Chang Hsueh-liang 張學良 T. Han-ch'ing 漢卿
Chang Hsueh-liang (1898-), known as the Young Marshal, was the son of Chang Tso-lin (q.v.), from whom he inherited control of Manchuria in 1928. In 1936, Chang Hsueh-liang detained Chiang Kai-shek at Sian in an attempt to persuade the National Government to form a united front with the Chinese Communists against Japan. Chang was imprisoned and later was granted amnesty. However, he remained under Chiang's surveillance even after the government moved to Taiwan.
Born in Haich'eng, Liaoning, Chang Hsueh-liang was the eldest son of Chang Tso-lin. Chang Hsueh-liang was prepared for a military career, and after graduation from the Fengtien Military Academy he began service in his father's army at the age of 19. In 1919 he was promoted to the rank of colonel and was made commander of his father's bodyguard. The next year he became aide-de-camp to Hsu Shih-ch'ang (q.v.), a former governor general of Manchuria who held the presidency at Peking.
At the time of the Anhwei-Chihli war of 1920, Chang was given command of the 3rd Mixed Brigade of the Fengtien forces, which participated in sporadic fighting in north China. In November 1920 the Peking government promoted him to brigadier general. In 1921 Chang Hsueh-liang went to Japan to observe the Japanese military maneuvers in the autumn. On his return he proposed reforms in the Fengtien Army, and his recommendations were followed. Chang played an active role in the first Fengtien-Chihli war of 1922, and at the end of that conflict he was made commander of the Fengtien Second Army and, concurrently, director of the Fengtien Military Academy.
During the second Fengtien-Chihli war in 1924, Chang commanded the Fengtien First Army and distinguished himself in the fighting at the Great Wall. After the victory of the Fengtien forces, Tuan Ch'i-jui (q.v.) returned to a position of authority in Peking as chief executive. In 1925 Tuan designated the youthful Chang Hsueh-liang to assist in the rehabilitation of political affairs in the lower Yangtze region, and Chang reached Shanghai in mid-June at the head of 2,000 Fengtien troops for the nominal purpose of maintaining peace following the May Thirtieth Incident, when British policemen had fired on Chinese. Chang's movement, however, violated the truce agreement of February 1925 that had ended the Kiangsu-Chekiang war, and Sun Ch'uan-fang (q.v.) embarked upon countermeasures. Chang Hsueh-liang withdrew to Peking, where he became director of the Peking War College. He remained in nominal command of one of the Fengtien armies, although actual field command was exercised by his favorite officer, Kuo Sung-ling (q.v.).
Kuo Sung-ling, in concert with Feng Yühsiang (q.v.), led a revolt against Chang Tso-lin's power in November and December 1925. That revolt failed, but it came dangerously close to toppling Chang Tso-lin's authority. The Old Marshal was furious with his son and apparently was only dissuaded from having him executed by the entreaties of veteran associates, including Chang Tso-hsiang. Though Chang Hsueh-liang did continue to exercise command responsibilities, he nevertheless remained in semi-disgrace in his father's eyes. In the spring of 1926, Chang Hsueh-liang was assigned to command the Third Army in the military operations undertaken by the combined forces of Chang Tso-lin and Wu P'ei-fu (q.v.) against Feng Yü-hsiang's Kuominchün. When the northern generals organized the Ankuochün [national pacification army] in December 1926 to confront the forces of the National Revolutionary Army moving up from south China, Chang Tso-lin became its commander in chief. Chang Hsueh-liang was given command of some of the Ankuochün troops, and he served in the field against the Nationalists after the launching of the final stage of the Northern Expedition in April 1928.
After the defeat of the Ankuochün and the violent death of his father on 4 June 1928, Chang Hsueh-liang's career took a major turn. Still with the armies in Chihli, he was at first unaware of his father's death, which was kept secret for over two weeks. After the defeat of the Shantung-Chihli forces commanded by Chang Tsung-ch'ang (q.v.) and Ch'u Yu-p'u and after their retreat toward Shanhaikuan in the wake of the Fengtien troops, Chang Hsueh-liang and Yang Yü-t'ing met at Luanchow to discuss the situation. It was decided that Chang should go to Mukden and that Yang should remain inside the Great Wall to supervise the withdrawal of the Manchurian forces. Chang arrived in Mukden on 17 June 1928; the death of Chang Tso-lin was announced on 21 June. The Northeastern leaders were faced with the necessity of choosing a successor to exercise the regional power that the Old Marshal had held in Manchuria. The leading candidates were Chang Tso-hsiang and Yang Yü-t'ing (q.v.). Chang Tso-hsiang was then the governor of Kirin province; Yang Yü-t'ing had been Chang Tso-lin's chief of staff. Chang Hsueh-liang at first urged Chang Tso-hsiang to become commander in chief of the Manchurian forces. Chang Tso-hsiang refused and pledged his personal support to Chang Hsueh-liang. On 4 July 1928, Chang Hsueh-liang assumed the post of commander in chief of the Northeast Peace Preservation Forces and the concurrent post of chancellor of Northeastern University at Mukden. The rule of the Young Marshal had begun. However, he generally was viewed as an ineffectual young man who was addicted to drugs.
All the Manchurian forces in north China had been withdrawn into the Northeast by mid-July of 1 928. Chang Hsueh-liang's position in Manchuria, however, still was precarious. When he succeeded to power, at a time when it was still not known that the Japanese had been responsible for his father's murder, Chang was confronted at once with the problems of determining Manchuria's future relationship with Japan and with the new National Government of China at Nanking. At the same time, he had to counter the moves of possible rivals for power in the area.
