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The Culmination of a Chinese Peasant Rebellion: Chang Hsien-chung in Szechwan, 1644–46


Studies of peasant rebellions in China are significant because of the key role such disturbances have played in Chinese history. Merely from the point of view of numbers one is impressed by the many references to agrarian violence in the historical records of the various dynasties. To be sure, usually these outbreaks were short-lived, but at times they reached such serious proportions as to become one of the major causes for the fall of a dynasty. Furthermore, as is well known, two major dynasties, the Han and the Ming, were founded by peasant rebels.

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1 Li Tzu-ch'eng was the most important of the Ming rebels and a contemporary of Chang Hsien-chung. It was he who captured Peking in the spring of 1644, and had it not been for the Manchus, might well have established an enduring dynasty. Por a translation of his biography in the Ming shih, see Hauer Erich, “Li Tzu-ch'eng und Chang Hsienchung: Ein Beitrag zum Ende der Mingdynastie,” Asia Major, II (1925), 437498. Throughout the footnotes the following abbreviations will be used:

HLLK for Tai Lia and Wu Shub, Huai-ling liu-k'ou shih-chung luc (in Hsüan-lan-t'ang ts'ung-shud, Nanking, 1947);

HS for Fei Mim, Huang shun (Chengtu: I-lan-t'ang, probably 1860);

KTS for K'o T'ien shua (anonymous, in T'ung shihp, Shanghai: Commercial Press, 1912);

MCNL for Chi Liu-ch'ig, Ming-chi nan lüehh (Peking: Liu-li-ch'ang, undated);

MCPL for Chi Liu-ch'ig, Ming-chi pei lüehh (Peking: Liu-li-ch'ang, undated);

MS for Ming shih (Wu-chou t'ung-wen ed.);

MSCSPM for Ku Ying-t'ai, Ming shih chi-shih pen-mo (Shanghai, 1934);

PKC for P'eng Sun-ie, P'ing k'ou chihf (Peking, 1931);

SC for Shu chio (anonymous, in T'ung shihp, Shanghai: Commercial Press, 1912);

SKCL for Wu Wei-yehi, Sui k'ou chi lüehi (Chao-k'uang-ko ed., K'ang-hsi period);

SP for P'eng Tsun-ch'iuk, Shu pil (probably late Ch'ing).

2 During the Ming period modern Kiangsu and Anhwei were one province with the name Nan-chih-li.

3 HLLK, 16.11a–b, 17b, 18a; PKC, 7.4a–b, 16.9a–b; MSPL, 19.51a; MS, 309.30b, 31a; and MSCSPM, ch. 57, pp. 51–52.

4 During the Ming period modern Hupeh and Hunan were one province with the name Hu-kuang.

5 All dates have been converted to the Western calendar.

6 HLLK, 16.13a, 14b, 15a–b; PKC, 7.1b, 2a; MCPL, 19.55a; and MSCSPM, ch. 77, p.

7 It is interesting to speculate what might have been the fate of Chang if he had moved into the Kiangsu-Chekiang area and established a center of power there. He would perhaps have been in a position to have dominated the Ming court after its flight to Nanking and used the pretender as a puppet. Interestingly enough, after his death one of his chief officers, Li Ting-kuo, did succeed in dominating for a time the last of the Ming pretenders. However, by this late date there was no chance for the Ming to recover power.

8 HLLK, 16.30a; PKC, 7.6a, 7b, 16a; MSCSPM, ch. 77, p. 54; and MCNL, 4.11b.

9 HLLK, 18.15a; PKC, 8.3b; and MSCSPM, ch. 77, p. 54.

10 HLLK, 17.2b, 8b; MCNL, 12.25b; PKC, 11.11a; SP, 2.2a; SKCL, 10.18a; and HS, p. 11a.

11 The Ch'ung-chen emperor was the last officially recognized Ming monarch. His successors, ruling at Nanking or elsewhere in south China, are considered only pretenders.

12 HLLK, 18, 15b; PKC, 11, 12a; and HS, fol. 11b.

13 SP, 2.3b, 4a.

14 SC, fol. 1b.

15 PKC, 11.12a; MCNL, 5.11b; and MSCSPM, ch. 77, p. 54.

16 MSCSPM, ch. 77, p. 54.

17 HLLK, 18.18a; PKC, 11.13a; SKCL, 10.20a; and SP, 2.15a.

18 During the Ming period the sons of emperors who did not succeed to the throne were given the title of “prince” (wang) and assigned estates in the provinces. They were, however, strictly forbidden to interfere in the administration of their districts. Thus, they had economic security and a high social position but no political power. In the present instance, the Prince of Shu was a descendant of a son of the very first Ming emperor.

