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Ages of Conquest: a Kings and Generals Podcast

Aug 8, 2022

Last time we spoke about the harrowing tale of what could be one of the most evil leaders in human history, depending of course which sources you read about him. Indeed Zhang Xianzhong, regardless if he was fully, half or less guilty of the crimes against humanity laid against his name, has gone down in Chinese history as a significant figure. The people of Sichuan underwent a horror and it would take two full centuries for Sichuan to regain its lost population. Thus with the fall of Zhang Xianzhong, Li Zicheng and countless South Ming claimants to the throne, who was left for the remnants of the former to rally around? Well one of the self proclaimed Emperors to the South Ming regime was still alive and….fleeing. Emperor Yongli now had an opportunity to harness the scattered Dashun, Daxi and other Ming loyalists to his cause. 


This episode is the Flight & Fight of Emperor Yongli


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 the history of asia 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 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.


Well after a rather horrifying episode dedicated just to Zhang Xianzhong’s regime in Sichuan we now come back to the South Ming regime. Now while Zhang Xianzhong was busy turning Sichuan into a cemetery, the South Ming Loyalists were engaged in a life or death struggle for central and southeast China. A series of Ming claimants to the dragon throne rose and fell. Li Zicheng and Zhang Xianzhong are both dead leaving their Dashun and Daxi followers in a power vacuum to be swallowed up by mere Banditry, or perhaps defecting to the Qing or Ming. As for the largest victims, the common people, they were once again caught in the middle, soon to be subjugated to war, famine and general hardship. As one scholar one put it “The long conquest of central and south China required armed struggle in county after county, community after community, forcing countless people to face the grim choices on their own doorsteps.”.

When the Qing took Beijing, they faced multiple enemies. Li Zicheng fled west and the South Ming Regime sprang up in the south. It meant the Qing would be forced to divide their forces, resources and attention. But their enemies were not only not cooperating, they we’re all fighting another. Hell the South Ming Regime was arguably fighting another more than the Qing at many points. It made sense to take out Li Zicheng first of course, he was an easier target since the Qing smashed his army, and there was the bonus of looking like they were avenging the regicide of Emperor Chongzhen. In the meantime the South Ming Regime was killing itself allowing the Qing to kick the door to the rotting structure and soon a bunch of South Ming self proclaimed Emperors were defeated one by one. Yet when they got to Emperor Yongli…well he kept fleeing. Then they diverted their attention to Zhang Xianzhong and took him out, probably for the betterment of humanity. Now so many remnants of Dashun, Daxi, other Ming loyalist military groups and other bandit armies were roaming around. Many warlords sprang up taking control over them. What would happen if someone began to win over all these free chess pieces so to say to their side of the war? 

Now we are going to go back to Emperor Yongli’s situation. As I had mentioned 2 episodes ago Qu Shishi had argued with Emperor Yongli that they needed to make a stand, and one would be made at Guilin. Qu Shisi said to the Emperor ““If you want to defend Yue, you should stay in Yue. If you abandon Yue, then Yue will be imperiled. If we take one step forward, then the people will take one step forward. But if we flee far away in a single day, the people will also flee far in a day. If we run, then we cannot defend [territory]. How can we attract people to our cause?”. Well Emperor Yongli fled regardless for the 4th or 5th time I lost count at this point, Qu Shishi stayed behind at Guilin. Qu Shisi understood the necessity not to abandon cities so easily so as to rally more forces to the cause. He had seen the previous South Ming Regimes collapse because they abandoned bases too swiftly, undermining their causes.


Qu Shisi was accompanied by Jiao Lian and they would defend Guilin from multiple Qing attacks in April and June of 1647. During the first assault Jiao had led the defense of the city facing greater numbers and having lesser firearms at his disposal. Despite the deficiency in firearms Jiao’s forces defended Guilin using sword and bow to great effect. Several hundred Qinq archer cavalry charged Guilin and pelted the defenders with arrows, one of them striking Jiao, but he kept fighting and held the south gate against the invaders. This inspired his troops and soon they charged out the south gate against the Qing force, smashing many troops of the Red banner. The Qing had to flee, and Jiao’s men chased them killing thousands.Eventually Jiao and his men went too far and were surrounded and outnumbered by the Qing who wheeled around on them. It is said Jiao screamed and struck the invaders with his spear, raining blood and flesh all over as he and his men hacked their way out of the encirclement. They fought for some miles, just a force of 300 men against thousands but managed to make it back to Guilin. 