The Japanese consul general at Mukden, Hayashi Hisajiro, played an important role in the initial Japanese contacts with Chang Hsueh-liang in the summer of 1928. At the end of June, the Young Marshal, after conferences with his advisers, decided to follow a policy of friendship toward Japan. However, public sentiment favored agreement between Mukden and the victorious Nationalists; and the Kuomintang authorities at Nanking sent emissaries to Manchuria to work out a political accord. Chang Hsueh-liang negotiated with Nanking's representatives on the basis of conditions which would have left him in power in Manchuria as head of a Northeastern political council and would have incorporated Jehol province into his domain in exchange for his public declaration of allegiance to the new National Government. Agreement on that basis was said to have been reached, and the Nationalist flag was scheduled to be raised over Manchuria on 22 July 1928.
On 19 July, however, Nanking informed the Japanese government that its 1896 and 1903 treaties had expired and that Chinese law and regulations would thereafter govern Japanese subjects residing in China. The Japanese rejected that demarche. At Mukden, Hayashi warned Chang Hsueh-liang against the projected alignment with Nanking, and shortly afterwards Premier Tanaka elaborated on the warning. Through Baron Hayashi Gonsuke, who visited Manchuria ostensibly to attend the funeral of Chang Tso-lin as Tanaka's personal representative, Tanaka sent a message indicating that Japan opposed the union of Manchuria and China proper, and that Japan would provide Chang Hsueh-liang with advisers and other assistance if he would devote himself to the development of Manchuria—that is, if he would maintain Manchuria's autonomy. Baron Hayashi delivered the message on 6 August 1928.
At a conference in Mukden four days later it was decided that the negotiations with Nanking, which had been suspended in late July, should not be resumed for a period of three months. Chang Hsueh-liang nevertheless sent a delegation in mid-August to Nanking and Shanghai for further talks with the Nationalists.
In early October 1928, Premier Tanaka learned definitely that elements of the Japanese Kwantung Army had been responsible for the death of Chang Tso-lin. By that time Chang Hsueh-liang presumably had developed strong suspicions about the affair. Although he had not acknowledged the legitimacy of the National Government when it was formally inaugurated at Nanking on 10 October 1928, Nanking appointed him a member of the State Council and chairman of the Northeast Political Council. Also, Jehol province was allocated formally to the jurisdiction of Mukden.
On 29 December 1928, Chang Hsueh-liang pledged the allegiance of Manchuria to the National Government and raised the Nationalist flag at Mukden. On 20 December, Nanking confirmed all senior officials of Chang's regional government. The Japanese government issued a new warning, but took no other action. The Japanese apparently had thought of attempting to exercise control over Chang Hsueh-liang through Yang Yü-t'ing. Yang on several occasions had acted in evident contempt of the authority of Chang Hsueh-liang, whom he viewed as a political upstart and a weakling, and had conducted negotiations without Chang's foreknowledge. Chang, however, had learned the lesson of the Kuo Sung-ling rebellion against his father and was aware of the political penalties that could accompany excessive trustfulness. He invited Yang Yü-t'ing and his close associate Ch'ang Yin-huai, director of railways in the Northeast, to a banquet on 10 January 1929 at which he had them shot. Chang Hsueh-liang's personal control over Manchuria thus was established. Through Chang, the authority of the National Government of China was extended to Manchuria, and Nanking designated Chang commander in chief of the Northeastern Border Defense Army.
In the years that followed, the Young Marshal was much influenced by an Australian adviser, William H. Donald, who became associated with Chang in December 1928. Another influential adviser was V. K. Wellington Koo (Ku Wei-chün, q.v.), who had been close to the Old Marshal. Koo arrived in Mukden in 1929 and entered the Young Marshal's service. Chang Hsueh-liang, like his father before him, also made use of the services of a number of Japanese advisers. In most cases it is impossible to distinguish between the advisers' influence and Chang's own judgments with respect to policy, but there can be no doubt of the importance of his staff of advisers. Chang Tso-lin in 1926 and 1927 had undertaken anti-Soviet actions in Manchuria and Peking. The Nationalists in December of 1927 had broken off Sino-Soviet relations in the territory under their control. In 1929, Nanking and Mukden consorted in new moves against the Soviet position in Manchuria. That operation began in May with a police raid on the Soviet consulate general at Harbin and with the arrest of several Chinese found there. On 10 July the Northeastern authorities seized the Chinese Eastern Railway and ousted Soviet citizens from their administrative posts. The Soviet government at once demanded restoration of the status quo ante and began a series of threatening moves. When the Chinese authorities continued to procrastinate—and retained control of the railway—Soviet armed forces went into action in mid-November. Nanking then suggested to Chang Hsueh-liang that he seek peace. The resulting Khabarovsk Protocol of 22 December provided for restoration of the status quo ante.
That situation probably influenced Chang's behavior with respect to the National Government's next predicament. For some time, an involved political contest had been developing in north China between Yen Hsi-shan and Feng Yü-hsiang on one side and Chiang Kai-shek on the other. As the struggle developed, the Yen- Feng side secured the military support of Li Tsung-jen (q.v.) and the political support of Wang Ching-wei. By June 1930 the matter had reached a critical stage. Since Chang Hsueh-liang held the key to the situation, both sides sued for his support. Nanking sent a political delegation to attempt to enlist his aid and on 21 June named him deputy commander in chief of the military forces of China. Chang Hsueh-liang, however, refused to commit himself or to take up Nanking's appointment. In August 1930 the north China rebels included Chang Hsueh-liang among the officials of their proposed new government. Chang publicly denied that he had encouraged formation of that government and stated that his name had been used without authorization. As the military struggle developed, it became evident that the situation could only be saved for the north China combination through the Young Marshal's intervention on its behalf. Since the tide of battle was running strongly against the rebels by that time, Chang remained aloof, and the coalition collapsed.