19 SP, 2.10a–26b; MCNL, 12.28a; HLLK, appendix, fol. 2a–b; and HS, foll. 12b, 13a.

20 MCNL, 12.27b, 28a; SKCL, 10.20b, 21a; MS, 309.31b, 32a; and KTS, foll. 6b, 7a. Ta Shun was also the title which Li Tzu-ch'eng gave his dynasty. However, it is probably merely a coincidence that both Chang and Li chose this term which is equally appropriate for the name of a dynasty and a nien-hao.

21 KTS, foll. 6b, 7a; HS, fol. 12a–b; SC, fol. 8b; PKC, 11.13b; SKCL, 10.20b, 21a; MS, 309.32a; and HLLK, 18.19b. The Six Boards were the Boards of Rites, Revenue, Civil Office, War, Punishments, and Works.

22 HLLK, 18.22b; SP, 2.15b, 17a; SC, fol. 3a–b; MCNL, 12.30a; HS, fol. 12a; and SKCL, 10.21a. The pao-chia system was the association of families in groups of ten for such purposes as administration, self-defense, and social control.

23 Ta-shun t'ung-pao means “coinage for general circulation of the Ta-shun period.” Chinese copper coins typically had inscribed on them the reign period during which they were minted combined with the term t'ung-pao. A reproduction of one of the coins issued by Chang's government is contained in Ming-mo nung-min ch'i-i shih-liao [Historical Source Materials for the Late Ming Agrarian Uprisings], ed. Sun Yüehv et al. (Peking, 1952), p. 6.

24 HLLK, 18.22b; SKCL, 10.20b; PKC, 11.13b; MCNL, 12.27a; KTS, fol. 7a; SC, fol. 2b; and SP, 2.15a–b.

26 Thomas Ignatius Dunin Spot, “Collectanea Historiae Sinensis 1641 ad 1700” (microfilm of unpublished manuscript in the Archives of the Society of Jesus in Rome; written in 1710), I, 112. Two Jesuit priests, Gabriel de Magalhaens and Louis Buglio, were engaged in missionary work in Szechwan at the time of Chang's invasion, and they subsequently came into close contact with him. Father de Magalhaens wrote an account of their experiences, which has now apparently been lost. However, Dunin Spot made use of it in the work cited above.

26 Dunin Spot, I, 100.

27 SP, 3.20b, 21a.

28 HLLK, 18.19a; PKC, 11.13b; MS, 309.32a; SKCL, 10.26a–b; SC, foll. 6a, 7a–b; MCNL, 12.31b; and Martini Martin, Bellum Tartaricum or the Conquest of the Great and Most Renowned Empire of China … Translated from Latin (London, 1654), pp. 211212. Martini's account of Chang's occupation of Szechwan, like that of Dunin Spot, is based on the now lost original of Father de Magalhaens. The description of the incident in Martini is so aptthat it deserves quotation: “… he [i.e., Chang] called all the students of the country to be examined for their degrees, promising to give those honours to whomsoever should deserve them best; and the Chineses are so bewitched with the desire for these dignities that they did not conceive the perfidious strategem of the tyrant. There appeared therefore in the publick hall deputed for that ceremony about eighteen thousand persons, all of which he commanded his souldiers to massacre most barbarously, saying these were the people who by their cavilling sophisms sellici ted the people to rebellion.”

29 HLLK, 18.23b; SKCL, 10.23a; SP, 3.2a–b; and KTS, fol. 10b.

30 PKC, 12.9b; SP, 2.13a–b, 14a–b; and SC, foil. 9b, 10a.

31 Li Yen was a member of a prominent Honan family who became widely noted for his humanitarianism. He served as one of Li Tzu-ch'eng's closest advisers and was primarily responsible for persuading him to adopt moderate policies in order to win popular support. See MS, 309.11a–b, 23b.

32 HLLK, appendix, fol. 7b; and SC, foll. 15b, 16a.

33 MS, 309.32b. For further information concerning this fantastic figure, see Liensheng Yang, “Numbers and Units in Chinese Economic History,” HJAS, XII (1949), 221, n. 19.

