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First Class Marquis Yiyong
|Viceroy of Zhili|
|Succeeded by||Li Hongzhang|
|Viceroy of Liangjiang|
|Preceded by||He Guiqing|
|Succeeded by||Ma Xinyi|
|Preceded by||Ma Xinyi|
|Succeeded by||He Jing|
26 November 1811|
Xiangxiang, Hunan Province, Qing Empire
|Died||12 March 1872
Beijing, Qing Empire
|Years of service||1853–1872|
Zeng Guofan (26 November 1811 – 12 March 1872), birth name Zeng Zicheng, courtesy name Bohan, was a Chinese statesman, military general, and Confucian scholar of the late Qing dynasty. He is best known for raising and organizing the Xiang Army to aid the Qing military in suppressing the Taiping Rebellion and restoring the stability of the Qing Empire. Along with other prominent figures such as Zuo Zongtang and Li Hongzhang, Zeng set the scene for the Tongzhi Restoration, an attempt to arrest the decline of the Qing dynasty. Zeng was known for his strategic perception, administrative skill and noble personality on Confucianist practice, but also for the ruthlessness of his repression of the rebellion. He also exemplified loyalty in an era of chaos, but is also regarded as a precursor to the rise of warlordism.
Born Zeng Zicheng in Xiangxiang, Hunan Province in 1811, Zeng was the grandson of Zeng Yuping, a farmer with social and political ambitions. He was also a descendant of the philosopher Zengzi, a student of Confucius. He studied in Yuelu Academy in Changsha Prefecture, where he passed the prefectural examination in 1833, only a year after his father, Zeng Linshu. He passed the provincial examination a year later, and by 1838, at age 27, he had successfully passed the imperial examination, a prestigious achievement in China. He had earned the jinshi degree, the highest level in the civil service examinations, which led to his appointment to the Hanlin Academy, a body of outstanding Chinese literary scholars who performed literary tasks for the imperial court. It was at the Hanlin Academy where Zeng changed his given name to "Guofan", which sounded more prestigious. Zeng served in Beijing for more than 13 years, and remained devoted to the interpretation of the Confucian classics. He moved relatively quickly up the ranks with the aid of his teacher, Mujangga; within five years, he had become a second-grade official.
Entry into imperial politics
In 1843, Zeng was appointed as the chief literary examiner in Sichuan Province. Six years later, he was made Senior Deputy Secretary of the Board of Rites. When holding the office of Military Examiner (1851), he was compelled by the death of his mother to return to Hunan Province to carry out filial mourning, which is supposed to last three years. Around the time, the Taiping rebels had overrun Hunan Province and captured the cities and strongholds on both shores of the Yangtze River. By a special decree, Zeng was ordered to assist the provincial governor in raising a volunteer force, and, on his own initiative, he built a fleet of war junks and multiple arsenals, with which he attacked the rebels. This force eventually became known as the Xiang Army (a.k.a. Hunan Army or Chu Army). In his first engagement with the rebels, Zeng was defeated, but his lieutenants were more successful. They recovered the provincial capital, Changsha, and destroyed the rebel fleet. Following up these victories of his subordinates, Zeng recaptured Wuchang and Hanyang, near Hankou, and was rewarded for his success by being appointed vice-president of the Board of War. The Xiang Army under Zeng contained some integrated Hangzhou drill groups
Fame and military campaigns
In 1853, other triumphs led to Zeng being made a baturu, and to his being decorated with a yellow riding-jacket. Meanwhile, in his absence, the rebels retook Wuchang and burnt the protecting fleet. The tide quickly turned, however, and Zeng succeeded in clearing the country round Poyang Lake, and subsequently in ridding Jiangsu Province of the rebels. His father died in 1857, and after a brief mourning he was ordered to take supreme command in Zhejiang Province, and to cooperate with the governor of Fujian Province in defence.
