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Zhang Xueliang

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Zhang Xueliang
Zhang in 1928
Warlord of Manchuria
In office
June 4, 1928 – December 26, 1936
Preceded byZhang Zuolin
Succeeded byOffice abolished
Personal details
Born(1901-06-03)June 3, 1901
Tai'an County, Fengtian, Qing Empire
DiedOctober 15, 2001(2001-10-15) (aged 100)
Honolulu County, Hawaii, U.S.
Resting placeValley of the Temples Memorial Park, Honolulu County, Hawaii
  • Yu Fengzhi[note 1]
    (m. 1916; div. 1964)
  • Gu Ruiyu
    (m. 1924; div. 1931)
  • Zhao Yidi[note 2]
    (m. 1964; died 2000)
RelativesZhang Xueming (brother)
AwardsOrder of Rank and Merit
Order of Wen-Hu
Order of the Sacred Treasure
Order of Blue Sky and White Sun
NicknameYoung Marshal
Military service
RankGeneral of the Army[citation needed]
CommandsNortheast Peace Preservation Forces
Zhang Xueliang
Traditional Chinese張學良
Simplified Chinese张学良

Zhang Xueliang (Chinese: 張學良; June 3, 1901[note 3] – October 15, 2001), also romanized as Chang Hsueh-liang and known later in life as Peter H. L. Chang, was a Chinese warlord who ruled Manchuria from 1928 to 1936 and the commander-in-chief of the Northeastern Army after the assassination of his father, Zhang Zuolin. A reformer who was sympathetic to nationalist ideas, he completed the official reunification of China at the end of the Warlord Era by pledging loyalty to the Nationalist government in Nanjing. He nonetheless retained Manchuria's de facto autonomy until the Empire of Japan invaded and occupied the region in 1931. He was frustrated by Chiang Kai-shek's policy of "first internal pacification, then external resistance" and helped plan and lead the 1936 Xi'an Incident. Northeastern soldiers under Zhang's command arrested Chiang to force him to negotiate a Second United Front with the Chinese Communist Party against Japan. Chiang eventually agreed, but upon his release he had Zhang arrested and sentenced to 50 years of house arrest, first in mainland China and then in Taiwan. Although never personally a communist, Zhang is regarded by the Chinese Communist Party and the People's Republic of China as a patriotic hero for his role in ending the encirclement campaigns and beginning the war of resistance against Japan.[1][2][3][4][5]

Early life[edit]

Zhang Xueliang was born in Haicheng, Liaoning province on June 3, 1901. Zhang was educated by private tutors and, unlike his father, the warlord Zhang Zuolin,[6] he felt at ease in the company of westerners.[7]


Zhang graduated from Fengtian Military Academy, was made a colonel in the Fengtian Army, and appointed the 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 that took place within the Great Wall during the 1920s. In 1922, he was promoted 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 leader of the Northeast Peace Preservation Forces (popularly "Northeastern Army"), which controlled China's northeastern provinces of Heilongjiang, Fengtian, and Jilin.[8] In December of the same year he proclaimed his allegiance to the Kuomintang (KMT; Chinese Nationalist Party).

Warlord to republican general[edit]

Zhang with Chiang Kai-shek in November 1930.

The Japanese believed that Zhang Xueliang, who was known as a womanizer and an opium addict, would be much more subject to Japanese influence than was his father. On this premise, 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 and skilled than anyone had expected and declared his support for Chiang Kai-shek, leading to the reunification of China in 1928. With the assistance of Australian journalist William Henry Donald and Dr. Harry Willis Miller, he overcame his opium addiction in 1933 with the administering of Cantharidin auto-serum therapy.[1]

