Zho Zongtang was from a scholarly family of moderate means in Hunan Province. He obtained the juren (chu-jen) degree, the second highest in the examination system, then studied geography, agriculture and military strategy and experimented in farming, specializing in sericulture. Between 1852 until his death he devoted himself to military affairs, winning high distinction in serving China.
In 1860 Zho joined the staff of Zeng Guofan (Tseng Kuo-fan), China’s leader in fighting the Taiping Rebellion, raising and training 5,000 volunteers of his native Hunan braves to serve in Jiangxi (Kiangsi) and Anhui Provinces, engaging in more than 20 battles. He was appointed governor-general of Zhejiang (Chekiang) and Fujian (Fukien) Provinces, expelling the Taiping rebels from both and implementing programs that restored prosperity. They included opening schools, printing offices, and promoting sericulture and cotton culture. After the suppression of the Taiping Rebellion, Zho was appointed governorgeneral of Shaanxi (Shensi) and Gansu (Kansu) Provinces in northwestern China. He collaborated with his colleagues Zeng Kuofan and Li Hongzhang (Li Hung-chang) in first putting down the Nian Rebellion, then undertaking the suppression of the Muslim rebellions, first pacifying Shaanxi in 1869, followed by bringing peace to Gansu in 1874. He then made important reforms in those provinces that included the prohibition of opium poppy culture, promoting cotton growing and manufacture of cotton and woolen cloths, utilizing the spare time of his soldiers in agriculture and reforestation.
Zho next obtained court support for raising loans for the reconquest of Xinjiang (Sinkiang) or Chinese Turkestan, much of which had been under the control of Yakub Beg, a Muslim who curried favor with Russia, Great Britain, and the Ottoman Empire by promising them influence should he succeed in establishing an independent state. A careful campaigner who had sure knowledge of geography and logistics, Zho defeated the Xinjiang Muslims in 1877. Yakub committed suicide. The combination of the collapse of the Xinjiang Muslim rebellion thanks to Zho’s generalship and the negotiation skills of Chinese diplomat Zeng Jize (Chitse) (son of Zeng Guofan), Russia agreed to withdraw its troops from the Ili Valley in Xinjiang in the Treaty of St. Petersburg in 1881. Xinjiang became a province of China in 1884. Zho was appointed governorgeneral of Jiangnan (Kiangnan) and Jiangxi (Kiangsi) in 1882, was put in charge of military affairs when war loomed with France in 1884, but he was suffering from ill health and died shortly after.
Zho was a great military leader of the Tongzhi (T’ung-chih) Restoration and Self-Strengthening Movement who struggled successfully to defeat China’s domestic rebellions and protect its territorial integrity against Western imperialism. Both he and his wife, Zhou Yituan (Chou I-tuan), were accomplished in literature, she leaving published collections of verses, and he of official and literary works.
- Fairbank, John K., and Kwang-ching Liu, eds. The Cambridge History of China, Vol. 11, Part 2, Late Ch’ing, 1800–1911. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980;
- Hummel, Arthur W., ed. Eminent Chinese of the Ch’ing Period (1644–1912). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Press, 1944.
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