Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
OBLIGATORY ADMINISTRATIVE STUFF: The original thread is here. If you'd like to make a comment, ask a question, or demand a refund, do it in that thread, not this one. I've cleaned things up a bit in this version and made some minor edits. This is the first half of the timeline, more or less; I'll post the second half later. Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy it.
Excerpted from “Daoism in China: The Ming Years,” by Clifford Smith.
- Daoism flourished during the early Ming period. The most prominent exemplar of this trend was the Yongle Emperor’s decision in 1412 to rebuild the temple complex in the Wudang Mountains of northwest Hubei Province. It is unclear exactly what prompted this move on the part of the emperor; he was not an adherent of Daoism, which had been on the wane in the later years of the Yuan Dynasty. Many contemporary scholars have argued that Yongle, who usurped the throne from his nephew, wished to make a gesture to the Daoist faith - which his father, the Hongwu Emperor, had followed - in order to establish himself in the eyes of the populace as being under the protection of the gods. Whatever the reason may have been, vast amounts of manpower and money were poured into the reconstruction of the Wudang Temple complex. During a fifteen-year period between roughly 1412 and 1427 CE, no fewer than nine palaces, nine large temples, thirty-six nunneries, and seventy-two smaller temples were built on and around 武当山 (Wudang shan, or Mount Wudang, which is in fact a series of peaks). Yongle himself proclaimed Wudang as the “Great Mountain,” and announced that the patron deity of the complex would be 玄武 (Xuan Wu, or “Perfected Martiality”). While Xuan Wu is a patron deity of martial artists, much of Wudang Mountain’s current reputation as a hotbed of martial arts is inflated; most of the Daoist sages and priests that resided in the Wudang complex were practitioners of 内丹术 (nei dan shu, or “internal alchemy”), a variety of Daoism concerned foremost with harnessing meditation to unite the yin and yang energies and prolong life. Even after the passing of the Yongle Emperor, the Wudang complex retained its importance. Indeed, it was the subject of no fewer than three hundred and sixty-nine Imperial edicts during the years of the Northern Ming. In 1552 the Jiajing Emperor ordered the refurbishment of the complex, which took almost two years. Thousands of priests, sages, and their followers lived in and around the complex, which occupied almost four thousand hectares of land. (1)
Excerpted from “The Collapse of the Northern Ming,” by Russell Jones.
- Although the Northern Ming Dynasty had been in decline for at least a generation, their downfall and collapse was shockingly sudden. The reasons for the decline of the Northern Ming were many; the cause of their downfall was the Jurchen people of the north. Under the leadership of the dynamic Nurhaci Khan, the previously fractious Jurchen tribes were united; under the leadership of Nurhaci’s successor, the Hong Taiji, the Jurchens further expanded their power and threatened the Northern Ming capital of Beijing itself. Yet the final blow to the Northern Ming came not from the Jurchen but from Li Zicheng, the bandit leader whose forces had been growing in the mountain fastness of Shanxi Province for fifteen years. When Li moved on Beijing in April of 1644, capturing the city, he forced General Wu Sangui to abandon Shanhaiguan, the pass that blocked the Jurchens from China proper. With the border undefended the Jurchen invaders swept down past the Great Wall, taking Beijing for themselves in June.
With the capital taken and the Chongzhen Emperor dead - he had hung himself from a tree in Beihai Park - many Northern Ming loyalists fled to the four directions. Others, most notably Wu Sangui, signed on with the Jurchens, preferring the foreigners to the not-so-tender mercies of Li Zicheng. The Jurchens (also known as the Qing Dynasty) moved against Li Zicheng’s rebel forces first, judging them as the most proximate threat to their newly-won hegemony. Li first fled to Xi’an, where he was defeated by Qing forces in the spring of 1645; he then fled south, entering Hubei Province and crossing the Han River in an attempt to evade his pursuers. Elements of the Qing military caught up quickly, and after a brief battle, Li continued his flight south; he died in the summer.
The aforementioned “brief battle” would have been lost to history were it not for its location in the middle of the Wudang Mountain Daoist religious complex (2). Several hundred members of the community were killed, and the historic Purple Cloud Temple was utterly destroyed in the conflict. In the wake of the action, as the armies moved south, the assorted sages, priests, nuns, and followers gathered to ponder what they had seen and learned. All under Heaven was in chaos; of this there was no doubt. Barbarian invaders had defiled the land, and destroyed a sacred temple. The sages thought long and hard. At first, it seemed as though a policy of non-interference would be embraced. Yet gradually, a new consensus began to emerge. Blood had been shed on hallowed ground; a temple had been destroyed; what would be next? And after all, was it not an emperor of Great Ming who had consecrated this sacred ground? Did the residents of the Wudang complex not owe their allegiance to his successors? Eventually, a decision was reached. The rest is history . . .
Excerpted from “Fact Sheet #4, Introduction to Chinese History,” by Professor Scheherazade Wang. Department of Oriental Studies, Cambridge University.
- Legend holds that there were nine founding members of the 武当派 (Wudang pai, trans. Wudang Clique or Wu-Tang Clan), the secret society dedicated to overthrowing the Jurchen Qing Dynasty and restoring their predecessors the Ming Dynasty to the Dragon Throne. Due to the paucity of accurate records extant from the period in question, modern historians have had difficulty verifying the exact identities and number of the founders. While revisionist historians have cast doubt on whether at least four of the traditional nine founders actually existed, most scholars are of the opinion that these nine men existed in some form, although their exact roles are uncertain. Following is a list of the nine founders, each of whom is known exclusively by his nom de guerre. (NB: This material could very well show up on your final exam!)
日砸 (Ri Za): The leader of the Wu-Tang Clan, Ri Za (most often translated as “Sun Crusher” or “Sun Pulverizer,” a reference to his apocryphal statement “We will crush the invaders with the power of the sun”) was the main impetus behind the secret society’s creation. His leadership of the group was far from absolute; decisions were often made by committee. Yet he was clearly “first among equals,” as it were.
哥砸 (Ge Za): So named due to the fact that he was Ri Za’s older cousin (the character 哥 means “elder brother”). It is believed that Ge Za, perhaps resentful of the outsized influence that Ri Za held, chose his nom de guerre as a playful reminder that in some ways he was senior to the Wu-Tang Clan’s de facto leader.
谋人 (Mou Ren): “Stratagem Man,” or sometimes translated as “Method Man.” So named due to his role as the primary battlefield commander of the Wu-Tang Clan, and a reference to 谋功 (mou gong, or “Attack by Stratagem,” third chapter of The Art of War).
瑞空 (Rui Kong): Usually translated as “Auspicious Sky.” (Note that older systems of transliteration often render Rui Kong as Raekwon). His exact role in the Wu-Tang Clan is uncertain and often disputed.
鬼脸杀手 (Guilian Shashou): Translated as “Ghost-Face Killer,” or sometimes as “Devil-Face Killer,” a reference to the Qing, who were considered to be “Jurchen devils” by the Wu-Tang Clan. Ghost-Face Killer is also considered by modern historians to be the greatest practitioner of 说诗唱 (shuoshichang, or “spoken poem-song”), a style of spoken-word poem popularized by the Wu-Tang Clan. (More on this in the next lecture!)
查板 (Cha Ban): Usually translated as “Inspector of the Deck,” or “Deck Inspector.” A reference to his status as the commander and architect of the Wu-Tang Clan’s riverboat navy, and his supposed mania for keeping the deck of his boat spotless.
你道 (Ni Dao): Translated variously as “You are the Dao,” “You, Dao,” or archaically as “You God.” A notorious riddler, Ni Dao is reputed to have been a master of disguise and concealment.
屠杀师傅 (Tusha Shifu): Most commonly translated as “Master Killer.” A reference to Master Killer’s supposed status as an adept of martial arts and as the foremost practitioner of hand-to-hand combat among all the members of the Wu-Tang Clan.
老脏坏蛋 (Lao Zang Huaidan): Translated as “Old Filthy Scoundrel,” or alternatively as “Old Dirty Bastard.” Supposedly an itinerant hermit who refused to bathe, he was renowned for his erratic behavior and his ferocity in battle.
Ri Za, Ge Za, Stratagem Man, Rui Kong, Ghost-Face Killer, Inspector of the Deck, You Dao, Master Killer, and Old Filthy Scoundrel: they were the Wu-Tang Clan.
(1) This is all as per OTL.
(2) Here’s your POD. Li’s flight took him kind of close but not really near the Wudang complex in real life.
Excerpted from “The Story of the Glorious Sword of the Wu-Tang Clan,” by Gao Feiyang. (1)
- The fearsome and ruthless bandit king Shen Guang (2) made his encampment outside the town of Laohekou. He ruled over lands of a thousand li with vicious resolve. All the peasants and shopkeepers shrank before Shen Guang. His voracious hordes, that knew not the Dao, heaped injuries upon the people, who wished only to live in harmony with the land. It is said by the chroniclers that every tenth day Shen Guang would summon the people of Laohekou to the market square. That warlord would then order the beheading of five villagers, for no other reason than cruel caprice, and his war-bands would pass the remainder of the day drinking wine and kicking the severed heads around the market square for their own sport.
Huang Zhen, the General of the bandit king Shen Guang’s war-bands, said: “In the forests and mountains lives the Wu-Tang Clan. They are much beloved by the people, and take no conscious action in accordance with the Dao.”
The bandit king Shen Guang said: “Then they are not fearsome.”
Huang Zhen said: “Their warriors are masters of Shaolin shadowboxing, and the Great Sage Ri Za is guardian of the Wu-Tang Sword.”
Shen Guang said: “Shaolin shadowboxing and the Wu-Tang sword style! If what you say is true, the Wu-Tang Clan could be dangerous.”
The bandit king Shen Guang marshaled his war-bands and led them to the foot of Wudang Mountain. In accordance with the Dao, the Nine Masters of the Wu-Tang Clan took no conscious action. Thus nothing was left undone. The war-bands of Shen Guang attacked the hallowed temples of Wudang Mountain. Then the great war-chief Method Man led the Righteous and Purifying Army of the Wu-Tang Clan into the fray.
Shen Guang gave a shout. “Do you think your Wu-Tang Sword can defeat me?”
Then Method Man gave a shout. “On guard! I’ll let you try my Wu-Tang style!”
After that, Method Man smote Shen Guang and killed the bandit king. Thus the Wu-Tang Clan won the clash of arms, and defeated the bandit king Shen Guang. Ten thousand heads were taken. The Wu-Tang Clan fell to celebrating the great victory. Then Great Sage Ri Za gave a shout.
Ri Za said: “Remember the words of the Old Master. Sharp weapons are inauspicious instruments. Everyone hates them. Therefore the man of the Dao is not comfortable with them. Victory is never sweet.”
Then the warriors of the Wu-Tang Clan lowered their heads in recognition of the wisdom of Great Sage Ri Za.
Excerpted from “Disciples of the 36 Chambers: A New History of the Wu-Tang Clan,” by Lamont Hawkins.
- In government as well as in natural science, it is a truism that nature abhors a vacuum. As had so often been the case in the wake of dynastic collapse, the demise of the Northern Ming produced such a vacuum. As the new power, the Jurchen Qing Dynasty, rushed to consolidate their claims, a host of other actors scrambled to extract what they could from the confused situation. The concatenation of forces arrayed against the Qing can be crudely subdivided into three categories: bandits, princes and priests. Even after the death of Li Zicheng in 1645, peasant rebel armies continued to maraud across the countryside. These forces were especially strong in the West; the case of Zhang Xianzhong is but one example. In the south, Ming loyalists attempted to unite around a candidate who could return them to the Dragon Throne; the Prince of Fu was the first worthy to be handed this poisoned chalice. Meanwhile, new religious orders were emerging, bent on overthrowing the Qing and restoring the Ming to power. We will deal with the millenarian Buddhist White Lotus sect shortly; for now, let us turn our attention to the Wu-Tang Clan.
After forming the Wu-Tang Clan, the community of the Wudang Temple Complex first moved to secure the area around their base of operations. The passage of Li Zicheng’s retreating army and their Qing pursuers had caused great chaos in northwest Hubei, and a variety of footpads and small bandit groups had proliferated in the region. The Wu-Tang forces crushed these opponents easily, aided by their larger numbers and superior organization, and then moved into larger towns along the Hanshui River, including Danjiangkou and Laohekou. It seems that in general they were welcomed by the villagers and townspeople, who viewed the Wu-Tang as the means through which order could be restored and normal life resumed. The Wu-Tang complex was also a well-known presence in northwest Hubei, and the Wu-Tang’s status as locals rather than as outsiders further endeared them to their new subjects. And subjects was what they were, even if everyone was careful not to state the fact in so many words. Upon entering a town or village and assuming control, the Wu-Tang Clan would appoint a 圣 (sheng, or sage), who would administer the area as a magistrate of sorts. The sage would typically be a local Daoist luminary, or, if none existed, would be a member of the local landed elite.
The nerve center of Wu-Tang power was, quite naturally, Wudang Mountain itself. Here decisions were made by the governing authorities of the Wu-Tang Clan - Ri Za, Ge Za, Stratagem Man, Old Filthy Scoundrel, You Dao, Inspector of the Deck, Master Killer, Ghost-Face Killer, and Rui Kong. It is uncertain exactly how the decision-making process worked in the Clan’s earliest days; in early 1646, the system was revised and a three-tiered table of bureaucratic ranks was created. 小圣 (Xiaosheng, or Lesser Sage) controlled individual towns, 中圣 (Zhongsheng, or Middle Sage) controlled county-level areas, and 大圣 (Dasheng, or Great Sage) acted as roving troubleshooters, performing a role akin to that of the Imperial Censorate. At the top of the pyramid were the Nine Masters (九位师傅), each of whom had a clearly defined area of responsibility - Stratagem Man led the army, Inspector of the Deck the navy, Ghost-Face Killer served as the chief diplomat, etc. The Wu-Tang chose to focus on moving southward, as it was believed (correctly) that other Ming loyalists also lay in this direction, and throughout 1645 and 1646 extended their domains south towards the Chang River and the three cities of Wuchang, Hankou, and Hanyang (3), control of which was needed to shore up the increasingly strained finances of the Clan. It was their move towards these three cities that brought them to the attention of the Qing at last.
In the early months and even years of their ascent, the Wu-Tang Clan was aided immeasurably by the chaos that was the order of the day. It has become a popular parlor game among some of our more disreputable historians to speculate on what might have happened had the Qing moved swiftly to crush the Wu-Tang Clan. Naturally, what these “alternate historians” leave conveniently unsaid is the fact that it would have been the height of foolishness for the Qing to devote significant resources to crushing what was then a small religious order confined to northern Hubei. After all, they had many more pressing worries to occupy their minds. The loyalty of some of their greatest generals - notably Wu Sangui - was by no means assured. In Nanjing, the Southern Capital, Ming loyalists had gathered to name Zhu Yousong, Prince of Fu, as the Hongguang Emperor, first sovereign of the Southern Ming. And in the west, bandit leader Zhang Xianzhong had invaded and occupied the vast province of Sichuan, establishing a capital in the city of Chengdu and proclaiming himself as Hegemon-King of the State of Ba (巴国霸王). . .
(1) This is a chronicle written by a Wu-Tang scribe, so it’s quite clearly biased. It’s intended to sound like a 17th century history, so it may seem a bit stilted.
(2) Not an OTL character. There were endless numbers of petty bandit leaders roving about during this time (Gao Feiyang vastly overstates the importance of Shen Guang). And while I’m not averse to doing research, I draw the line at digging through four hundred year old archives for the identity of minor bandits of northern Hubei.
(3) These 3 cities were later amalgamated to form Wuhan.
* Next up, a look at what megalomaniac warlord Zhang Xianzhong is up to. How crazy was he? Here’s how crazy:
天生万物以养人 (Heaven has brought forth numberless things for the support of Man)
人无一德以报天 (Man has not one virtue with which to recompense Heaven)
杀杀杀杀杀杀杀(Kill kill kill kill kill kill kill)
Excerpted from “The Yellow Tiger: A Biography of Zhang Xianzhong,” by Gary Grice.