He was given the nickname "Hero of History" (千古功臣) by PRC historians because of his desire to reunite China and rid it of Japanese invaders; and was willing to pay the price and become "vice" leader of China (not because it was good that he was supporting the Kuomintang).[citation needed] 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. In May 1929, relations between the Kuomintang Nanjing and the excessively strengthened Feng Yuxiang worsened. In addition, the Japanese government, dissatisfied with the pro-Kuomintang policy of Zhang Zuolin, and now his son, threatened to "take the most decisive measures to ensure that the Kuomintang flag never flies over Manchuria". The "Young Marshal" supported Nanjing, and Feng's troops were pushed back to the outlying provinces of Chahar and Suiyuan, and in July 1929, Japan officially recognized Kuomintang China. At the same time, Zhang Xueliang and Chiang Kai-shek held a personal meeting in Beiping, at which a decision was made on the armed seizure of the Chinese Eastern Railway or CER. By pushing Zhang Xueliang to take this step, Chiang Kai-shek sought to make the Young Marshal completely dependent on Nanjing and at the same time raise his prestige and get most of the profits from the operation of the CER at the disposal of Nanjing. Zhang Xueliang, in turn, believed that the capture of the CER would strengthen his position in the Northeast, allow him to personally manage the profits of the CER, and ensure his independence from Nanjing. As a result, on July 10, 1929, the Conflict on the CER began. However, the Red Army showed a higher combat capability, and the conflict ended with the signing of the Khabarovsk Protocol of December 22, 1929.

Zhang and Chiang with their respective wives, Yu Fengzhi and Soong Mei-ling.
Autograph of Zhang Xueliang (c. 1930s).

In 1930, when warlords Feng Yuxiang and Yan Xishan attempted to overthrow Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang government, Zhang stepped in to support the Nanjing-based government against the Northern warlords in exchange for control of the key railroads in Hebei and the customs revenues from the port city of Tianjin. A year later, in the September 18 Mukden Incident, Japanese troops attacked Zhang's forces in Shenyang in order to provoke a full-on war with China, which Chiang did not want to face until his forces were stronger.[9] In accordance with this strategy, Zhang's armies withdrew from the front lines without significant engagements, leading to the effective Japanese occupation of Zhang's former northeastern domain.[10] There has been speculation that Chiang Kai-Shek wrote a letter to Zhang asking him to pull his forces back, but Zhang later 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 Encirclement Campaigns, first in Hebei-Henan-Anhui and later in the Northwest.

Xi'an incident[edit]

On April 6, 1936, Zhang met with CPC delegate Zhou Enlai to plan the end of the Chinese Civil War. KMT leader Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek at the time took a passive position against Japan and considered the communists to be a greater danger to the Republic of China than the Japanese, and his overall strategy was to annihilate the communists before focusing his efforts on the Japanese.[9] He believed that "communism was a cancer while the Japanese represented a superficial wound." Growing nationalist anger against Japan made this position very unpopular, and led to Zhang's action against Chiang, known as the Xi'an Incident.

In December 1936, Zhang and General Yang Hucheng kidnapped Chiang, imprisoning him until he agreed to form a united front with the communists against the Japanese invasion. After two weeks of negotiations, Chiang agreed to unite with the communists and drive the Japanese out of China.

After Chiang negotiated with the Communists, Zhang flew back to Nanjing as a demonstration of good faith.[11]: 53 

Life under house arrest[edit]

Former residence of Zhang Xueliang in Wufeng, Hsinchu County, Taiwan.


As soon as Zhang landed in Nanjing, Chiang had him placed under arrest by military police.[12] Zhang wrote Chiang an obsequious letter of apology. Although he never disavowed his role in the Xi'an incident, he admitted that what he had done was a crime, and asked to be punished. He intended the letter to be a private assurance of loyalty to Chiang, but the latter had the letter published so as to discredit Zhang.[13] Li Liejun then presided over a show trial which convicted Zhang of abducting the Generalissimo and attempting to change government policy, sentencing him to ten years in prison.[14] Chiang had him pardoned just a few days later, on 4 January 1937, but with the stipulation that he not be given his civil rights back and that he would remain under protective detention.[15]

Mainland China[edit]

