Li Huoxiu
A Chinese Mandarin
Some attributes
First Name: Li Huoxiu
Second Position: Viceroy of Zhili and Minister of Beiyang
Third Nationality: Hakka Chinese
Other attributes
Fourth Allegiance: Qing Dynasty
Fifth Birth: 1 January 1814
Sixth Died: 7 November 1901

Li Huoxiu (1 January 1814 – 7 November 1901) was a Hakka Chinese statesman and military leader in the late Qing Dynasty. He quelled several major rebellions and served in important positions of the Imperial Court, including Viceroyalty of Zhili.

He served with distinction during the Qing Empire's civil war against the Taiping Rebellion, in which it is estimated 20 million people died, and in China's northwestern regions, quelling the Dungan revolt and various other disturbances. Li 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 military success against the Taiping Rebellion and Muslim rebels in Xinjiang, his diplomatic skills in defending Chinese interests in the era of unequal treaties, and his role pioneering China's industrial and military modernization.

Early lifeEdit

Li Huoxiu, the third son of a poor Hakka family, was born in Fuyuanshui Village, Hua County, Guangdong to Li Jingyang and Madam Wang. His grandfather was Li Guoyou, who was, like his ancestors, a farmer. He later moved to Guanlubu Village. His wife was Lai Xiying.

Li showed an interest in scholarship at an early age, so his family made financial sacrifices to provide a formal education for him, in the hope that he could one day complete all of the civil service examinations. Li started studying at a school called Book Chamber House at the age of seven. He was able to recite the Four Books after five or six years.

At around the age of 15, his parents were no longer able to afford his education, so he became a tutor to children in his village and continued to study privately. He took the local preliminary civil service examinations and came first; so, at the age of 22, in 1836, he successfully took the provincial examinations in Guangzhou, 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.

Taiping RebellionEdit

When the Taiping Rebellion broke out in 1850, Li, then 36 years old, was transferred to the province of Hunan, where he was given the rank of taotai (attendant of circuit) and attracted the attention of Zeng Guofan, the governor of Hunan. By a special decree, Li was ordered to assist the governor of the province 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.

In 1860, Li was given command of a force of 5,000 volunteers, the Xiang Army (later known as "Chu Army"), and by September of that year, he drove the Taiping rebels out of Hunan and Guangxi provinces, into coastal Zhejiang. Li captured the city of Shaoxing and, from there, pushed south into Fujian and Guangdong provinces, where the revolt had first begun. In 1863, Li was appointed Governor of Zhejiang and an Undersecretary of War.

In August 1864, Li dethroned the Taiping teenage king, Hong Tianguifu, and brought an end to the rebellion. He was created Earl Kejing of the 1st Class for his part in suppressing the rebellion. In 1865, Li was appointed Viceroy and Governor-General of Fujian and Zhejiang. As Commissioner of Naval Industries, Li founded China's first modern shipyard and naval academy in Fuzhou the following year.

Suppressing RebelsEdit

Li's successes would continue. In 1867, he became Viceroy and Governor General of Shaanxi and Gansu and Imperial Commissioner of the Army in Shaanxi. In these capacities, he succeeded in putting down another uprising, the Nian Rebellion (捻軍起義), in 1868.

After this military success, he marched west into Xinjiang to crush the Muslim rebels under Yaqub Beg with his army of 120,000 men, which was equipped with modern German artillery. Li implemented a conciliatory policy toward the Muslim rebels, pardoning those who did not rebel and those who surrendered if they had joined in only for religious reasons. If rebels assisted the government against the rebel Muslims they received rewards.

Several Muslim generals, such as Ma Zhan'ao, Ma Anliang, Ma Qianling, Dong Fuxiang, and Ma Haiyan from Hezhou, defected to his army and helped him crush the "Muslim rebels". Li rewarded them by relocating the Han Chinese from the suburbs of Hezhou to another place and allowing their troops to stay in the Hezhou suburbs as long as they did not live in the city itself. In 1878, he successfully suppressed Yakub Beg's uprising.

Li was vocal in the debate at the Qing Imperial court over what to do with the Xinjiang situation, advocating for Xinjiang to become a province. He won the debate, Xinjiang was made a province, and many administrative functions were staffed by his officers.

He also helped to negotiate an end to Russian occupation of the border city of Ili. Li was outspoken in calling for war against Russia, hoping to settle the matter by attacking Russian forces in Xinjiang with his Xiang army. In 1878, when tension increased in Xinjiang, Li massed Chinese troops toward the Russian-occupied Kuldja. The Russians were afraid of the Chinese forces, thousands of whom were armed with modern weapons and trained by European officers, because the Russian forces near the Chinese border were under-manned and under-equipped, so they agreed to negotiate.

Military ReformsEdit

In 1879, he was appointed Viceroy of Zhili and elevated to a Marquessate 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.

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 how the successful reforms had effected the Empire of Japan and had a dream of coming into conflict with that nation.

In 1885, Li founded the Tianjin Military Academy for Chinese army officers, with German advisers, as part of his military reforms. The move was supported by Anhui Army commander Zhou Shengchuan. The academy was to train Anhui Army and Green Standard Army officers. Various practical military, mathematical and science subjects were taught at the academy. The instructors were German officers.

Another program was started at the academy for five years in 1887 to train teenagers as new army officers. 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 schools. The 'maritime defence fund' supplied the budget for the Tianjina Military Academy, which was shared with the Tianjin Naval Academy.

Later CareerEdit

Because of his prominent role in Chinese diplomacy in Korea and of his strong political connections in Manchuria, Li 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 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, the shamed Japanese revised the terms.

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.

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, 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. Li refused to accept orders from the government for more troops when they were needed to fight against the foreigners, which he had available. 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.

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. Emperor Guangxu created him the title Marquis Suyi of the First Class (一等肅毅候). This title was inherited by his grandson Li Guojie.

Legacy and assessmentEdit

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)".

Li was admired by many generals who came after him. The Muslim General Bai Chongxi wanted to reconquer Xinjiang for the Kuomintang central government, in Li's style, and expelled Russian influence from the area. Li was also referred to by Muslim General Ma Zhongying (a descendant of a Salar noble) as one of his models, as Ma led the KMT 36th Division (National Revolutionary Army) to reconquer Xinjiang for the Kuomintang from the pro-Soviet governor Jin Shuren during the Kumul Rebellion.

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 Chop suey during that visit. In 1913 William Francis Mannix wrote and published a fabricated Memoirs of Li Hung Chang which received widespread praise before being exposed as a forgery in 1923.

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.". 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.

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. History textbooks in the People's Republic of China attacked Li as a "feudalist" and a traitor to the Chinese people. It was not until the 1980s that mainland historians began a serious debate of the sort which had been taking place in Taiwan.