- The peasant rebel leaders Li Zicheng and Zhang Xianzhong had been rivals for many years. Indeed, one perhaps apocryphal story holds that in 1635, when their combined forces sacked the Ming tombs located fifty kilometers outside of Beijing, they also captured a number of eunuch musicians who had been assigned to play music at the tombs. A dispute supposedly broke out between Li and Zhang over who would assume custody of these musicians. Li was the senior rebel leader and - perhaps more importantly - his army was bigger, so Zhang gave in, turning over the musicians. However, he had destroyed all of their instruments. Li then flew into a rage and had all of the hapless troubadours executed on the spot. Despite the long and bitter rivalry between the two, contemporary accounts report that after hearing of Li’s defeat and death in early 1645 Zhang sank into a deep depression. It was not out of love for his rival; rather, it was clear that he would be next. Zhang’s position was precarious. In addition to the Qing forces, he was also forced to deal with an active and vigorous opposition from Ming armies based in Anhui Province. Belatedly realizing that he could not hope to stand against the combined might of these two powerful foes, Zhang left his stronghold in the central Yangzi River valley and moved west, deep into the rugged fastness of Sichuan. He first seized the town of Chongqing before moving deeper into the countryside, eventually making his capital in the prosperous city of Chengdu. In March of 1645 Zhang formalized his conquest of Sichuan, declaring himself as the Hegemon-King (霸王, or Bawang) of a new nation, the State of Ba (巴国) (1). Intriguingly, the name hearkened back to the ancient state of the same appellation, which itself had been based in Sichuan.
In the early weeks and months of his reign, Zhang focused on arranging the internal structure and organization of his newly-created realm. A bureaucracy was established; it was mostly staffed by local scholars, many of whom were rather forcibly persuaded to take service with the new regime. Examinations, which were based on Confucian classics prior to the Great Awakening, were held, coinage was minted, and more than a hundred military camps and fortresses were constructed around Sichuan in preparation for the war that Zhang knew must come, whether it was to be against the Ming or the Qing. Additionally, Zhang divided responsibilities for the day-to-day affairs of the kingdom between his heretofore perpetually squabbling pair of adopted sons, Zhang Kewang and Zhang Dingguo (2). Kewang, a cautious and bookish sort, was given control of the State of Ba’s finances, while the more martially-minded Dingguo was named commander of the armed forces. Despite all of these measures, which created the nucleus of a functioning state, something was rotten in the State of Ba. It seemed, even to his closest confidants, as though Zhang Xianzhong was going slowly mad. The causes of Zhang’s psychological crisis - for this is what it was - are obviously unknown to us, but conjecture is not out of the question. Zhang had been at war for fifteen years continuously and was notoriously cruel and brutal. In Sichuan, suddenly he had no one to fight. Perhaps this inactivity, this time in which he could reflect on what he had done, caused the change in his state of mind . . .
Excerpted from “The Veritable Records of the State of Ba,” Vol. 1, edited by Wang Wei.
- In the fifth cycle of the Year of Establishment  the Hegemon-King grew discontented with the depthless iniquity of Man. It is said that he paced the halls of the Palace of Jade until even the Tiger grew weary [a reference to the Hour of the Tiger, 3-5 AM].
One day the Hegemon-King said to his ministers: “Man is fickle and cruel. What can be done to make him live in accordance with the will of Heaven?”
The Great Hall was silent.
Then the Hegemon-King went forth, and caused the thieves and adulterers and murderers and liars of the State of Ba to be brought before him (3). He cursed them, and ordered their heads removed and fed to the ravenous crows, and their corpses committed to the flame.
Then the Hegemon-King said: “Heaven has brought forth numberless things for the support of Man. Man has not one virtue with which to recompense Heaven. Kill kill kill kill kill kill kill.” Thus spoke the Hegemon-King, and his words were proclaimed on the Seven-Kill Stele (4).
The purge of the wicked continued for twenty days and twenty nights. Ten thousand heads were taken. The Hegemon-King was still discontented with the depthless iniquity of Man.
The Hegemon-King said: “It is incumbent upon Man to seek out the Kingdom of Heaven, and make restitution to the gods. Countless gifts have been laid at the feet of Man, who has kicked them aside. All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again. Thus it must be averted.” (5)
Then the Hegemon-King caused his Astronomers to be brought forth before him, so that they might tell him the location of the Kingdom of Heaven, so that the Hegemon-King might offer restitution to the gods on behalf of Man . . .
Excerpted from “The Yellow Tiger: A Biography of Zhang Xianzhong,” by Gary Grice.
- After roughly a month, the mass executions that Zhang had put in motion tailed off. It appears that the Hegemon-King had simply grown bored with the idea of putting his subjects to death en masse, and had hit upon a new idea in keeping with his obsessions of sin and redemption. He would find Heaven, and apologize to the gods on behalf of humanity. The royal astronomers were summoned, and it is here that history turned. For had their names been Wang Wei and Li Peng, who knows that would have happened? As it happens, their names were Ludovico Buglio and Gabriel de Magalhaes, both of the Society of Jesus (6). And while they could not tell the Hegemon-King how to find Heaven, they could tell him a story about who lived there . . .
Excerpted from “A Guide to Recognizing Your Roman Catholic Saints: The Annotated and Illustrated Edition,” by Elgin Turner.
Saint ZDISLAVA OF LEMBERK: (1220-1252). Beatified 28 August 1907, canonized 21 March 1995. Feast day January 1. Patronage: difficult marriages, people ridiculed for their piety, town of Lemberk.
Saint ZHANG XIANZHONG: (1601-1658). Beatified 1714, canonized 1755. Feast day April 4. Major shrine: Mausoleum of Tiancheng. Patronage: mountain climbers, astronomers, mortifiers of the flesh.
Saint ZITA: (1212-1272). Canonized 1696. Feast day April 27. Major shrine: Basilica di San Frediano, Lucca. Patronage: domestic servants, lost keys, rape victims, homemakers.
. . . . .
(1) This is all as per OTL except for Zhang’s title and the name of the new state. In real life, the nation was called 大西国 (Da xi guo, or “Great Western Kingdom”) and he declared himself the Dashun (大顺) Emperor. I admit that I don’t have any hard logic behind the new names . . . but I think that every timeline could use a Hegemon-King or two.
(2) They’re known OTL as Sun Kewang and Li Dingguo; after Zhang was killed, they reverted to their original family names. ITTL they’re still known by their adoptive father’s family name.
(3) What is left conveniently unsaid by our intrepid chronicler is that a lot of other people who didn’t do anything wrong suffered a rather gruesome fate as well.
(4) The Seven-Kill Stele may or may not have actually existed in real life (probably not).
(5) This is a departure from OTL, in which Zhang essentially continued wreaking havoc on Sichuan until he was killed by Qing forces in 1647. ITTL his madness is less pronounced - he’s less psychopathic batshit crazy and more mercurial whack job - and it also takes him in a different direction.
(6) As per OTL. Buglio and Magalhaes, the first Christians in Sichuan, had traveled there to do missionary work when Zhang moved in. OTL they were also made astronomers to the court, and then were essentially ignored. They somehow survived everything, and went back to Beijing after Zhang’s downfall.
Excerpted from “Missive to the Father-General of the Society of Jesus Concerning Some Recent Happenings in the Celestial Kingdom,” by Ludovico Buglio. 1655.
- . . . and so it came to pass that Fr. de Magalhaes and your humble correspondent, far from fulfilling our mission of spreading Christ’s word in the wild land of See-Chwan [Sichuan], found ourselves as court astronomers to the Hegemon-King of Ba [Zhang Xianzhong]. We were treated with a peculiar mixture of suspicion and indifference at first, which gradually dissipated as de Magalhaes, who had some facility with the language of the Celestial realm, made himself agreeable to our native captors, who fancied themselves as our employers as well . . .
For the first time since entering the Hegemon-King’s service in the spring of 1645, we were summoned before him in the autumn of that same year, ostensibly to answer some trifling query on the phases of the moon. In the brief glimpses we had heretofore seen of the Hegemon-King, he had appeared to be a kind and wise ruler, gentle of temper and ever with a calm visage (1). On our entrance to the great audience chamber, we were thus discomfited to observe His Majesty in the throes of a passionate fit; he rent his garments, tore his hair, and gnashed his teeth most piteously. Upon sighting your humble correspondent, he approached us and loudly demanded that we inform him as to the exact location of Heaven, and further, that we furnish His Majesty with some means of transportation, that he might voyage there, to converse with his heathen gods. Looking about, it was clear that even the King’s guards and advisers were horrified to see him in such condition, and they feared his great and terrible wrath. Your humble correspondent immediately surmised that the King was in the midst of a great spiritual crisis. His soul, lost in darkness, cried out, begging to be saved. Was this not our mission? I thanked the Lord for presenting his humble servant with an opportunity to lead the King of Ba into the nourishing light of Jesus Christ, then motioned to de Magalhaes to translate . . .
Excerpted from “The Yellow Tiger: A Biography of Zhang Xianzhong,” by Gary Grice.
- The old saw about how there is no greater zealot than a convert proved itself true in the case of Zhang Xianzhong, Hegemon-King of the State of Ba. Although few accounts other than Ludovico Buglio’s highly-biased tale of the meeting in which Zhang was converted survive, it is easy enough to see the attractiveness of Catholicism to a man who was consumed by thoughts of sin and redemption (2). Zhang took to his new faith like a fish to water. Naturally, he decided that everyone else in his kingdom should experience the wonders of Christianity as well. It was thus that a series of decrees were issued in the fall and winter of 1645 mandating the conversion to Christianity of every subject of the State of Ba. It is not without irony that Zhang’s decrees unquestionably did more to harm Chinese Christianity in the long run than they ever did to help it. The fundamental problem was that virtually no one in the entire kingdom, other than the missionaries de Magalhaes and Buglio (3), knew anything about this strange new religion which they were all now adherents of. After the conversion decrees, an enormous workshop was erected in Chengdu for the purpose of producing Bible translations; meanwhile, de Magalhaes and Buglio conducted massive seminars in the public square, where they would explain the basic tenets of Christianity to bewildered bureaucrats who had been ordered to educate the populace in their new faith. It is perhaps unsurprising that this madcap rush to embrace Christianity left Zhang’s subjects with a less than complete understanding of exactly what this new religion demanded of them. In many townships and counties, especially in the countryside, magistrates simply gave up on attempting to educate peasants in a religion that they did not understand themselves and simply ordered that the Christian God (in some places, the Holy Trinity) be blended into Chinese folk religion and worshipped along with the old gods (4). Furthermore, a seemingly endless series of typographical errors in the translated Bibles which administrators had been given for the edification of the populace caused confusion and misunderstanding, resulting in a bizarre mélange of heterodox sects developing, some of which still survive to this day. (For more information on this fascinating topic, Jean-Paul Morimoto’s The Rabbit Worshippers of Leshan is an informative and entertaining read).
It was only in the largest cities that Christianity was given a more rigorous introduction to the citizenry of Ba, at least in the initial months after Zhang Xianzhong’s conversion. It was also only in the largest cities that there are reports of significant disturbances in response to Christianity’s introduction; the incoherent and haphazard approach to evangelization in the countryside, as described above, produced more confusion than resentment among the rural populace. However, in the capital city of Chengdu, all existing temples were torn down in preparation for their replacement by Christian churches, a development that agitated large portions of the citizenry, who feared that the gods would curse them with catastrophes in response to the destruction of the temples. In several instances, riots broke out as demolition crews attempted to start their work and were assaulted by angry residents of temple-centered neighborhoods. Zhang responded by ordering troops from a military encampment outside Chengdu to enter the city and “pacify” the affected areas. Needless to say, the death toll was not inconsiderable. Later that winter, a system was introduced in Chengdu whereby only citizens who swore an oath to “embrace the one true God” were allowed to receive food from the city granaries, which was needed by many after a poor harvest season. Coercive measures such as these helped to stamp out much of the opposition to Christianity - which was disorganized and uncoordinated in any event - and in most places outside Chengdu, Christianity was introduced in a much less confrontational and obtrusive manner. In Chongqing, the second city of the State of Ba, the city magistrate chose simply to “repurpose” existing temples and shrines as Christian churches, removing any overt signs of non-Christian deities but in practice allowing traditional forms of worship to continue relatively unimpeded.
It was also in the spring of 1646 when Zhang Xianzhong began planning his next campaign. Many of his advisors favored a move south, into what they felt would be the lightly-defended terrain of Yunnan. Buglio and de Magalhaes, who had been elevated to the highest ranks at court and were consulted by Zhang on almost every decision of importance, favored an eastern campaign. They hoped that by striking a blow against the Qing and linking up with Southern Ming forces, Zhang - and Christianity - would be in a strong position when the Qing were defeated, as Buglio and de Magalhaes assumed was inevitable (5). Zhang had other ideas. Although his conversion to Christianity was sincere, he retained some of his more unorthodox ideas, and both Buglio and de Magalhaes valued their heads highly enough to dissuade them from more strongly disabusing Zhang of some rather heretical notions that he still held. Indeed, even though Zhang had been assured of his absolution and salvation through devotion to Jesus Christ, perhaps he thought it was all a bit too good to be true. He would not rest until he had found Heaven and spoken to God himself. It was for these reasons that Zhang finally decided that his armies would march neither south nor east in the spring of 1646. Instead, they would look to the west. Where better to find Heaven than the roof of the world, after all? Zhang Kewang remained in Chengdu as a caretaker regent, Zhang Dingguo was deputized to patrol the eastern border and guard against Qing incursions, and in May of 1646, Zhang Xianzhong marshaled his armies and invaded Tibet . . .
(1) It is uncertain whether Buglio was genuinely ignorant of the more bloodthirsty aspects of Zhang’s character, or was merely seeking to downplay them.
(2) “You mean that all I need to do is pray a bunch, and I can be assured of eternal happiness, even though I have murdered thousands of people? What a deal!”
(3) I’ve mentioned it already, but just to reiterate, de Magalhaes and Buglio are OTL characters. They were Jesuits who traveled to Sichuan as missionaries, were captured by Zhang’s invading forces, and spent a couple of years as court astronomers before the Qing destroyed Zhang’s armies.
(4) This may or may not have interesting consequences down the road.
(5) Buglio and de Magalhaes are cut off from the rest of China, so their plans regarding who to support are really just so much guesswork. In fact, other Jesuits are making inroads with the Qing, as future updates will make clear.
*Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait to hear about the adventures of Zhang Xianzhong in Tibet. Next I’ll start talking about the Southern Ming. Zheng Chenggong, enter stage left . . .
Excerpted from “Waning Brightness: The Empire of the Southern Ming,” by Maxwell S. Hammer.
- Even as Beijing fell and the body of the Chongzhen Emperor dangled from an elm tree in Beihai Park, the foundations were being laid in Nanjing for the continuation of the Ming Dynasty. The first task, of course, was to settle on a suitable candidate for Emperor. While the Chongzhen Emperor’s son and heir had perished amidst the chaos of the fall of Beijing, there were certainly no shortage of princes, and there was also an established procedure for the succession. Thus it was that in June of 1644, Zhu Yousong, the Prince of Fu, ascended to the throne as the Hongguang Emperor in Nanjing. Far too many modern historians choose to present this moment as the beginning of the Ming’s return to glory, or at least their return from obsolescence. In fact, the Hongguang Emperor’s nascent regime almost collapsed on numerous occasions and was plagued in its early years by myriad structural problems that impeded governance and the development of centralized authority. In particular, there were two persistent problems with the Southern Ming Empire that would repeatedly take it to the brink of disaster.
The first, and undoubtedly the most glaring, of these problems was that Hongguang was almost completely reliant on “generals” who in fact were little more than mercenary warlords. Indeed, the bulk of the forces available to the Southern Ming came from the personal armies of four of such men: Gao Jie, Huang Degong, Liu Liangzuo, and Liu Zeqing. Without their armies, the Southern Ming would be almost helpless against the waves of Manchu invaders sweeping down from the north. Yet life with Gao, Huang, Liu and Liu was no easy ride, either. Personal rivalries and petty squabbling were the order of the day among the so-called “guardian generals” of the Southern Ming. Although the Hongguang Emperor was largely dependent on the four great warlords to guard the approaches to Nanjing north of the Yangzi River, he also had to deal with the constant fear that one or more of the warlords would defect if given a sweet enough offer from the Qing, as so many other former loyalists had already done. If that was not enough, each of the four great warlords sent lackeys and relatives to intrigue at the imperial court in Nanjing, causing all manner of anger and ill-will. Not that the imperial court needed any help in generating those emotions . . .
Indeed, dissension at court was perhaps the single greatest factor contributing to the general climate of chaos and disorganization in the early days of the Southern Ming. Unfortunately for all concerned, the Hongguang Emperor’s advisers were preoccupied with fighting the battles of the previous generation, rather than focusing their attention on the Manchu crisis. The major conflict at court pitted the influential eunuchs, led by Ma Shiying, against the partisans of the Donglin faction, led by Minister of War Shi Kefa. His faction, which had been alternately praised and reviled over the last twenty-five years depending on who was in power at the time, had its roots in opposition to corrupt officials, most prominently railing against the excesses of the eunuchs. Needless to say, the eunuchs themselves did not take kindly to this criticism, and the court of the Hongguang Emperor was thus riven with factional disputes, as pro- and anti-eunuch coalitions coalesced around the persons of Ma Shiying and Shi Kefa, respectively. Ma had the better of the internecine conflict in the early months of the Southern Ming; it was he who ferried the then-Prince of Fu to Nanjing in a fleet he had commandeered during the fall of Beijing, and it was he who won the callow and indecisive emperor’s ear during the chaotic beginning of his reign. Shi Kefa retired from court sometime in the fall or winter of 1644, decamping to the city of Yangzhou to oversee the defenses there against the assault that he knew must surely come. For after some desultory negotiations, in which Hongguang had asked the Qing ever so politely to leave China and go back where they came from, and the Manchu regent Dorgon had responded with a counteroffer in which he generously offered to spare Hongguang’s life were he to surrender at once, it was clear that the two sides had very little to talk about. War was coming, and it seemed as though the bureaucrats and generals of the Southern Ming would be just as content with fighting each other as they would with fighting the Qing. It seemed as though the nascent Southern Ming was destined to be strangled in its cradle . . . (1)
(1) Everything here is as per OTL. Just setting the stage and providing some context.