This minor victory prompted Qu and Jiao to stress the tactical and strategic importance of Guilin and Wuzhou, urging Emperor Yongli to return and to make Guilin a base of operations. Meanwhile Emperor Yongli was being escorted by Liu Chengyin, an ambitious career military man who was nicknamed “the Iron Club” who protected him in western Huguang. For 3 months no rations were delivered to Guilin and when the Qing learnt about its supply issues they attacked again, this time at the Wenchang gate. Jiao charged out against the enemy covered by some western cannons given to him by some catholic missionary friends. The cannons cut the Qing forces to ribbons, killing hundreds as Jiao charged out to fight them in the fields. The fighting went on for 2 days with the cannons never stopping and although the Qing regrouped to attack again they were smashed so much they had to make a retreat, being pursued yet again by Jiao’s forces losing thousands of men. For this victory, Jiao was made military commissioner in chief of the left, military superintendent of Guangxi, and the Earl of Xining. Liu “Iron Club” Chengyin, it seems had been holding Emperor Yongli under house arrest at Wugang the entire time and this began to look really bad. In May of 1647, the Qing captured Baoqing and in a series of battles defeated Liu Chengyin. Emperor Yongli barely was able to escape, sometimes only being just a few miles ahead of Qing scouts. Emperor Yongli made his way through the Guni Pass to Liuzhou, but soon had to reroute to Xiangzhou. By this point locals were shooting arrows at his royal barge, not a good look at all. After the constant urging of Qu Shishi, Emperor Yongli finally decided to return to Guilin by the end of 1647. 


The Qing found they were having a hard time pacifying southern and western Huguang province, it held rough terrain and a large number of enemies. Bandit groups were operating by both land and water in numbers ranging from hundreds to thousands. To make matters worse the bandits had multiple spies working within the Qing giving them warning of their movements, allowing them to hide into mountains and forests when needed. Han bannerman Luo Xiujin argued that despite their victories, the enemy would always escape their clutches via mountains. The Qing like their Ming counterparts, were having the exact same problems dealing with confrontations with wandering bandits, particularly in the rugged border country between provinces. Qing officials complained repeatedly of ambushes in mountain passes and heavy casualties. There were also reports that such ambush attacks were making common cause with the Ming loyalists, and this was certainly concerning. The Qing were realizing that the Ming could offer legitimation to bandit groups and use them to ware the Qing down.


In Autumn of 1647, after the Qing attacked Yongzhou, after 10 days of combat, the Ming suddenly charged out of the city and pushed the Qing to flee near Quanzhou where they managed to defeat Qing commander Geng Zhongming forcing him to flee for miles. This was considered the first military triumph for Emperor Yongli’s regime. 


By early 1648, the Qing seized Quanzhou and managed to defeat some Ming forces near Guilin who routed. The forces who had routed ended up fleeing to Guilin and they quickly set about looting the city before further fleeing. Qu Shishi remained stern as some of his fellow Ming commanders looted, burned and fled Guilin as the situation deteriorated. Guilin soon fell into a mutiny as the city was engulfed in flames. Qu refused to leave his post but  was wounded and had to leave the city by river. When the Qing prince Jirgalang heard of the problems in Guilin he seized the opportunity to assault the city. This prompted, I guess the 6th flight of Emperor Yongli at this point. Qu Shishi was urging the Emperor to stay as Jiao came rushing from Pringle to help, but Qing forces blocked his route to Guilin. Qu urged the emperor “Victory or defeat is still unsure. But if your plan is to run away, then how can this place not be in danger?” Yongli replied, “Surely my minister does not want to see the Altars of State and Grain perish?”. 

Qu tried to gather forces and calm things down to defend Guilin as the enemy approached, while Jiao kept fighting to get to the city. Soon Jiao found himself surrounded and fought with his spear courageously, buying enough time for the Ming commander Hu Yiqing to show up from the east joining the fight with his cavalry. It is said, Hu Yiqing had his horses manes clipped in such a way that the Qing thought they were riding bulls and proclaimed “This bull- riding monster is not easy to stand up against!”. The cavalry of Hu managed to smash the Qing force, sending them fleeing for a few miles. Despite all of this, Emperor Jongli continued to flee all the way to Nanning, much to the outrage of Qu Shishi “How can you flee every time the wind blows two hundred li away? How can the people take heart if their leader is so tremulous?”. His words had no effect on the Emperor, in only 18 months Yongli had traveled over 1800 miles across 3 provinces, spending no more than 4 months in any given place. This led to waves of defections, and the court of Yongli began to discuss where would be the best place to set up a base of operation. 


Despite the flights of Yongli, in 1648 the Ming had some major successes. Ma Jinzhong took back Changde, He Tengjiao took back Quanzhou and this drove many to the Ming cause, even Yongzhou was taken back after a 3 month siege. Riding the wave of victories, the Ming took Hengzhou and they also began to capture valuable supplies, horses and other war materials. This all forced Qu Shishi to yet again urge Emperor Yongli to go back to Guilin and this time make it his capital. Qu’s reasoning was quite sound, Guilin was centrally located in a resource rich area along a river. It was easy to communicate with other sectors and coordinate offensive campaigns. But time and time again Emperor Yongli refused and this had a damaging effect on morale. Soon Ming commanders recaptured Xiangyang and Yichang and this led Emperor Yongli to feel secure enough to return to Zhaoqing, which he hoped to turn into a base of operation. At this point Yongli and many in his court thought that a Ming restoration was truly possible and they now sought to push north of the Yangzi and seize Nanjing and Kaifeng. Sun Kewang had opened up negotiations with their regime and it was expected that he could be relied upon. Qu Shishi for his part argued that now they could push east from Sichuan and north cutting Qing supply lines from Hugaung. Things would all take a dramatic turn for the worse however.