On 18 September 1930, Chang Hsueh-liang attempted to capitalize on his politically discreet conduct by issuing a public message calling for the cessation of all military operations. He at once moved some 100,000 of his own troops from the Northeast into the Tientsin-Peiping area, without incident and seemingly by prior arrangement with the local generals of north China. He then proceeded to remove the provincial capital of Hopei from Peiping to Tientsin and to take control of the northern sections of the Peiping-Hankow and the Tientsin-Pukow railroads. While restoring the nominal authority of the National Government over the Tientsin customs, he actually arranged that the customs surplus be paid to him. If Chang Hsueh-liang had refrained from helping to install at Peiping a challenger to Nanking, it appeared that he had successfully excluded Nanking's power from that region.
The Northeastern Border Defense Army under Chang Hsueh-liang numbered over 400,000 men. In September 1930 the National Government, with due regard for political realities, again appointed Chang deputy commander in chief of the national armed forces of China. On 9 October, in an impressive ceremony—held, significantly, at Mukden Chang Hsueh-liang assumed his new post. Chang appeared at the fourth plenary session of the Central Executive Committee of the Kuomintang, which was held in Nanking in November 1930. Although not a member, he was "especially" invited to participate in the meeting. The area of agreement between Chang and Chiang Kai-shek was further enlarged, and Chang became a member of the Central Political Council of the Kuomintang. He reciprocated by helping to suppress a revolt against Nanking's authority led by Shih Yu-san on the southern fringe of Chang's north China domain. Disregarding Tokyo's early warnings and ignoring the underlying significance of the Soviet Union's military intervention of 1929, Chang Hsueh-liang, buttressed by Nanking, continued his father's war of attrition against the Japanese position in Manchuria. In mid- January 1929 the Japanese had taken up with Chang the problem of implementing a railway agreement reached with Chang Tso-lin in May 1928. When Chang Hsueh-liang referred the matter to Nanking, Chiang Kai-shek instructed him to disregard the Japanese railway proposals. Chang then adopted as his regular tactic, when approached by the Japanese regarding outstanding issues, the excuse that he had to refer the problem to Nanking; and Nanking, as regularly, when the Japanese endeavored to take up those issues in the capital, responded by saying that the Japanese would have to arrange matters locally first. At the same time, the Chinese pushed forward with a project for the construction, by a Dutch company, of a new port at Hulutao in southern Manchuria to rival the Japanese-controlled port of Dairen. And a campaign was launched in Manchuria for the recovery of the Japanese-owned South Manchurian Railway.
The responsible Chinese authorities followed similar tactics of shifting responsibility and procrastination in the so-called Nakamura case, which involved the execution as spies of a Japanese staff officer and three companions by the Chinese military authorities in June 1931. The killings, which were kept secret for a time, were followed by the Wanpaoshan Incident
which gave rise to an anti-Chinese movement in Korea. The Chinese then launched a boycott of Japanese goods. The Japanese government finally made a public issue of the Nakamura case in August 1931 and showed evidence of extracting maximum political gains from it. Chang Hsueh-liang for some time was distracted from problems of state by the demands of his social life at Peiping, where he was known as one of the more active members of the international set. One of his most intimate companions at the time was the Countess Edda Ciano, daughter of Benito Mussolini and wife of the Italian minister to China. Chang, after his life of pleasure at Peiping and at the north China seaside resort of Peitaiho was interrupted by a bout of typhoid fever, suddenly recovered and finally recognized the grave consequences of further temporizing in face of the threat posed by the Japanese Kwantung Army. He instructed the Liaoning provincial authorities to conduct a new investigation of the Nakamura case and sent a Japanese adviser to Tokyo to assure the Japanese government authorities that he desired an amicable settlement of the affair.
