Jun 20, 2022
Last time we spoke, the Yuan Dynasty lost their hold over China as a result of famines and a rebellion led by Zhu Yuanzhang that eventually toppled them. Now the Ming Dynasty stood as a marvel to the world achieving great wonders, but how long would it prosper? The Ming Dynasty’s first Emperors began their reign hampered by paranoia, leading to bloodshed. Eventually it seemed all was going well for the new Dynasty, but then an external threat came to the door in the form of Japan. The Imjin War of 1592-1598 saw the Ming Dynasty quelling the Japanese challenge at their status as the supreme military power in East Asia, but it also weakened them, opened the door for the Jurchen Chieftain Nurhaci to establish a new state and wage war upon them. Now Nurhaci had won a great victory over 4 Ming armies, what would he do next and how would the Ming stop him?
Welcome to the Fall and Rise of China Podcast, I am your dutiful host Craig Watson. But, before we start I want to also remind you this podcast is only made possible through the efforts of Kings and Generals over at Youtube. Perhaps you want to learn more about the history of Asia? Kings and Generals have an assortment of episodes on world war two and much more so go give them a look over on Youtube. So please subscribe to Kings and Generals over at Youtube and to continue helping us produce this content please check out www.patreon.com/kingsandgenerals. If you are still hungry for some more history related content, over on my channel, the Pacific War Channel where I cover the history of China and Japan from the 19th century until the end of the Pacific War.
This episode is the Ming strike back
After Nurhaci had shocked the Ming Court by defeating the 4 armies they sent to destroy him, they now realized they required bigger actions. The Ming Court appointed Xiong Tingbi as “Jinglue” the Military Affairs Commissioner of Liaodong. Xiong was a veteran, a very skilled commander, an intelligent negotiator and interestingly an ambidextrous archer. He was one of the very few Ming officials who had both civil and military skills. Xiong began his work by taking an account of his forces and the enemy. There was supposed to be roughly 180,000 Ming soldiers in the region, but Xiong’s personal inspectors found only 90,000 and of which many were unfit for war. Xiong estimated Nurhaci to have around 100,000 men, so this prompted him to request 1.2 million taels of silver from the Ministry Revenue to pump up the Liaodong defense. This soon escalated into a back and forth situation, prompting Xiong to argue that the bureaucrats were not investing enough funds to actually put up a real defense of Liaodong. In the end the Ministers of War and Revenue coughed up around half what he asked for. This would be a recurring theme until the end of the Ming dynasty.
Xiong’s strategy was to establish extremely stout defenses instead of sending large forces out in the field to face the Jin. He also sought to “sooth the hearts and minds of the people”, emphasizing a psychological aspect of the war. What was meant by this was that Xiong was displaying to the Emperor that they needed the people of Liao to know they were valued subjects, because too many were becoming unhappy and as a result defected to the Jin. Xiong also realized having failed to secure enough funds he needed to find his own and thus they would “use the people of Liao to defend Liao and by using the resources of Liao to support Liao”.
Xiong realized the only real avantage the Ming held over the Jin, was that of firepower.
Thus Xiong wanted to formulate his defensive plans based around taking advantage of that. He quickly began using the funds to build up the moats and walls for the fortresses, build cannons and firearms and paid for the relocation of over 180,000 additional troops from other regions to defend a southern line between Fushun and Fort Zhenjiang. He also built up a system of beacons and watch towers which provided communication and coordination for the defensive efforts, cant help but visualize the beacons of Gondor haha.
Xiong’s defensive strategy was to not meet the Jin in the open field and allow them to fall upon his fortifications. Thus he would not ride out to meet the invaders, but bide time and gradually recover lost territory through attrition. This would all start from Fushun and Qinghe, he also hoped to eventually gain some assistance from Mongols in the north and Koreans from the east thereby forcing the Jin into a multi front war. Xiong perceived Shenyang to have land too open and thus too difficult to defend so he argued against fortifying it much. This gave fuel to other rival officials to criticize him for this, stating he was simply abandoning it. Unsurprisingly given the Ming political climate, Xiong’s plans were attacked by many officials. One of the largest critics was Yang Sichang who said it was too difficult to fund and transport many of the troops Xiong wanted and that this would lead to heavy tax hikes and burdens for the commoners. Then as more territory fell to the Jin, Yang criticized Xiong's strategy stating “who even dares to stand up to the enemy. If good rewards are bestowed, then certainly there will be bravery”. It seemed unlike many of his colleagues, Xiong understood the Ming could win a defensive war by not trying to meet the enemy on the field. In fact once he began his defensive campaign, the Jin attacks decreased somewhat.