One of the Ming’s commanders, Li Chixin who was a former commander under Li Zicheng had been continuously stating in public that Li Zicheng was the former emperor, making quite a bit of trouble. Li then requested permission to take Changsha and Yuezhou on his own. He managed to defeat the Qing commander Xu Yong and marched north to assault Changsha where Xu Yong had retreated. He killed thousands, captured boats, horses and other war materials and word spread of his great success. However the people of Changsha, did not see Li Chixin as their liberator, in fact they threw their lot in with Xu Yong to defend their city. Let us not forget, Li Chixin like many other former commanders of the Dashun or Daxi bandit armies had a reputation of course, who knows what populaces thought of him. Thus Li Chixins command boat when approaching the city was struck by a cannon ball and he lost over 1000 men. Xu Yong was hit by an arrow, but this did not stop him from rallying the defense of the city atop the walls. Li kept up the pressure with his siege ladders, artillery and sappers. But Xu Yong fired arrows, cannons down upon the enemy and led men into the tunnels to attack the Ming sappers costing Li Chixin some thousand men. Then Xu Yong sent secret attacks with boats on the Xiang river and they hit Li’s flanks forcing him to retreat.


When Li Chixin was defeated at Changsha he was order to simply move on and relieve forces at Nanchang, but he ended he only went as far as Chaling and hunkered down. In the meantime the two Ming commanders, Du Yinxi and He Tengjiao were forming plans in Xiangtan. Du decided he would head east to rescue Jiangxi while He would try to go to Nanjing linking up with other Ming loyalists there. As part of their campaigns, Li Chixin was appointed vice minister of war and supreme commander of Shandong and Henan, while other commanders received supreme commands over other areas. But nothing came of these appointments as the Qing quickly advanced and hit He Tengjiao as he was departing from Xiangtan. He tried to find allies to help him out, but none could do anything, thus Prince Jirgalang was able to defeat He and took him as a hostage. Prince Jirgalang knew He Tengjiao had quite a lot of military capability and spent many days trying to get He to defect, but it was to no avail. Eventually Prince Jirgalang ordered his execution, or He committed suicide, no report is sure of his fate. When He Tengjiao was dead, many of his men fled to join Qu Shisi at Guilin. Another issue however was the countless “Loyal and True” who were under He Tengjiao’s command, since his death they were now without any semblance of order. Bandits will be bandits and soon they were looting and pillaging everyone. 


The Qing soon besieged Nanchang and took it in short time, thus dramatically collapsing the Ming control in Huguang. Many Ming commanders defected to the Qing and Emperor Yongli put Qu Shishi in charge of defending the Huguang-Jiangxi Guangdong corridor, but at this point the Qing held the Fujian coast and much of Huguang. By 1649, Li Chixin’s troops began to scatter and plunder the area as the Qing pursued them. Eventually Li’s forces plundered their way back north earning the moniker “white felt bandits” for the way they dressed. It was hoped by the Ming that they could still coerce Li Chixin and his white felt bandits to return back into the fold, but Li Chixin would die of illness in Guangxi in the late year. The white felt bandits soon scattered off and fell into pillaging under new commanders mostly in Huguang and Sichuan provinces.  


As the Ming forces collapsed at Yongzhou in late 1649, Qu Shishi said in anguish “For 2 years I’ve tried to create a bulwark, and in a single morning everything has collapsed. How can it be believed that Heaven if for the Ming?”. With the death of He Tengjiao and the absolute collapse of the South Ming regime’s position in Huguang, Emperor Yongli, you guessed it, fled Zhaoqing for Wuzhou in early 1650. Thus the South Ming regime was barely a thing in Huguang anymore. Now Qu Shisi began begging the emperor to stay in Zhaoqing stating Yuedong has lots of rivers alongside mountains; [even] good cavalry cannot unite in the wilderness [to attack here]. Since the time [Li] Chengdong returned to allegiance, this has been the secure area. Its resources and tax base are abundant, ten times that of Yuexi, and both competent officials and troops north and south are connected, and we can strengthen ourselves from within and defend ourselves from outside enemies. Moreover, Zhaoqing is one thousand li from Shao[xing]. With stout crossbows mounted on the walls and entrenched brigades in defense, we can wait for royal rescue troops to come from the four [directions]. Wherever we can go, the bandits can go as well. Although the realm is vast, there is only one boundary. If we retreat an inch, we lose an inch; if we retreat a foot, we lose a foot. Now if the court hears of danger and climbs aboard a boat in the middle of the night, where can you go?”.


As you probably guessed, Yongli did not listen and continued his flight. Qing commander Kong Youde, remember that guy all the way back from the very first episodes? Well he sent Qu Shisi a letter, trying to get him to surrender. Kong Youde had been battling the Loyal and True throughout the southwest smashing many of their armies. Qu allegedly burned the letter and killed the messenger. Meanwhile back in Sichuan, Sun Kewang had begun his own program of state building and was beginning to ask the South Ming Regime to install him as a Ming Prince. 


Following in his former master's gruesome footsteps, Sun looted Guizhou and severed hands, ears and noses of those who resisted, apparently only 30% of the populace was left alive. Sun set to work training his troops for months, made deals with local cities to establish economic relations all while simultaneously harassing local Ming armies. His forces eventually captured the provincial capital of Guiyang and its surrounding area and he soon began to set up a new entire new regime. But just as Sun was settling down he received word of an extraordinary opportunity unfolding in Yunnan. Thus he and his Da Xi commanders marched southwest entering Yunnan, entering a new dawn for them all. 