The National Government at Nanking announced on 14 September that it intended to appeal the Nakamura case to the League of Nations, and on the following day it charged that Japan was responsible for the Wanpaoshan Incident and for all subsequent developments in the relations between China and Japan. Nanking's brash pronouncements only complicated the situation, and the activist staff officers of the Kwantung Army advanced their plans for a coup in Manchuria. On 18 September 1931, the Kwantung Army began the occupation of Manchuria with the Mukden Incident. At the time a large contingent of Chang Hsueh-liang's Northeast Border Defense Army was stationed in north China, while other units were at Chinchow, near the Great Wall. Yet, a large number of the Young Marshal's Manchurian troops were in Manchuria, in position to resist the numerically inferior Japanese forces. Chinese strategy in the situation was determined by Nanking, however, not by local commanders. Chang was instructed by Chiang Kai-shek to follow a plan of non-resistance and withdrawal before the advancing Japanese forces, and Chiang announced that China had entrusted its case to the League of Nations. Thus, the Chinese defense of Manchuria was little more than a token effort. Some of the Northeastern units were shattered ; others surrendered to the Japanese; a few retreated into Soviet territory; and the remainder withdrew into north China. General Honjo, the commander of the Kwantung Army, who knew Chang Hsueh-liang personally, had the contents of Chang's Mukden residence carefully crated and shipped to Peiping at Japanese expense. Chang Hsueh-liang emerged from the Manchurian disaster with his reputation badly damaged, and Nanking's propaganda machinery did nothing to remove the blame from his shoulders. He lost his position as deputy commander in chief of the Chinese armed forces in November 1931, and in December he was removed from the State Council. He was assigned to be peace preservation commander in north China and was made a member of the North China Political Council, however. The Young Marshal's position deteriorated further after the establishment of the Japanese-sponsored state of Manchoukuo in March 1932. On 15 August, Nanking accepted Chang's resignation from the peace preservation post in north China and assigned him to new positions at Peiping. These could hardly compensate the Young Marshal for the loss of his homeland; and they did nothing to restore his position in Chinese political and military life. In fact, when the Japanese invaded Jehol in February 1933 and pressed on toward Inner Mongolia, Chang Hsueh-liang was the chief target of public criticism despite the fact that the National Government authorities at Nanking had sent neither troops nor planes to help stop the Japanese. Under heavy pressure, Chang handed over control of his remaining troops to Chiang Kai-shek at Paoting in March 1933. Chang then was appointed to membership on the executive committee of the Central Military Academy, a position designed to keep him at Nanking under the eye of Chiang Kai-shek. The Young Marshal, however, opted for another course frequently taken by defeated Chinese leaders — the trip abroad. Since 1926 Chang had been addicted to drugs: first to opium, then to a morphine derivative, Pavemal. Under strong pressure from W. H. Donald, he finally entered a Shanghai hospital, where he was cured. In April 1933, accompanied by a not inconsiderable personal entourage, he sailed from China for Europe aboard the Italian liner Conti Rossi. The party was composed of Chang's wife, a secretary known as Miss Chao, four children, W. H. Donald, Chang's American adviser James Elder, and a group of personal nurses and servants. Chang spent several months in Europe, where he found much of interest in both Italy and Germany. When he returned to China in January 1934, he was much improved in health and was strongly nationalistic in outlook.
Chiang Kai-shek still adhered to the view that the consolidation of effective control over China must be accomplished before China could resist foreign invaders. He therefore was pressing the military campaigns against the Communists that he had begun in 1930. In February 1934, Chang Hsueh-liang was assigned as deputy commander in chief of anti- Communist operations in Honan, Hupeh, and Anhwei, with headquarters at Hankow. In December, W. H. Donald, who had served Chang for six years, left his service to join the personal staff of Chiang Kai-shek. In May 1 935, Tokyo presented Nanking with a set of farreaching demands regarding north China, and Chiang Kai-shek again capitulated to the Japanese. One consequence of his action was that the Northeastern troops formerly under the Young Marshal's command were moved from north China to northwest China. Chang was then made deputy commander in chief of operations against the Communists in the northwest, with his headquarters at Sian. There he was subordinate to Chiang Ting-wen (q.v.), a trusted associate of Chiang Kai-shek. In campaigning against the Communist forces in Shensi in the autumn of 1935, Chang's forces lost two divisions. The Manchurian troops clearly had little desire to fight other Chinese while their home region remained under Japanese occupation. In June 1936, Chang met with the Communist leader Chou En-lai, who apparently convinced him of the practicability of the Communist proposals for a united front against the Japanese. The two sides reached a secret arrangement, and military action, tacitly held in abeyance since the spring of 1936, was effectively halted. Regular liaison was established, with the assignment in August of a so-called unofficial Communist representative to Chang's staff. The Chinese Communists and Chang agreed to give prior notification to each other of any moves; and by their joint efforts a network of branches of the National Salvation League was organized in northwest China.
Chang Hsueh-liang's deviation from Chiang Kai-shek's policy did not go unnoticed in Nanking, but it is evident that Chiang was not aware of the full extent of Chang's commitment to the united front. Chiang still planned to annihilate the Communist forces in the northwest through a new military campaign, making use of Northeastern troops. That maneuver would weaken both the Communists and the unreliable Northeastern faction, while Chiang Kai-shek's position would be strengthened. Chiang visited Sian at the end of October 1936, as the Japanese were thrusting into Suiyuan, to discuss the impending campaign. Chang Hsueh-liang on that occasion argued for the cessation of the civil war and for the formation of a united front against Japan. Chiang brusquely rejected his views and returned to his field headquarters at Loyang. A later visit by Chang Hsueh-liang to Loyang brought him only a harsh reprimand. Chiang Kai-shek returned to Sian on 4 December 1936 and announced that the general offensive against the Communists would begin on 12 December. Chang Hsueh-liang and his colleague Yang Hu-ch'eng (q.v.), the pacification commissioner of Shensi province, endeavored again to argue the matter, but without avail. In fact, it appears that Chiang Kai-shek announced that Chiang Ting-wen would exercise supreme command in the campaign and that the so-called rebellious units of the Northeastern forces would be transferred to south China for reorganization. After Chang, Yang, and the Northeastern commanders conferred, on 12 December 1936 the rebels arrested Chiang Kai-shek and confronted him with eight demands. The chief purport of the demands was that the civil war with the Communists should be terminated in favor of a national united front against the Japanese and that the National Government at Nanking should be reorganized. On 14 December an announcement from Sian stated that a United Anti-Japanese Army—composed of the Northeastern, northwestern, and Communist forces—had been formed. Some of the rebels argued that Chiang Kai-shek should be shot. Chang Hsueh-liang acted as a moderating influence and attempted to negotiate with Chiang for acceptance of the rebel program. The negotiations assumed a new form on 15 December with the arrival at Sian of a Chinese Communist delegation, headed by Chou En-lai, Yeh Chien-ying, and Ch'in Pang-hsien, which was armed with the information that Moscow favored the preservation of Chiang Kai-shek as the national leader of China. From the Nanking side, W. H. Donald flew into Sian on 14 December. T. V. Soong arrived on 20 December, and Madame Chiang Kai-shek arrived two days later. In the end Chiang accepted the essential points of the rebel demands—though he did not put his acceptance in writing — and he was released on Christmas Day 1936. The Young Marshal quixotically accompanied his erstwhile prisoner back to Nanking. The party boarded the plane and flew first to Loyang, where Chiang Kai-shek issued a face-saving telegram of admonition to Yang Hu-ch'eng and to the man then in his company, Chang Hsueh-liang.
