Zeng Guofan (original name:Zeng Zicheng; posthumous name:Wenzheng; created Marquis Yiyong of the First Class; November 21, 1811-March 12, 1872) was an eminent Han Chinese official, military general and devout Confucian scholar of the late Qing Dynasty in China.
Zeng raised the Xiang Army to fight effectively against the Taiping Rebellion and restored the stability of the Qing Dynasty along with other prominent figures, including Zuo Zongtang and Li Hongzhang, setting the scene for the era later known as the "Tongzhi Restoration". He was known for his strategic perception, administrative skill and noble personality based on Confucian practice, and sometimes for his ruthlessness in the execution of his policies. Zeng exemplified loyalty in an era of chaos.
Born as a native of Xiangxiang, Hunan Province in 1811, Zeng Zicheng was the grandson of Zeng Yiping, a prosperous farmer with social and political ambitions. He studied in Yuelu Academy in Changsha. He passed the prefectural examination in 1833, only a year after his father Zeng Linshu. He passed the provincial examination a year later, and by 1838, at age 27, he had successfully passed the metropolitan examinations, a prestigious achievement in China. He had earned the Jinshi degree, the highest level in the civil service examinations, which led to his appointment to the Hanlin Academy, a body of outstanding Chinese literary scholars who performed literary tasks for the imperial court. It was at Hanlin where he changed his name to Zeng Guofan, which sounded more prestigious. Zeng served in Beijing for more than 13 years, and remained devoted to the interpretation of the Confucian Classics. He moved relatively quickly up the ranks aided by his teacher Manchu statesman Mujangga, advancing to 2nd-Pin in five years.
Zeng was a voluminous writer. His papers addressed to the throne and his literary disquisitions are held in high esteem by scholars of China, who treasure the edition of his collected works in 156 books, which was edited by Li Hongzhang in 1876, as a memorial of a great and uncorrupt statesman. Zeng enjoyed reading greatly, and held a special interest in the 23 Histories, and other classics. He was also a dedicated poet and a diary author.
Zeng Guofan's legacy in history is twofold. On one hand he is criticized as a staunchly conservative traitor, on the other hand, he is seen as a hero preserving order and stability. Many in China and abroad admire his ability to successfully survive in the ruthless late-Qing bureaucracy. While some have blamed Zeng for all the civilian losses and damages done during the Taiping Rebellion, others criticize him for being too influenced by certain foreign ideas.
After the Cultural Revolution, criticism of Zeng gradually began to disappear. The Chinese author Tang Haoming published in 1992 his trilogy Zeng Guofan, a novel about Zeng's life during and after the Taiping Rebellion. This trilogy characterized Zeng as a common person, but adopted a much more positive view of Zeng. Both Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek have praised Zeng's ability in military and political affairs. Especially in recent years, Zeng Guofan's life and his works have been the topic of many new publications. Zeng's leadership and military skills have been widely used as a new field of thought in business or bureaucratic dealings.