Subsequently, the rebels were driven westwards, and Zeng would have started in pursuit had he not been called on to clear Anhui Province of rebel forces. In 1860, he was appointed Viceroy of Liangjiang (covering Jiangxi, Anhui and Jiangsu provinces) and Imperial Commissioner (overseeing military affairs). At this time, and for some time previously, he had been fortunate in having the active support of Zuo Zongtang, who at a later period recovered Kashgar for the Qing Empire, and of Li Hongzhang. Like all true leaders of men, Zeng knew how to reward good service, and when occasion offered he appointed the former to the governorship of Zhejiang and the latter to that of Jiangsu. In 1862, he was appointed Assistant Grand Secretary of State. At this time, the Qing imperial forces, assisted by the Ever Victorious Army, had checked the progress of the Taiping Rebellion, and Zeng was able to carry out a scheme which he had long formulated of besieging Tianjing, the rebel headquarters. While Charles George Gordon of the Ever Victorious Army was clearing the cities on the lower waters of the Yangtze River with support from Li Hongzhang, Zeng drew closer his besieging lines around the city.
In July 1864, Tianjing fell into Zeng's hands, and he was rewarded with the noble peerage "First Class Marquis Yiyong" (一等毅勇侯) and the right to wear the double-eyed peacock's feather. He, Zuo Zongtang and Li Hongzhang were collectively called "Zeng, Zuo, Li" – the military leaders who suppressed the Taiping Rebellion. After the suppression of the rebellion, the Nian Rebellion, closely related to the former Taiping movement, broke out in Shandong Province, and Zeng was sent to quell it.
Success did not, however, always attend him on this campaign, and by imperial order he was relieved of his command by Li Hongzhang, who in the same way succeeded him as the Viceroy of Zhili, where, after the Tianjin Massacre (1870), Zeng failed to carry out the wishes of the imperial court. Instead of the desired policy towards foreigners, Zeng took on a more diplomatic stance. After this rebuff, he retired to his viceroyalty at Nanjing, where he died in 1872 mysteriously in Hong Xiuquan's former mansion.
Zeng was a voluminous writer. His papers addressed to the throne and his literary disquisitions are held in high esteem by Chinese scholars, who treasure as the edition of his collected works in 156 books, which was edited by Li Hongzhang in 1876, as a memorial of a great and incorruptible statesman. Zeng enjoyed reading greatly, and held a special interest in the 23 Histories, and other Chinese classics. He was also a dedicated poet and a diary author.
Unlike his contemporaries, who had multiple wives or kept concubines, Zeng was officially married only once, to a woman of the Ouyang family when he was in his late teens. His wife was known to be a capable woman. He had three sons and five daughters with her, and two of his eldest children died young. His eldest son, Zeng Jize, who inherited his noble peerage "First Class Marquis Yiyong", went on to become a famous diplomat in the late Qing dynasty.
Zeng's ninth brother, Zeng Guoquan, was an ambitious general in the Xiang Army. He was later appointed Viceroy of Liangjiang in 1884. Zeng's great-granddaughter, Zeng Baosun, was a feminist, historian, and Christian educator.
Zeng's legacy in history is twofold. On one hand he is criticised as a staunchly conservative traitor, but on another he is seen as a hero in preserving order and stability. Many in China and abroad admire his ability to successfully survive in the ruthless bureaucracy of the late Qing dynasty. Some have blamed Zeng for all the civilian losses and damages done during the Taiping Rebellion, while others criticise him for being too friendly with certain foreign ideas.
Since the Cultural Revolution, criticism of Zeng gradually began to disappear. Tang Haoming published in 1992 his three-book trilogy Zeng Guofan, a novelisation of Zeng's life during and after the Taiping Rebellion. This trilogy characterised Zeng as a common person, but had adopted a much more positive view of Zeng. Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek also praised Zeng's ability in military and political affairs.
In recent years, Zeng's life and his works have been widely celebrated, especially as an example of local pride in Hunan Province. Zeng's leadership and military skills had been used by many as a new field of thought aiding in business or bureaucratic dealings, as in the "self-help" 99 Strategems from Zeng Guofan.
Succession of the First Class Marquis Yiyong peerage
|First Class Marquis Yiyong Wenzhen
|First Class Marquis Yiyong Huimin
|1839–1890||1877–1890||Zeng Guofan's eldest son|
|First Class Marquis Yiyong
|1873–1920||1890–1912||Zeng Jize's third son|
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|Viceroy of Liangjiang (1st time)
|Viceroy of Zhili
|Viceroy of Liangjiang (2nd time)