At Nanking, Chang Hsueh-liang was tried by a military court. On 31 December 1936 he was sentenced to ten years imprisonment and the loss of civil rights. He was granted amnesty on 4 January 1937, with the proviso that he be turned over to the National Military Council for "stringent supervision." The chairman of that body was Chiang Kai-shek. In March 1937 a delegation of representatives of the Northeastern armies saw Chang Hsueh-liang at Ch'ik'ou, Chiang Kai-shek's native village in Chekiang, and met with T. V. Soong, Ho Ying-ch'in, Ch'en Ch'eng, and Chiang himself in an attempt to gain the Young Marshal's freedom. The attempt was unsuccessful. After the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese war, Chang Hsueh-liang was removed in advance of the Japanese invaders to Anhwei, Kiangsi, Hunan, and finally Kweichow, where he was detained for the remainder of the war period. After the Japanese surrender, there was speculation in China that the Young Marshal might be released to be employed in connection with the Nationalist attempt to consolidate control over Manchuria. No such development occurred. When Li Tsung-jen became acting President of China in January 1949, one of his first official acts was to order the release of Chang Hsueh-liang.
By that time, however, the Young Marshal already had been moved to Taiwan, where he remained in detention. He first resided near Hsinchu, but later was moved to Keelung. About 1956 he was moved to the hot-springs resort of Peitou, some eight miles from Taipei. During his long captivity Chang reportedly made a special study of the history of the Ming period. Few people visited him, although Mo Te-hui (q.v.), the veteran Manchurian political leader, occasionally called on him. Chang Hsueh-liang also became a Christian and attended church services in a small chapel near Taipei. On 1 September 1961 an official statement from Taiwan announced that the Young Marshal, who was described as living in retirement in the suburbs of Taipei, had been given his freedom. At the same time he received a visit from his eldest daughter, Chang Min-ying, and her husband, Dr. T'ao P'eng-fei, who had arrived in Taiwan from the United States. It was evident, however, that the Young Marshal was still not free to leave Taiwan and that he remained under the surveillance of Chiang Kai-shek. It was also apparent that he was not free to release a full and independent version of the critical political developments of the pre-1937 