Xiong would end up serving around a year with the full backing of Emperor Wanli who personally liked him, until he died on August 18th of 1620. At the end of his life, Emperor Wanli blamed the civil and military officials' inability to cooperate for the debacle in Liaodong. With the passing of Emperor Wanli, very little moments of military glory would befall the Ming’s future. Emperor Wanli was succeeded by Emperor Taichang who died barely a month into his term of possibly dysentery and was succeeded by Emperor Tianqi. As the transition process between the emperors was carrying on, many officials who had grievances against Xiong began to make their moves. They began to berate the high costs of his defenses, slandered his accomplishments and accused Xiong of losing territory and being a coward. An impeachment process began against Xiong and he did not want to face even worse scrutiny that could possibly lead to dire consequences so he quit his job. The position of Military Affairs Commissioner for Liaodong fell to Yang Sichang, one of the main officials slandering him; this also would become a recurring theme. A man named Yuan Yingtai was made Minister of War and Commissioner of Liao affairs. When Emperor Tianqi taking the throne and with Xiong out of the picture, suddenly the decision to reinforce Shenyang was made. As you might remember, Xiong thought it was not a good place to establish defenses. Yuan Yingtai was confident he could take more aggressive actions unlike his predecessor. He also sought to bolster the Ming strength with Mongol allies whom he personally trusted more than the inhabitants of Liaodong. You see, as a result Han defectors because of the Jin attacks, and just because of general history, the people of Liaodong were perceived by many to be somewhat untrustworthy. Thus he began promising several Mongol chieftains monetary rewards in exchange for their aid. Some of Yuan's colleagues feared what would happen with all the Mongols after they defeated the Jin stating “it was like opening the chicken coop to welcome the wolf and the tiger”. Despite all the worry Yuan persuaded the new Emperor to give 3 million taels to begin hiring Mongols, though much like in all aspects of the Ming dynasty at this point, the logistics of that money being dispursed properly by local officials was going to have issues.
Nurhaci’s forces invaded the Liaodong region in the February of 1621 commencing with a siege against the fortress of Fengjibao due east of Shenyang. The forts defenses were commanded by General Li Bingchen and the cannons along its walls proved to be quite deadly, so Nurhaci took the easy route and simply surrounded the fortress at a safe distance waiting to starve them out. Eventually Li Bingchen alongside 200 soldiers came out and engaged the nearest Jin force managing to inflict some casualties, then they ran for their lives back to the fort as the Jin forces chased after them. During the chase, 1 Jin officer was killed by cannon fire, so Nurhaci pulled back the men to safety. The next day, Li Bingchen came out, but this time with 2000 men trying to engage the Jin. This time they were absolutely broken by the Jin and scattered in defeat, Li Bingchen himself was forced to flee away, and so the fortress was taken. Now the path to Shenyang was wide open. It is somewhat ironic to note, the removal of the defensive Xiong Tingbi and the appointment of the more aggressive Yuan Yingtai was what really facilitated Nurhaci’s attacks on Liaoyang and soon Shenyang. If you recall, Xiong did not want to defend Shenyang, deeming it indefensible. Yuan Yingtai did not share this view.
After taking Fengjibao, Nurhacis army continued its march towards Shenyang, but he wanted to hit the city before winter had broken. Nurhaci’s scouts reported to him that Shenyang was quite heavily fortified with many cannons and firearms. Not wanting to needlessly sacrifice men, Nurhaci opted to establish a base camp on the banks of the Hun River and ordered his men to conduct raids and pillage the surrounding area to push the Shenyang defenders to sortie against them in the open field. There were 2 major commanders at Shenyang, He Shixian and You Shigong. Well Nurhaci’s raiding proved to be successful, as He Shixian, suddenly came rushing out with 1000 soldiers to attack a smaller Jin raiding party and allegedly he was quite drunk as well.
They were quickly surrounded and forced to try and fight their way back to the west gate of Shenyang. Many of He Shixian’s men desperately urged him to flee to Liaoyang and to this he apparently said “How can I as the General not remain to defend the City?”. You Shigong saw He Shixian’s plight as he and his forces tried desperately to reach the west gate. Thus You Shigong tried to come out with his own force to save him, but He Shixian by that point had taken 4 arrows into his back and died. You Shigong’s forces were then surrounded and completely annihilated. Nurhaci’s men then scaled the walls of the city using siege ladders. As they were scaling the walls however a Ming relief column commanded by Chen Ce was spotted around the Hun River, so Nurhaci personally led some Banner men to attack them. Chen Ce’s heavy armored Pike infantry tried to make a solid formation against the Jin cavalry, but were outflanked and pushed right into the Hun River, many drowning in their heavy armor. Another relief column showed up behind them and engaged a force of 200 Jin which were quickly pulled back. Nurhaci then rallied them alongside his son Daisan and killed possibly 3000 of the Ming forces as they chased them out of the area.