During the first few years of Zhang's imprisonment, he was regularly moved from location to location under the close supervision of Chiang Kai-shek. He was soon joined by his first wife, Yu Fengzhi. The couple began living with the family of one of his wardens, Liu Yiguang. Zhang was allowed access to his bank account, but was (according to custom) expected to pay for most of the expenses related to his detention.[16] In 1940 Yu Fengzhi became sick with breast cancer and was granted permission to seek treatment in the United States.[17] Although they remained affectionate in their letters to one another, the couple would never see each other again. In 1964, Yu agreed to divorce Zhang so that he could marry Zhao.[18]


Zhang was eventually taken to Taiwan, where he remained under house arrest until Chiang's 1975 death.[11]: 53  Much of his time was spent studying Ming dynasty literature and the Manchu language and collecting 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" (定遠齋) was auctioned with tremendous success by Sotheby's on April 10, 1994).

Zhang studied the New Testament. In 1964, he formally married Edith Chao, daughter of a senior official, who left her family in her teens to become his companion and later followed him into exile. His first wife, Yu, said she was so moved by Ms. Chao's devotion that she released her husband from his vows. Zhang and his wife, Edith, became devout Christians who also regularly attended Sunday services at the Methodist chapel in Shilin, a Taipei suburb, with Chiang Kai-shek's family. On March 26, 1988, two months after the death of Chiang Kai-shek's son Chiang Ching-kuo, his freedom was officially restored.[19]

Later life and death[edit]

Zhang's gravesite in Valley of the Temples Memorial Park

In 1991, Zhang made his first trip abroad after being released from house arrest, visiting San Francisco to see friends and family who had moved there.[20] Zhang emigrated to Honolulu, Hawaii in 1995. There he lived with his younger brother Chang Hsueh-sen, who was working as a hotelier.[21] There were numerous pleas for him to visit mainland China, but Zhang declined, citing his political closeness to the KMT and his frail health.[1][22] However, he was named as the honorary President of Northeastern University in 1993, where he served as President between 1928 and 1937. Zhang was also named as the honorary chairman of Harbin Institute of Technology in 1993.[1]

In June 2000, Edith Chao passed away at the age of 88.[22] On October 14 of the following year, Zhang died of pneumonia at the age of 100.[note 4] at Straub Hospital in Honolulu.[1] Representatives from both China and Taiwan attended his funeral in Honolulu, along with Yan Mingfu, the former head of China's United Front Work Department and the son of Zhang's close friend, Yan Baohang [zh].[23][24]



  • Zhang Zuolin (1875–1928), father of Chang, Warlord of Manchuria, assassinated by the Japanese
  • Zhao Chungui (趙春桂) (?–1912), mother of Chang
  • Yu Fengzhi (Chinese: 于鳳至; Wade–Giles: Yu Feng Tze) (c. 1899–1990), first wife of Zhang (m. 1916; div. 1964). She immigrated to the U.S. in 1940, where she was known as Feng Tze Chang. She died in Los Angeles, CA.
  • Gu Ruiyu (谷瑞玉) (1904–1946), second wife of Zhang (m. 1924; div. 1931)
  • Zhao Yidi (Chinese: 趙一荻; Edith Chao Chang) (1912–2000), mistress and later second wife of Zhang (m. 1964), immigrated with him to the U.S. in 1995, died in Honolulu, HI[28]
  • Pauline Tao, born Chang Lu-ying (張閭瑛 Zhang Lüying) (c. 1916–), eldest daughter born to Yu, resides in the U.S.
  • Martin Chang Lu-hsun (張閭珣 Zhang Lüxun) (c. 1918–1986), eldest son born to Yu, died in Taipei
  • Raymond Chang Lu-yu (張閭玗 Zhang Lüyu) (c. 1919–1981), second son born to Yu, died in Los Angeles, CA
  • Chang Lu-chi (張閭琪 Zhang Lüqi) (c. 1920–1929), third son born to Yu
  • Robert Chang Lu-lin (張閭琳 Zhang Lülin) (1930–), illegitimate son born to Chao, resides in the U.S.
  • Zhang Xueming (1908–1983), defected to the Communists, died in Beijing
  • Hsueh Tseng Chang (張學曾 Zhang Xuezeng) (1911–2004), died in Novato, CA
  • Zhang Xuesi (張學思 Chang Hsueh-ssu) (1916–1970), defected to the Communists, died in China
  • Henry Chang Hsueh-sen (張學森 Zhang Xuesen) (1920–1995), died in Beijing while visiting
  • Zhang Xuejun (張學浚 Chang Hsueh-chun) (1922–1984), died in Taiwan
  • Zhang Xueying (張學英 Chang Hsueh-ying) (1924–?)
  • Zhang Xuequan (張學銓 Chang Hsueh-chuan) (1925–1992 or 1996), died in Tianjin

In popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Also known as Yu Feng-chih
  2. ^ Also known as Edith Chao Chang
  3. ^ According to other accounts, 1898 or 1900
  4. ^ Following the Chinese way of counting, his age is often given as 101.


  1. ^ a b c d e Kristof, Nicholas D. (October 19, 2001). Baquet, Dean; Louttit, Meghan; Corbett, Philip; Chang, Lian; Drake, Monica; Kahn, Joseph; Kingsbury, Kathleen; Sulzberger, A.G.; Levien, Meredith Kopit; Caputo, Roland A.; Bardeen, William; Dunbar-Johnson, Stephen; Brayton, Diane (eds.). "Zhang Xueliang, 100, Dies; Warlord and Hero of China". National news. The New York Times. Vol. CL, no. 210. p. C13. ISSN 0362-4331. OCLC 1645522. Archived from the original on October 24, 2009. Retrieved July 25, 2021.
  2. ^ "Tribute for Chinese hero". BBC News. October 16, 2001. Retrieved July 21, 2002.
  3. ^ 张学良老校长. neu.edu.cn. Archived from the original on August 16, 2012. Retrieved August 15, 2012.
  4. ^ 张学良先生今逝世 江泽民向其亲属发去唁电. chinanews.com. October 15, 2001. Retrieved October 16, 2001.
  5. ^ 伟大的爱国者张学良先生病逝 江泽民发唁电高度评价张学良先生的历史功绩. people.com.cn. October 16, 2001. Archived from the original on October 27, 2018. Retrieved October 17, 2001.
  6. ^ "张学良小传". www.cctv.com. Retrieved March 10, 2023.
  7. ^ Matthews, Herbert L. (December 29, 1929). "Young Chang an Uneasy War Lord of Manchuria; Chang Hsueh-Liang". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved October 12, 2019.
  8. ^ Li, Xiaobing, ed. (2012). "Zhang Xueliang (Chang Hsueh-liang) (1901-2001)". China at War: An Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. p. 531.
  9. ^ a b "Chiang Kai-shek | Biography & Facts". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved December 5, 2018.
  10. ^ Taylor, Jay (2009). The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-shek and the Struggle for Modern China (illustrated ed.). Harvard University Press. p. 93. ISBN 978-0674033382. Retrieved April 24, 2014. ma fuxiang.
  11. ^ a b Coble, Parks M. (2023). The Collapse of Nationalist China: How Chiang Kai-shek Lost China's Civil War. Cambridge New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-009-29761-5.
  12. ^ Shai 2012, p. 98.
  13. ^ Shai 2012, pp. 99–100.
  14. ^ Shai 2012, p. 101.
  15. ^ Shai 2012, p. 102.
  16. ^ Shai 2012, pp. 106–107.
  17. ^ Shai 2012, p. 113.
  18. ^ Shai 2012, p. 131.
  19. ^ Jacobs, J. Bruce (2012). Democratizing Taiwan. Leiden ; Boston: Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-22154-3.
  20. ^ "Chiang Kai-shek's kidnapper makes a visit to U.S.". Daily Breeze. March 11, 1991. p. A2.
  21. ^ "Manchurian warlord of yore is 94 and has moved to Hawaii". The Washington Times. July 14, 1995. p. A17.
  22. ^ a b Kwan, Daniel (September 28, 2000). "Deng's son visits former warlord". South China Morning Post.
  23. ^ Fong, Tak-ho (October 23, 2001). "Political heavyweights for warlord's funeral". South China Morning Post.
  24. ^ "Two sides of Taiwan Strait honor warlord". The Washington Times. Kyodo News. October 26, 2001. p. A16.
  25. ^ a b "Chang Hsueh-liang". Who's Who in China, 3rd edition. The China Weekly Review. 1925.
  26. ^ Limited, Alamy. "General Chang Hsueh Liang , son of Chang Tso Lin . 1927 Stock Photo - Alamy". www.alamy.com. Retrieved November 27, 2021.
  27. ^ Limited, Alamy. "Opposing the Japanese in Manchuria . General Chang Hsueh Liang . He is Chinese Military Governor and is popularly known as Young Chang . 3 February 1932 Stock Photo - Alamy". www.alamy.com. Retrieved November 27, 2021.
  28. ^ Chao, Edith (June 25, 2000). Rong-San, Lin (ed.). "Wife of legendary Chinese warlord dies in US at 88". Local edition. Taipei Times. Vol. II, no. 270. Taipei, Taiwan: The Liberty Times Group. p. 2. ISSN 1563-9525. Archived from the original on June 24, 2021.
  29. ^ Cao, Junbing (2018). "Deviation and Restoration of Mundaneness and Mythological Nature in Chinese Cinema—Evolution of Chinese Directors of Different Generations over the Past Forty Years after the Reform and Opening-up Policy". Comparative Literature: East & West. 2 (2): 137.
  30. ^ "西安事变 - 搜狗百科". Sogou. Retrieved November 27, 2021.
  31. ^ "The Peter H.L. Chang [Zhang Xueliang] and Edith Chao Chang Papers Open at The Rare Book and Manuscript Library". Columbia University. 2002-06-03. Retrieved 2024-06-12.
    "35. Peter H. L. Chang (Zhang Xueliang), (1901-2001). "Recollections of Xian Incident [Review]"". Columbia University. Retrieved 2024-06-12.
  32. ^ McDonnell, Justin (July 23, 2013). "Interview: Great Leap Brewery Founder Taps into China's Thirst for a Good Microbrew". Asia Society. Retrieved May 13, 2015.
  33. ^ Xu, Fan (Jan 21, 2016). "A look at the Xi'an Incident hero's formative years". China Daily. Retrieved 13 June 2024.