The collapse of the Ming dynasty at Beijing and that of the Hongguang South Ming regime in Nanjing had led the people of Yunnan to revolt against their former Ming leaders. Yunnan was one of the very last places conquered by the Ming Dynasty in the late 14th century and it remained relatively the same it had been prior. It had a huge aboriginal population governed by chieftains in a system called the Tulsi system. Yunnan thus was always a bit of a quasi-feudal state controlled by the strongest chieftains. Once the Ming Dynasty fell, the chieftains began to fight another for dominance. The Chieftain family that had the largest influence historically because of their relationship with the Ming royal family was known as the Mu clan. The Mu clan was pretty oppressive to the people and even more so when the Ming collapsed. When Hongguang’s regime fell, most in Yunnan began to view the Mu clan as being weak and many other clans began to attack them. One clan, the Wu clan to make this all sound more confusing, was rising to prominence at the time and challenged the Mu clan. The Wu had limited military power and the Mu quelled their challenge fairly easily. But the challenge simply encouraged more and more clans to rise up and a leader named Sha Dingzhou used the opportunity. Sha was a military officer for a chieftain who died and Sha managed to get a stronghold of the clan. While the Mu’s and Wu’s fought, Sha began a campaign that extended to the Vietnamese border. Then Sha tried a coup against the Mu after they quelled the Wu. Sha’s force stormed the Mu palace and burnt it down, killing many in the capital of Yunnanfu. This began a war between Sha and the Mu clan for several months with Sha gaining control of the east of Yunnan. However Mu’s forces and other chieftains were fighting a war of attrition and likely would win, thus Sha sought external help. 


Sha Dingzhou sent a letter to Sun Kewang “inviting” him to come to the rescue of Yunnan in 1647. Unfortunately, this would be a very very big mistake. Sun Kewang claimed to be the brother in law to Mu Tianbo and declared he would avenge his sister’s family. Sun Kewang showed up with 100,000 battled hardened veterans who saw a force of just a few thousand disorganized local units under Sha’s command. Sun Kewang defeated Sha’s army easily and piled corpses in the streets of the first city they took, immersing the city in 3 to 4 inches of blood so it is said. 


Sun then took Quijing, a city he expected to simply open up the gates and submit to him as he had just massacred a previous city sending fear throughout the region. They chose to not submit and fired cannons upon the invaders. Soon Sun’s men tossed up a cloud of ladders and swarming over the walls of Quijing like ants. Sun’s men rounded up all those in the city and severed hands


Sun then ordered his fellow adopted brothers Liu Wenxiu to the west and Li Dingguo to the east to kill all those who would not submit. Sha Dingzhou tried to send armies to attack the invaders where he could, but every army was defeated with ease. Sha would proclaim to all his confidence with his army, but secretly he was pulling his hair out knowing soon Sun would take the province. 

Sun eventually marched on Yannanfu and smashed the Sha army defending it, but rather than immediately occupying the city, Sun Kewang instead announced he was going to restore the Jiao clan, that being his sister's clan who was married to a Mu husband. By this point Liu Wenxiu and Li Dingguo had spread a ton of fear into the populace with their campaigns in the east. Despite Yannanfu having a tiny garrison within it, the city was simply falling apart because of low supplies as Sun Kewang’s army simply surrounded it and waited. Thus after a few months the gates of Yunnanfu opened and Sun’s forces entered the city. Soon Sun Kewang began to proclaim all those who fled the city should come back, or they would soon be killed as rebels. All the wives within Yunnanfu who lost husbands were given to Sun’s men. Then he began to force the children to work cutting grass and collecting firewood. Girls of the age 10 and up were forced into drama troupes, some put into brothels. Boys 12 to 20 years of age were castrated. The adult men were killed and their bodies were tossed into the wilderness. Many former Ming officials were killed or they themselves committed suicide. To restore a semblance of order, Sun began practices employed by Zhang Xianzhong such as prohibited fires at night amongst many other rules which could earn a citizen of Yunnanfu a beating or execution depending on the rule. Yunnanfu was basically becoming a Chengdu 2.0, but perhaps not nearly as bad. Then Sun sent his armies to scour the countryside of the city killing many. It was estimated that perhaps half the population of Yunnanfu was dead. It was even alleged that coffin makers ran out of wood in Yunnanfu. Within a month, Sun’s forces began to conscript laborers to cultivate enough food for the army to survive. Many homes around the city were razed to make for space for Sun’s army training grounds any who resisted were killed. Sun eventually established order through fear, but realized that in Yunnan you required the support of the Tulsi system to truly control the province, so he soon began to establish relations with all the chieftains. Those who resisted of course were threatened. 