34 Martini, p. 214.

35 Donnithorne V. H., “The Golden Age and the Dark Age in Szechwan, II: Chang Hsien-chung and the Dark Age,” Journal of the West China Border Research Society, X (1938), 166167.

38 Hermann Heinrich, Chinesische Geschichte (Stuttgart, 1912), p. 127. Probably the author arrived at this figure merely by arbitrarily trying to make sense out of the fantastic Ming shih figure.

37 Time Magazine, 12 11, 1950, p. 33. The main interest of Time was in Mao Tse-tung, rather than Chang, who was mentioned only as a competitor to Mao in bloodthirstiness.

38 Li Wen-chihaa, Wan Ming min-pien [Late Ming Popular Movements], Publications of the Institute of Sociology and Science, Academia Sinica, No. 23 (Shanghai, 1948), p. 168.

39 Kuang-t'ao Li bb, “Lun Chien-chou yü liu-tse hsiang yin wang Mingcc,” CYYY, XII (1947), 193.

40 Bielenstein Hans, “The Census of China during the Period 2–742 A.D.,” BMFEA, XIX (1947), 145146.

41 See, for example, SC, fol. 8a, where the exact grand total is 678,080,000.

42 MS, 43.1b.

43 Ssu-ch'uan t'ung-chih, ed. Huang T'ing-kueidd (1736), 5.1b–10a.

44 Based on the 1578 figures, the average household was composed of almost twelve persons, a number at least twice as high as one would expect. Cf. Bielenstein, p. 129.

45 Ssu-ch'uan t'ung-chih, 5.1b–10a.

46 Hosie Alexander, Szechwan, Its Products, Industries, and Resources (Shanghai, 1922), p. 19; and Parker Harper, “A Short Journey in Szch'uan,” China Review, IX (18801881), 265.

47 Ssu-ch'uan t'ung-chih, ed. Ch'ang Mingff (1816), ch. 145 and 153. It should be noted that this is not the same edition of the Ssu-ch'uan t'ung-chih as the one referred to previously (n. 43). The information presented here might in itself be used as evidence for the survival of a majority of the Szechwan inhabitants, for fourteen persons (representing nine families) seem to have been native Szechwanese. Furthermore, the heaviest loss of life during Chang's regime occurred in Chengtu.

48 Shensi appears here as the principal source of immigrants largely because of geographical reasons. Further east in Szechwan other provinces made the greatest contributions.

49 For some remarks concerning the question of gradual immigration and its influence, or lack of it, upon a dialect, see Grootaers Willem A., “La géographie linguistique en Chine: Nécessité d'une nouvelle méthode pour l'étude linguistique du chinois,” Monumenta Serica, X (1945), 420421.

50 HLLK, 18.18b; KTS, fol. 8a; SC, foil. 4b, 5a, 8b, 9a; and Martini, p. 204. The three officials who survived were Wang Chao-ling, his chief adviser; Li Shih-ying, the Taoist priest who was President of the Board of Punishments; and Wang Ying-lung, the arrow maker who was President of the Board of Works. It is significant that Li and Wang were the only Board presidents who were non-gentry.

51 KTS, fol. 12a; and SC, fol. 12b.

52 MCNL, 12.33a; HS, fol. 19b; and PKC, 11.15b.

53 Martini, p. 217; and Joseph Anne Marie de Moyriac de Mailla, Histoire générale de la Chine … (Paris, 17771785), XI, 26. The Chinese sources, written during the Ch'ing period naturally gave little consideration to Chang as a rival of the Manchus. However, de Mailla quotes Chang as telling his troops before leaving Chengtu: “I already see these foreigners chased out of China.” In like manner, Martini quotes him as saying: “I hope by your valour to obtain the empire of the world when I have expelled the Tartars. …”

54 HLLK, appendix, fol. 7a–b; PKC, 12.9b; HS, foll. 19b, 20a–b; KTS, fol. 12a; and de Mailla, XI, 22.

55 Martini, p. 222.

56 HLLK, appendix, fol. 7b; PKC, 12.8a; SKCL, 10.29a; MS, 309.33a; SC, fol. 14a; HS, foil. 20b, 21a; Dunin Spot (see n. 25), I, 129; de Mailla, XI, 27; and Tung hua lu (Shanghai, 1887), Shun-chih 7, foll. 4b, Sa.

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