Shenyang’s morale broke upon seeing their presumed rescuers all fail and soon the Jin captured the city. After hearing that Shenyang had fallen, a Ming army of 50,000 was set to besiege and recapture the city. Scouts brought news of this to Nurhaci who stated that they must keep the momentum going, so he grabbed his bannerman and rushed out to confront the Ming force on the open field before they could set up their entrenchments around Shenyang. The Ming army was taken by surprise and only able to position their guns and fire a few times before the Jin cavalry was upon them. Nurhaci’s men made a pincer attack forcing the Ming to rout. Nurhaci would
further this up, by simultaneously attacking and defeating yet another relief force dispatched from Liaoyang. The battle was quite significant as it marked the first time that Nurhaci had captured a significant walled city. All the previous victories were smaller fortresses and market towns. Capturing Shenyang was a huge achievement not by its lonesome, it also meant the Jin had a springboard to capture Liaoyang and perhaps control the whole region now. Liaoyang at this point was considered the lynchpin of Ming defenses, it had been heavily fortified with heavy firearms on its walls and an abundant garrison. Nurhaci was also given word that Yuan Yingtai’s headquarters were located at Liaoyang.
Thus Nurhaci’s force immediately began to march upon Liaoyang and camped a couple miles outside the walled city. They began their siege of the city by cutting off its main water supply, sapping the eastern wall of the city and constructing siege weapons. Nurhaci also suspected relief armies would soon embark to assist Liaoyang, so he tasked 4 banners to intercept any that might try. Once the Ming defenders saw the siege weapons being constructed, this prompted them to send out a force of 30,000 troops who quickly set up their own lines and fired guns and catapults upon the invaders. The Ming defector and now commander, Li Yongfang utilized his own cannons upon the Ming force drawing their attention while a smaller Jin force snuck around them. That Jin force then made a desperate attack upon the bridge leading into the walled city under heavy Ming cannonfire. They were able to take the Wujing Gate and cut down the bridge severing the 30,000 strong Ming force outside. The Ming desperately tried to flee back into the city realizing they had been cut off, but now the invaders were charging on their heels pushing them into the cities moat, the very moat that was supposed to protect them! It is said quote “the defenders corpses eventually piled up so much within the moat that the water turned crimson red”. The Jin forces then began to employ floating bridges across the moat. A relief corps from Shandong arrived to the scene, but the 4 Banner’s dispatched just for the possibility were able to turn them back. Meanwhile the wall defenders rained fire arrows and pots full of fiery substances, but it would be to no avail as 2 walls soon crumbled. As the walls fell, the defenders began to panic and tried to flee only to come face to face with more Jin attackers and be pushed back to die within the moats. From the first day of the siege, Yuan Yingtai personally led the troops. To his despair, a Jin cannon had managed to hit the Ming Powder stores, which took out a vast amount of their supply. To add insult to injury, the Mongol allies they had within the city were plundering it instead of aiding in the defense. Yuan Yingtai was standing in a tower watching the destruction fall before him. Once he say the banner troops breach the walls he lit his watch tower on fire committing suicide. It is alleged before he did this, he welcomed the invaders waving some burned incense shouting “wansui” Long Life before he lit himself on fire.
The Jin followed up the taking of Liaoyang by occupying all the defenses east of the Liao River, over 70 fortified towns and garrisons. It is estimated 70,000 Ming soldiers perished and the Ming relief forces from the south had only taken perhaps 2 to 3 thousand Jin forces down trying to save the region. A lot of the fortified cities would do well initially in battles, but they all seemed to run out of ammunition or gunpowder and eventually would fall as a result. Adding to this, with every city taken by the Jin, more and more of the Ming’s Mongol allies defected to the Jin cause.
The situation prompted Nurhaci to send a letter to the King of the Joseon Dynasty pressing him to renounce his allegiance to the Ming and to turn over all the Ming refugees who fled into Korea. Nurhaci began to restore many Ming officials to their former ranks and titles, but now under service to the Jin state. As was becoming more standard practice, Nurhaci also gave orders to his forces to leave the Ming commoners unmolested. And yet again, Nurhaci moved his capital now to Liaoyang and held a victory feast 3 months later in the new capital.