Excerpted from “Righteous Lord of Nine Thousand Years: A Biography of Shi Kefa,” by Yuji Nakazawa.
- As 1644 gave way to 1645, the very survival of the Southern Ming was in the balance. Their fate teetered on a knife edge, and no one knew this better than Shi Kefa, who had been put in charge of military affairs and commanded the armies of the Hongguang Emperor from his base at Yangzhou. Shi’s task was far from an easy one; he had to deal with the endless squabbling of his immediate subordinates, the four “guardian generals,” as well as with a steady stream of defections to the Qing on the part of local sub-commanders. All the while, he was hampered by the disorganization and incoherency that characterized the Nanjing regime controlled by the Emperor’s chief eunuch adviser Ma Shiying, a man vastly more skilled at factional infighting than at formulating policy. Indeed, Shi himself had been sent to Yangzhou by Ma Shiying, because the latter did not want Shi anywhere near the inconstant and susceptible Hongguang Emperor. The two men had long been rivals; Shi was associated with the anti-corruption and anti-eunuch Donglin movement, and Ma, as mentioned, was himself a eunuch. For all of these reasons, Shi’s job was perhaps more akin to that of a cat herder than a commanding general; his greatest difficulty was getting his subordinates to move in the same direction. Yet despite all of this, Shi formulated a shockingly bold and aggressive battle plan in that cold and damp winter of 1644-5. Rather than let the Manchu armies come to him, Shi decided to go to them, hoping to win a decisive battle and break out north of the Yangzi River onto the Central Plain (1). In late February of 1645, Shi began his offensive, moving his army out of Yangzhou and linking up with Gao Jie, one of the “guardian generals” (2). Those two armies began their northern march on or about February 27th and moved towards the army commanded by the Manchu Prince Duoduo. Meanwhile, Shi ordered guardian generals Zuo Liangyu (3) and Huang Degong, who were based further west, to make threatening diversionary movements towards the other Manchu army in the region, this one commanded by the Prince Haoge. Shi’s objective was to descend quickly on Duoduo’s army and force it into combat before the Manchu prince saw the danger and moved to link up with his subordinate Haoge.
Duoduo dithered for two days before deciding that attempting to link up with Haoge was useless, and retreating from the advancing Southern Ming was unlikely to win him favor with the Prince Regent Dorgon, who ruled in Beijing until the child Shunzhi Emperor attained his majority. This left Duoduo with only one option - attack - and he did just that. The two sides met on March 5th in what has come to be known as the Battle of Huai’an, although the actual fighting probably took place more than ten kilometers east of the city itself. Reliable eyewitness accounts are few and far between, but it seems that sometime in the early afternoon, after several hours of combat, Shi Kefa succeeded in turning Duoduo’s right flank, and proceeded to neatly roll up the Manchu army. The casualties on both sides probably numbered in the tens of thousands, including Shi’s subordinate Zuo Liangyu. Meanwhile, Duoduo had the misfortune to be captured alive; he was sent in irons to Nanjing, where he made the acquaintance of the Hongguang Emperor’s eunuch torturers. The ultimate manner of his demise is disputed. Shi Kefa’s dramatic victory at Huai’an had numerous consequences, for both the victors and the vanquished. In Beijing, Regent Dorgon cursed and raged. The momentum of what seemed to be the unstoppable Manchu army had been halted in Jiangsu, and immediate measures had to be taken to prevent Shi Kefa from continuing north into Shandong. Dorgon turned to what was perhaps the most potent weapon in his arsenal, the former Ming general turned traitor Wu Sangui, who was recalled from his pacification campaign in eastern Gansu and ordered to defeat Shi by any means necessary. In reality, the situation was not quite as urgent as Dorgon believed it to be. Shi Kefa’s army was in no condition to advance anywhere, save perhaps to the infirmary. In fact, Shi withdrew to Yancheng three days after the Battle of Huai’an concluded, there to recuperate and to plot his next move. Meanwhile, the Prince Haoge’s army avoided engagement with Southern Ming forces; after receiving word of Duoduo’s defeat, Haoge decided to move further west and wait for Wu Sangui’s arrival before taking further action. He thus entered northern Hubei - and it was there that he met the Wu-Tang Clan . . .
Excerpted from “Waning Brightness: The Empire of the Southern Ming,” by Maxwell S. Hammer.
- After the victory at Huai’an, Shi Kefa was immediately beset by new crises that demanded attention. The first was caused by the death in battle of his subordinate, General Zuo Liangyu. With Zuo’s death, his army, which would perhaps be more accurately described as an armed mob, started to disintegrate, splintering into smaller bands and moving into the countryside to pillage and plunder. Shi attempted to reconstitute the army around a new commander, the former pirate Zheng Zhilong, whose charisma and élan managed to win the support of enough of Zuo’s sub-commanders to maintain the army’s viability as a fighting force. Still, Shi was forced to detach troops to hunt down the renegade splinter groups from Zuo’s army, which took time and distracted him from planning what he had hoped would be a new offensive north into Shandong. Of course, any thoughts of further advance were soon banished by events, which saw Shi’s army racing back south towards Nanjing itself.
For it was in the spring of 1645 that the internecine feuding of the Southern Ming court and generals finally came to a head. For months, those in disfavor had been slowly coalescing into a coherent group. They were many and varied, and included Donglin proponents, those who had called for the Prince of Lu to be crowned, and numerous other scholar-officials who had antagonized Ma Shiying. In April, they sent a memorial to Huang Degong, another of the “guardian generals,” asking him to intervene and “sweep away the parasites that cling to the Son of Heaven.” Huang complied with the petition in a manner bolder than anyone had expected. He left his post on April 19th and marched his army towards Nanjing, intending to “sweep away the parasites” with overwhelming force (4). Huang imagined himself as a champion of righteousness, and was thus surprised when he failed to pick up additional support on his march. Nevertheless, his army was more than sufficient to accomplish the task he had set out for it, and panic ensued in the Nanjing court. Shi Kefa was recalled from northern Jiangsu, and ordered to march south and destroy Huang’s army.
Shi was highly unenthusiastic about abandoning his hard-won position - all the more so given that he essentially agreed with Huang Degong’s position that the Hongguang Emperor was surrounded by corrupt and mendacious advisors. Shi attempted to drag his feet, but when a second order came from the Emperor himself, he reluctantly turned his army around and began marching it back south towards Nanjing. Clearly, the Southern Ming were in disarray, but the Manchus could not profit from their division. Wu Sangui had yet to arrive on the scene, and Haoge had his hands more than full in Hubei Province putting down the ferocious guerilla movement that had emerged. The Qing simply did not have the troops in position to take advantage of their rival’s weakness. In any event, Shi marched his troops south, although surviving records indicate that he was in no great rush to do so. It is unclear whether it would have made any difference had he hurried - his northern offensive had left him out of position to defend Nanjing - but he was two days slower than Huang Degong, whose forces entered the Southern Capital on May Day of 1645.
Huang immediately set to work cleansing the court after his arrival, capturing every eunuch he could lay his hands on and putting them to death at once. The Hongguang Emperor was put under guard, and coerced to sign a document naming Huang as his new Chief Minister. The Purge of the Eunuchs, as it is known, was as short-lived as its name suggests. For on May 3rd the army of Shi Kefa arrived. Huang’s forces, which had been busily drinking themselves into a stupor when not hunting down those whom their commander disapproved of, were in no condition to dress themselves, let alone fight a battle. Shi freed the emperor, was rewarded by being named the Chief Minister himself, and proceeded to more or less finish what Huang had started. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Still, after all of the shouting and bloodletting, the internal divisions in the court had been removed, and power was firmly consolidated in Shi’s hands. He thus began a more rigorous reorganization of the Southern Ming forces, while warily keeping an eye on the north, where Wu Sangui would soon make his presence felt . . .
(1) There’s some evidence to indicate that Shi actually wanted to pursue an offensive strategy OTL, but the divisions and infighting in the Ming court prevented him from doing it. Those divisions are still present ITTL, but the breaking point has basically been pushed back a few months, so Shi has a free hand for now.
(2) Gao Jie’s death in OTL has been butterflied away by Shi’s offensive, which changes the entire tactical situation in Jiangsu.
(3) I forgot to mention him in the last update, but Zuo is another of the “guardian generals,” who are more accurately described as warlords.
(4) Something very similar to this happened in OTL - although I’ve changed a few details - and was part of the reason why the Nanjing regime fell, as Shi had to leave Yangzhou, and when he returned the Qing armies were knocking on the door. ITTL, the Ming have enough breathing room to sort out their own divisions without being pressed too hard by the Qing, due to Shi’s victory at Huai’an.
Excerpted from “The Story of the Glorious Sword of the Wu-Tang Clan,” by Gao Feiyang. (1)
BOOK V: WU-TANG VERSUS THE GOLDEN PHOENIX
- In the fourth month of the first year of the reign of the Hongguang Emperor came the barbarian invaders to Hubei. Their army swarmed like ants over the surface of the land, and they inflicted ten thousand injuries and indignities upon the common people. They were filled with desire, and with longing for things that were not and could never be, and they knew not the joy of emptiness and the unconscious. So they caused things to be done that should not have been done. The Wu-Tang Clan resolved to destroy the barbarian general, and remove the scourge from the land. But the barbarian general was guarded by a warrior of fierce and unnatural power, named the Golden Phoenix. So the Nine Masters of the Wu-Tang Clan trekked to the Citadel of Thunder and Lightning, where the Golden Phoenix dwelled with ten thousand soldiers, and began the ferocious attack. They fell upon the barbarians with perfected martiality, destroying the foes without mercy.
Ri Za said, “Let us bring the raucous noise of war to the enemy!”
Inspector of the Deck said, “The Wu-Tang Clan is not a thing to be trifled with!”
The Nine Masters fought on. Ghost-Face Killer saw that Rui Kong was about to be attacked from behind by a host of the foe.
Then Ghost-Face Killer said, “Rui Kong! On guard! You had better protect your neck!”
So Rui Kong turned and slew the enemy with contemptuous ease. Then he said, “Shame on a barbarian for this cowardly action!”
During the battle the Wu-Tang Clan displayed no effort and took no conscious actions, in accordance with the Dao. Thus nothing was left undone. The Nine Masters vanquished the legion of foes, and arrived in a vast circular room, with ten thousand doors and ten thousand windows. You-God said, “This room is the Seventh Chamber. Inside we will find the Golden Phoenix.” So the Nine Masters entered.
Inside they found the Golden Phoenix. He stroked his mustache, and preened and strutted. Then he said, “There are nine of you, and I am but one. Which of you shall fight me honorably in chess-fighting?”
Then the Old Dirty Bastard gave a shout, for his skill in the mysteries of chess-fighting was renowned. “My style is unbreakable! Prepare to be defeated most ignominiously,” he said.
So the warriors sat above the chessboard, and moved the pieces to and fro. After the sand had left the glass, they engaged in honorable combat, before returning to the chess match. But the Golden Phoenix was sly and treacherous. During the clash of minds, he furtively removed a knife, and attempted a quick strike.
The Old Dirty Bastard blocked the blow. Then he laughed. “Ha! I am the Old Dirty Bastard, alive and uncut!” Then he dealt the Golden Phoenix a mighty blow, stunning him, and the Nine Masters bound the foe and stood around him to render a final verdict.
Master Killer said, “It is not the Wu-Tang Clan who sits in judgment of you, Golden Phoenix. We have gone forth, to the towns and villages, and have done a survey of the common people, who have decided how you shall answer for your crimes.”
The Golden Phoenix sneered, again. “What do I care for the Han people?” So said he with contempt in his serpent’s voice.
Then Method Man gave a shout. “And the survey says - you are dead!” So he chopped off the Golden Phoenix’s head. Thus ended the battle.
Excerpted from “Disciples of the 36 Chambers: A New History of the Wu-Tang Clan,” by Lamont Hawkins.
- The Wu-Tang Clan’s struggle to overthrow the Qing and restore the Ming entered a new phase in May 1645, when the Manchu general and prince Haoge moved his army into Hubei following the events of the Battle of Huai’an (2). Previously, the only Qing forces stationed in Hubei had been small detachments; while larger armies had transited the province, their passage had been quick. Haoge, on the other hand, intended to stay in Hubei indefinitely, until at least Wu Sangui arrived from the west and a new battle strategy could be developed against the suddenly ascendant armies of the Southern Ming. This was thus the first chance for the Wu-Tang Clan to show their revolutionary chops and make an impression beyond the relatively small piece of northern and central Hubei in which they had operated up to this point. The early signs were not good. Almost immediately, the Clan broke out into factional infighting; although records are sketchy as to the personages involved in the debate, the crux of the argument centered on whether to attack the Manchu forces immediately or to wait, build up strength, and focus on a guerilla campaign. The Wu-Tang response was initially feeble and haphazard. Small units entered battle on their own initiative and were destroyed, while other warriors simply quit in disgust over the internal turmoil. The official chronicle of the Wu-Tang exploits, Story of the Glorious Sword of the Wu-Tang Clan, retreats into outright myth when discussing this period. Some historians have argued that the tale of “Wu-Tang vs. the Golden Phoenix” is in fact an extended metaphor on the need for the Clan to unite; this historian, frankly, doubts that the author (the mysterious “Gao Feiyang”) had the literary skills to pull such a rabbit out of his hat. The Clan simply bided their time during this period of debate, choosing not to openly display their power and force and thus avoiding a full-scale confrontation with Haoge’s army.
In any event, the strategy of doing nothing - what the Wu-Tang Clan was forced into during their internal debate - proved profitable after all. When Haoge issued decrees ordering all male Chinese to adopt the Manchu hairstyle (the “queue”), a pent-up dam of revolutionary sentiment, which had been building since the military occupation of Hubei began, burst suddenly and without warning (3). The Wu-Tang quickly took advantage, publicizing the decision, comprehensively denouncing the Manchus as “barbarian invaders,” and promising the restoration of the Ming. Throughout the summer of 1645, the Clan stepped up their guerrilla campaign while at the same time incorporating the new arrivals to the cause into their rapidly growing army. Then, in September, the Wu-Tang struck. A team of assassins infiltrated Wuchang and killed the Prince Haoge in his sleep. While the Manchu army was trying to decide what had hit them, Clan leadership called together their forces at Wudang Mountain, where formal ceremonies were held. Then the army marched out into the open for the first time, intending to destroy their opponents once and for all. Meanwhile, leadership of Haoge’s army had devolved to his subordinate, the Manchu general Tao Kua. His army had been bled dry throughout the summer by incessant guerilla warfare, and now the Prince Haoge himself had been assassinated. Tao Kua decided to simply cut his losses, and quitted Hubei forthwith, moving east into Anhui Province, where he linked up with Wu Sangui and the combined armies wintered in Zhengzhou. This left the Wu-Tang Clan ascendant - they had liberated Hubei. Celebrations broke out across the province, and a delegation of Wu-Tang leaders made the journey to Nanjing at the end of the year, intending to pay homage to the Hongguang Emperor and to incorporate their forces into his army. The summer and fall of 1645 mark the emergence of the Wu-Tang Clan into the open. No longer were they merely one in a long line of revolutionary bands - they had organized a mighty army and liberated a province. And there were still greater things to come . . .
(1) This chronicle was written by a Wu-Tang scribe in or around the mid-1660s. While it is at times useful to the historian, at other times it is less of a history and more of a myth. Readers should adopt a skeptical attitude when perusing this tale.
(2) As per the events of the last update.
(3) This happened in OTL, and it also ignited a revolutionary fervor in OTL as well. Hair may seem a small thing to fight over, but for many people, this confirmed dormant fears that the Manchu really were evil barbarian invaders - and that calls for revolution!
*All hail the victorious Wu-Tang Clan! WU-TANG! WU-TANG! WU-TANG! Next up, another Southern Ming update, which should finally get us to the end of 1645 for everyone. After that, it’s Zhang Xianzhong’s invasion of Tibet.
Excerpted from “Waning Brightness: The Empire of the Southern Ming,” by Maxwell S. Hammer.
