Last Wolf, 苏元春
Su Yuanchun 苏元春 was both illiterate and a commoner with little prospect for greatness, but with the
drastic expansion of western powers in Asia, suddenly military men like him became relevant
and relied on heavily in the changing world.
Banner of the "Black Flag Army" allied with the Qing, a Chinese- Vietnamese mercenary
army bent on overthrowing French military presence in Vietnam and sought to restore
the native (and Confucian) rule of the native- Nguyen Dynasty
Parade armor for imperial officers, though some still wore it in battle as late as the 1900s.
French Newspaper cover~ detailing the Chinese revolution of 1912, however, its important
to point out that around 1884, some traditional non- Beiyang elements still looked as they
did on the left side of the cover, while the Japanese of this time looked very similar to the
officers on the right
Above: Su and Auguste Francois, 1902, French postcard of Su~ naming him as "General Sou"
Above: Qing Army around the Sino-French war in 1884, Second: Qing soldiers before the First Sino-Japanese War
in 1894, notice the updated uniforms and modern rifles for the infantry.
1884, Battle of Fuzhou, despite several French land losses to the Qing army on land,
the French prevailed with its modernized navy through out the war with thorough
deployment of ironclads and howitzer bombardments.
Just keep in mind that by 1885 the French Officer and the war that inspired Tom Cruise's "Last Samurai" had occurred 15 years before Su, remember that allegorical charge of the feudal looking samurai against Gatling guns? That actually charge was 8 years before this.
Above: The Satusma rebellion: disgruntled samurai in full traditional armor flanking Saigo Takamori~
the very man that was the inspiration of Katsumoto from the "Last Samurai" in French styled uniform. The battle
he fought against the modern armed Imperial army (iconic image of samurai vs massed rifles and howitzers)
~ was still 8 years before Su's battle against France.
French soldiers of the Tonkin expeditionary corps in 1885 (from left to right : Naval Fusilier
in coolie hat, Marine infantryman, Turco and Marine artilleryman).
But Su's victories, and by extension- the Qing Army's victories in the field were for naught, for despite their performances which caused near collapse of the French field army, the Qing government relented to the French because of French naval victories and looming threat from Russia and Japan. In China, the whole war was described as "not lost, but lost," thus paving the way for a full French takeover in Vietnam, loosing the whole region to become French Indochina.
For China and Vietnam it was~ with hindsight, one of the many stepping stones for the death of the old, conservative Confucian ways, and simultaneously one of the many such steps that made them sought for radical ways to reform their society and overthrow the western powers in the region~ just desperate enough for the likes of communism. For men like Su, they would not be associated with saving their nation, or avenging its defeats, nor counted as those who ultimately stymied western encroachment. However he was someone who had made some sudden and unexpected differences in an age when the whole world had long marched past his people and their ways.
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