It was at this point Nurhaci began to do more state building and put on hold the further invasion of Ming territory. He wanted to draw more subjects over to his side from the Ming and he did this by initiating new laws, taxes and practices designed to protect all peoples, specifically Han chinese. Meanwhile the Ming Court were scratching their heads trying to figure out why Shenyang and Liaoyang fell. A lot of reasons were given such as: Yuan Yingtai lacking practical military experience, the Ming officials were all uncoordinated, the Ming soldiers abandoned the fortresses too fast sometimes before there was even a breach in any wall and perhaps there was just a general lack of discipline in the military ranks. Thus the Ming Court made motions to improve the military training and searched for more capable commanders. Xue Guoyong was appointed Vice Minister of War and the Jinglue of Liaodong. Wang Huazhen was appointed Xunfu, the vice censor in chief of the right and touring pacification commissioner of Guangning, wow what a long title. Oh and its not just a long title, there was a real issue beginning to brew with the Ming Court appointing too many responsibilities onto single officials. Indeed the Ming bureaucracy was ripe with incompetence as it was with corruption. Often Ming officials would compete for resources or formulate countervailing strategies in the field. In the absence of a strong overseer, gridlocks formed often. While the Tianqi Emperor secluded himself and did not put his foot down enough on the Ming officials, Nurhaci was always in the field holding direct command of his forces. This would prove to be a distinct advantage leading to the Ming downfall. This would also end up the case with Xue Guoyong, who began his job…by really not advocating any particular policy. Though on the plus side, this led to a more defensive strategy.
Now Wang Huazhen however favored an aggressive policy using both land and sea operations against the Jin. The Ming Court then tried to figure out the best place to hold the line, most thought the best would be the west bank of the Liao River. Thus the city of Guangning was going to be heavily fortified and Xiong Tingbi was recalled to service. Xiong immediately recommensed with his original defense strategy using Guangning as the focal point. He fortified positions along the Sancha River and made sure Denglai and Tianjin would be able to launch both land and naval relief operations. Xiong asked for 300,000 men to execute the new defensive plan but would only receive around 260,000. To make matters worse, Wang Huazhen began dispersing these forces to garrison multiple sites rather than concentrate the bulk at Guanging as Xiong planned. As I said countervailing strategies in the field.
To add to the chaos that was the Ming Court there was a rather famous upcoming star named Mao Wenlong. Mao had established a base of operations on the island of Pidao near the mouth of the Yalu River and he made a series of raids into Jin territory, sometimes aided by Korean units. This would push the Jin to make expeditions within Korea to try and capture Mao and also had the double effect of influencing the Ming Court. As I have mentioned, the overall strategy was now defensive, but these daring raids by Mao were pushing those in the Court to adopt more and more aggressive policies. Mao became something of a lynchpin for the aggressive camp in the ourt, despite the fact Mao was only leading around 200 men with 4 boats. Mao did manage to strike at the fortress of Zhenjiang showcasing how much of a pest he could be to the Jin. Meanwhile Xiong and Wang argued against each other over their defense vs offense strategies and now Wang had fuel for his side of the argument, that of Mao. Thus the Court eventually gave way to Wang who unleashed Mao upon the Jin. The Ming Court agreed to allow upto 50,000 men to be sent by sea to Liaodong to capture Zhenjiang and once it was secured their Korean allies might augment it as well. Xiong argued it was too early for such ventures but that was not headed as Wang rebutted by stating he had over 400,000 Mongol allies ready to act. Thus Mao disembarked under the cover of darkness to attack Zhenjiang. Mao had secured some 5th columnists inside who opened the gates for his Ming forces and the Jin garrison was forced to flee. Mao held the fortress with his men and even repulsed a Jin counter attack of some thousand troops. Then attack after attack after attack came, and Mao feared being surrounded and was forced to cast off back to Pidao island. As soon as Mao left, Nurhaci ordered his forces to raze Zhenjiang to the ground, not ever wanting to deal with the pesky situation again.
Now while this was a major victory for Mao it also held dire consequences. First it had dislocated a lot of people from Korea and Liaodong and they would most likely defect to the Jin. Second it began the rise of semi-independent military figures in the Bohai gulf region. Third, it shook the confidence of the Jin and pushed them to continue the invasion sooner. Mao’s achievements also did little to anything in regards to retaking territory. The Ming Court however were now more than ever bolstered towards Wang's aggressive strategy and were now poised to launch an operation into Liaodong. Mao was appointed “zongbing guan” Commander of Dongjiang and ordered to coordinate an attack on the Jin rear alongside the Korean allies, so the Ming forces from the west would not have all attention put on them. Mao immediately demanded 50,000 troops and to make a deadly pincer attack. It also seems everything had really gone to Mao’s head as he began referring to himself as an independent “hai wang” (sea king) in the Bohai region. Mao began to boast that with only 40,000 men he could recapture all of Liaodong and those threats did not go unnoticed by Nurhaci. Nurhaci would begin a long process of courting Mao try to strike a deal with him secretly.
Now while the Jin invasions were definitely a primary threat to the Ming Dynasty, problems from within the empire would also contribute to its downfall. One major one would be known as the She-An Rebellion of 1621.