- Although both the Southern Ming and the Qing had imagined that Shi Kefa’s victory at Huai’an would lead to an extended offensive north into Shandong and Henan, it never in fact materialized. Most critically, the Purge of the Eunuchs caused the planned Ming offensive to come to a crashing halt, as Shi’s troops were needed first to put down Huang Degong and then to cement Shi’s position as the new Chief Minister of the Hongguang Emperor (1). In the wake of Huang’s not-quite rebellion - it is difficult to settle on a name that adequately describes his actions, as he never intended to overthrow the emperor - the Southern Ming lost the initiative on the Central Plain, and the northern front stagnated until Wu Sangui’s arrival on the scene at the beginning of June. The Purge of the Eunuchs also had consequences other than depriving the Ming of the initiative; as Shi Kefa was needed in Nanjing to oversee the day-to-day affairs of government, the Southern Ming were also deprived of their most skilled battlefield commander. The summer campaign would make that point clear in painfully blunt fashion. In Shi’s absence, command of the forces in northern Jiangsu - the spearhead of the Ming armies and the sector that was almost assured to be the first recipient of Wu Sangui’s attention - devolved onto the capable person of Lu Zhenfei, a diligent and talented scholar-bureaucrat. Knowing that his skills lay in the administrative rather than the martial realm, Lu turned over command of the military to Zheng Zhilong, a former merchant and pirate and an associate of Lu’s for many years. While Zheng was indisputably bold, daring, and courageous, he was hampered in that the vast majority of his military experience had taken place at sea rather than on land. He was thus at a decisive disadvantage when pitted against the wily and seasoned campaigner Wu Sangui, a veteran of countless campaigns under both the Ming and now the Qing banner.
After allowing ample time for his troops to rest - they had made a forced march from Shaanxi in the mistaken belief that the Ming were about to threaten Shandong and perhaps even Beijing itself - Wu made his opening gambit in early July of 1645, surprising all parties by moving southwest into Anhui. The startled Zheng, who was assuming a frontal attack from Wu, was forced to leave his defensive emplacements behind and pursue the turncoat general. The two armies finally collided on July 17th outside the town of Bengbu. In the end, it was Wu’s cunning and guile that won the day. Although reliable records of the battle are scarce, several chroniclers state that Wu divided his army into two parts, engaged Zheng with the greater of the two, and then sent the smaller part around Zheng’s flank to attack him from the rear at the height of the battle. Whatever the tactics were, the Southern Ming were decisively defeated. Zheng Zhilong was captured alive, and in an unusual move, Wu Sangui chose to torture and to execute his defeated foe on the battlefield, rather than sending him in chains to Beijing, where he would no doubt have met the same fate in the end (2). Most historians cite this as the reason behind Zheng Chenggong’s fanatical opposition to the Qing, and it is difficult to refute the orthodox interpretation in this case; hearing of the brutal torture and death of one’s father would seem to make one less partial toward his killers. After the Battle of Bengbu Wu moved quickly south, investing Hefei less than two weeks after his initial triumph. Yet quick thinking on the part of the city magistrate prevented Wu from seizing the city without a fight, and he was forced to sit through a two month siege that finally ended with the capitulation and bloody sack of Hefei in early October. Wu’s army, which was rather battered by this point, attempted twice to cross the Yangzi River in mid and late October, only to be thrown back both times by determined Ming resistance. In November Wu quit his attempts and returned to Hefei, where he set up winter quarters and plotted his campaign of 1646, which he hoped would end with the capture of Nanjing and the destruction of the Southern Ming Dynasty . . .
Excerpted from “The Veritable Records of Ming.” (3)
SEVENTH MONTH OF THE FIRST YEAR OF THE REIGN OF THE HONGGUANG EMPEROR
The Ministry of Rites received a delegation of notables from Wuchang-in-Hubei. This delegation came to announce that Hubei had been cleansed of barbarian invaders, and entreated the Son of Heaven to once more extend the benevolence of his reign to Hubei. The delegation purports to represent the liberators of Hubei, styled the Wu-Tang Clan, and it was led by the envoys Ghost-Face Killer, Rui Kong, and Method Man. Petitioners made note of the endless beneficence and generosity shown to their order by the Hongwu and Jiajing Emperors, and stated that it was these expressions of imperial benevolence shown by bygone rulers that prompted their extraordinary actions on behalf of the Son of Heaven. The envoys brought tribute, consisting of numerous and sundry spoils of war taken from the barbarian invaders. This tribute was notated and recorded by the Sub-Minister of Protocol. The envoys were banqueted and rewarded in accordance with the precedents. Grand Councilor Shi Kefa conferred the title of Provincial Magistrate for Hubei on Ri Za, the leader of the liberators. The Emperor, in his boundless generosity, decreed that as a reward for the actions of the Wu-Tang Clan, eighty-eight new temples of the Daoist path would be constructed forthwith in his realm (4).
Excerpted from “Fact Sheet #4a, Introduction to Chinese History,” by Professor Scheherazade Wang. Department of Oriental Studies, Cambridge University.
- Following up on our previous discussions about the genesis of and mythology surrounding the anti-Qing religious society known as the Wu-Tang Clan, we now move on to examine that society’s impact on the broader Chinese culture. Again, all of these terms and concepts are fair game for the final exam.
说诗唱 (shuoshichang, or “spoken poem-song”): A seamless blend of poetry and song, shuoshichang is a uniquely Chinese art form that survives to the present day. The genre originated among Wu-Tang warriors as a pre-battle ritual: they would compose narrative poems extolling their fighting spirit and enumerating the tortures to be inflicted upon the foe. As the genre grew more complex, a set form emerged. For example, rhyme became an essential element of the shuoshichang, as it made for a more harmonious sound. Additionally, although it was acceptable to compose a shuoshichang in advance, those that were composed on the spot (“freestyle”) were more prized. Exemplars of the genre include Zhu Hongbo’s anti-materialist polemic “Taels Rule Everything Around Me,” and Qian Zhongshu’s lament “Severe Punishment.”
节奏口技 (jiezou kouji, or “vocal percussion”): Sometimes translated as “beat-boxing.” This art, which involves producing rhythmic drumming sounds with the mouth, is often used as a musical accompaniment to shuoshichang. It originated with the Wu-Tang Clan, and it is believed that the style developed due to the privations faced by the Clan in their early years. Since there were no percussion instruments to be found, and no time to make them, the Clan simply used their bodies to produce melodies that corresponded to their poem-songs.
(1) These events were described in more detail two updates ago, just in case you’ve forgotten.
(2) OTL he was also executed by the Qing, although in entirely different circumstances.
(3) The Veritable Records of Ming (明实录) was basically the record of each emperor’s reign. OTL, of course, it ended with the Chongzhen Emperor in 1644. ITTL, the Ming survive . . . indefinitely.
(4) Given the state of the Hongguang Emperor’s finances, the Wu-Tang Clan probably shouldn’t hold their breath waiting for these temples to actually be built. Still, it’s a nice gesture.
*As you can see, the Wu-Tang and Southern Ming story threads are starting to converge. More on them later, but in the next update we’ll return to the adventures of Zhang Xianzhong. As always, thanks for reading.
Excerpted from “The Yellow Tiger: A Biography of Zhang Xianzhong,” by Gary Grice.
- The invasion of Tibet, spurred on by Hegemon-King Zhang Xianzhong’s belief that Heaven could be found by climbing to the top of the highest mountain in that highest of lands, was, in the words of his spiritual advisor Ludovico Buglio, “a short and victorious war.” Buglio and his fellow Jesuit Gabriel de Magalhaes, who had converted the Hegemon-King to Christianity, had reason to be relieved; the entire expedition was more or less a lark, and the Jesuits were even more concerned that Zhang persisted in certain heretical notions, not the least of which was his belief that he could reach Heaven and speak with God and Jesus. Nevertheless, there were none in the State of Ba who dared question the wishes of the Hegemon-King, and thus the invasion of Tibet proceeded as planned in the spring of 1646. In the end, and wholly unsurprisingly, it was sheer weight of numbers that told the tale. Although the Dalai Lama’s army, primarily composed of Mongolian cavalry, was highly maneuverable, it was ill-suited to stop Zhang’s massive army as it marched straight for Drepung. The Army of Ba swatted away several Tibetan attacks as if they were so many mosquitoes and unceremoniously sacked the Tibetan capital in mid-May. Although the Dalai Lama survived, fleeing with a substantial force, the fall of Drepung largely spelled the end of organized resistance. Zhang continued on to Lhasa, where the Dalai Lama had been busy constructing what would have become the new capital of the Tibetan Empire. This city was not sacked; on the contrary, Zhang ordered the half-finished Potala Palace to be completed and renamed Lhasa as Tiancheng (天城, or City of Heaven). At this point, the Hegemon-King paused and divided his army; several segments were sent to the northern reaches of Tibet to survey the landscape, assert the authority of Ba, and compel obedience from the natives. Another segment of the army remained in Tiancheng, where they began to Christianize the Tibetans, with decidedly mixed results. Meanwhile, Zhang and a final detachment moved west, towards the Himalaya Mountains. Heaven beckoned . . .
After moving steadily west for several weeks through Shigatse, Zhang and company finally began to arrive at the Himalayan foothills. Here, the expedition faced its first problem. How on earth were they to ascertain which of the monstrous peaks before them was the biggest one? Miraculously enough, it appears that they actually hit on the right one; although it is impossible to be completely certain, examination of the expedition’s chronicles suggests that they did indeed attempt to summit Mt. Zhumulangma in July of 1646 (1). Yaks and guides were commandeered from the surrounding villages and a base camp was constructed in preparation for what Zhang firmly believed would be his ascent into Heaven. They were to find that if the mountain was indeed the path to Heaven, then God was not in the mood to receive visitors. Early attempts to scout out a path to the summit were stymied by avalanches, storms, and altitude sickness respectively; on the fourth attempt as many as fifty climbers died in a massive storm which left them stranded. Zhang remained undaunted; in what is undoubtedly the most famous exchange from the expedition’s official chronicle, the Tale of Voyaging to the Roof of the World, his loyal secretary Zhu Feng asked his monarch if it was possible that the mountain was not in fact the pathway to Heaven. Zhang allowed that perhaps it was not, yet insisted that the summit must be reached nonetheless. When Zhu Feng inquired as to why this was the case, why the top must be reached no matter the cost, Zhang grandly replied: “因为它就在那里” (yinwei ta jiu zai nali, or, “Because it is there”). On the fifth attempt the Hegemon-King himself joined the team, which went farther than any of the previous four. Yet like the others, it ended not with a bang but a whimper; Zhang fell into a crevasse. Somehow he survived - a rope was sent down and the Hegemon-King was dragged back to the surface - but the quest to reach Heaven had ended. For the rest of his life, Zhang would walk with a limp, and he would always be susceptible to chills. The experience only deepened his growing Christianity (2), and as he was carried back to Tiancheng in a litter, his thoughts centered on spreading the faith . . .
Excerpted from “Tragedy and Triumph: The Story of Lobsang Gyatso, 5th Dalai Lama,” by Darryl Hill.
- Before his thirtieth birthday, Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso had already proved his great worth on many occasions. He had conquered Shigatse and Kham; he had pacified Amdo; he had asserted the dominance of the Gelugpa sect; indeed, he had unified Tibet under his rule. He was thus shocked and horrified beyond measure when Zhang Xianzhong’s Army of Ba swept through his lands, destroying his kingdom in what seemed a blink of the eye. In truth, although the Dalai Lama had been completely unprepared for the invasion (3), it is unlikely that much would have changed even had he been aware of the coming onslaught. The force of arms arrayed against Tibet was simply too much to be overcome, and it was a scant few months after the invaders entered his empire that the Dalai Lama found himself fleeing in a most undignified manner. All was not totally lost, however. The Dalai Lama had managed to gather around his person a formidable force of several thousand Mongol cavalry, the flower of his armed forces; his plan was to ride north to their homeland and rally there. However, as it so happened, Zhang’s forces were operating to the north in strength, and the Dalai Lama’s men narrowly escaped the invader’s clutches on several occasions. In despair, Lobsang Gyatso gave up and ordered his men to move south, rather than north. None of the cavalrymen he commanded would ever see Mongolia again. For that matter, he would never see Tibet again. Yet the Dalai Lama’s future proved to be brighter than anyone could possibly have guessed . . .
For several months, the Dalai Lama and his troops moved slowly south and east, generally following the line of the Lancang (Mekong) River wherever they could, although they had to deviate at points due to impassable terrain. At some point in the autumn of 1646, the Dalai Lama arrived at Dali, in Yunnan. At this point Yunnan, a rugged border province, was in a sort of no-man’s-land at the time: the Southern Ming did not have enough troops to send any of them traipsing off to the frontier, while Zhang Xianzhong’s forces were either in Tibet or guarding the western border against attacks from either the Ming or the Qing, who themselves were nowhere near Yunnan. Thus, government in Yunnan was largely nonexistent; in many cases it was conducted on the township level by magistrates left over from the Ming, who treated individual towns and villages as their private fiefs, more or less. Naturally, the entrance of the Dalai Lama and his several thousand cavalry auxiliaries rather upset the balance that had existed in Yunnan up to that point. The Dalai Lama quickly took over the town of Dali, using it as his base of operations - it would later become his capital - and issuing a call to all Buddhists to join him. This strategy met with mixed success, while the deployment of his cavalry squadrons resulted in yet more additions to Gyatso’s rapidly growing realm. It was in these, the early stages of his resurgence, that the Dalai Lama truly came into his element as a master diplomat and statesman: he cut deals with local magistrates, who added their fiefs to his rule; he enticed whole tribes to convert to Buddhism with the power of his preaching; he mercilessly crushed other tribes that resisted the Eightfold Path. It was with shocking speed - aided both by the lack of any great power in the area and his own fierce resolve - that the Dalai Lama carved out a new state for himself in Yunnan. It was a state that was built around his person and around Gelugpa (Yellow Hat) Buddhism. This was so much the case, in fact, that the Dalai Lama’s new state rather quickly became known in Chinese as Huangmaoguo (黄帽国, or “Yellow Hat Land”). From the ashes of his defeat in Tibet, the Dalai Lama had risen as if he was a phoenix. And in 1648, after consolidating his power over the entirety of Yunnan, he looked to expand his nascent state’s borders. Wary of the power of Ba and of the Southern Ming, he did not go north, nor did he go east. Rather, the Dalai Lama’s forces moved south . . .
(1) Also known as Mount Everest.
(2) The circumstances of Zhang’s conversion to Christianity are explained in previous posts.
(3) Of course, there was no reason for him to be prepared for it. As I’ve tried to indicate, invading Tibet didn’t make much sense objectively, but Zhang Xianzhong has his own rationale for doing things.
*Meet the Dalai Lama and his angry Buddhist empire in Yunnan! As you can see, they will be headed into Southeast Asia soon, which will kick off all kinds of chaos. Butterflies galore, etc. Stay tuned for the details, although in the next update we’re going back to the Southern Ming. As always, thanks for reading.
Excerpted from “The Ming-Qing Wars,” by A.Q. Khan.
- 1646 looked as though it would be a pivotal year in the conflict that had torn China in two. Wu Sangui was poised for another attempt on the Southern Ming capital of Nanjing, while Shi Kefa rallied the loyalist forces and looked to prevent the turncoat general from crossing the Yangzi River. In April, the battle was joined, as Wu left his winter quarters in Hefei and moved his army south. After consultations with his generals, Shi Kefa opted for a defensive strategy; he elected not to give battle to the Qing general north of the Yangzi River, and instead concentrate his forces so as to prevent Wu’s army from crossing the Yangzi, without which Nanjing could not be captured. Initially Wu drove straight for the Ming capital, attempting to cross the river near Jinhekou, barely twenty kilometers south of Nanjing itself. Yet this most direct of approaches played straight into the defenders’ hands, and the Qing armies failed to cross the Chang successfully. Wu Sangui, having been denied once, opted to pursue a more circuitous route. He moved southwest, hoping to cross the Chang further upstream at an undefended ford and then swing back towards Nanjing, pulling the Ming defensive lines out of position and striking their capital city from the rear (1). The Qing forces moved at a forced march, stealing a march on their Ming counterparts, and made for the small town of Shiqiao, which had been chosen as an ideal crossing point due to the shallow water and large sandbar in the middle of the river near the town. When Wu Sangui and his army arrived, there were no Ming troops to be found, and the plan seemed to have been a smashing success. Boats were commandeered from the surrounding villages for animals and the high command, while the mass of the army waded through the thick and murky water, scarcely more than a hundred and fifty centimeters deep at its highest point. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, the riverboat navy of the Wu-Tang Clan arrived.
Excerpted from “The Story of the Glorious Sword of the Wu-Tang Clan,” by Gao Feiyang.
