin
Academy, a body of the most outstanding scholars in the country, which
performed literary tasks for the court; and Tseng served continuously in
the capital for more than 13 years. He always remained devoted to
interpreting the Confucian Classics. (see also Index: Confucianism)
Tseng's intellectual progress helped his political career. He was soon
appointed junior vice president of the Board of Ceremonies, serving later
as vice president of the boards of Defense, Works, Justice, and Finance.
Tseng was, nevertheless, bored with his routine life and wanted to help the
people more substantially. In 1850, 1851, and early in 1852, he repeatedly
criticized the emperor's behaviour, the government's financial policy, and
imperial treatment of an outspoken official.
In 1852, Tseng Kuo-fan's mother died, and, in accordance with prevailing
custom, he asked permission to observe the three-year mourning period at
home. This granted, he was soon called into service again when the Taiping
rebels, who had taken up arms in 1850, had by 1852 reached the fertile
Yangtze River valley in south-central China, seriously threatening the
Ch'ing dynasty's survival. The rebellion, a great religious-political
upheaval, eventually caused the loss of some 20,000,000 lives and was the
greatest threat the Ch'ing dynasty had ever faced. Tseng joined the local
defense forces in his native Hunan province early in 1853, gradually
shouldering more and more responsibility for the rebellion's suppression.
Since the corrupt imperial troops were too weak to resist the rebels, the
government encouraged members of the scholar-gentry to organize local
self-defense militias in their home areas. Tseng became the most
outstanding of these new military leaders. He not only established a local
militia in Hunan but combined the units formed by several scholars in his
home district into a regional army. This army, paid and equipped by
voluntary contributions and local funds, was loyal to Tseng and his
officers. Tseng's example was followed by other regional leaders such as
Tso Tsung-t'ang and Li Hung-chang, who first served on Tseng's staff and
then organized their own regional armies under Tseng's general direction.
Beginning in 1860, the imperial government found it necessary to appoint
the new military men as governors-general and governors of the provinces
that their troops occupied. The armies of Tseng wrested from the rebels
their supply areas along the upper Yangtze River and finally besieged and
captured their capital, Nanking, in 1864.
Later administrative activity.
Victory over the Taiping rebels in 1864 was the climax of Tseng's career.
Thereafter, he was mainly an administrator, serving twice as
governor-general of Kiangnan and Kiangsi provinces and once as governor of
Chihli (present-day Hopeh) province. In 1864-65 he established official
government printing offices in Nanking and four other cities to reprint the
Chinese Classics and historical books, and he also restored at Nanking the
examinations system, which had been discontinued during the Taiping years.
Between May 1865 and October 1866 he again assumed military command in
order to quell the Nien Rebellion that took place in northern China, but
after a year of indecisive fighting he resigned after recommending his
protigi, Li Hung-chang, as his successor in the campaign.
Tseng never had an opportunity to work at the capital again after 1864, but
his prestige, power, and open-mindedness enabled him to make important
changes. Li Hung-chang gained tremendous power in the government, power
that few other Chinese officials ever held and that, when passed on to the
official Y|an Shih-k'ai, finally led to the collapse of the Ch'ing dynasty.
With Tseng's support, Jung Hung, a graduate of Yale University in the
United States, established an ironworks in Shanghai that later became the
Kiangnan Arsenal (q.v.). It was upon Tseng's recommendation, too, that the
government introduced student education overseas.
Tseng was given the posthumous title of Wen-Cheng, the highest title given
to civil officials under the Ch'ing dynasty.