Zhang was the son of a landlord and village elder. He learned the classics and sat for the imperial examinations. He was conscripted by the Qing army in 1903. In 1907 he joined a military study society sponsored by Feng Yuxiang and others and came into contact with anti-Manchu officers. Zhang joined Feng’s 16th Mixed Brigade in 1912.
In May 1916, Feng forced Chen Yi, governor of Sichuan, to declare the independence of Sichuan, thus hastening the fall of Yuan Shi Kai’s regime. Zhang was impressed by the anti-imperialist stand of the Christians in Sichuan. He studied the faith and was converted. He took on the name of Paul and persistently read his Bible and prayed daily throughout his life.
Rising through the ranks, Zhang became commander in chief of the Northwest Army in May 1926. He was subordinate only to Feng Yuxiang, who resigned his post to go to Russia. When Feng returned in August and found his army diminished and demoralized, he resumed his post. Zhang retained his position as defense commissioner of the northwest border.
In 1927 Zhang was Feng’s representative at the fourth plenum of the second Central Executive Committee of the Kuomintang in Nanjing. He retired from active service in the military and politics in 1928 and became director of the national traditional sports institute. In 1929 he was chairman of the National Opium Probation Committee. Then in 1932, he became director of the national institute for martial arts. He traveled to Southeast Asia and elsewhere to promote the traditional martial arts.
During the Sino-Japanese War, Zhang was a member of the People’s Political Council. He was politically inactive after the Japanese surrender in 1945. A patriot and a committed Christian, Zhang made generous donations to the Episcopal Church on three occasions. He distributed Bibles to the men under his command and expected his soldiers to read their Bibles and attend Sunday services. There would even be hymns and prayers before each battle.
This article is reproduced, with permission, from A Dictionary of Asian Christianity, copyright © 2001 by Scott W. Sunquist, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.
- Boorman, Howard L., ed., Biographical Dictionary of Republican China, Vol. 1 (1971).