- Inspector of the Deck did not organize his forces, nor did he make grand plans. As he was a servant of the Dao, Inspector of the Deck took no conscious action. Thus, he was perfectly prepared (2). The Thrice-Damned Traitor, ever a master of lies and deceit, attempted to avoid honorable combat by the expedient of sneaking his foul host across the Mother of Rivers at an out-of-the-way location. Yet he could not fool Inspector of the Deck, who learned of the Thrice-Damned Traitor’s movements and sprang into action with fearsome and noble alacrity.
“Brothers!” said Inspector of the Deck to the boatmen and warriors of the Wu-Tang Clan. “Let us stain the river red with the blood of the enemy!”
Then the Glorious Armada (3) fell upon the foe, who were unprepared for the righteous rage of the Wu-Tang Clan. When they saw the Glorious Armada approach, they wept piteously, gnashed their teeth, and rent their garments, for they knew that their end had come. The Thrice-Damned Traitor, filth-encrusted vermin that he was, fled ignominiously at the first sign of combat, slinking back from whence he came. For the rest of the infidel host there was no mercy. Ten thousand heads were taken. There was much rejoicing.
After the great victory, Inspector of the Deck and his warriors celebrated with vigor. As the campfires crackled in the night, the warriors began beat-boxing, and Inspector of the Deck rose to perform a free-style poem-song.
Inspector of the Deck gave a shout. “The Wu-Tang Clan is ferocious and fearsome! With great fury we strike, and then are gone. With a will of Iron, we pummel the foe!”
Then there was a great shouting and clamor. The warriors spoke with one voice in approval. From this point, they marched under the Iron Flag of the Wu-Tang Clan.
Excerpted from “The Ming-Qing Wars,” by A.Q. Khan.
- Wu Sangui’s second attempt to cross the Yangzi River met with no more success than the first one, as partisans from the anti-Qing sect Wu-Tang Clan appeared on rowboats and barges, bringing the operation to an abrupt and unsatisfactory conclusion. A disgusted Wu formulated a new plan; he intended to march the army back through Anhui and onto the Central Plain of Jiangsu, where he would be able to strike at cities north of the river with impunity and hopefully draw the Ming defenders out into the open where they could be fought with more success. Yet this plan, and indeed the entire war itself, was preempted by a message from the Manchu Prince Regent Dorgon, which reached Nanjing in mid-June of 1646. The Qing wanted peace. While it was an abrupt turnaround from their position of 1644, when they had haughtily dismissed a Ming diplomatic mission, the Manchus found themselves in a more precarious position two years later. Popular discontent, which had been relatively muted since the Manchu conquest, boiled over in early 1646 when the Qing abruptly ordered all Han Chinese men to adopt the traditional Manchu hairstyle at once on pain of death (4). This decree served as a catalyst for anti-Manchu sentiment, and before long the Qing found themselves beset on all sides by dissidents and rebels. Prince Regent Dorgon refused to compromise, famously declaring “Keep your hair and don’t keep your head, or keep your head and don’t keep your hair” (留发不留头，留头不留发). There was absolutely no unity or cohesion to the rebels, who were united by nothing other than a general dislike of the Qing. Yet they were a growing problem for the Manchus. In Shandong, the Elm Garden Army (榆园军, Yu yuan jun), a loose agglomeration of bandits and peasants, terrorized Manchus from Qingdao to Qufu; in Hebei, the Eight Dragons Army (八龙军, Ba long jun) threatened Beijing itself at one point (5). Furthermore, and perhaps even more troubling, the Hui Muslim communities in Shaanxi and Gansu rose in revolt as well. It was this urgent need to pacify their newly-won dominions that forced the Qing to the negotiating table in the summer of 1646.
Peace was a welcome prospect for the Southern Ming as well. Even after the Purge of the Eunuchs and the installation of Shi Kefa as the Hongguang Emperor’s Chief Minister, there was a great deal of internal dissension and conflict in the Ming ranks. Moreover, the ultimate loyalty of a worrying number of their troops was highly suspect, as was the loyalty of a worrying number of the generals who commanded those troops. The Southern Ming saw the Qing peace overture as a chance to rest and reorganize their forces. The general Ming mindset also favored a peace with the Manchu; oddly enough from a modern perspective, they considered Zhang Xianzhong the greater threat (6). Thus it was that both sides were eager to come to an arrangement that would end the war - at least for now - and enable both the Qing and the Ming to focus on what they each regarded as the greater short-term threat to their hegemony. After scarcely a month of negotiations, the Treaty of Suzhou was signed in late July of 1646. The Ming paid a relatively substantial bribe to the Qing, in return for which the Manchus withdrew from Anhui and Jiangsu Provinces altogether (7); additionally, it was agreed that the Qing would give the Ming a free hand in the southwest, while the Ming would extend the same courtesy to their Qing counterparts in the northwest. As previously noted, neither side viewed the treaty as worth much more than the paper it was printed on. With peace secured, the Qing were free to devote their attention to pacifying the north. The Ming, meanwhile, looked first to bring the southwest under control and to quell the ever-present grumbling at court. For not everyone was happy with the peace . . .
Excerpted from “Spending the Night at Yunmen Temple,” by Wu Ming. (8)
Zheng Sen, son of the martyred general Zheng Zhilong, was in a ferocious rage. He paced back and forth in the small audience chamber, moaned with anguish, and clawed at his eyes.
“How can this be?” he said, voice rising in a wail. “How can we leave our work against the barbarian invaders unfinished? I will never raise my hand in anger against the Han people!”
Shi Kefa struggled mightily to avoid rolling his eyes, barely succeeding. He forced himself to sound stern rather than amused. “You will do what your Emperor tells you to do, Young Zheng,” he said. “That is what your father before you would have done.”
Zheng’s mutters faded into a resentful silence. Shi smiled, hoping to placate the young firebrand. “As it so happens,” he said, “you will not be asked to raise your hand against the Han people. You have been chosen to carry out another task.”
Zheng visibly perked up at this news. “Am I to march on Beijing itself and destroy the Manchu hordes once and for all?” he asked hopefully.
“No,” said Shi, shifting in his seat. “It has come to the court’s attention that the bandit king Zhang Xianzhong is guided and advised by red-haired barbarians from the far West. For too long we have indulged these devils from beyond the sea. Now you will redress the situation. Sail to Taiwan, and thence to Aomen. Remove the barbarian scourge, and bring these islands back into association with the Dragon Throne. Do this and we will make you the Great Barbarian-Subduing Admiral, Lord of Five Thousand Years.” (9)
In the corner of the room, the Emperor stirred for the first time. He was engrossed in painting; attempting to imitate the style of Ni Zan, he made each brushstroke with the greatest of care. Without looking up, he spoke. “Indeed, we will even grant you a new name,” he said. “To celebrate your success, you shall henceforth be Zheng Chenggong.”
Zheng knocked his head on the floor three times, then stood and regarded the emperor with awe. “All that I do in this world,” he said, “I do for the Son of Heaven.”
The Emperor abruptly stood, picked up his small dog, and marched over to the window. “Yes,” he said abstractly, still staring into the distance. “And so you shall. Find the barbarians. Leave none alive.”
(1) Geography lesson aside, it boils down to this: Wu Sangui is on one side of the river, and Nanjing is on the other side. And it’s a big river . . .
(2) I’ve hit this note a few times. It’s a reference to the Daoist concept of 无为 (wuwei), which translates as something like “non-conscious action.” It’s a bit difficult, but the idea revolves around not acting with undue thought, but moving in harmony with Nature and the universe. Or something to that effect.
(3) A bit of hyperbole. It’s mostly commandeered fishing boats.
(4) As per OTL.
(5) The Elm Garden Army actually existed; the Eight Dragons Army I just made up.
(6) Again as per OTL; initially the Ming hoped to form an alliance with the Qing against Zhang Xianzhong, Li Zicheng, etc. This was because barbarians invading from the north were as regular an occurrence as the sun rising in the east. From the Ming point of view, this was normal and could be dealt with. A bandit army taking over Sichuan (and Tibet ITTL), on the other hand, was highly irregular.
(7) For clarity’s sake, I’m using the modern names for places, rather than what they actually would have been called at the time.
(8) This book was written by a eunuch who survived the purge, and is a lightly fictionalized account of the early years of the Southern Ming court.
(9) Shi and the Emperor could not care less about the vagaries of barbarian religious doctrine. Catholic? Protestant? Who cares?
Excerpted from “Fact Sheet #4b, Introduction to Chinese History,” by Professor Scheherazade Wang. Department of Oriental Studies, Cambridge University.
CHINA AND THE WEST: THE INVASIONS OF TAIWAN AND AOMEN (MACAU), 1646
- The invasion of Taiwan by Zheng Chenggong (or Zheng Sen, as he was then known) in 1646 has been endlessly retold in virtually every medium imaginable. If you haven’t read Cao Xianzu’s Twelve Conquests of the Grand Admiral, you’ve probably seen Kenji Lazard’s masterpiece Ten Thousand Splendid Suns, or read Pieter van der Horst’s The Island. The moving and ultimately doomed love between Zheng Chenggong and Eleanor Stuyvesant has captivated readers of all ages and nationalities for centuries. Yet for the modern historian, who deals in facts rather than in legends, the first question we must ask when considering the invasion of Taiwan is simple. Why did it happen?
From a strategic perspective, the decision to detach a vast fleet and send it off to conquer a remote and unimportant island seems bizarre, even foolish perhaps. After the cessation of hostilities between the Ming and the Jurchens, it was patently obvious that the proximate threat to Ming power lay to the west, in the person of Hegemon-King Zhang Xianzhong and his State of Ba. In this context, the invasion and conquest of Taiwan (and the smaller island of Aomen, which had heretofore been leased to the Portuguese) was nothing more than a costly and time-consuming distraction. Surviving documents and personal statements from the Ming court in Nanjing indicate that the orders for the dispatch of Zheng Chenggong’s fleet were issued mostly founded on Ming apprehension and fears of Christianity. Word had long since reached Nanjing of Zhang Xianzhong’s conversion to Christianity and of his Jesuit advisors, Ludovico Buglio and Gabriel de Magalhaes. The Southern Ming not only feared that Aomen and Taiwan would become breeding grounds for Zhang supporters and act as a festering sore in the Empire’s side, but they also harbored wild fantasies of invasion forces setting forth from those islands to strike a blow for Christianity and Zhang Xianzhong. Never mind that the Dutch were Protestant, and that the Portuguese on Aomen had heard only vague rumors of the Jesuits to their northwest. Sometimes conspiracy theories can launch a thousand ships . . .
Excerpted from “The Great Undertaking: The Ming Invasions of Taiwan and Aomen,” by Anthony Judd.
- Due to the wretched decline in educational standards and the general uselessness of youth, it has become a popular delusion that Zheng Chenggong’s fleet invaded both Taiwan and Aomen. One supposes this is preferable to another tale this author has heard from many a graduate student, who have contrived to forget the fact of Aomen’s existence! Let us set the record straight. The invasion of Aomen was wholly the responsibility of Li Guangrong, Viceroy of Guangdong Province; the great distance between Taiwan and Aomen militated against any one man commanding the invasion of both islands. In contrast to the stout resistance put up by the Dutch on Taiwan, the invasion of Aomen proved to be something of a cakewalk for the Southern Ming. On or about the night of September 4, 1646, Li’s invasion force set out in junks and fishing boats and traversed the narrow strait that separated Aomen from the town of Zhuhai and the mainland. What happened next belongs more in the annals of farce than it does in those of military history . . .
Excerpted from “Report to His Majesty King Joao IV, from Governor-General Manuel Ferrara, late of the Island of Macau, sent from Goa,” written in approximately December of 1646. (2)
- It being an uneventful Thursday night, the garrison of Guia Fortress, having said their prayers and commended Your Majesty to God, retired for the night, excepting those who watched the walls. Due to the wretched and unforgiveable negligence of the watchmen (3), who in Your Majesty’s name have already been subjected to the firmest of discipline, rest assured, no cry rang out from the battlements when the Celestial hordes fell upon our redoubts. Your Majesty’s humble servant had been perusing the ledgers and planning exercises for the morrow (4) when my servant burst in, shouting incomprehensibly about a host of Celestials at the door. Surrounded by the cream of our forces (5), and clad in solemn livery (6), I made my way to the Plaza to discover a throng of Chinese inside the gates, armed to the teeth and reeking of blood. Their leader was a tall man of stern countenance, who was introduced to me as Viceroy Li. As the introductions were made, I asked my men how they had allowed this travesty to happen, and what could have possessed them to transgress against my stern orders to keep a careful watch. Fearful of my wrath and cognizant of how deeply they had failed Your Majesty’s trust, the watch mumbled a few contemptible phrases about the night and fog obscuring their vision. I had little time to chastise my wayward flock; through his translator, Viceroy Li demanded my attention. The viceroy brandished a scroll, covered in the indecipherable chicken-scratch that the Celestials use for writing, and through his translator proclaimed, “Due to regrettable and unforeseen circumstances beyond the control of His Imperial Majesty the Hongguang Emperor, we must inform you that your lease has been canceled immediately. Kindly gather your belongings and depart forthwith.”
I protested at great length against the outrageous injustice done to Your Majesty, but to no avail. The enemy horde, which far outnumbered our poor force (Your Majesty will no doubt recall that in my last report I made mention of the need for reinforcement of our positions on Macau) rattled their spears and shook their muskets, and we were compelled to pile onto the trading vessels in port. Scarcely more than an hour after the heathen beguiled his way into our fortress, we were bound for Goa, where thanks to a fair wind and the grace of Almighty God we have tarried these past few weeks. I humbly commend myself to Your Majesty’s good favor, and beg leave to ask for further instructions . . .
Excerpted from “The Great Undertaking: The Ming Invasions of Taiwan and Aomen,” by Anthony Judd.
- In contrast to the almost-laughable denouement of the invasion of Aomen, the invasion of Taiwan proved to be a lengthy and protracted affair. Zheng Chenggong, who hoped to earn the title of “Great Barbarian-Subduing Admiral, Lord of Five Thousand Years” that had been promised him in the event of a successful conquest of Taiwan, landed his troops near the site of modern-day Tainan City and made straight for Fort Zeelandia, the beating heart of Dutch Taiwan. Yet the men of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) were a great deal more competent than their Portuguese counterparts on Aomen. Zheng’s landing did not go unnoticed, and though Chinese and native tribesmen of Taiwan flocked to his banners, the walls of Fort Zeelandia were sturdy and their defenders were stout. After a brief attempt at negotiation, both sides settled in for a protracted siege, as it soon became clear that Zheng’s strength was not sufficient to force a breach in the wall via force of arms. As fall dragged on into winter, and as the year of 1646 gave way to 1647, the Dutch defenders held out, waiting for reinforcements that would never come . . .
(2) I don’t know what the actual Governor-General’s name was, or even if his title was “Governor-General,” and I am far too lazy to find out.
(3) Read: they were drunk.
(4) Read: he was asleep.
(5) Read: he was surrounded by his mistresses.
(6) Read: he was wearing his pajamas.
Next up: life in the State of Ba, with special reference to the rabbit-worshippers of Leshan. As always, thanks for reading.
Excerpted from “The Yellow Tiger: A Biography of Zhang Xianzhong,” by Gary Grice.
- Zhang Xianzhong’s expedition to Tibet was viewed as a vast success by everyone save for that mercurial monarch himself. Tibet had been conquered, after all, and more territory had been added to the State of Ba, as had more souls who could be saved. Yet Zhang viewed the entire campaign as nothing more than a miserable failure. After all, it was not temporal considerations that had motivated him, nor was it even the hope of winning more converts to Christianity. From his perspective, he had failed to reach Heaven and speak with God, and nothing else really mattered in the final analysis. The Tibetan campaign had physical costs for Zhang, as well; after his accident during the failed attempt to summit Mount Zhumulangma (1), the Hegemon-King would for the rest of his life be frail and sickly. In his weakened state, he was much more susceptible to persuasion by his advisers, who to a man were simply relieved that the Tibetan expedition had not ended in total disaster. Unlike prior to the Tibetan expedition, when they were divided and Zhang had his way through sheer force of will, the generals, bureaucrats, and priests of the State of Ba were broadly in agreement as to the course that the kingdom should pursue in 1647. Almost all were in favor of a campaign to the southeast. For the generals, who saw the Ming as the greatest threat, this plan represented a chance to take the battle to the main enemy. For the bureaucrats, who were forever counting taels and worrying about finances, a southeastern expedition offered the possibility of capturing a port and ending Ba’s status as a landlocked country, thus giving the kingdom an opportunity for increased revenue via trade. For the priests, most notably Ludovico Buglio and Gabriel de Magalhaes, a move to the southeast and the capture of a port would allow for contact with Westerners (2) and for word to be spread of Zhang’s conversion to Christianity. The Hegemon-King assented to the advice of his ministers, and in April of 1647 a host set out from Chongqing under the command of his adopted son, Zhang Dingguo.