Sun then began calling himself Ping Dong Wang “Prince who pacifies the East” which was met with animosity from his adoptive brothers. Sun began to place royal titles on everyone, but kept his position elevated from his adoptive brothers who were supposed to all be equal. The 3 other brothers all recognized Sun Kewang nominally as the leader, but had agreed they should all have equal rankings.  Li Dingguo began to argue they should all be equal as things were with Zhang Xianzhong, which angered Sun. Sun then publicly punished Li Dingguo, though Liu Wenxiu and Ai Nengqi would manage to get the punishment lightened. Regardless Li Dingguo was livid stating ““We are brothers. How dare you strike me? Since the death of our father we have been like hands and feet with no ruler among us, yet now we are to honor you as superior? If this is how things are going to be from now on, how can we live together in peace?”. It is alleged Sun went to Li in private and told him he had to do it publicly because if not there could be a mutiny. Sun then tried to make amends with Li, tasking him with hunting down and killing Sha Dingzhou who was on the run.


Sha had run to Lin’an and had held out against the forces of Liu Wenxiu for quite a few months. When Li Dingguo’s force showed up the defenders of Lin’an showered them with gunfire, but Li being a veteran commander easily broke their walls in no time using gunpowder. Sha’s forces were shocked by the speed and efficiency of Li’s army as they quickly overwhelmed the city. The entire city was torched in a single day, it is said 78 thousand were massacred. Sha and his family managed to escape to a nearby town called Ami. After the massacre at Lin’an, Li Dingguo was noted to not again perform such horrible acts against civilians, it seems he was trying to build himself a reputation afterwards that he was not like Zhang Xianzhong or Sun Kewang. In early 1648, Li Dingguo surrounded the town of Ami, cutting off its water supply. After 20 days, the defenders with Sha Dingzhou ran out of water and Li began sapping Ami’s walls. Li then invited Sha to a fake banquet making it seem they would allow Sha to defect and take up a grand position in the new regime. The effect led many of the defenders to defect who soon simply opened the gates to Li’s men. Li was brought to Sha and his family and instead of the banquet he promised he had the entire household brought to Yunnanfu and flayed alive. Li’s successes were extravagant, showing his extreme capability as a military leader. Unfortunately they also bolstered Li Dingguo as a great leader and Sun Kewang began to become quite jealous of this. 


Once Sun Kewangs army had secured enough food to sustain themselves for a year, they began government building efforts. Taxes began, agricultural reform, mines were opened, weapons manufacturing, the works. The weather proved great during that year and the harvests did very well, mines produced salt, gold, silver, iron and copper and the faith in the government rose up. In fact Sun had done better than some of the former Ming officials had in the past and he soon began to mint coins, print paper notes and open new roads, which all helped reduce conflict in the province. Within a year Sun’s government was gathering much praise and the people were quite content. Things were really looking good and Sun began to explore the idea of formally uniting with the Ming to resist the Qing. Sun had heard the reports about how well the Loyal and True bandits had done under the Ming regime and thought his regime might benefit from this relationship as well. This would help Sun and his inner circle gain legitimacy and at the time it looked like the Ming were doing well. However old dogs can't learn too many new tricks, and Sun’s administration still held some Zhang like favorites, like harsh punishments such as decapitation, flaying and flogging. Though Sun disregarded the policy of rewarding soldiers for body counts, so there was that.


But Sun Kewang was not content, he continued to make it more apparent that his position was more and more elevated compared to his adoptive brothers. He began to erect an ancestral temple for Zhang Xianzhong and referred to him as Taizu and linking himself to Zhang. Then he asked Emperor Yongli to invest with the Ming title of prince of blood “qin wang”. Ai Nengqi was perplexed by this and said ““I can name myself prince. What’s the point?” Li Dingguo also added, “We haven’t conquered an inch of territory, so how can we accept enfeoffment from the court?”. Sun explained to them that only an investiture from the Ming court was legitimate and that after he was invested with the title they would all refer to him as “you highness”. As you can imagine this would also most certainly help Sun alleviate himself over another rising star, Li Dingguo who was highly popular as a field commander. Li was appointed with the major responsibility of training the troops and was noted to share hardships with the men and always led from the front gaining their respect. Li was what you call a soldier's soldier. Li Dingguo soon established 5 rules for his army; done kill people, dont commit arson, dont commit rape, dont steal livestock and dont take money from peasants. Given how soldiers usually acted in this time in history, the response of the populace was ecstasy. 


In the summer of 1649, Sun dispatched his court official Yang Weizhi as his emissary to Yongli’s court to ask for the investiture of Prince of Qin and offered to fight the Qing on their behalf. By this time Sun had relocated his operations in Guizhou as it was more centrally located, leaving Li Dingguo in Yunnan to train the military. For Emperor Yongli’s court the request was quite disturbing, to make Sun a blood prince might put him in line for the throne. Many in the Ming court had no illusions about Sun Kewang, they thought he was trying to vie for the dragon throne himself.  The title of Prince of Qin was normally reserved for the royal family. The court was divided, Qu Shisi called for Sun’s execution, many argued Sun was nothing more than a bandit. But they were in a terrible situation, suffering many military defeats at the hands of the Qing. Eventually the court consented to giving Sun the lesser  title of Duke of Jingguo. Yang Weizhi was terrified of relaying the response to Sun who might simply execute him for failing to get the title Sun wanted and made a stop at Wuzhou before returned to Guizhou. In Wuzhou Yang met with Du Yinxi who advised him to simply forge a document to make Sun think he received a better title than what he had been given. Thus with Du Yinxi’s help they forged a document stating Sun was invested with the title of Prince of Pingaliao. Meanwhile another official in the Ming court forged another document stating Sun was being invested with the Prince of Qin title he had originally asked for. Turns out that official, named Chen Bangfu wanted to curry favor with Sun.  All of this was done without the awareness of Yonglis court of course. 