To finance the war efforts in Liaodong, provinces like Guizhou and Sichuan were required to send troops, war supplies, grain and a hell of a lot of money. This led to a lot of discontent and some disastrous situations. A aboriginal chieftain named She Chongming had agreed to send grain and 20,000 troops to Liaodong for the war effort. Well She showed up to the provincial capital, Chongqing with the grain and the 20,000 troops including all their families, making the total number over 80,000. The local governor informed them that the Ming only required the warriors and ordered the families to return home while simultaneously refusing to provide them food rations for the trip back. And so She killed the governor, many other officials and assaulted Chongqing. Well apparently this was all part of the plan and She quickly proclaimed the formation of the Kingdom of Shu, that being in reference to the ancient people of Sichuan.
Soon 100,000 locals defected to the cause of conquering Sichuan. The rebellion spread like wildfire from Sichuan, Guizhou, Zunyi and eventually petered out at Chengdu which was unsuccessfully besieged for over 102 days. In the meantime the Ming forces were able to reclaim Chongqing after a month of fighting. Then following in She’s footsteps, another aboriginal chieftain named An Bangyan tried to get out of paying some taxes by asking to send troops instead to Liaodong. The Ming official rejected the request and An joined the rebellion stating it was “in order to reclaim his ancestors glory”. She and An combined their forces and marched on the city of Guiyang in Guizhou with an army estimated to be up to 300,000 strong. Guiyang city only had 5000 soldiers, but the indigenous army was unable to penetrate the city’s wall defenses, it turns out they went about their attack only one gate at a time. The siege lasted 296 days and barely 200 of the city’s defenders survived. Many of the cities inhabitants were forced to resort to cannibalism, some even went atop the city gates to show the attackers the acts of cannibalism to show their resolve. In 1623 a Ming relief force was sent to quell the rebellion and were ambushed resulting in the death of a possible 40,000 troops. The commander on scene then pleaded for an additional 200,000 troops and 3 million taels worth of war supplies to stop the rebellion. The government periodically would send forces to fight the rebels over the course of many years, but the rebellion persisted. Then in 1629 both She and An would be killed on the battlefield and the Ming finally managed to quell the rebellion. In all the rebellion required possibly a million Ming troops and cost up to 35 million taels of silver, over 12,000 per day. The fact the rebellion lasted so long showcases the enormous dissatisfaction the common people felt about the Ming rule in the South West. Now it goes without saying this was an enormous cost on both human life and for the finances of the ailing dynasty, but lets not forget all the people and money spent in the south west of China was also not being spent in the North East against the Jin raiders.
Taking our focus back to the northeast, Ming forces at the fortress in Xiping had managed to repulse a Jin assault. The commander of Fortress Xiping was Luo Yiquan, who prefered sticking inside the fortress rather than open field combat. Luo’s forces defended the city fiercely, his cannons inflicted heavy casualties upon the Jin forces, so much so that when Li Yongfang asked him to surrender, Luo simply cursed him out as a traitor. It is said quote “that so many of Jin's corpses piled up that it reached the top of the walls and that Luo himself could not wield his bow at one point as a result of so much blood streaming into his eyes”. Yet like so many other Ming fortresses, there was a finite amount of gunpowder and ammunition. When Luo ran out he apparently turned in the direction of Beijing, bowed and said “Your minister has exhausted himself” before slitting his throat. Luo’s remaining garrison of 3000 were slaughtered when Nurhaci’s men took the fortress. Xiong was furious at Wang’s inability to hold Xiping, stating “where has all your big talk of peacetime gone?”. Well it turns out Wang had indeed sent a relief force of 30,000 men, but they arrived late and were ambushed by the Jin perhaps losing a third in battle.
Now when the reports began to pour in that Luo’s forces were giving the Jin hell at fortress Xiping, this seemed to have emboldened Wang Huazhen who appointed Sun Degong to follow up the successful repulse and take the fight to the Jin on the field. Sun Degong began this mission by cutting a deal with Nurhaci promising to help turn over Guangning. When Xiping fell, Sun ran to Guangning and began telling everyone impending doom was on the way. This prompted Wang’s Mongol allies to begin plundering everywhere. Thus the city was emptied and Sun was able to turn it over neatly to Nurhaci. Wang had originally been at Guangning, but quickly fled to the outskirts of Dalinghe where he ran into none other than Xiong Tingbi who berated him “You said you could completely pacify Liao with 60,000 troops so what happened?”. Wang now agreed that Xiong's defensive strategy was the best option and both men told their forces to begin a scorched earth policy as they retreated in shame towards Shanhaiguan.