Dingguo’s plan was to strike through Guizhou and into Guangxi; assuming initial success, he could either move east along the Xi River or continue south towards Nanning and Hainan Island (3). He set out at a quick pace and achieved both tactical and strategic surprise. Zunyi fell in May, and by mid-June Dingguo’s army was nearing Guiyang itself. The Ming were hampered during the Guizhou-Guangxi Campaign by several factors, but two loomed the largest. In preparation for their strike against Ba, which was to commence in the early summer, large-scale troop movements had taken place with the goal of amassing forces in Hubei so as to strike at Chongqing. The Guizhou front was relatively bare as a result, and when news came of Dingguo’s strike, the Ming general Gao Jie panicked and sent a portion of his army chasing after the invaders from Ba, rather than launching his attack on schedule (which would have caused Ba no small amount of problems, as the bulk of their forces were heading south and in no condition to turn around and make a forced march back to Chongqing). Additionally, those troops that were in the field for the Ming in Guizhou were of dubious quality and loyalty at best. In one famous instance, the commander of a Ming garrison opened the gates and laid out a feast for the conquering army of Ba, noting that he would “bill them later.” In the end, Dingguo’s army was slowed not by the Ming but by local villagers. It had been ordered that all who resided in land seized by the army of Ba were to be converted to Christianity by any means necessary. While Dingguo himself had opposed this plan, influential clerics had pushed hard for it, and the Hegemon-King had taken their side in the end. The result was that, as Dingguo pushed south, his supply lines came under increasing attack from local guerillas, mostly comprised from elements of the indigenous Miao population (4). As the advance slowed, more Ming troops began to arrive on the scene, and the summer ended with Guiyang in ruins and neither side in firm possession of the upper hand. Stalemate seemed to be the order of the day . . .
Excerpted from “The Rabbit Worshippers of Leshan,” by Jean-Paul Morimoto.
- Of all the bizarre sects that proliferated in the State of Ba after that nation’s madcap rush to embrace Christianity, none has proven to be more fascinating or influential than the Rabbit Worshippers of Leshan, formally known as the Church of Christ, Rabbit (基督兔子教会). The rise of the Rabbit Worshippers, and indeed of the other numerous heresies and distortions of Christianity that flourished in the State of Ba, can largely be traced to Zhang Xianzhong’s decree that mandated the conversion to Christianity of every citizen in the nation. In the frantic haste to instruct local officials in the tenets of Christianity and to mass produce Bibles - it is estimated that two-thirds of the plunder from the sack of Drepung in Tibet went to paying printers’ fees - it was inevitable that some mistakes would pop up. The situation was exacerbated by the fact that many of the local officials who were charged with making conversion to Christianity a reality on the county and village level had next to no idea what Christianity was, and moreover were not inclined to care overly much. This was the impetus for the numerous sects that attempted to simply stuff some bits and pieces of Christianity in with pre-existing Chinese folk deities; even today, it is not uncommon in rural parts of Sichuan to see a temple to Cai Shen and Jesus Christ together. Christianity’s assimilation into the social fabric of the State of Ba was to take much more time than either Zhang Xianzhong or his Jesuit advisors hoped.
As for the Rabbit Worshippers of Leshan, it was truly a bizarre confluence of factors that led to the emergence of that sect. The situation developed as follows: sometime in late 1646, a shipment of several hundred Bibles made its way to Leshan, in what is now south-central Sichuan Province. As previously noted, misprints and typographical errors were common in these hastily made Bibles. However, this particular batch was unique. In every single one of the five hundred and sixty-three Bibles that were shipped to the Leshan region, there was a single error that had presumably occurred during transcription. All references to the Twelve Apostles (十二徒, shi’er tu) had been replaced with references to Twelve Rabbits (十二兔, shi’er tu). The situation was only exacerbated by the actions of the local magistrate, Zhang Guanzhong, a tireless, diligent, and not overly bright administrator. Zhang took the Gospel as, well, as Gospel, and traveled from village to village preaching about Jesus and the Twelve Rabbits - Pi De Rabbit, An De Rabbit, Ya Ming Rabbit, Yue Han Rabbit, Fei Li Rabbit, Ba Duo Rabbit, Ma Tai Rabbit, Duo Ma Rabbit, A-Fei’s son Ya Ming Rabbit, You Da Rabbit, and Christ’s betrayer Zhou Dasi Rabbit, who sold Jesus to the Western Barbarians for twenty taels (it was to be several years before this was revised to read twenty carrots). The heretical sect might very well have perished in its infancy; Magistrate Zhang’s whole-hearted adoption of “Christianity” and his insistence on the extirpation of traditional forms of religion was not common in the countryside, and officials who attempted such a tactic were often run out of town on a rail. Yet the Rabbit Worshippers were saved from death in the cradle by one man - Geng Changsuo, the largest landowner and richest man in the Leshan region. Geng, who longed to win favors and advancement for himself and his lineage, seems to have calculated that he could achieve this goal through slavish and lavish devotion to the Hegemon-King’s chosen religion. It was thus that Geng mobilized his vast network of both clan members, tenants, debtors, and business partners, and alternately ordered, persuaded, and wheedled them into accepting Christianity. It was thus that the famous Geng Family Temple was erected in Leshan, featuring the world-famous mural of the Last Supper, with Jesus surrounded at a wide circular table by the Twelve Rabbits. Yet unfortunately for Geng Changsuo, Zhang Guanzhong, and indeed everyone in the greater Leshan region, the Hegemon-King’s vision of Christianity most decidedly did not include rabbits . . .
(1) Also known as Mt. Everest. The attempt to summit the mountain was described in a previous update; someday I’ll go back and add more details.
(2) Buglio and de Magalhaes aren’t aware of the capture of Aomen (Macau) by Southern Ming forces and the expulsion of the Portuguese. Not that it really matters - with a port, they can send a ship to Goa, and thence onwards. And they’ve already send parties by land . . .
(3) As noted before, I’m using modern place names instead of the ones that were used in the seventeenth century to save everyone a few headaches.
(4) The Miao, known more commonly in English as the Hmong, OTL would rise up in large-scale revolt in the eighteenth century. They were never terribly comfortable with being ruled by Chinese, and they’re even less comfortable with being converted to Christianity.
*Next up: a schism in the Wu-Tang Clan, rebellions against the Qing, and Wu Sangui does what Wu Sangui does best. As always, thanks for reading.
Excerpted from “Fact Sheet #4c, Introduction to Chinese History,” by Professor Scheherazade Wang. Department of Oriental Studies, Cambridge University.
- Han Chinese resistance to the Jurchen (or Manchu) Qing Dynasty intensified after the initiation of several laws, including the famous ordinance requiring all Chinese men to adopt the Manchu hairstyle, which in the eyes of the Han population placed the Manchus in the role of foreign conquerors imposing their cultural norms on the Chinese people. A plethora of local resistance movements sprang up in response. Interestingly enough, the Wu-Tang Clan, undoubtedly the largest and most organized anti-Qing movement, played only a small role in this phase of the resistance. Why? The Clan was in the midst of infighting between the Thirty-Six Chambers Clique and the Eight Diagrams Clique . . .
Thirty-Six Chambers Clique (三十六厢派): This faction represented the so-called establishment of the Wu-Tang Clan, as most of the Nine Masters (Ri Za, Ge Za, Stratagem Man, Old Dirty Bastard, You Dao, Inspector of the Deck, Master Killer, Ghost-Face Killer, and Rui Kong) were supporters of the Thirty-Six Chambers. Based on ancient scriptures that told of an unstoppable warrior who had advanced through each of the fabled thirty-six chambers of Shaolin, this faction was highly martial and aggressive, arguing that it was time to take the battle to the Jurchen invaders and throw them out of China once and for all. The most famous spoken poem-song to espouse Thirty-Six Chambers principles is undoubtedly “Wu-Tang Clan Is Not A Thing To Be Trifled With,” a collaboration between Ri Za, Stratagem Man, and Inspector of the Deck. The first stanza is included below . . .
I am tossing, enforcing,
My style is awesome
Causing more factional feuds than Zhang Sun
And the survey said - you’re dead
Fatal flying Wu-Tang sword chops off your barbarian head
Hey, who was that? Aiya, the Wu-Tang is back!
Making barbarians go OH NO, like small frightened cats
We fear no one, oh no, here comes
The Wu-Tang Nine Masters, killers to the eardrum! (1)
Eight Diagrams Clique (八卦派): Also known as the “Eight Trigrams Clique.” This faction, comprised mostly of older members of the Wu-Tang Clan and scholars, believed that the Clan’s military mission was largely at an end, given the removal of the Manchus from Hubei and its restoration to Ming control. They believed that the Clan should return to their roots as a mystical Daoist society and foreswear the use of arms, focusing instead on divination and geomancy oriented around the ancient ba gua (eight diagrams) and the wu xing (five elements). Supporters of the Eight Diagrams Clique thus opposed the continuation of the Wu-Tang Clan’s role in the resistance movements against the Jurchen Qing Dynasty. The most prominent leader associated with this faction was Jia Badan (嘉八旦, archaically translated as Cappadonna).
Yet while the Eight Diagrams Clique and the Thirty-Six Chambers Clique bickered and argued, some members of the Clan took matters into their own hands, setting out to join the resistance against the Qing on their own or with a small group. For one of the most famous Clan members, this proved to be fatal . . .
Excerpted from “The Story of the Glorious Sword of the Wu-Tang Clan,” by Gao Feiyang. (2)
- The Old Dirty Bastard said, “The Jurchen barbarians have not yet been driven from all-under-Heaven. Thus it is our duty to make them feel endless pain.” So the Old Dirty Bastard and his acolytes set forth. They included the Young Dirty Bastard, the Fat Dirty Bastard, the Tall Dirty Bastard, the Lame Dirty Bastard, the Unlucky Dirty Bastard, the Laughing Dirty Bastard, and the Lecherous Dirty Bastard. They marched for a thousand li, until they came upon a vast barbarian encampment, in which there were not less than ten thousand men. Shouting a fearsome war-cry, the Old Dirty Bastard led his acolytes into the midst of the barbarian foe.
The glorious battle commenced. The barbarian invaders were weak, and cowardly, and did not possess the spirit of martial valor, so they shrieked and fled before the mighty onslaught of the Wu-Tang Clan and their Shaolin style. The Old Dirty Bastard strode up to the barbarian commander and said, “I challenge you to honorable combat! May the Glorious Sword of the Wu-Tang strike a blow to your entrails!” The foul fiend hissed menacingly and attacked. The Old Dirty Bastard drove him back with consummate skill and valor. Yet just as he was preparing to deliver the killing blow, he was stabbed in the back by a cowardly barbarian wielding a poisoned blade. Even in his agony, the Old Dirty Bastard defeated the foe.
After the battle, the Old Dirty Bastard’s acolytes gathered round him on the field, soaked with the blood of the vanquished enemy. The Lame Dirty Bastard said, “Glorious Sage Old Dirty Bastard, grant us some words of wisdom to live by.”
The Old Dirty Bastard sat up weakly and coughed out a mouthful of blood. He said, “Protect your neck.” Then he died. Upon hearing the ill news, Great Sage Ri Za was greatly distraught. He summoned twelve beat-boxers to his chambers and began a free-style spoken poem-song in the memory of his fallen comrade:
I picked him up, then I held him by his head
His eyes shut, that is when I knew he was -
Aiya! How do I say goodbye?
It is always the good ones that have to die
Memories in the corner of my mind
Flashbacks, I was laughing all the time
I taught him all about the Dao and the world
But I wish I had a chance to say these few words
After laughter, comes tears (3)
So perished the Old Dirty Bastard.
Excerpted from “The Three Betrayals of General Wu Sangui,” by Albrecht Balboa.
- With the outbreak of peace between the Ming and Qing Dynasties in the summer of 1646, General Wu Sangui was recalled from the front by his Qing masters and sent northwest to put down the revolts that were brewing in the Shanxi-Henan-Shaanxi area. A polyglot mixture of revolutionaries had risen in opposition to the Qing, and Wu was charged with the task of ending the rebellions and calming the troubled waters in the west. Wu made his base at Xi’an, in Shaanxi, and during the early months of 1647 he appeared to be following his orders, sending numerous detachments out into the countryside to search for the bandit forces that had proliferated in the region. Yet as spring moved into summer, Wu re-examined his position. The Ming were resurgent; the Qing, meanwhile, were seemingly in the throes of death by a thousand cuts. All the while, the mercurial Zhang Xianzhong lurked to the west. In point of fact, the Qing really were not in terribly dire straits. The Ming and the State of Ba seemed content to beat each other into pieces during that year of 1647, and the rebellions that had sprung up in Qing-controlled China were disorganized and localized to the point where they could be isolated and put down one by one. Clearly, Wu Sangui did not share this interpretation of the strategic situation.
Wu made no open moves in defiance of the Qing in 1647, but in retrospect it was clear that he had fixed upon the idea, perhaps from the moment that the Treaty of Yangzhou was signed. He attempted to co-opt the rebellious elements, convincing some to join his banners and dealing harshly with the others. The General also attempted to expand the area under his control, moving troops repeatedly into Ningxia and Gansu to “deal with rebel incursions.” Beset as they were by indigenous rebellions, the Qing were largely content to let Wu do as he pleased, especially since he seemed to be having so much success restoring order to the northwest. During his silent campaign to build up support in preparation for an assault on the Qing, Wu tried to win over the support of local civil and religious leaders to his cause. He found it in a rather unlikely fashion . . .
Excerpted from “Xi’an Tourist Tips,” http://travelinchina.com/xianinaday
Xi’an - Formerly known as Chang’an, capital of China during the Tang Dynasty, today Xi’an is most well known as the home of the Terracotta Army of Qin Shi Huangdi. But Xi’an isn’t just the Terracotta Army - there are many other attractions to marvel at in this ancient city.
Visitors should not miss the Great Mosque, located in the Old Quarter, which is dominated by an eighty-meter high statue of the great Sultan Wu Sangui . . .
(1) I was going to write a version in Chinese that rhymed as well. I’ve been trying to convince myself ever since that I have a life.
(2) Again, this is not a historical document, but a contemporary account of the feats of the Wu-Tang Clan, and should not be read literally.
(3) Based on this song.
*Next up: the end of the Ming siege of Taiwan and Zhang Xianzhong’s invasion of Guizhou and Guangxi, plus the Dalai Lama’s Angry Buddhist Kingdom in Yunnan heads south. It should be exciting. As always, thanks for reading.
Excerpted from “The Yellow Tiger: A Biography of Zhang Xianzhong,” by Gary Grice.
- While the State of Ba’s offensive into Ming-held Guizhou and Guangxi had begun promisingly, with Zhang Dingguo’s troops reaching the gates of Guiyang scarce months after the beginning of the campaign, operations began to stagnate in the fall of 1647, as the Ming defenders regained their equilibrium and the Army of Ba came under increasing pressure from indigenous Miao guerilla forces. The Miao, who fiercely opposed any efforts to convert them to Christianity, threatened to cut off Dingguo’s supply lines and were a constant thorn in his side. Meanwhile, the Ming general Gao Jie had marshaled his forces and was able to halt the advance of the Army of Ba at Guiyang, which was in ruins by the end of the year. Thus pressed by both Ming and Miao, the tide turned on the Guizhou front and the Army of Ba found itself falling back, defeated outside Xiuwen in August, at Santai in October, and at Shui’an in November. By the beginning of 1648, the Army of Ba’s offensive had been completely reversed, and now it was the Ming forces that were threatening to take the fight to their enemies and enter Sichuan. Zhang Xianzhong, the Hegemon-King of the State of Ba, reportedly flew into a violent rage on hearing of the repeated defeats dealt to his forces; he ordered his adopted son Zhang Dingguo, the commander of the army, back to Chengdu. In previous days, Dingguo would undoubtedly have met his death in a painful and gruesome fashion, but the new, Christian Zhang Xianzhong was a kind and forgiving man. Dingguo was ordered to undergo fifty days and fifty nights of self-mortification and “scourging of the flesh,” a method of penitence Zhang had hit upon after being informed of medieval flagellants (1). His other adopted son, Zhang Kewang, was sent from Chengdu to assume command of the battered and beleaguered army. Kewang possessed not a shred of martial talent, and we can only guess what would have happened had the Ming pursued the offensive. As it happened, their attention was drawn elsewhere in 1649, when Wu Sangui rebelled and the Second Ming-Qing War broke out early in that year . . .
Excerpted from “The Great Undertaking: The Ming Invasions of Taiwan and Aomen,” by Anthony Judd.