Thus the first to arrive in Guizhou was the envoy with Chen Bangfu’s forgery and Sun was absolutely delighted upon seeing it. Then Yang Weizhi showed up with his forgery of the Prince of Pingliao title, enraged Sun Kewang. Then yes as you might imagine, a real envoy from Yongli’s court arrived and Sun found out the truth that he actually received the Duke of Ingguo title, really really pissing him off. To add insult to injury, his 3 other adoptive brothers were also given titles by that envoy of Yongli


In his rage, Sun  sent more emissaries to Yongli who offered him the title of Prince of Yi, but Sun refused this, demanding the title he originally requested. In the meantime Ai Nengqi died as a result of a poisoned crossbow bolt while he was pacifying a rebellious region. He had been ambushed in a forest and his army was significantly battered. He had managed to return to Yunnanfu, but the doctors there could do little to nothing to stop the poison. His army was handed over to Sun Kewangs command, significantly increasing his power. Thus the first of the adoptive children of Zhang Xianzhong was dead, and he would not be the last.

Now all the way back in Sichuan the struggle raged on between the Ming loyalists and the Qing. The Qing had sent commander Li Guoying into Sichuan on a pacification campaign and as he entered the wasteland that once was Sichuan he said “For a thousand li there is no smoke [from cooking fires] and on account of the depredations of the bandit gangs, the value of rice is greater than that of pearls.”. His forces occupied Baoning in northern Sichuan where he was attacked multiple times by bandit armies such as the Kuidong bandits, Tan Hong and others. Li eventually rode out of Baoning and attacked the bandit armies fast and hard sending them fleeing into the countryside. Soon his army took Shunqing and he began to stock up supplies in preparation  for a gradual march south. In spring of 1647 he marched into Chengdu and lamented at the ghastly scene, he said to those around him“Chengdu has been down a hard road. Where are all the people?”. Bones were strewn everywhere, and there was no sign of life to be seen. He was given reports that the people of Chengdu had first fled to Yazhou and ate grass and wild plants until they starved so much they resorted to cannibalism. Li left Zheng Desheng as commander of Chengdu which must have been the worst appointment ever, but soon his troops starved, killed their commander and fled back north. Li got a report that 1330 of the 1390 men assigned to Zheng Desheng died of starvation or disease. Even Li himself was quite ill through 1647-1648 and he was hampered by bandit attacks and a very stretched supply line. Reports flooded in that every fortress was ridden with hundreds of sick and starving troops. All the garrisons the Qing commander would set up in Sichuan amounted to a few hundred starving men. The starvation did not allow him to perform a sufficient offensive, the situation became so dire most of the Qing forces had to withdraw from Sichuan with a meager force left occupying Baoning. It was not just the starvation and disease alone they had to worry about, anywhere the Qing set up shop, bandit armies emerged to harass them. 


Later on in 1650, the pacification commissioner of Sichuan Zhang Chun made a report that gives quite a lot of insight. He began by describing Sichuan as a den of tigers and that of the Yao-Huang bandits. One could travel for a great distance without seeing any smoke from cooking fires. He estimated that 2-3% of the population in Sichuan was still alive. He laid blame upon the destruction caused by the Yao-Huang bandits, while leaving out that of the Qing’s actions and goes on to talk about man-eating tigers found everywhere. People in Sichuan were  terrified to travel just because of tiger attacks. He claimed that in one distinct of a previous population of 506, 228 people were killed by tigers, 55 died of illness and 223 were left alive. He ended the report stating “Many people escaped the clutches of bandits only to end up in the mouths of tigers”. Wow I am just trying to imagine, surviving the horrors of Zhang Xianzhong, then the war between the Qing and Ming and now you got tigers everywhere eating people yikes.


Li Guoying immediately began demanding assistance, and Qing emperor Shunzhi began to promise supplies would be on their way from places like Shaanxi. But all supplies were quickly used up and Li still had little in terms of soldiers. Li kept arguing that as his enemies grew larger in Sichuan his forces grew smaller. The problem was the supplies and men quickly starved and got sick because there was no foundation within Sichuan to feed them. Basically it was like putting bandaids upon bandaids upon even more bandaids for a large wound that needed a doctor to fix it. Thus the situation forced Li to develop a new plan which was “tuantian” “to nourish the troops, soothe the people, and allow for both offensive and defensive warfare”. He sent Qing officials into the countryside to investigate and promote agricultural productivity. As for his army he sent them throughout the north and east of Sichuan, killing and capturing thousands of bandit armies, many part of the Yao-Huang bandits. But like always, bandits could run and hide in mountains, and thats just what they did.  It was estimated by Li that upto 100,000 Yao-Huang bandits could be in Sichuan. 


