[Let’s read Chinese history] 2. Ming’s last hope

As a cultured general, Wu Sangui was ingrained by two most important qualities of being a good Chinese: loyalty and filial piety. For these, allying with Li Zicheng would certainly keep Wu in good reputation. Li is, first, a Han Chinese whereas Manchus are invaders. In addition, cooperating with Li could save the life of Wu’s father -Li has held him for hostage. But behind Li’s promise to end Ming’s chaos lies the violence and savagery of a rogue. From wherever he conquered, he looted everything and demanded huge profits on the pretext of “protection fees”. As for Manchus, historically they were despised as barbarians. But the new regime has cheerful embryonic development: setting up ministries and examination system both modeled after Ming dynasty; accepting Chinese in senior positions, to name a few.


Folk story has it that Wu has the intention to throw in lot with Li Zicheng. But having heard that Li had made Wu’s beloved concubine Chen Yuanyuan his own, Wu was outraged. He then decided to open Shanhaiguan inviting Qing armies into China proper. A Ming scholar made a sarcastic poem: all the soldiers were crying in white mourning dress; (But) Wu’s hair lifting his hat in great fury just because of his beauty. Ironically, this scholar himself later surrendered to Qing and was titled the president of then’s highest academy.


Very soon Li’s force was demoralized and Li was only a few steps near his death. Having the capital under control, the Manchus were, however, not accepted so easily by Han Chinese. Thousands chose to die or to live in seclusion, unwilling to feed on grains of Qing. Rounds of both passive and active resistance would continue until the last days of the Qing empire.


At the moment, a hard issue for Manchurian ruler is Ming’s royal successors who claimed themselves emperor one by one. The very last one is Guiwang (Zhu Youlang) who had lived in Hunan until his 21 and sought refugee thereafter because of local rebellion. He then retreated to Guangxi, Guangdong, Yunnan and later, Burma. He was first offered sanctuary but later handed over to general Wu Sangui. Before that, the already desperate Guiwang has sent commissioners to the pope in Rome asking for help. He and his court members were also converted to Catholics in exchange for support from the Portuguese in Macau. The reply of the pope did not arrive until 10 years later when Guiwang’s rule was on the verge of collapse. In 1662, Guiwang was brought back to Yunnan and hanged. Crushed was Ming’s last hope. But the remnant officials and civilians stayed in Burma thereafter. In today’s Kokang region which borders Yunnan, 95 percent are ethnically Chinese.


When Shunzhi was enthroned in 1644, he was only 6 years old. He now has a grand territory similar to the size of the European continent. Can he grow fast enough to take control of his kingdom?

About the author

Madeline Xia

Madeline is currently a student in Hong Kong University of Science and Technology interested about journalism.