Zhang Xueliang

Zhang Xueliang
Zhang Xueliang
Warlord of Manchuria
In office
4 June 1928 – 4 January 1929
Preceded by Zhang Zuolin
Succeeded by (none)
Personal details
Born 3 June 1901(1901-06-03)
Haicheng, Fengtian, Qing Dynasty
Died 15 October 2001(2001-10-15) (aged 100)
Honolulu, Hawaii, United States
Nationality Chinese
Political party Fengtian clique
Spouse(s) Yu Fengzi (m.1916-1964)
Zhao Yidi (m.1964-2000)
Relations Zhang Zuolin (father)
Religion Christian
Military service
Allegiance  Republic of China
Service/branch Republic of China
Years of service 1915-1936
Rank General of the army
Battles/wars Sino-Soviet conflict
Central Plains War
Mukden Incident
Battle of Rehe
Zhang Xueliang
Traditional Chinese 張學良
Simplified Chinese 张学良

Zhang Xueliang or Chang Hsüeh-liang (3 June 1901,[1] Haicheng County, Fengtian Province – 14 October 2001, Honolulu, Hawaii), occasionally called Peter Hsueh Liang Chang in English, nicknamed the Young Marshal (少帥), was the effective ruler of Manchuria and much of North China after the assassination of his father, Zhang Zuolin, by the Japanese on 4 June 1928. As an instigator of the Xi'an incident he spent over 50 years under house arrest, but is regarded by the People's Republic of China as a patriotic hero.



Zhang was educated by private tutors and, unlike his father, felt at ease in the company of westerners. Zhang Xueliang graduated from Fengtian Military Academy, was made a Colonel in the Fengtian Army, and was appointed commander of his father's bodyguards in 1919. In 1921, he was sent to Japan to observe military maneuvers, where he developed a special interest in aircraft. Later, he developed an air corps for the Fengtian Army, which was widely used in the battles which took place within the Great Wall during the 1920s. In 1922, he was advanced to Major General and commanded an army-sized force, two years later he was also made commander of the air units. Upon the death of his father in 1928, he succeeded him as the strongest warlord in Manchuria. In December of the same year he proclaimed his allegiance to the Kuomintang (KMT).

Manchurian warlord and republican general

The Japanese believed that Zhang Xueliang, who was known as a womanizer and an opium addict, would be much more subject to Japanese influence. An officer of the Japanese Kwantung Army therefore killed his father Zhang Zuolin by exploding a bomb above his train while it crossed under a railroad bridge. Surprisingly, the younger Zhang proved to be more independent than anyone had expected. With the assistance of William Henry Donald, he overcame his opium addiction and declared his support for Chiang Kai-shek. He was given the nickname of 千古功臣 (Hero of history) by PRC historians not because it was good that he was supporting the KMT, but because he wanted China to be reunited and was willing to pay the price and become "vice" leader of China. In order to rid his command of Japanese influence he had two prominent pro-Tokyo officials executed in front of the assembled guests at a dinner party in January 1929. It was a hard decision for him to make. The two had powers over the heads of others. Zhang also tried to eliminate Soviet influence from Manchuria, but relented in the face of a Soviet military build-up. At the same time, however, he developed closer relations with the United States.

In 1930, when warlords Feng Yuxiang and Yan Xishan attempted to overthrow Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang government, Zhang Xueliang stepped in to support the Nanjing government against the northern warlords in exchange for control of the key railroads in Hebei Province and the customs revenues from the port city of Tianjin. Following the Mukden Incident and the Japanese invasion of Zhang's own domain of Manchuria in 1931, Zhang's armies withdrew from the front lines without significant engagements. There has been speculation that Chiang Kai-Shek wrote a letter to Zhang asking him to pull his forces back, but later Zhang stated that he himself issued the orders. Apparently Zhang was aware of how weak his forces were compared to the Japanese, and wished to preserve his position by retaining a sizeable army. Nonetheless this would still be in line with Chiang's overall strategic standings. Zhang later traveled in Europe before returning to China to take command of the Communist Suppression Campaigns first in Hebei-Henan-Anhui and later in the Northwest.

Xi'an incident, house arrest, and later life

On 6 April 1936, Zhang Xueliang met with Zhou Enlai to plan the end of the Chinese Civil War. In the Xi'an incident (12 December 1936), Zhang and another general Yang Hucheng kidnapped Chiang Kai-shek and imprisoned the head of the Kuomintang government until he agreed to form a united front with the Communists against the Japanese invasion.

Chiang at the time took a non-aggressive position against Japan and considered the Communists to be a greater danger to the government of Republic of China than the Japanese, and his overall strategy was to annihilate the Communists before focusing his efforts on the Japanese. He believed that "communism was a cancer while the Japanese represented a superficial wound." However, growing nationalist anger against Japan made this position very unpopular, leading to Zhang's action against Chiang.

After the negotiations, Chiang agreed to unite with the Communists and drive the Japanese out of China. When Chiang was released, Zhang chose to return to the capital with him. However, once they were away from Zhang's loyal troops, Chiang had him put under house arrest. From there he was always watched and lived near Nationalist capitol wherever it moved to. In 1949 Zhang was transferred to Taiwan where he remained under a loose house arrest for the next 40 years in a villa in Taipei's northern suburbs. He spent his time studying Ming dynasty literature, Manchu language, and the Bible, receiving occasional guests and collected Chinese fan paintings, calligraphy and other works of art by illustrious artists. A collection of more than 200 works, using his studio's name "Dingyuanzhai," was auctioned with tremendous success by Sotheby's on 10 April 1994. He and his wife, Edith Chao, became devout Baptists and also regularly attended Sunday services at the Methodist chapel in Shilin, a Taipei suburb with Chiang Kai-Shek's family. After Chiang Kai Shek's passing, his freedom was restored officially.

He emigrated to Honolulu, Hawaii, in 1993. There were numerous pleas for him to visit mainland China, but Zhang, claiming his political closeness with the KMT, declined. He died of pneumonia at the age of 100 (following the Chinese way of counting, his age is often given as 101) and was buried in Hawaii. His papers, an extensive oral history and correspondence covering his life from 1937 to 1999, and some paintings by friends, such as Zhang Daqian, Chiang Ching-kuo and Mme. Chiang Kai-shek, can be found at Peter H. L. Chang (Zhang Xueliang) Oral History Materials in Columbia University's Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Additional source

See also

New York Times obituary


  1. ^ According to other accounts, 1898 or 1900
Preceded by
Longest-serving political prisoner in the world
? - 1990
Succeeded by
Woo Yong Gak

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