- The siege of Fort Zeelandia, the center of the Dutch East India Company’s presence on Taiwan, began in late October of 1646. It dragged on through that fall, into the winter, continued in spring of 1647, and rolled on into the summer of that year. Needless to say, the slow pace did not please the commander of the besieging Ming forces, Zheng Chenggong (or Zheng Sen, as he was then known). Nor did it please the Hongguang Emperor and his right-hand man, Shi Kefa, who had hoped for a speedier resolution to the siege (2). Desperate to win the title of “Great Barbarian-Subduing Admiral, Lord of Five Thousand Years” (大尅夷将五千岁) that had been promised to him should he find victory, and even more desperate to continue in the good graces of the Emperor and the court at Nanjing, Zheng tried everything he could possibly think of to put an end to the Dutch resistance and seize Taiwan for the glory of Great Ming. In the end, victory came courtesy of a most unlikely source. The Dutch lieutenant-governor of Taiwan, Jan Stuyvesant, had brought his seventeen-year-old daughter Eleanor with him after the death of her mother and the lack of any suitable relatives to raise her; the plan was for her to travel with him for a few years and then return to the Netherlands and find a husband (3). Life has a way of intervening with plans, however, and Eleanor Stuyvesant wound up in Fort Zeelandia during the siege. During her daily walk on the ramparts, she had occasion to gaze upon Zheng, commanding the Ming armies in his raised pavilion, and he had occasion to gaze upon her. Without a word passing between them the two became infatuated, and Zheng even entered into “negotiations” with the Dutch solely as a way of corresponding with his paramour. Although it is unknown if they ever had a face-to-face meeting, messages were clearly passed between Zheng and Stuyvesant, and it was in these letters that he persuaded her to open the gates to the fortress so that the two of them could be together. And so, one night in late August of 1647, she opened a little-known side door to the fortress and Zheng’s troops came rushing in.
It was likely that Zheng intended to capture the fortress with as little bloodshed as possible and to send the defenders in ships to Batavia, much as the Ming did to the Portuguese defenders of Macau. Yet his troops, fired up with bloodlust and angry after the long siege, disregarded any orders that they might have been given and massacred Fort Zeelandia’s defenders to the last man. The last man - not the last woman. Eleanor Stuyvesant was the only survivor, but when she finally met Zheng in person, she was inconsolable, accusing him of cheating and deceiving her into being a party to the death of her father and the other defenders of the fort. Distraught, she jumped to her death from the watchtower of the fort two days after it fell to the Ming. Zheng accepted with grace the plaudits and awards that were bestowed upon him in the wake of his victory, but inside he burned with shame and regret (4). He remained on Taiwan for the remainder of 1647 as that island’s first Ming Viceroy, conducting a survey of the land and population and beginning to build up Taiwan’s port facilities so that could fulfill its intended role as a trade center. It was not until the outbreak of the Second Ming-Qing War that he returned to battle . . .
Excerpted from “The Story of the Glorious Sword of the Wu-Tang Clan,” by Gao Feiyang.
- With the death of the Old Dirty Bastard, a great sadness fell over all of the warriors and sages of the Wu-Tang Clan. As the first of the Nine Masters to fall in battle, he was justly praised and venerated by the assembled multitudes. It was ordered that nineteen temples be erected in his honor throughout the land, and for many days and nights there was much sorrow and weeping. On the tenth day after the passing of the Old Dirty Bastard, the Ghost-Face Killer entered the Hall of the Purple Phoenix on Wudang Mountain to address the warriors who had gathered there. They were idle and listless, uncertain what to do after the death of such a great warrior. The Ghost-Face Killer climbed the steps to the great altar and looked around. Then he gave a shout.
The Ghost-Face Killer said: “The Old Dirty Bastard fought and perished to rid all-under-Heaven of the barbarian scourge. Shall we let his sacrifice pass in vain?”
The warriors cried out, with one voice, “No, No!”
Ghost-Face Killer said: “Then let us cease our endless bickering and squabbling. Let us end our petty feuds and jealousies, and rededicate ourselves to the great undertaking. We are all disciples of the thirty-six chambers of Shaolin style! We shall never rest until every last barbarian has been driven from our lands!” (5)
There was a great roar of agreement from the warriors.
Then the Ghost-Face Killer lifted a jug of wine, opened it, and let it spill onto the ground. He said, “Join me, brothers! Pour one out for the Old Dirty Bastard!”
The warriors lifted their cups and poured them out onto the ground in memory of the great warrior. Thus ended the struggle between the Thirty-Six Chambers Clique and the Eight Diagrams Clique.
(1) Whoever told Zhang Xianzhong about flagellation will definitely regret it before all is said and done, that much I can guarantee. Whips will be at a premium in the State of Ba before too long.
(2) OTL Zheng’s invasion of Taiwan was a long, protracted, and messy affair, and I can’t really see any reason why this timeline’s version of that incident would play out much differently.
(3) Not a real person. In fact, this chain of events is highly likely, if not flat-out implausible, but I hope you’ll allow me the dramatic license. Every timeline is improved with a story of doomed love, I’ve always felt.
(4) Recall that Zheng’s father has already been killed by the Qing in a rather unpleasant fashion, so Zheng Chenggong isn’t in the best state of mind right now. Which may or may not be important down the road.
(5) This hearkens back to the internecine feuding in the Wu-Tang Clan described in the last post; as you can see, the 36 Chambers Clique looks to be emerging from the mix on top.
*Sadly, I couldn’t fit the Dalai Lama and his Angry Buddhist Kingdom into this post. It will be in the next update, rest assured. We’re all done with 1647, but things are about to get even more wild than they are already. As always, thanks for reading.
Excerpted from “Tragedy and Triumph: The Story of Lobsang Gyatso, 5th Dalai Lama,” by Darryl Hill.
- After his flight from Tibet, the Dalai Lama concentrated on building a state in Yunnan, from which he hoped he could one day return home at the head of a victorious army (1). This hope was not to be realized - yet in many ways, he succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. The first years in Yunnan were spent consolidating control over that rugged province and assimilating the varied ethnic groups into a coherent whole. The process was not without its difficulties; many of the inhabitants of Yunnan were Muslim, and it was they in particular who resisted conversion to Gelugpa Buddhism. Broadly, the Dalai Lama pursued a strategy oriented around the twin poles of conciliation and confrontation during this initial period. He attempted to make deals with individual headmen and leaders of local tribes, offering them various inducements in exchange for swearing allegiance to him and converting to Gelugpa Buddhism. This carrot was twinned with a sizable stick: should the local leaders refuse, troops loyal to the Dalai Lama would simply descend on the offending villages and burn them to the ground. The Dalai Lama faced little organized military resistance from local elements during this period of consolidation. In part, this was because the core of his armed force - Mongolian cavalry that had accompanied him in the flight from Tibet - was qualitatively superior by several orders of magnitude to any local Yunnanese force. Additionally, Yunnan’s rugged terrain and underdeveloped transport network, as well as the high degree of heterogeneity present among the tribes living in that region, hindered any attempts at organized resistance to Lamaist rule in Yunnan. During the years between 1645 and 1647, the majority of those who attempted active resistance to the Dalai Lama were either killed or forced to flee. A steady stream of refugees trickled across the long and porous border that separated Yunnan from Lan Xang, Toungoo, and Trinh-controlled Dai Viet, in many cases aggravating already existent ethnic tensions in these polities (2). Ironically, the Dalai Lama was to benefit from this when he launched his southern campaigns, which began in 1648 . . .
Excerpted from “What’s In A Name? Adventures in Historiography,” by Rupert von Pfarffenpfuffel.
- The name of a nation rarely comes organically; often, it is the result of a set of conscious choices and subject to repeated revision. Such is the case with the Lamaist kingdom in southwest China that was established by the 5th Dalai Lama after his flight from Tibet in 1645. The Dalai Lama himself attempted to establish Tibetan as the language of his newly-won kingdom, and gave it the official name of ‘Khor ‘Das Kyi Snang Cha, which translates roughly as “the manifest aspect of samsara and nirvana” (3). However, this appellation found little favor both in Yunnan and outside of it (4). Most Yunnanese continued to speak their native languages, eschewing Tibetan, and many of them simply continued to speak of their home country as Yunnan, as it had been known before. In China, Yunnan continued to be the generally used name for the Lamaist kingdom as well, although over time it came to be replaced in popular consciousness by two variants. Many called the new nation 新藏 (Xin Zang, or “New Tibet”), as something of a nod to the Dalai Lama’s origins and his conscious attempt to maintain a recognizably Tibetan idea at the core of the state. However, the most popular name for the Lama’s kingdom came from the variant of Buddhism that he espoused, the Gelugpa sect, which was often referred to as the “Yellow Hat School” in opposition to the older “Red Hat” schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Thus, the Dalai Lama’s kingdom of Tibet-in-Yunnan came to be known as Huangmaoguo (黄帽国, or “Country of the Yellow Hats”). In English, the predominant name is simply Huangmao, which is sometimes archaically rendered as Hwang-Mo. Whatever one wishes to call this state, one cannot deny the impact that it had on history . . .
Excerpted from “Armies of Buddha: The Southern Expeditions of the 5th Dalai Lama,” by Angela Haynesworth.
- In the spring of 1648, Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso, 5th Dalai Lama, former ruler of Tibet and current ruler of Yunnan, marched his armies southeast into the kingdom of Dai Nam. That prosperous nation had for twenty years been in the grip of civil war between the House of Trinh, which controlled the northern portion of the nation, and the House of Nguyen, which ruled in the south (5). Both houses were focused solely on defeating the other one and neither looked to the north. It proved to be a fatal mistake. In April of 1648, Lamaist troops poured over the border into Lao Cai district, quickly seizing it and the neighboring district of Ha Giang. The Lamaist troops were not alone in their endeavours; the Dalai Lama had made a deal with the House of Mac, who at one point had controlled most of north-central Dai Nam but had steadily been reduced until they controlled only one province, that being Cao Bang. The Dalai Lama agreed to confirm Mac Kinh Vu as the ruler of Cao Bang, in return for the Mac becoming vassals of Lamaist Yunnan, and thus the Mac added their power to the Lamaist forces. Trinh Trang, the beleaguered ruler of Trinh-controlled Dai Nam, attempted to respond to this threat, redeploying his forces in a new defensive orientation and reinforcing the cities of Nghia Lo, Bac Giang, and Chi Linh in an attempt to protect his capital of Ha Noi and buy time for his armies to regroup and regain control of the strategic situation. At first, the strategy appeared to be working; the Lamaist legions were halted in pitched battles in Thai Nguyen and Tuyen Qiang Provinces during early June. The situation changed yet again in July, when the House of Nguyen, seeing an opportunity to vanquish their hated rivals once and for all, sallied forth in strength from their stronghold in the south. Marching north from Hue, the Nguyen forces quickly defeated Trinh resistance at the border, due in part to the massive redeployment of Trinh forces from the southern front to the north that had occurred after the Lamaist invasion.
The combination of attackers from the north and the south was simply too much for the Trinh Lords to deal with, and their rule over northern Dai Nam rapidly began to collapse. Yet another frantic redeployment of troops - this time to the south to counter the new Nguyen threat - achieved little save to ensure that it was the Lamaist forces that would be in control of the bulk of northern Dai Nam after the war, rather than the Nguyen. Trinh Trang committed suicide in August, with Lamaist forces on his very doorstop, and organized resistance virtually ceased after that point. Small-scale resistance continued for some time, especially in the west, where these movements were given the support of the Federation of Lan Xang, who were wary of the new power to their north. As for Dai Nam itself, the vast majority of formerly Trinh-controlled territory passed to the Dalai Lama, whose rule extended to Lam Son Province. The Nguyen came away with some territorial gains, extending their rule into Quang Binh and Ha Tinh Provinces, but now they were left alone to face the Lamaist threat. For no one truly thought that Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso’s mission of conquest had ended yet . . .
(1) I’ve previously discussed the Dalai Lama’s flight from Tibet and takeover of Yunnan in this update.
(2) Most of these refugees are Muslim, and most of the nations mentioned are going through difficult times at this point in history. The influx of new people will not exactly act as a stabilizing force.
(3) Caveat: I don’t know any Tibetan, and I have no idea whether this is actually a suitable name for a country. Found it with an online dictionary. I’m totally open to changing it, and any suggestions or ideas would be more than welcome.
(4) Because you try pronouncing ‘Khor ‘Das Kyi Snang Cha.
(5) This part is all as per OTL. In real life the war between the Trinh and the Nguyen went on in fits and spurts for something like forty years before the Trinh finally won.
Excerpted from “The Three Betrayals of General Wu Sangui,” by Albrecht Balboa.
- Wu Sangui, secure in his overlordship of the West, spent most of 1647 preparing for his rebellion against the Qing - a rebellion that would have been almost certain to fail. In the end, Wu simply could not marshal enough support from the areas that he controlled for his rebellion to be a success. Given that he was already viewed as a traitor to the Ming, he found it virtually impossible to win many anti-Qing elements to his banners; although there was no other force in the west that could oppose him, it is likely that he would have been hampered by resistance at home even as he attempted to launch attacks against the Manchus. In the end, Wu did win the support of a large portion of the populace in the west, and did indeed rebel against the Qing. Yet it took a great personal tragedy and an altogether improbable religious conversion to make it happen. In July of 1647, Chen Yuanyuan, Wu’s concubine of many years and the love of his life, died suddenly of a seasonal flu (1). The great general was distraught. It is said that for three weeks after the death of Chen he remained closeted in his chambers, refusing all food and drink. But eventually he did emerge, and in the end it took a surprisingly short time for Wu Sangui to find love again. Her name was Ma Yingying, she was seventeen years old, and she was a prostitute. None of this bothered Wu overly much; he soon took her as his concubine and spent all hours with Ma, besotted by her youth and beauty. It was to be through his teenage concubine, of all people, that Wu would find the key to his rebellion. For Ma, like many of her surname, was Muslim (2). Sadly, records of Ma and Wu’s pillow talk are not available to the contemporary historian. It is clear that she was persuasive as well as beautiful, though, for sometime in the winter of 1647 Wu Sangui secretly converted to Islam.
Although surviving testimonials from contemporary sources indicate that Wu certainly appeared sincere about his newfound faith in Islam, he quickly realized the possibilities that came along with his new religion. Muslims constituted a large minority of the population in the Chinese west (3), and they were a group that was not terribly fond of the Qing due to proscriptions that the Manchus had placed on butchering cows (a traditional Muslim occupation) as well as banning the construction of mosques throughout their domains. While Wu tried to keep his conversion to Islam a secret, for fear that the Qing regent Prince Dorgon would interpret it as a sign of disloyalty to the Manchus, throughout the year of 1648 he played host to a seemingly endless assortment of Muslim notables from Henan to Gansu, telling them of his conversion and attempting to persuade them that he would represent their interests against the Qing Dynasty. It seems that most of the imams and mullahs who made the long journey to Wu’s encampment outside Xi’an were persuaded, given what eventually transpired. Wu had originally intended to begin his rebellion in 1648, but after his conversion spent most of that year making overtures to the Muslim community and persuading them to support him. The entire operation was conducted with shocking openness; had the Manchus bothered to look closely at Wu’s actions, or even bothered to listen to the reports of their informants stationed in his headquarters, it would have been blatantly clear that something was rotten in the province of Shaanxi. Yet the Qing failed to scrutinize Wu, and he was permitted to continue his project of gathering support and preparing for rebellion unhampered by his ostensible masters. In retrospect, this seems like unforgivable negligence on the part of the Manchus. A more charitable observer would note that in 1648, Wu Sangui was the least of their worries. He had to all appearances successfully pacified the western provinces, while in the east, rebellions continued to rage against the Qing, and there was seemingly no end in sight . . .
Excerpted from “Disciples of the 36 Chambers: A New History of the Wu-Tang Clan,” by Lamont Hawkins.
- In the aftermath of the Old Dirty Bastard’s death, the schism between the Thirty-Six Chambers Clique and the Eight Diagrams Clique came to an end, with the Thirty-Six Chambers faction in ascendance. Motivated by hopes of revenge for one of the Nine Masters, the Wu-Tang Clan went back to war in earnest, infiltrating a myriad of warriors across the long border between Ming and Qing-controlled territory in 1647 and 1648. Wu-Tang warriors of this period typically operated in small groups of between ten and twenty-five members; they concentrated on spreading the Wu-Tang brand of revolutionary Daoism to villagers and making contact with local rebel groups who opposed the Qing. In the end, the year 1648 showed with brutal clarity the strengths - and the fatal weaknesses - of the anti-Qing rebel movements. Although there were hundreds of rebel groups that existed in Qing-controlled territory, many of them were no more than bandits who primarily preyed on the local citizenry. Additionally, factional feuds and internal infighting among rebel groups kept them fragmented and disorganized, which all but eliminated the chance of a truly popular uprising against the Qing. Indeed, despite admonitions from the Wu-Tang Clan to focus on the main enemy, many rebel groups in Qing-controlled territory hated each other more than they hated the Manchus . . .
