The Xiang Army (Chinese: 湘軍; pinyin: Xiāng Jūn) was a standing army organized by Zeng Guofan (曾國藩) from existing regional and village militia forces tuanlian (團練) to contain the Taiping rebellion in China (1850 to 1864). The name is taken from the Hunan region where the Army was raised. The Army was financed through local nobles and gentry, as opposed to the centralized Manchu-led Qing Dynasty. Although it was raised specifically to address problems in Hunan, the Army formed the core of the new Qing military establishment, and as such, forever weakened the Manchu influence within the military. This devolution of centralized command is commonly pointed to as a major reason for the eventual downfall of the Qing dynasty and the emergence of regional warlordism in China during the first half of the twentieth century.
The Xiang Army was one of two armies known as the Hunan Army. Another Hunan Army, called the Chu Army, was created by Zuo Zongtang to fight in the Dungan revolt (1862–1877). Remnants of the Xiang Army which also fought in the war were then called the "Old Hunan Army".
The Taiping rebellion started in December 1850 in Guangxi Province, growing after a series of small victories over the local Qing forces. The revolt rapidly spread northward. In March 1853, between 700,000 and 800,000 Taiping soldiers directed by commander-in-chief Yang Xiuqing took Nanjing, killing 30,000 Imperial soldiers and thousands of civilians. The city became the movement's capital and was renamed Tianjing ("Heavenly Capital"). By this point the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom encompassed much of south and central China, centered on the Yangtze river valley. They continued in their attempts to expand northward, and sent two armies to take the upper Yangtze, while another two attempted to take the new Imperial capital, Beijing. The western drive met with some success, but the Beijing attack failed.
Zeng Guofan was tasked with limiting the rebel's attempts to take control of Hunan. His lieutenants recovered the capital, Changsha, and then Zeng led the recapture of Wuchang and Hanyang, near Hankow, and was rewarded for his success by being appointed vice-president of the Board of War. His Army was so successful that the Qing leaders quickly started using it in place of their own troops, turning it into an Imperial force rather than the local force as it had been raised. In 1860 Zeng was called on to use the Xiang Army to clear Anhui, and was appointed Viceroy of Liangjiang (两江总督, which consisted of the provinces of Jiangxi, Anhui, and Jiangsu). While Charles George Gordon and his "Ever-Victorious Army" were clearing the rebel heartland, Zeng took the opportunity to launch a campaign to retake Nanjing.
The entire area around the city had been cleared of rebel forces in a series of battles starting in June 1863. The battle for the city itself started on March 14, 1864 when Zeng's forces attempted to force the city walls using ladders, but were beaten back. A second attempt used tunnels, but counter-digging and a second wall prevented a breakthrough. On July 3 the Xiang forces had their first victory, taking Dibao Castle. This position allowed them to dig new tunnels and pack them with explosives with the intention of destroying the city walls. A counterattack failed, and on July 19 the explosives were set off, collapsing a large portion of the wall. The city fell after a fierce three-day battle.
The Xiang Army pillaged and robbed the city, killing 150,000 people and setting it on fire. The city burned until July 26, 1864. Zeng was promoted to Marquess (of the First Class) Yiyong (毅勇侯) (Yiyong: 毅 = Endurance 勇 = Courage) .
In 1860, the power of the Xiang Army was unsurpassed, totalling almost 360,000 soldiers. The large main group was led by Zeng Guofan with 130,000 troops. The Qing regular army, the Green Standard Army, totaled about 2,300,000 (included the Xiang Army). Taiping Rebellion soldiers amounted to about 1,800,000 (including 300,000 local gang members who repeatedly changed sides).
One of Zeng Guofan's priorities for the Xiang Army was finance, understanding that good pay was crucial for battlefield morale. As a result, a Xiang Army soldier's salary was four tael of silver every month, compared to a regular Green Standard soldier's salary of about 1.5 tael of silver per month.