By 1649, Li was promoted to minister of war and vice censor in chief of the right with jurisdiction over the armies of Sichuan. He had multiple victories, one was dislodging Liu Wenxiu from Chongqing where he killed many Daxi.  If you remember way back when, Emperor Yongli dispatched a distant family member named Zhu Rongfan to Sichuan in 1647. Zhu Rongfan began parading around as a Prince of Chu, though in reality he wasn't and amassed 100,000 followers forming a base in Kuizhou. His forces fought the Qing and scored quite a few victories, but in reality they were just a bunch of opportunistic bandits. Then Zhu Rongfan picked a fight with the Ming loyalist commander Yang Zhan who brought the Ming attention upon him. As you might have guessed, he was preparing to proclaim himself emperor as one does and South Ming officials began to investigate the situation. When pressed by them Zhu claimed to be acting on behalf of Emperor Yongli and that he was merely suppressing bandits. They also accused him of trying to claim himself as an heir apparent despite not being a prince of blood. Zhu then tried to make a getaway but was caught by other officials in 1649 who executed him. 


Meanwhile the situation in Sichuan kept growing worse and worse. Just because the tyrant Zhang Xianzhong was dead did not mean his lasting effects on the province were gone. In the midst of the war between bandits, Qing and Ming, the common people were starving and dying. Rice was selling at unbelievably inflated rates. Dogs ate human flesh and lurked in city streets. Most cities were empty though because tigers and wolves were prowling them. It was reported that bandits were robbing graves and that people were resorting to cannibalism en masse. Many people fled to mountains away from the threat of other people or tigers. Lighting a fire became like a death sentence inviting anyone to attack you. Disgusting euphemisms began to be said because of all the cannibalism such as “poor man’s broth / xia geng” “surplus lamb / yang rao” “scorched bones  / gu yang”. On top of the famine were the terrible diseases which there were many. “Big head plague” as it was called was when one's head erupted in red boils, it was associated with the chills, fever, swelling of the head and neck and was very contagious. There was a similar disease known as “frog fever” where the boils were more so on the shoulders and back. Then there was “horse eye” a sickness when one's eyes became big and yellow. It is also assumed the Qing brought smallpox with them and this invested the south.


By autumn of 1649 most of north and western Sichuan was pacified and a quarter of the province under nominal control of the Qing. In Southern Sichuan the South Ming loyalist Yang Zhan had held control for quite awhile, aided greatly by the hoard of treasure he salvaged from Zhang Xianzhong’s naval catastrophe in 1646. He was capable of feeding his own troops and thousands of refugees who stormed over to him. Despite all his good fortune, he had to contest with warlords in Sichuan named Li Qiande, Wu Dading and Yuan Tao. The 3 warlords  invited Yang to a banquet, its always a banquet eh? And yup, they poisoned his wine, typical. After killing Yang they divided his treasure and troops and southern sichuan yet again fell into chaos. 


As this all went down, word spread and Sun Kewang, similar to how he took the opportunity with Yunnan’s turmoil came back to Sichuan when he heard the south was fractured. 

Sun seeking to put further pressure on Emperor Yongli to invest him as a Prince of Qin, sent Liu Wenxiu and Bai Wenxuan with 200,000 to avenge Yang Zhan. Sun’s forces made quick work of the warlords and bandit leaders in southern Sichuan taking several cities.Yuan and Wu were captured and sent back to Sun who mocked them saying he would enroll them as regular soldiers in his army. Wu actually did end up serving in Sun’s military and for quite a long time. Yuan managed to escape and flee but was caught and killed by Liu Wenxiu. Li Qiande drowned himself when Liu Wenxiu caught up to him. Sun’s forces killed countless warlords, bandit leaders and such. Now Sun’s army even had elephant cavalry from Yunnan. Many simply submitted to Sun Kewang joining his forces and growing his power.


Meanwhile Li Guoying had initially profited heavily from the death of Yang Zhan, but saw with horror the force of Sun Kewang sweep through the province like a swarm. Li Guoying pleaded with Emperor Shunzhi for more troops to combat the warlord in the south and was promised a mix of Han and Manchu troops under the control of Wu Sangui. Yet even with the extra forces, now the Loyal and Trust, Kuidong bandits, Yao-Huang bandits and other groups were flocking to Sun Kewangs banner and the south of Sichuan was just a minefield of trouble.  Sun asserted his control from Guizhou and began building it up similar to what he did in Yunnan and in a short time the southwest of Sichuan became an armed camp designed specifically to resist the Qing. 


Kong Youde was made prince in charge of rectifying the south in 1649 and alongside the Manchu prince Jirgalang both were dispatched and in 1650 they took Longhu, Wugang and Jingzhou. Through their efforts they took 50,000 surrendered Ming troops and many officers and moved to take Quanzhou and then entered Guangxi. Qu Shishi tried desperately to rally troops to defend Guilin, but all efforts were in vain and no significant numbers came. Qu refused to leave as all his colleagues urged him to do so. In november of 1650, Kong Youde’s army surrounded Guilin. To help defend the city, Qu Shishi was aided by the Ming official Zhang Tonchang a who had served the Shaowu Emperor and aided in defeating Zhu Rongfan. He had a Fu Manchu style mustache, was loved and respected by his men for being fearless in battle. When Zhang arrived Qu said to him “I have been entrusted with staying to defend [Guilin]. So I should die here. Those without such responsibilities can flee. The frontier has already been lost. How can I think of easily fleeing?” Zhang replied that he was impressed and called Qu a true gentleman, requesting permission to die alongside him, saying, “If it’s to be death, then we die together.”Qu was delighted, and the two shared wine. Qu gave his seals of office to another official to send to Yongli. So a sort of bromance if you were.