Further reading[edit]

  • Mitter, Rana (February 2004). "The Last Warlord". History Today. Vol. 54, no. 2. pp. 28–33.
  • Itoh, Mayumi (2016). The Making of China’s War with Japan: Zhou Enlai and Zhang Xueliang. Springer.
  • Shai, Aron (2012). Zhang Xueliang: The General Who Never Fought. Palmgrave MacMillan.
  • Jin, Yilin (2005). "Yan Xishan's Activities Opposing Chiang Kai-shek and Zhang Xueliang before and after the Nanjing-Guangdong Conflict". Modern Chinese Studies. 5 (2).
  • Iriye, Akira (November 1960). "Chang Hsueh-Liang and the Japanese". The Journal of Asian Studies. 20 (1). Association for Asian Studies: 33–43. doi:10.2307/2050070. JSTOR 2050070. S2CID 155052191.
  • Rainer Kloubert, Warlords. Ein Bilderbogen aus dem chinesischen Bürgerkrieg, Elfenbeinverlag, Berlin 2023,ISBN 978-3-96-160-077-9.
  • Matray, James I., ed. (2002). East Asia and the United States: an encyclopedia of relations since 1784 (Volume 2 ed.). Greenwood. p. 700.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  • Peter H.L. Chang (Zhang Xueliang) Oral History Materials at the Wayback Machine (archived 2002-10-27)
  • Liu, Bernard (2022). The House Arrest of Zhang Xueliang: A Memoir of Growing Up with China's Most Famous Political Prisoner. Caruachi Press.

External links[edit]