Zhang Xueliang or Chang Hsüeh-liang (Traditional Chinese: 張學良; Hanyu Pinyin: Zhāng Xuéliáng; Wade-Giles: Chang Hsüeh-liang; English occasionally: Peter Hsueh Liang Chang); June 3, 1901 (according to other accounts in 1898 or 1900) in Haicheng County, Fengtian province of China – October 14, 2001 in Honolulu, Hawaii, United States; nicknamed the "Young Marshal" (少帥). After the assassination of his father Zhang Zuolin by the Japanese on June 4, 1928, he became the effective ruler of Manchuria and much of North China. He allied with the Kuomintang against the Chinese Communists, but gradually grew convinced that the two Chinese forces should unite against the Japanese invasion.
In the X’ian Incident of December 1936, Zhang kidnapped Chiang Kai-shek and held him captive for two weeks, until he agreed to form an alliance between the Communists and the Kuomintang against the Japanese. Zhang then accompanied Chiang to Nanking, where he was convicted and placed under house arrest for 50 years, mainly in Taiwan. After his release in 1991, he emigrated to Hawaii. He is regarded as a “hero of history” by the Peoples Republic of China.
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Zhang Xueliang’s father was Zhang Zuolin (Chang Tso-lin, “Old Marshal”) a Chinese warlord who dominated Manchuria and parts of North China between 1913 and 1928, with the tacit consent of the Japanese. Born a peasant, he enlisted in the Chinese army and fought in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894 – 1895). After the war he organized a local self-defense unit, which was absorbed into a regiment by the governor of Feng-t'ien (formerly Sheng-ching) province. By 1912, he was a division commander, and in 1916 he was appointed military governor. In 1918, he became inspector general of the three Manchurian provinces, and controlled Manchuria as an autonomous state within the Chinese republic.
In 1920, Zhang began expanding his influence southward into North China proper, and by 1924 he had established himself as a military dictator in Peking. In 1927, the armies of the Nationalist Party (Kuomintang), under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek, advanced into North China in an effort to unify China. Zhang Zuolin ordered his forces to abandon Peking to the Nationalists.
On June 4, 1928, Zhang was assassinated when a bomb planted by the Japanese on a viaduct exploded just as his train was passing underneath. His son, Zhang Xueliang succeeded him as commander of his forces.
Zhang Xueliang (張學良, Chang Hsüeh-liang) the oldest son of Zhang Zuolin( Chang Tso-lin), was born June 3, 1901 (according to other accounts in 1898 or 1900), on a moving ox-cart in Haicheng County, Fengtian province of China. 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 observe military maneuvers in Japan, 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).
The Japanese believed that Zhang Xueliang, who was known as a womanizer and an opium addict, would more easily become subject to Japanese influence than his father. This was one of the motivations for the murder of his father Zhang Zuolin by an officer of the Japanese Kwantung Army, who exploded a bomb above his train while it crossed under a railroad bridge.
The younger Zhang proved to be more independent than anyone had expected. Upon assuming control of Manchuria, he ignored the warnings of the Japanese and their expanding influence in Manchuria, overcame his opium addiction, and declared his support for Chiang Kai-shek( 蔣介石 / 蔣中正). His desire was to unify China, and he was willing to subordinate himself to the Kuomintang, and become a “vice-leader” in order to accomplish this.
In January 1929, in order to rid his command of Japanese influence, he had two prominent pro-Tokyo officials executed in front of his assembled guests at a dinner party. It was a difficult decision for him; the two had influence over many 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 (馮玉祥) and Yan Xishan (閻錫山) 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 ( 河北) Province and the customs revenues from the port city of Tianjin( 天津). In 1931, when the Japanese invaded Zhang's own domain of Manchuria and occupied the region, Zhang withdrew his troops into Shensi in northwestern China 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 the weakness of his forces were compared to the Japanese, and wished to preserve his position by retaining a sizable army. This was still in line with Chiang's overall strategy. Zhang later traveled in Europe before returning to China to take command of the Communist Suppression Campaigns first in Hebei 河北-Henan 河南-Anhui 安徽 and later in the Northwest.
Chiang Kai-shek used Zhang’s troops in Shensi in 1935–1936 in military campaigns against the Chinese Communists based in nearby Yen-an. Zhang became increasingly convinced that his military units and those of the Nationalists should be fighting the Japanese invaders, not their fellow Chinese. On April 6, 1936, Zhang Xueliang met with Zhou Enlai ( 周恩來.Wade-Giles: Chou En-lai) to plan the end of the Chinese Civil War. On December 12, 1936, when Chiang Kai-shek came to Chang's headquarters at Sian in Shensi to take personal charge of the Nationalist offense against the Chinese Communists, Zhang and another general Yang Hucheng( 楊虎城) 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. This became know as the Xi'an incident( 西安事變).
At the time, Chiang had taken a non-aggressive position against Japan and considered the Communists to be a greater danger to China than the Japanese. His overall strategy was to annihilate the Communists, before focusing his efforts on the Japanese, but growing nationalist anger against Japan had made this position very unpopular. There is no record of the negotiations during the Xi'an incident. The apparent outcome was that Chiang agreed to focus his efforts against the Japanese rather than the Communists, and Zhang agreed in return to become Chiang's prisoner and cease any political role.
Following Chiang Kai-shek's release, Zhang Xueliang unwisely returned with him to Nanking, where he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to ten years in prison. Chiang Kai-shek intervened and Zhang was placed under house arrest. In 1949, when Chiang's government evacuated the Republic of China from mainland China, Zhang was transferred to Taiwan where he remained under house arrest, spending his time studying Ming dynasty poetry. The government reportedly lifted house arrest in 1961, but Chang remained at his home near Taipei. Only in 1990, after the death of Chiang's son and successor, Chiang Ching-kuo, did he gain his freedom.
After regaining his freedom, he emigrated to Honolulu, Hawaii in 1993. There were numerous pleas for him to visit mainland China, but Zhang, claiming his political neutrality towards both the Communists and the Kuomintang, declined. He never set foot in mainland China again. He died on October 14, 2001, 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.
The alliance formed between the Kuomintang and the Chinese Communist Party after the X’ian Incident ultimately helped the Communists to gain control of mainland China. Zhan came to be regarded as a “hero of history” (千古功臣 ) in Communist China, presumably because he supported the unification of China above all else. When he died in 2001, the BBC Shangai correspondent, Duncan Hewitt, called him “one of the most revered figures in modern Chinese communist history,” and reported that, “When news of the death of Zhang Xueliang reached China from Hawaii, Chinese President Jiang Zemin was quick to praise him as a 'great patriot'.”
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