Zhang Xueliang

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Zhang Xueliang or Chang Hsüeh-liang English occasionally: Peter Hsueh Liang Chang) (3 June 1901 (according to other accounts in 1898 or 1900) in Haicheng County, Fengtian province of China – 14 October 2001 in Honolulu, Hawaii, United States), nicknamed the "Young Marshal" (少帥), became 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.

Contents

Youth

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.

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