As for Sun Degong he earned a place in Nurhaci’s army as a mobile corps commander attached to the White Banner. Sun helped Nurhaci’s sons Daisan and Hung Taiji furthermore to take Yizhou, killing a garrison of 3000 there. With the loss of Guangning the Ming had lost a central staging point to recover territory in Liaodong. Both Xiong and Wang were impeached and each executed, Xiong in 1625, Wang in 1632. Xiong seems to be quite the victim in all of this and many felt he should not have been executed. But Xiong had made quite a few enemies over the years and lacked enough powerful friends to save him. His loss would be one of many terrible losses for the ailing dynasty. With the loss of Guangning, many in the court were now convinced of the necessity to create a second front to distract Nurhaci. Thus the sea king, Mao Wenlong was appointed commander in charge of pacifying Liao and instructed to cooperate with the new jinglue, Sun Chengzong. Sun Chengzong enjoyed a good relationship with the emperor and managed to convince him to appoint several men, 2 important ones being Sun Yuanhua and Yuan Chonghuan. Sun began his job by fortifying the Ming defense perimeter. Similar to Xiong, Sun favored a defensive approach. Sun made an effort to caution the Ming court not to overemphasize minor defeats or victories, but rather to always keep up a stout defense and win this war by outlasting. To Sun, the major issue at hand was that many in the court who held most of the power had no knowledge of military matters. Sun gave Yuan Chonghuan the job of Inspector of the Army at Shanhaiguan, so that he could train and establish defensive preparations.
Sun dispatched many Ming officials to inspect the state of defenses. Their findings indicated that Ningyuan, located due southwest of Guangning was the best place for an advance base and that the walls could be extended as far out as Shanhaiguan. Sun also recognized that since the beginning of the conflict, the Ming were at an extreme disadvantage in the open field, something new needed to be done. Ming rulers had long understood the importance of firearms for war, they had proved crucial in the 3 great campaigns of the Wanli Emperor in the 1590’s afterall. Thus Sun called for 130,000 additional troops to face the Jin and directed the Ministry of Works to construct 300 “caitiff exterminating cannons”, 1000 100character cannons and 7000 niao chongs, sometimes denoted as arquebuses. The Jin had defeated the Ming countless times because of the superior mobility of their large amount of cavalry, allowing them to lure the Ming into killing fields and terrain that best suited them. Now the Ming were turning to outside sources to aid their war effort.
The Portuguese colony on Macau was consulted to aid in the training of gunnery and soon experts were made such as Sun Yuanhua who would claim to have trained 8000 men in firearms in under 3 months time. As one Jesuit stated at the time “These guns were highly esteemed and carried to the frontiers against the Tartars; who were not knowing of this new invention, and coming on many together in a close body received such a slaughter from an iron piece that they were not only put to flight at that time, but went on ever after with more caution”. Sun called for the adopting of western methods for the casting and deployment of cannonry and urged the building of cannon platforms and other wall defense structures to complement them. Sun Yuanhua was appointed the rank of jishi and would train countless in gunnery. Now at this time in history some of these western made cannons are theorized to have a range of around 2-3 miles. A 7000 lb gun which could fire a 32 lb shot would have an effective range of about 2000 feet but could max out at 7000. It is estimated that the Ministry of Works manufactured around 25,000 cannons of various sorts, 6500 muskets, 8000 or so smaller guns and around 4000 Culverines from 1618-1622. Alongside the swords, spears, arrows and such this all is estimated to have cost the Ming Dynasty 21 million taels. That's a staggering amount, greatly showing the extent of the Ming Dynasties resources when push came to shove. The Ming would also receive 26 additional cannons from the Portuguese between 1623-1625 of which 11 were placed in Shanhaiguan.
The sea king, Mao Wenlong continued to press for funds and the assistance of Korea as he waged war on the Jin. Mao made another daring night attack, his time on Jinzhou where he managed to steal 1014 cannons and guns, a ton of gunpowder and other war supplies for the use of his ships. To the Ming, taking such supplies from the Jin was a great war effort, so they kept supporting Mao. Over the next few years, Mao would lead small units against isolated Jin fortresses, raiding from the coast. The entire time he made these ventures, he would continuously complain about needing further funds, but the Koreans, some of whom were assisting him warned the court that he was exaggerating a lot of his victories. The Koreans even warned the Ming court that Mao might be holding secret talks with Nurhaci.
Sun did not favor a withdrawal of Ming forces all the way to Shanhaiguan,which many commanders were advocating for, instead he argued that they use Ningyuan as a staging point of defense and for the future springboard to take territory back. He also wanted to stress the problems he saw looming in the Ming Court, so he made this statement to them “The frontier situation is dire. Troops have been amassed, but not trained and military supplies have not arrived. You need generals to lead the troops but civil officials to coordinate training. Generals must oversee ranks, but a civil offi cial must determine their use. You must use military offi cials to defend the frontiers but every day they should consult with civil officials in their tent. So the frontier should be entrusted to a xunfu and a jinglue and the decision to attack or defend should emanate from the court.”.