period in China in which he had played a major role. Chang Hsueh-liang's first wife, Yü Feng-chih, and their children resided in the United States during Chang's years of imprisonment. His constant companion, who remained with him throughout his detention, was Miss Chao. She bore him one son, Chang Lü. On 4 July 1964 Chang and Miss Chao were married in Taiwan in a Christian ceremony performed by an American missionary. The wedding was attended by Chang Ch'ün and a dozen other guests. Yü Feng-chih, who then resided in southern California, stated that she was so moved by Miss Chao's devotion to Chang Hsueh-liang that she had released Chang from their marriage bonds.
张学良（1898—）, —般称之为少帅，张作霖的儿子。张学良在1928年从 他父亲那里接过了对东北的控制权。1936年，张学良在西安拘捕蒋介石，促使 国民政府和中国共产党成立抗日统一战线。张后入狱，又遇大赦，但是他被蒋监禁，一直到政府迁往台湾。
张学良是张作霖的长子，出生于辽宁海城。张学良早就准备从军，自奉天 陆军讲武堂毕业后，十九岁时就在他父亲军队中服役。1919年升为校官，充当 他父亲随身警卫部队营长。第二年充任前东北总督现任总统徐世昌的副官。
1920年直皖战争，张统率奉军第三混成旅在华北参加零星作战。1920年北 京政府升任他为旅长。1921年张学良去日本参观日军秋季军事演习，回国后， 他提议在奉军中进行改革，他的建议得到了釆纳。1922年直奉战争中，张担任 了重要角色，战争结束，当了奉军第二军军长兼奉天讲武堂校长。
1924年第二次直奉战争，张统率奉军第一军，在长城之役立了战功。奉军 获胜，段祺瑞在北京恢复了他原来担任最高行政长官的地位。1925年段派年轻 的张学良去长江下游一带协助处理该地区政局。张率领二千奉军，以维持治安 的名义于6月中旬到了上海，那时正当英国巡捕枪杀中国工人的五卅事件发生 后不久。张学良此行被认为是违反1925年2月结束江浙战争的停战协议，孙传 芳于是立即加以反击。张学良回到北京，当上了北京军事学院院长。他名义上 仍是奉军的一名司令，实际上他的部队则由他的亲信郭松龄指挥。
1925年11月和12月间，郭松龄和冯玉祥联合反张作霖。郭松龄倒戈虽失 败，但是张作霖的地位一度岌岌可危。张大帅对他的儿子大为恼怒，决定予以 惩处，经他的一些老将如张作相求情才得宽解。张学良虽仍担任指挥之权，但 是失宠于他的父亲了。1926年春张作霖、吴佩孚联军攻打冯玉祥国民军时，张 学良统率第三军作战。1926年12月北方军阀组成安国军，以张作霖为总司令， 阻击从南方誓师的国民革命军的进军。张学良率领了一部分安国军在1928年4 月迎击国民革命军，那时北伐已到了末期了。
1928年6月4日，张作霖暴亡，安国军失败，这对张学良的经历是一个大 转折。当时张学良仍带军在河北，未及时得知他父亲的噩耗，这个噩耗保持了 两周秘密。张宗昌、褚玉璞指挥的直鲁联军失败后，继奉军之后撤退到山海 关。张学良、杨宇霆在滦州商讨对策，决定张学良回沈阳，杨宇霆在关内监督 撤军关外。1928年6月17日张到沈阳，6月21日宣布张作霖死亡的消息。
东北首领面对着选择统率张大帅在东北的地方势力的继承人的问题。最合适的人选是张作相和杨宇霆，一个是吉林督军，一个是张作霖的参谋长。张学 良最初主张由张作相任东北军总司令，但张作相拒绝了，并支持张学良。1928 年7月4日，张学良任东北保安总司令，兼沈阳东北大学校长，开始了张少帅 的统治。当时一般人都认为他是个无所作为的青年，而且他又吸毒成癖。
1928年7月中旬，在华北的全部东北军队撤到了东北，但是张学良在东北 的地位仍未稳固。张学良继位之后，还没有察觉到张作霖之被刺是由日本策划 的。他当时面对着这样的问题，即对日本和对南京的新国民政府应建立怎样的 关系，同时在他的地盘范围内还要对付争权夺利的敌对势力。
1928年夏，沈阳日本总领事林久治郎在促成张学良同日本接触中起了很重 要的作用。6月底，少帅和顾问们商议后，决定采取对日友好的政策，但是公 众舆论却倾向沈阳当局应与节节胜利的国民革命军达成协议。南京国民党当局 派使者去东北商洽政治协议。张学良和南京代表谈判，准备以维持他在东北的 权力、任东北政务委员会主席并把热河划归他统治为条件，而宣布他忠于新的 国民政府。这次谈判达成协议，国民政府的旗帜自1928年7月22日起在东北升 起。
7月19日,南京方面通知日本政府：1896年和1903年的条约期满后作废， 此后日侨应受中国法律的管理。日本加以拒绝。而在沈阳，林久治郎警告张学 良，反对他和南京联合。不久，田中首相又用尽心计地提出警告。当时日本林 权助男爵，表面上是代表田中首相参加张作霖的丧礼，实际上携有田中书信。 田中的信中表明日本反对东北和中国本部联合统一，并指出张学良本人倘要开 发东北，也就是东北自治，那末日本将提供顾问和其他的援助予以支持。林权 助在8月6日转递了这封书信。
四天后，在沈阳召开的一次会议上决定：7月间中断的与南京的谈判，三 个月内不能复会。但张学良在8月中旬派代表去南京、上海与国民政府进一步 谈判。
