Li Hongzhang was in charge of China's foreign relations for the Empress Dowager Cixi. He fought to keep order during the Taiping Rebellion and the Boxer Rebellion. In 1896 he toured the United States of America, advocating reform of that country's immigration policies.
See also: Self-Strengthening Movement
In 1859 he was transferred to the province of Fu-kien, where he was given the rank of taotai, or intendant of circuit. But Tsêng had not forgotten him, and at his request Li was recalled to take part against the rebels. He found his cause supported by the "Ever Victorious Army," which, after having been raised by an American named Ward, was finally placed under the command of Charles George Gordon. With this support Li gained numerous victories leading to the surrender of Suchow and the capture of Nanking. For these exploits he was made governor of Kiangsu, was decorated with a yellow jacket, and was created an earl.
An incident connected with the surrender of Suchow, however, left a lasting stain upon his character. By an arrangement with Gordon, the rebel wangs, or princes, yielded Nanking on condition that their lives should be spared. In spite of the assurance given them by Gordon, Li ordered their instant execution. This breach of faith so aroused Gordon's indignation that he seized a rifle, intending to shoot the falsifier of his word, and would have done so had not Li saved himself by flight. On the suppression of the rebellion (1864) Li took up his duties as governor, but was not long allowed to remain in civil life. On the outbreak of the rebellion of the Nienfei, a remnant of the Taipings, in Ho-nan and Shan-tung (1866) he was ordered again to take the field, and after some misadventures be succeeded in suppressing the movement. A year later he was appointed viceroy of Hukwang, where he remained until 1870, when the Tientsin massacre necessitated his transfer to the scene of the outrage. He was, as a natural consequence, appointed to the viceroyalty of the metropolitan province of Chihli, 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.
To his duties as viceroy were added those of the superintendent of trade, and from that time until his death, with a few intervals of retirement, he practically conducted the foreign policy of China. He concluded the Chifu convention with Sir Thomas Wade (1876), and thus ended the difficulty caused by the murder of Mr Margary in Yunnan; he arranged treaties with Peru and Japan, and he actively directed the Chinese policy in Korea. On the death of the emperor Tungchi in 1875 he, by suddenly introducing, a large armed force into the capital, effected a coup d'etat by which the emperor Kwang Sti was put on the throne under the tutelage, of the two dowager empresses; and in 1886, on the conclusion of the Franco-Chinese War, he arranged a treaty with France. Li was always strongly impressed with the necessity of strengthening the empire, and when viceroy of Chihli 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 the successful reforms effected in Japan and had a well-founded dread of coming into conflict with that empire.