Kong Youde repeatedly offered Qu and Zhang the chance to defect, but both men refused. Kong then wined and dined them, trying to win them over but to no avail. Zhang spat back at Kong “You are no more than a dog or a sheep. You disgrace the former Sage, and you deserve to die for your crimes!” You’re nothing more than the slave who used to carry a bedpan in Mao Wenlong’s house! How dare you sully the name of the Sage.”. For this Zhangs feet were severed, but Kong still did not kill him. He kept insisting the Qing were better for all and gave stories of his 20 years as a soldier. Then Kong tried to have their own family members come and talk sense into them, but still it was to no avail.  Both men were eventually  imprisoned and wrote depressing and falistic poems during the captivity before being executed outside Windy Cave at the foot of the celestial crane peak in what is called today, Diecai Shan (folded Brocade hill) public park. Kong Youde allowed proper burials for the two and soon took up residence in the mansion of the former Ming Prince of Jingjiang. Now Guilin and nearby Pingle were in Qing hands. Kong Youde sought to secure Guangxi by 1651, but he was also itching to face Sun Kewang in the west.


In the wake of Qu and Zhang’s deaths, Yongli fled to Nanning, hahahahaha this guy. With a more vulnerable Emperor Yongli now in Nanning, Sun Kewang saw an opportunity to establish greater control over him. Sun Kewang sent him welcoming parties, offering him military protection and boasted of how powerful and wonderful he was. 


After annoying Yongli enough he was finally invested as the Prince of Qin, though he had already taken to calling himself “guozhu” “ruler of the realm” and had been making appointments on his own authority at Guiyang. Once a bandit, always a bandit as they say. He was absolutely delighted by the news and renamed Yunnanfu Kunming and Yunnan as Yunxing province. Then he dubbed his personal troops the “jiaqianjun” “royal vanguard”. Li Dingguo and Liu Wenxiu retained their old titles and sat at Sun’s left and right side begrudgingly.  Yang Weizhi, the poor guy who had to bear bad news and was punished harshly for it managed to become grand secretary at Emperor Yongli’s court and would subsequently try to impeach Sun. Sun responded by having his thugs bring Yang to Guiyang and upon his arrival screamed “Traitorous bandits like you will never be anything else.”. Sun had Yang beaten and dragged through the streets and was trampled to death by horses. His loss was felt heavy by many, particularly by Li Dingguo and Liu Wenxiu who had become close friends with him. They took his corpse and buried him with a ceremony. With Yang well out of the way, Sun began to construct an imperial palace in Guiyang and used imperial forms of address in his decrees and instructions. Any officials who resisted him were trampled to death by horses. Only Liu Wenxiu and Li Dingguo were exempt from calling Sun “guozhu”. He minted his own coins and constructed more ancestral temples, making further links to Zhang Xianzhong. Sun then declared his state the “Later Ming” regime. His ascension ceremony was attended by 100 officials on July 3rd 1651.


Meanwhile the Qing captured Pingle and Qingyuan as well as other towns along the Huguang-Guangxi border. Jiao Lian was captured by the Qing who tried to persuade him to join them, but he opted for suicide. Emperor Yongli feeling pressured, you guessed it, fled Nanning. This time he and his court debated whether they should flee to Fujian or Vietnam. Most wanted to go east arguing they should join up with Sun Kewang. But Emperor Yongli thought the coast was too distant and the travel too dangerous, for the time being they would camp at Xixing. But as the Qing took Nanning, Emperor Yongli fled again, almost being caught by the Qing who were within just a few miles of his entourage. This prompted Emperor Yongli to accept Sun Kewangs offer of protection. At the beginning of 1652, Sun ordered his subordinate Lt. Genge Sanpin with 3000 troops to escort Emperor Yongli to Anlong. By the time Emperor Yongli arrived his entourage was down to 2900 members. Sun figured the location was convenient for the court of Yongli as it lay in conjunction with Yunnan, Guizhou and Guangdong provinces. It was also close enough to Guiyang for Sun to keep an eye on the Emperor. Sun then set himself up as Yongl’s military protector, but refused to personally greet Yongli on the principle that quote “2 dragons cannot see one another”. Thus Anlong became the ostensible Ming capital, but in reality it was just a safe place where Sun could keep the Emperor while he pursued his own objectives.


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So the great and horrifying father Zhang Xianzhong is dead, but his 4 adoptive sons quickly took over the family business and are causing mayhem. Sun Kewang emerged the largest brother and soon built himself an empire, matching that of  the fleeing Emperor Yongli. Now Kewang had Emperor Yongli basically under house arrest, or better said kidnapped, all was his for the taking, what stood in his way, but the might of the Qing dynasty?