Sun further argued that raising troops was not enough and that they would need more adequate funds much to the lamentations of the court who cried there was no money to spend due to the She-An rebellion. The Emperor eventually handed over 30,000 taels, which was not very much. Now the new strategy was to hold Ningyuan and the islands of Bohai to force the Jin to divide their strength. They would use Mao Wenlong as a vanguard who could perform land or sea operations. Alongside this many in the court were also in favor of hiring more Mongols, because in their words Mongols might be “more cost effective than paying, feeding, training, and supplying soldiers recruited from the interior”. Well to this Sun unveiled his trump card, a bold new plan, in his words to quote “use the people of Liao to defend Liao and the soil of Liao to support the troops of Liao”. His plan was to establish military farms in the rich soil of Liao which could be garrisoned by 100,000 local Liao people. They would become regular full time soldiers who could defend major fortresses in Liao. The idea was quite good on paper, by doing everything local, the defenders of Liao were less likely to plunder their own neighbors and would be more likely to fight off invaders for what they now had. Sun’s plan was given the greenlight and in 1622 he began implementing training programs in the use of firearms with the aid of Yuan Chonghuan. Liao locals were enlisted for building projects and military jobs. Brigades were organized and the land cultivation expanded all across liao. Sun recommended they build 5 new walled cities and 13 forts for protecting the people of Liao. All of this work in turn helped revive the great Ming project called tuntian, which was a agricultural farm system designed to feed all the troops in the empire, but it had been waning over the centuries. By 1623 Sun was given additional honorific titles and 100,000 taels as reward for his efforts to restore discipline and order within the region of Liao. After 4 years in office, Sun had recaptured 9 major cities, 45 fortresses, trained 110,000 new troops and a massive amount of arms production.Yet despite his great success, Sun was also acquiring jealous enemies within the Ming court such as the eunuch Wei Zhongxian. Wei Zhongxian had been incriminated by some officials that were friends to Sun and he held a grievance towards them all. Alongside this the Jin had begun raids south of the Great Wall and recaptured the city of Lushun in 1625. Sun's successes made his rivals quite jealous and his enemies did not stop at just attacking him, they went after his proteges also. Eventually Wei Zhongxian and his allies managed to pressure Sun to retire and he was replaced by Gao Di in late 1625.
In the meantime, there had been problems in Korea and the Sea King Mao was arguing they needed to do more to support their Korean allies stating “although weak, Korea is still on our border and can be useful in helping us resist the Jin. Therefore we cannot simply abandon Korea. Every person who returns to being a Ming subject is one less potential Jin soldier”. The idea of Korea falling into the orbit of the Jin frightened the court and Wei Zhongxian argued they should support Mao. At the same time, former predecessor and successor to Sun, Yuan Chonghuan was growing increasingly frustrated by Mao’s antics.
After the blunders at the battle of Sarhu and Guangning, Yuan Chonghuan was tasked with the defense of Shanhaiguan in 1622. Before he went to the frontlines he actually visited the imprisoned Xiong Tingbi before his execution. Xiong asked Yuan what his strategy would be, to which Yuan stated “first defend, then fight”. Xiong was pleased at the similar mindset and advised him for the rest of the day. By 1624 Yuan was helping build the new defensive lines around Songshan, Xingshan, Dalinghe and Jinzhou. Then some of the Ming Court began to argue that the Ming forces should be pulled further back to which Yuan protested “In the art of war you advance, not retreat. Three cities have already been recovered; we can’t lightly cast them away! If these places are disturbed, everything will fall apart and we won’t be able to hold the passes. Now if we select a capable general to guard them, certainly we won’t need to deliberate further”. When Sun was replaced, Gao Di did not agree with Yuan on the issue and made orders to abandon the cities. Despite the orders however, Yuan refused to withdraw stating “I have been entrusted with the defense of the Ningyuan region. Should I need to, I’ll die for it, but I certainly won’t abandon it!”. Thus Yuan began to prepare Ningyuan for an onslaught all by his lonesome.
Nurhaci noticed the Ming pulling back forces and saw that Ningyuan was becoming isolated, so what better place to attack? Now throughout the conflict, though Nurhaci’s forces were winning victory after victory, Ming cannons proved to inflict quite a toll upon them. Nurhaci wanted to create a new strategy to help against the cannons. So his forces would now stretch animal hides over military carts and send them first in to draw fire, then follow this up with infantry and cavalry strikes to goad out defenders from the forts. In early 1626 Nurhaci’s forces arrived at Ningyuan where he tried to convince them to surrender. He sent the message to Yuan Chonghuan stating he would overrun his city with a force of over 200,000. Yuan replied that he knew the great Khan only had 130,000 troops and that he and his fellow commanders were prepared to die to the last man defending Ningyuan. He also left the ancient maxim quote “Those who seek life will die, but those who welcome death will live”.