General Chen Ling-Shu, later Admiral Chen Ling-Shu, served under General Peng Yu-Ling.
After the Taiping Rebellion was crushed, the Hunan armies petitioned to the Manchu Court to disband themselves, for fear of rumored rebellion against the Manchus as they had grown too powerful in the eyes of the Manchus. The Manchu Court only agreed to turn Peng Yu-Ling's army into a navy.
Disarmament and revolution
Zeng Guofan began disarming the Xiang Army with the establishment of the Huai Army by Li Hongzhang, one of the most important commanders of the Xiang Army. In 1890, part of the Xiang Army incorporated into a gang and anti-government movement. When the Xinhai Revolution (Chinese Revolution) began in 1911, former comrades of Xiang Army turned against each other. The Republic of China was established on February 12, 1912.
- 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. 541. ISBN 0-521-22029-7. Retrieved 2012-01-18. "In 1853 Tseng Kuo-fan introduced special training for the non-commissioned officers of his new Hunan Army, emphasizing endurance and discipline. This was later imitated by the Anhwei Army. The technical training of the officer corps along western lines was begun in 1852 at Shanghai and Ningpo, where a few company commanders and their men were trained in the use of Western equipment and tactics by French and English military advisers."
- 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. 540. ISBN 0-521-22029-7. Retrieved 2012-01-18. "the cases of Hunan particulartly illustrates this widespread militarization of the scholar class. . .Such was also the case of Liu Ming-ch'uan who rose form smuggling salt to leading an army in Anhwei, and finally to the governorship of the province of Taiwan (see chapter 4). . . Until 1856 most of the officers of the Hunan Army were scholars, The proportion dropped sharply for commissions given after this date. . . Holders of official titles and degrees accounted for only 12 per cent of the military command of the Huai Army, and at most a third of the core of the Huai clique, that is the trop commanders of the eleven army corps."
- 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. 202. ISBN 0-521-22029-7. Retrieved 2012-01-18. "By the end of the Nien War in 1868, a new kind of military force had emerged as the Ch'ing dynasty's chief bulwark of security. Often referred to by historians as regional armies, these forces were generally described at the time as yung-ying (lit. 'brave battalions'). In the 1860s, such forces throughout all the empire totalled more than 300,000 men, They included the remnants of the old Hunan Army (Hsiang-chün) founded by Tseng Kuo-fan, the resuscitated Hunan Army (usually called Ch'u-chün) under Tso Tsung-t'ang, and the Anhwei Army (Huai-chün) coordinated by Li Hung-chang. There were also smaller forces of a similar nature in Honan (Yü-chün), Shantung, (Tung-chün), Yunnan (Tien-chün) and Szechwan (Ch'uan-chün). These forces were distinguished generally by their greater use of Western weapons and they were more costly to maintain. More fundamentally they capitalized for military purposes on fthe particularistic loyalties of the traditional society. Both the strength and the weakness of the yung-ying were to be found in the close personal bonds that were formed between the higher and lower officers and between officers and men. In this respect they differed from the traditional Ch'ing imperial armies - both the banner forces and the Green Standard Army."
- 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. 232. ISBN 0-521-22029-7. Retrieved 2012-01-18. "Tso's immediate appointment of Liu as commander of the 'Old Hunan Army' (Lao Hsiang-chün)added to the youthful commander's prestige. . . By September 1870, Liu Chin-t'ang had reduced all but a score of the 500-odd forts around Chin-chi-pao. Krupp siege guns shipped to Kansu form Shanghai were now sent to Liu along with an officer who had served Tseng Kuo-fan as a gunner. The shells failed to breach Chin-chi-pao's heavy walls (said to be thirty-five feet thick), but in October Liu Chin-t'ang built a high gun position from which he bombarded the city over its walls. . .Chin-chi-pao's dwindling number of inhabitants were now surviving on grass roots and flesh rom dead bodies. In January, Ma Hua-lung finally surrendered to Liu Chin-t'ang,"