1928年10月，田中首相确切得知张作霖被刺死的责任在日本关东军。当时 张学良对此事已经非常怀疑。1928年10月10日,国民政府在南京正式成立，张 学良虽未承认它的合法性，但南京政府已委任他为国民政府委员、东北政务委 员会主席，又规定热河归由沈阳当局管辖。
1928年12月29日，张学良向国民政府表示了沈阳当局的忠诚，在沈阳升起 了国民政府的旗帜。在此之前，12月20日,南京方面认可了张学良这个地方政 府的所有高级官员。日本政府又一次提出警告，但一时尚无其他行动，显然日 本政府企图通过杨宇霆来控制张学良。杨宇霆有时候很看不起张学良，把他看 作是一个政治暴发户而又虚弱无能的人，因而背着张学良去进行谈判。张学良 从郭松龄对他父亲的反戈事件中懂得过分的信任会遭到政治上的惩罚。1929年 1月10日，他以请杨宇霆和他的亲信东北铁路总办常荫槐宴会为名，把他们枪 毙了。张学良对东北的实际统治乃得以建立，国民政府的权力通过张学良伸展 到了东北，南京任张学良为东北边防军总司令。
此后多年，张少帅很受澳大利亚籍顾问端纳的影响，他们是在1928年12月 认识的。另一个对他有影响的顾问是张大帅的老朋友顾维钧，他在1929年才到 沈阳投效少帅。张学良象他父亲那样，还用了一些日本顾问。张学良制定的方 针，那些是受顾问的影响，那些是他自己的决定，这是很难辨别的，但是他的 顾问班子无疑是很重要的。
1926年和1927年间，张作霖曾在东北和北京进行反苏。1927年12月，国民 政府中断了中苏关系。1929年南京、沈阳又联合反对苏联在东北的势力，此举 在5月间进行，军警袭击了哈尔滨苏联总领事馆，逮捕了几名中国人。7月1 日，东北当局抢夺了中东铁路，驱逐了苏联职工。苏联政府立即要求恢复原状 并不断进行威胁。中国当局一再延搁，并继续占据中东铁路。11月中旬，苏联采 取了军事行动。南京指示张学良争取和平解决。12月22日订立《伯力草约》， 维持原状。
国民政府以后所遇到的窘境，张学良的行动是很有影响的。一时间，以阎 锡山、冯玉祥为一方，以蒋介石为另一方，这两种势力在华北引起了一场政治 争斗，阎冯又进一步在军事上得到李宗仁的支持，在政治上得到汪精卫的支 持。1930年6月，局势危急。当时，张学良处于关键地位，双方都拉拢他。南 京派出政治代表争取他的支持，于6月21日任命他为全国陆海空军副司令。张 学良并未允就，拒绝了这个任命。1930年8月，华北的反蒋叛军筹划成立新政府，其中也有张学良的名字。张公开否认他策划另设政府，并声明盗用他的名 义一概无效。双方军事冲突加剧，很明显，北方联军唯有指望得到张少帅援 手。当时激烈的战斗狠狠打击了反蒋军，张仍袖手旁观，最后北方反蒋联军终 于溃败。
1930年9月18日，张学良发表公开文告呼吁停止一切军事行动，他想以此 表示他政治上的谨慎从事而从中得到好处。他把十万部队从东北调到平津地 区，此举并未遇到意外，看来好象与华北的地方军阀事先已有协议。他又把河 北的省会从北平迁到天津，控制了平汉路和津浦路北段。他名义上把天津关税 交给了国民政府，实际上又约定关余必须支付给他。如果说张学良坚持克制态 度，不在北平建立一个南京的敌对势力，到不如说他已成功地在这一地区把南 京的权力排除在外。
张学良的东北边防军拥有四十万兵力。1930年9月，国民政府从政治现实 情况考虑，又委任张为全国陆海空军的副司令。10月9日，一个隆重的张学良 就职仪式颇有意味地在沈阳举行。1930年11月，召开国民党中央执行委员会第 四次全会，张学良并非委员，却受“特别”邀请参加此会。蒋张之间的协议范 围进一步扩大，张当了国民党中央政治会议委员。他以平定河北南部反对南京 的石友三的叛乱作为报答。
张学良既不考虑日本早先的警告，也不考虑1929年苏联军事行动的严重意 义，而以南京为靠山，采取他父亲反对东北日本势力的拖延战术的老办法。 1929年1月中，日本要求他把1928年5月和张作霖签订的有关铁路协定付诸实 施。张学良向蒋介石请示，蒋介石指令不予理睬。日本方面责备张学良延搁不 决，他就把问题推给南京；当日本方面想在南京处理，南京方面就答以应先从 地方解决，这成了张学良和南京方面的惯用手法了。当时，东北方面大事建 设，由荷兰公司投资在南满葫芦岛修建军港，以与日本控制的大连港对抗，同 时又着手收回日本控制的南满铁路。
1931年6月发生了所谓中村事件：中国军事当局把一个日本参谋官和他三 名随员以间谍罪处决。中国政府采取一贯的推诿责任和拖延的手法，一时保守 秘密。接着发生万宝山事件，在朝鲜发生了反华运动。中国内地则发动运动抵制日货。1931年8月，日本政府最后公开了中村事件，显然，它准备从中取得 政治上最大的收获。
张学良一度不关心国家大事，沉溺于北平的社交生活，是北平国际活动场 所中的一个活跃人物，当时意大利驻华公使的老婆、墨索里尼的女儿爱达齐亚 诺伯爵夫人是他的亲密伴侣之一。张学良在北平和北戴河过着愉快欢乐的生 活，以后生了一场伤寒病。病愈之后，他才发现对付关东军的威胁再采取延搁 的手法的严重后果。他命辽宁省当局重新调查中村事件，又派日本顾问去东京 向日本政府当局表示他希望友好处理。
9月14日,南京国民政府宣布准备把中村案件提交国联，并于15日谴责日 本，说日方对万宝山事件及中日关系的后果应负责任。南京的鲁莽声明使情况 更为复杂，关东军中的主战派立即着手部署，发动满洲事变。1931年9月18 日，关东军制造沈阳事件占领了东北。
当时，张学良的东北边防军一部分驻在华北，有一些部队在长城附近的锦 州。而他的东北军的大部分则仍在东北，抵抗数量上处于劣势的日本军队。但 是作战方针却要取决于南京，并不取决于当地司令宫。蒋介石命令张学良采取 不抵抗政策，在日军进袭之前全部撤退，声称中国信任国际联盟。中国在东北 的防守不过做做样子罢了，东北军一部分溃散，一部分投降日本，一部分撤到 苏联，留下的都退入关内。日本关东军司令本庄繁与张学良有个人来往，把张 在沈阳寓所的家具物件妥善装箱运到北平。
