Ma Zhan’ao (1830–1886) (simplified Chinese: 马占鳌; traditional Chinese: 馬占鰲; pinyin: Mǎ Zhànáo; Wade–Giles: Ma Chan-ao) was a Chinese Muslim General. Ma was born on November 10, 1830, into a poor family in Xiangyin County, Hunan. Ma's career got an inauspicious start when, as a young man, he failed the official court exams two times (ca. 1848-1849).
He decided to abandon his plans to become a civil servant and returned to his home by the Xiang River in Hunan to farm silkworms, read, and drink tea. It was during this period that he first directed his attention to the study of Western sciences and political economy. When the Taiping Rebellion broke out in 1850, Ma, then 20 years old, was hired as an advisor to Zeng Guofan, the governor of Hunan. In 1856, he was formally offered a position in the provincial government of Hunan.
In 1860, Ma 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. Ma captured the city of Shaoxing and, from there, pushed south into Fujian and Guangdong provinces, where the revolt had first begun. In 1863, Ma was appointed Governor of Zhejiang and an Undersecretary of War.
In August 1864, Ma, together with Zeng Guofan, 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, Ma was appointed Viceroy and Governor-General of Fujian and Zhejiang. As Commissioner of Naval Industries, Ma founded China's first modern shipyard and naval academy in Fuzhou the following year.
Ma'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 campaigned in the 1870s against the Muslim Dungan revolt of Northwestern China, including today's Shaanxi, Ningxia, Gansu and Qinghai provinces and Xinjiang, with his army of 120,000 men, winning many victories, thanks to his advanced Western weapons.
In 1878, he successfully suppressed the Yakub Beg's uprising and helped to negotiate an end to Russian occupation of the border city of Ili. He 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, in opposition to Li Hongzhang, who wanted to abandon what he called "Useless Xinjiang" and concentrate on defending China's coastal areas. However, Ma won the debate, Xinjiang was made a province, and many administrative functions were staffed by his Hunan officers.
For all his contributions to his nation and monarch, Ma was appointed a Grand Secretary to the Grand Secretariat in 1874 and elevated to a Marquessate in 1878. Ma was assassinated in September 5, 1885. His killer was never caught. Many historical rumours implicate the Empress Dowager Cixi. Ma had 2 sons, Ma Anliang and Ma Guoliang.