As we mentioned, Ningyuan’s walls had quite a few western made cannons and Yuan had ordered the torching of all the nearby buildings around the city to not offer anything to the invaders. Well trained Fujianese gunners were put on cannon detail and the word was sent out to Shanhaiguan calling for reinforcements. Yuan had a total garrison of 20,000 men with sub commanders assigned specific roles. Man Gui was in charge of wall defenses, Zu Dashou the south gate, Zhu Mei the north gate and Zuo fufen the west gate. The night before the battle Yuan conducted a blood pact, the defenders would defend the city to the death, any who fled would be executed. The Jin setup came northwest of the city, testing the range of the Ming cannons. Nurhaci’s scouts reported the southwest corner of the city to be the weakest point. Nurhaci personally led the charge and brandished his sword in the air. Yuan ordered his men to hold fire until the enemy was within a close range. Nurhaci’s reinforced military carts rolled forward, but his forces reverted to their original way of fighting and pushed forward of the carts. It seems the Jin hoped to use the same tactics they usually did, run past the cannon fire while goading the defenders out. The Ming did not come out however, they pelted the cavalry with cannonfire and incendiary bombs and poison bombs were lobed over the walls. The Jin forces then tried to attack another corner of the city, but were hit with a ton of burning oil and more incendiary bombs which destroyed a lot of their seige equipment. One strategist on the wall had even come up with the idea of tossing bed sheets covered in gunpowder and oil over the attackers and hitting it with fire arrows. This eventually caused a sea of fire to erupt around the walled city engulfing the Jin’s frontal infantry. By the evening the battle was still raging on and parts of the walls were on fire. Around 10pm Nurhaci ordered the men to pull back, finally sending an angry message to his commander Li Yongfang “You said this city would be easy to take. How can it be this difficult to attack?”. The next day the Jin launched similar attacks and got similar results, something obviously needed to change. There was a nearby island called Juehua which held the major granary for Ningyuan. The defenses on the island were a bit more relaxed because the Ming assumed the invaders had no boats, unfortunately the water had frozen enough for men to cross. Nurhaci dispatched a force who crossed the river and massacred thousands while destroying the granary. Estimates place the dead defenders of Juehua to be up to 16,000.
Then Nurhaci yet again brandished his sword and personally led an attack upon the walls, and then disaster struck. One of the Portuguese-made cannons struck near Nurhaci giving him over 30 wounds. Nurhaci was soon taken out of the combat zone and Yuan sent a letter asking the well-being of the Khan, something traditionally done by Ming commanders. Nurhaci reportedly replied back with insults calling Yuan a treacherous man. Now there are a few different stories, but one states Nurhaci died 2 days later of the wounds on September 30th, some others state it to be later on. Regardless at the age of 67 he died, wow, think about that guy at 67 waving a sword around on a horse in battle? This was the first major defeat for Nurhaci, though later Qing records would state he only lost something like 500 men. The Ming reports stated that it was in the figure of a few thousand and Yuan sent 269 heads back to Beijing. The Ming court was overwhelmed with joy by this moment, the Emperor himself exclaimed “that 10 years of defeat had been erased in a single day”. In the meantime, the sea king Mao was still receiving a lot of press coverage for his raids in the Bohai coast and this seems to have frustrated Yuan or atleast made him jealous of the spotlight not only being on him. Yuan began advocating for a mixed strategy of offense and defense, to gradually retake territory from Ningyuan to Lushun. Yuan urged the Ming Court that his way of war would work best and that Mao’s wreckless adventures were only provoking the Jin to strike elsewhere where they could do more damage. Needless to say, the tiger that was Nurhaci was dead, so now what would the Jin do?
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Xiong Tingbi created a defensive strategy to defeat the Jin menace and despite his impeachment and execution, his legacy carried on with certain Ming commanders. The rise of the sea king Mao Wenlong seems to have the court gushing like fan girls over the countless victories he has won, but reports from others are suggesting he might be exaggerating his victories, or perhaps making them up? Sun Chengzong proved to be a very gifted commander initiating new military strategies that bore fruit despite being forced into retirement by his court enemies. Then at the last hour when all hope was lost and all on his lonesome, Yuan Chonghuan the cannon expert managed to turn the tides at Ningyuan by dealing a death blow to Nurhaci’s army and Nurhaci himself. The Jin are leaderless, who will take the throne and what comes next?