张学良经过这一次东北危机，大大损害了他的声誉，南京的宣传机构井未 为他洗刷。1931年11月，他失去了全国陆海空军副司令的头衔，12月，又免去他 在国务会议的职务，而当了一个北平军分会委员长，华北政务委员会委员。1932 年3月由日本操纵的伪满洲国成立,张少帅的地位进一步贬低。8月15日，南京 接受张辞去北平军分会委员长一职，任北平绥靖主任。这一切都不能弥补少帅在 故乡所遭的损失，也不能恢复他在中国政治军事生活中原有的地位了。1933年 2月日军进犯热河，威胁内蒙，南京政府当局未遣一兵一卒抗击日军，而全国 的舆论攻击目标却以张学良为主要对象。张学良在重重压力下，1933年8月在 保定把他仅存的残余部队交给了蒋介石，蒋乃任命他做中央陆军军官学校常务委员，这不过是让他留在蒋介石眼前以便在南京加以看管而已。
张学良准备出国旅行，这是中国失意头领们常见的出路。张学良1926年就 开始吸毒，起先是鸦片，后来是吗啡，经端纳大力催逼，最后进上海的一家医 院戒毒治愈。1933年4月，他率领一批颇为可观的私人随从乘意大利“罗西伯 爵”号轮船去欧洲游历。随员中有张的妻子，私人秘书赵四小姐，四个儿女， 端纳，美国顾问爱尔德以及护士、佣仆。他在欧洲度过了几个月，对意大利、 德国很感兴趣。1934年1月回国，他的健康情况大有好转，他的爱国思想也大 为加强。
蒋介石仍然坚持攘外必先安内的政策，加紧他从1930年开始的对共产党的 军事镇压。1934年2月，张学良任鄂豫皖剿共副司令，司令部设于汉口。12月， 跟随张学良六年之久的端纳到蒋介石那里去当私人顾问了。1935年5月，东京 向南京提出有关华北的一系列要求，蒋介石又一次向日本屈服。因此，蒋介石 把从前张学良统率的东北军从华北调到西北，任命张学良为西北剿共副司令， 司令部设在西安，张从属于蒋介石的亲信蒋鼎文。
1935年秋，张在陕西对共产党军作战，丧失了两个师。东北军在自己家乡 沦于日本占领的情况下，很不愿对中国自己人作战。1936年6月，他遇见了共 产党领袖周恩来，显然，周使张相信共产党抗日统一战线的现实性，双方达成 了秘密协定。自1936年春以后暂停的军事行动现在完全停止了。双方建立了经 常联系，8月，张学良任用了一名所谓非正式的共产党代表。中国共产党和张 学良约定，如有任何行动必事先互相通知。由于他们的共同努力，在西北成立 了许多民族解放同盟的分支机构。
张学良背离蒋介石的方针，南京方面并非毫不注意，但是很明显，张参加 统一战线到何等程度，蒋尚未确知。蒋仍然打算利用东北军再次进军，以消灭 西北的共产党军队。这个策略是为了消灭共产党和削弱东北军而加强蒋介石 的地位。1936年10月底，正当日军进迫绥远的时候，蒋介石到了西安，商量立 即对共产党进军。当时张学良提出停止内战，建立抗日联合阵线的主张，蒋介 石严加拒绝，回到洛阳行营，张学良赶到洛阳受了一顿严厉的训斥。1936年12 月4日，蒋又去西安宣布对共产党的总攻要在12月12日开始。张学良和陕西省绥靖主任杨虎城再次提出上述主张，但毫无成效。事实很明显,蒋介石要宣布 蒋鼎文为剿共司令而把所谓叛逆部臥东北军调到华南改编。
张、杨和东北军将领商议后，1936年12月12日，举起叛旗拘捕了蒋介石， 并提出八项要求，其中最主要的是对共产党的内战必须停止而成立全国抗日统 一战线，南京国民政府必须改组。12月14日，从西安发出公告，建立包括东北 军、西北军和共产党军队的抗日联军。叛军中有一些人主张枪毙蒋介石，张学 良则比较缓和，希望通过谈判迫使蒋接受所提条件。12月15日，由周恩来、叶 剑英、秦邦宪率领的中国共产党代表团到达西安，他们携有莫斯科主张保持蒋 介石为中国领袖的通知，从此谈判出现了新的形势。从南京方面来的，有端纳 于12月14日飞到西安，12月20日宋子文，12月22日蒋介石夫人也到了西安。最 后，蒋介石接受了叛乱军要求的主要条款，但并未签字。1936年圣诞节释放了 蒋介石。少帅本着一付侠义心肠伴送了他手下的俘虏回南京。蒋介石一行坐飞 机先到洛阳，他为了挽回面子，在洛阳发了一个通电训诫杨虎城及正和他同行的张学良。
张学良在南京被提交军事法庭。1936年12月31日宣判十年徒刑，褫夺公 权。1937年1月4日获大赦，但附有由国民政府军事委员会“严加监管”的条件， 该会委员长系蒋介石。1937年8月东北军代表团去蒋介石的老家溪口看望张学 良，要设法恢复张学良的自由，在那里见到宋子文、何应钦、陈诚和蒋本人， 但没有结果。中日战争爆发后，日军步步进逼，张学良亦由浙江而安徽、江 西、湖南，最后到了贵州，在那里拘留到战争结束。日本投降后，国内猜测因 为国民政府需要巩固对东北的控制，张学良可能获释，但结果并无此举。1949 年1月李宗仁任代总统，上任后第一步行动之一是下令释放张学良。
但是，那时张学良已移送到台湾继续监禁，先在新竹，后在基隆，约1956 年移到离台北八里的北岚温泉。张在长期监禁中，专门研究明史。有一些人访 问过他，东北的政界元老人物莫德惠偶尔也去探望。张学良皈依了基督教,常 到台北附近一个小教堂去做礼拜。1961年9月1日台湾当局正式宣布少帅重获 自由，据传他在台北郊区隐居。当时，他的长女张明英和她的丈夫陶鹏飞从美 国到台湾来探望他。显然，张学良不能自由自在地离开台湾，他仍在蒋介石的 监视之中。同样很明显的是，他不能自由地发表他对1937年前这个中国处于政 治危急时期的全面的独立见解，在这一时期中，他担当过主要角色。
张学良在监禁期间，他的第一个老婆于凤至和她的儿女们住在美国，在长 期监禁中奉侍他的伴侣是赵四小姐，生了一个儿子张騄。1964年7月4日他们 在台湾结婚，由一位美国传教士主持了基督教的婚礼仪式，张群和十来个宾客 参加了婚礼。住在南加里福尼亚的于凤至对赵四小姐的耿耿忠心深为感动，因 此解除了她和张学良的夫妇关系。