Sunday, January 1, 1995

First American to become a Chinese General

Who is the first naturalized Chinese American to become a general of the U.S. Armed Services? I don't know the answer to that question, but I do know who was the first American to become a naturalized Chinese citizen and became a general of the Chinese army, a personal appointment bestowed by the emperor.

His name was Frederick Townsend Ward, a native of Salem, Massachusetts, and this happened over 130 years ago. Ward was a soldier of fortune who ended up in Shanghai at the time of Taiping rebellion (and about the same time as the American Civil War). He organized and trained an army to defend the city from the encroaching rebels and his deeds were recognized by the imperial court in Beijing. He was appointed a mandarin official of the third rank and a general of his army, named Ever Victorious Army or Chang Sheng Jun (in pingyin). He was mortally wounded in battle and died within a year or two of his appointment, and a Briton by the name of Charles Gordon assumed command and the troops played a prominent role in rolling back the Taiping rebellion. Gordon was so successful that he picked up "Chinese" as his moniker. Charles "Chinese" Gordon's name was to become world famous some twenty years after his campaign in China when he died defending Khartoum in Sudan.

Anyone interested in learning more about this fascinating chapter of history along with a colorful description of colonial Shanghai will want to read The Devil Soldier by Caleb Carr, Random House, 1992.

Ward was the first to demonstrate that Chinese soldiers when properly organized and trained were equally adept at firing western guns and can become as effective a fighting force as, say, westerners. After his death, his followers buried him in Songjiang, a village south of Shanghai where he had his headquarters. The people at the time honored him by erecting a small temple by his tomb. Alas, he did not realize that by fighting on the side of the Manchu court, he was to become politically incorrect. After the 1949 Liberation, his tomb and temple was leveled and paved over into a park and no trace can be found today. (Recently, when I made a special trip out to Songjiang, I couldn't find anybody there that knew of Ward.)

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