Excerpted from “Rebels in the Forest,” by Yao Shuibian. (4)
- There was the East Side, and there was the West Side, and the two sides were at war. They had much in common - a passionate hatred of the usurping Jurchen and a desire to return all-under-Heaven to the rule of the Han. The two groups were both from Shandong, and both lived in the shadow of Mount Tai, one on the east side and one on the west. Yet they were implacably opposed to each other, and so East Side and West Side fought without respite or end.
So thought the Notorious Big Brother (ed. note: 臭名大哥, chouming da ge, sometimes translated as the Notorious Big One, or as Big Notorious), as he gazed out from atop Twelve Dragons Pass into the narrow gorge below. His mind swirled and twisted, caught up in endless iterations of plots and stratagems, all aimed at destroying the West Siders and their leader, the charismatic Tu Pake (ed. note: 土怕客, tu pake, sometimes transliterated as Tu-Pac). Once they had been friends, brothers even, sharing rice wine and joyfully making plans for the better days that were sure to lie ahead. Now they were the most bitter of enemies. How had it happened? What had gone wrong? The Notorious Big One wondered briefly, dismissed these thoughts as counterproductive, and was returning to his plans of destruction when he heard a great gasping and wheezing from behind. He turned, and without surprise beheld his second-in-command, Puff-Father (ed. note: 喷爸爸, pen baba, sometimes translated as Puff Daddy) (5).
Puff-Fathersaid: “A group of West Siders is moving towards Luzhou Village, led by Doctor Du Lei. It is said that the Snooping Dog accompanies them, and that the war-band shouts insults and calumnies at your person.”
The Notorious Big One roared a challenge into the sky. “East Side until I die!” he shouted, though only the birds and the trees could hear . . .
(1) An OTL character, but not an OTL death. In real life Chen lived until 1681.
(2) It’s short for Muhammad, thus there are numerous Chinese Muslims with that surname.
(3) Exactly how much of the population they were at this time is unclear. Obviously detailed statistics do not exist, and much of the Muslim population in these areas was wiped out in the Panthay Rebellion, which doesn’t make things easier. I’m assuming that Muslims make up between 1/4 and 1/3 of the population in Wu’s fief.
(4) ITTL this is a novel of some renown describing the adventures of two anti-Qing bandit/rebel groups in Shandong Province.
(5) I can provide overly detailed descriptions for how these names have some small amount of plausibility if you want to hear the gruesome details.
*Here's the second half of the timeline. Again, comments should be posted in the discussion thread, and not here. The timeline is probably dead, but you never know!
Excerpted from “The Yellow Tiger: A Biography of Zhang Xianzhong,” by Gary Grice.
- 1648 was a year of retrenchment for the State of Ba. With their offensive into Guizhou and Guangxi smashed by the power of the Southern Ming, they adopted a more defensive posture, seeking to prevent the resurgent Ming from making encroachments into Sichuan proper. They were aided in this effort by the rugged terrain of that province, which made large-scale offensive movements difficult at the best of times; it was the additional fortune of the State of Ba that 1648 was a notably damp and rainy year, adding an additional layer of difficulty to the Ming attempts to maneuver troops. A series of largely inconclusive battles were fought in southeastern Sichuan throughout the summer and fall of 1648, with neither side making much headway in their attempts to change the strategic calculus. That being said, Ba had clearly been forced on the defensive, and it seemed only a matter of time before their eventual defeat at the hands of the Southern Ming. They were largely saved by a convenient deus ex machina (1); Wu Sangui’s revolt in 1649 presented the Ming with an opportunity that they simply could not pass up, treaty or no, and troops were redeployed from Ba to the north en masse during the Second Ming-Qing War, giving Zhang Xianzhong’s beleaguered kingdom an opportunity to reconsolidate their position. They were helped in this endeavor by a rather unlikely source. Four years after Zhang converted to Christianity, the first visitors from Europe finally made their way to the State of Ba. Despite the many messages sent by Zhang’s Jesuit advisors Ludovico Buglio and Gabriel de Magalhaes pleading for aid, help was slow in coming; many of the messages failed to traverse the long distance to Europe, and those that did get there were met with a bemused audience in Rome. Eventually, however, the Society of Jesus decided that the messages coming from China were sufficiently interesting to merit an expedition. A small delegation led by the missionaries Johann Gruber and Albert D’Orville (2) left Goa in October of 1647 for Chittagong, where there was a heavy Portuguese presence. On arrival, they enticed the notorious buccaneer Inigo Montoya (3) to join the company; Montoya and his company proved to be invaluable during the arduous trek through Assam and the wilder portions of Tibet, conquered by Ba only a few short years ago and by no means secure. Yet sometime in early summer of 1648 the small expedition reached Chengdu, and were amazed by what they saw - a Christian kingdom in China. Indeed, the alliance between Ba and Portugal (with the Jesuits as a not-so-silent third partner) can be said to have begun with the arrival of the Gruber Expedition to the Palace of Jade in Chengdu (4). Of course, this alliance required the European Christians to turn a blind eye to some of Zhang Xianzhong’s more esoteric manglings of Christianity - a task which often proved difficult in the extreme.
One of Zhang’s more outré schemes was his fixation with self-flagellation, believed to be related to his twin obsessions, sin and redemption. After either Buglio or de Magalhaes offhandedly mentioned this “barbaric practice,” Zhang grew fascinated with the concept and as was his wont, he ignored any and all objections in making it standard practice in the State of Ba. The first notable instance of its application came in 1647, after Zhang Xianzhong’s adopted son Dingguo’s campaigns against the Ming ended in failure and retreat. Zhang summoned Dingguo back to Chengdu and ordered him to march up and down Qingyang Road for forty days, engaging in ritual self-flagellation and repeating prayers of penitence as he went. In 1648 the practice of self-flagellation was expanded and incorporated into the State of Ba’s version of Christianity, with local priests and bishops authorized to prescribe a course of flagellation for parishioners who had sinned. Before long, columns of flagellants could be seen marching up and down roads throughout the kingdom, crying prayers as they lashed themselves up and down. It was also around this time that Zhang became obsessed with erecting a monument to his rule that was completely unique in the history of the world. According to The Veritable Records of the State of Ba, this desire sprang from a late-night perusal of the Book of Ecclesiastes by the Hegemon-King, who was struck to his core by chapter one, verse nine: “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done, and there is no new thing under the sun.” Zhang, ever one to take the Bible personally, apparently viewed this passage as something of a challenge, and immediately set to designing a monument that would be completely unique in all the history of the world. Idea after idea was proposed, all to be shot down by one or another expert who pointed out that such a thing was, in fact, not new under the sun at all.
As Zhang and the court pondered a solution for this pressing issue (5), they were confronted with a new problem. A team sent to the Leshan region to excise the face of Buddha from the famous Leshan Mountain sculpture and replace it with that of Jesus had uncovered the Rabbit Heresy, paralleling reports from other regions in Ba that told of bizarrely twisted versions of the Gospel being practiced by local villagers due to faulty materials and unapproved syncretic mixing of Christianity and traditional folk religion. Needless to say, Zhang and his religious advisors were highly concerned at the sheer volume of heresy they were confronted with, and thus in 1648 a wave of special inquisitors was sent from Chengdu to every county in the state to assess the condition of Christianity in that county, to recommend punishment for local magistrates in whose jurisdictions gross heresy was practiced, and to devise plans for eradicating heresies on the local level. But Zhang was to find out to his dismay that, like many of the other offshoots of Christianity that had flourished in Ba, the Church of Christ, Rabbit had no intention of hopping gently into that good night . . .
Excerpted from “Going Rogue: A Compendium of Notable Rebels of the Ming-Xiao Interregnum,” by Alexander Lopez.
BIRDMAN (鸟人, niao ren): Born in the early 1610s to a peasant family outside Shijiazhuang in present-day Hebei, Birdman was briefly leader of the Dezhou Clique (德州派), a group that operated on the Qingdao-Hebei border. Although the Dezhou Clique purported to represent Han Chinese against the Manchus, in reality they were little more than a group of bandits, who spent most of their time ransacking villages. The clique was not without awareness of the issues generated by this lifestyle; a stele commissioned by the leaders of the group in the town of Liaocheng (聊城), which survives to this day, reads, “More Money, More Problems” (更多花钱，更多问题) (6).
LITTLE WEI (小伟, xiao wei, sometimes trans. Lil’ Wei): Born in either 1622 or 1623 outside of Jinan in Qingdao, Little Wei was originally a protégé of Birdman, leader of the Dezhou Clique. Lil’ Wei rapidly achieved fame in his own right, rising to become the leader of the feared Elm Garden Army (榆园军, yu yuan jun), the rebel-bandit group that at one point controlled almost a third of the territory in Shandong before their reduction and defeat at the hands of the Qing and later the Ming Dynasties. Little Wei is often associated with Fat Zhou (see p.236). It is believed to be from Lil’ Wei that the modern Chinese idiom zao yu sheng he (造雨胜何), literally meaning “make it rain to defeat the Hos” and carrying connotations of a surprise victory against a formidable opponent. According to legend, after Lil’ Wei won a battle against the He (often transliterated as Ho) lineage via a night attack in the pouring rain, he was asked how the victory had been achieved. Lil’ Wei responded, “I made it rain on those Hos.” (7)
(1) What this really means is that I want both the Southern Ming and the State of Ba to survive for now, so I’m waving my hands and saying that they are fighting to an inconclusive draw.
(2) These are both OTL characters who undertook missions to China in real life traveling overland through Tibet, although it didn’t happen until the 1650s in real life and I’ve sent them on a different route.
(3) Not an OTL character, obviously. The sources that I’ve come across seem to indicate that the Portuguese presence in Chittagong was in large part composed of unsavory piratical types, but I can’t find any names, so I went with a cheap joke. If anyone knows of any mid-17th century Portuguese buccaneers who hung out in Bengal, I’m all ears.
(4) Thus the Portuguese will act to formalize their presence in the Chittagong area (OTL they were kicked out in the 1660s, I think) and Ba will make incursions into Assam to make for easier trade and contact.
(5) I’m throwing the floor open to any and all suggestions and ideas for Zhang Xianzhong’s completely unique monument to the everlasting glory of himself. Craziest idea that I can make happen wins the prize.
(6) ITTL historians have erred in identifying the Dezhou Clique as the authors of the Liaocheng “More Money, More Problems” stele; it was in fact commissioned by the Tai Shan East Faction led by the Notorious Large One.
(7) The surname 何is transliterated as He in Hanyu Pinyin and as Ho in Wade-Giles. For our purposes, the older system works better . . .
Excerpted from “Reassessing the Nine Kingdoms Period: From Ming to Xiao,” by Scheherazade Wang.
- The Nine Kingdoms Period (1644-1665), which most historians consider to have begun with the death of the Chongzhen Emperor, and to have concluded with the reunification of former Ming China by the Haokang Emperor, is generally viewed by historians through the frames of ethnicity and class. It will be this work’s purpose to argue that, in fact, religion was the dominant and motivating force behind this period and the destructive wars that characterized it. Let us consider the militant Gelugpa Buddhism of Huangmaoguo, the heterodox Christianity that Zhang Xianzhong nourished in the State of Ba, and Wu Sangui’s Sultanate of Shenzhou. All of these polities were held together by religion. Many observers point to the Ming remnant south of the Yangzi River (often known as the Southern Ming) as the exception to this rule, considering them to place little emphasis on religion in keeping with past ruling dynasties of China (1). In actuality, especially during the middle and later years of the Southern Ming, the dynasty was characterized by a high level religious devotion and by increasing amounts of state support and aid for religion. Indeed, it is not an exaggeration to say that the Southern Ming state was virtually captured by esoteric Daoism, and the state’s aims became increasingly intertwined with those of esoteric Daoist sages. Popular accounts generally attribute the rise of esoteric Daoism to the influence of the revolutionary sect Wu-Tang Clan, which played a vital role in many of the Southern Ming’s military endeavors. In fact, the Wu-Tang Clan’s actual influence at court was relatively minimal. The rise of esoteric Daoism can be traced wholly to the fact that it caught the eye of one man - who just happened to be the Hongguang Emperor (2). An inconstant, nervous, and fretful man with a serious case of hypochondria, the Hongguang Emperor took great comfort from Daoist philosophy. He also embraced Daoist practices designed to prolong life, engaging in intensive courses of meditiation and imbibing a plethora of medicines and potions concocted by alchemist-sages. Yet as the Hongguang Emperor delved deeper into the mystical alleys of esoteric Daoist internal alchemy, many of his more rational advisors began to express their concern, and a new divide sprang up at court between devotees of esoteric Daoism (known as the 内丹, or Neidan, faction) and the rational Confucians (known as the 五德, or Wude, faction).
Excerpted from “Righteous Lord of Nine Thousand Years: The Life of Shi Kefa,” by Yuji Nakazawa.
- Shi Kefa effectively ran the Southern Ming government by himself; after Huang Degong’s Purge of the Eunuchs removed most of Shi’s opponents, and after Shi himself had removed Huang, there were none who could challenge his supremacy and none whom the Emperor trusted more. After the Treaty of Suzhou, which ended the First Ming-Qing War, Shi concentrated on organizing the Southern Ming domains into a coherent whole and weeding out the numerous generals who were of dubious loyalty. Shi was a skilled administrator, and gradually was able to re-implement centralized bureaucratic rule in the provinces controlled by the Ming that was at least marginally able and non-corrupt. Finding skilled generals proved to be more difficult than finding skilled bureaucrats, however; while Grand Admiral Zheng Chenggong was to show his value many times, the Ming’s campaigns against the State of Ba showed the relative paucity of skilled military commanders that Shi Kefa and the Hongguang Emperor could call upon. Given that the military situation remained largely static between the First and Second Ming-Qing Wars, save for the campaigns against Ba in which little territory was won or lost by either side, Shi’s focus during the interwar years shifted to the maintenance and increase of the Southern Ming treasury. It was a difficult task that was made harder by the Southern Ming’s virulent xenophobia and fear of Christianity, which limited prospects for trade; indeed, ordinances enacted in 1647 and 1648 forbade Christian traders to venture beyond a walled district of Guangzhou constructed especially for their use on pain of death (3). Further, Guangzhou was designated as the only port at which ships with Christian crewmembers could dock. Shi thus attempted to increase trade with non-Christian nations, as is exemplified most notably by the mission of Zhu Yujian, the Prince of Tang, to Japan in 1648. The Prince of Tang’s mission met with success; diplomatic and trade relations between the Ming Dynasty and Japan were re-established after a period of negotiation and discussion with the bakufu in Edo (4).
Yet as the Hongguang Emperor grew more and more enamored of esoteric Daoism, Shi found himself increasingly at odds with his monarch. As the Emperor chose to advance the careers of advisors who, like himself, were disciples of esoteric Daoism, the rational Confucian Shi grew increasingly isolated. Despite his misgivings, he allowed the Five Virtues faction to coalesce around his person, thus drawing himself inexorably into conflict with the emperor himself. The relationship between the two men began to grow strained, although the Hongguang Emperor looked on Shi as something of an older brother. The same factional infighting that had characterized the Southern Ming court in its earliest days returned with a vengeance, as the Internal Alchemy and Five Virtues factions fought bureaucratic battles and squabbled over turf and resources. Apart from mistrusting esoteric Daoism on general principles, Shi’s chief quarrel with the emperor and the Internal Alchemy faction was on financial grounds. He objected to the large amounts of silver that were spent on building new temples and shrines, and he objected even more fiercely to the money that went into sponsoring the research of the vast numbers of alchemist-sages who created elixirs, potions and nostrums meant to prolong life (5). None of these potions did in fact prolong life. Yet some of them proved to have extremely interesting effects . . .
Making an elixir of life was really no different from making a good stir-fry, thought Alchemist-Sage Li Shide as he mopped his brow. You threw a bunch of stuff in a pot, stirred it around for a while, and waited to see what happened.
“Is the potion ready, Master?” Li sighed and turned to look at his apprentice, Wang Wei, a scrawny and constantly twitching young man whose skills were generally confined to cleaning up the debris when something exploded, which happened altogether too often for Li’s liking. No matter. This potion would work, he was sure of it.
“Yes, Wang, it is ready,” said Li. He paused, thought, and then smiled. “In fact, it is you who shall have the honor of testing it!”
Wang, having heard what had happened to Li’s previous apprentice, blanched and began to mumble nervously.
“Come now, Wang,” snapped Li, “don’t be absurd! The potion is derived from the seeds of the morning glory, and I assure you that they are perfectly harmless. Now, begin!”
After some more hemming and hawing, Wang gave in and took the potion. At first, nothing happened. Then a slow, dreamy smile came over his face. “Aiiiya,” he said dreamily, “Purple haze all in my brain . . . lately things just do not seem the same . . . acting funny, but I do not know why . . . excuse me, while I kiss the sky.” He started to spin slowly around the room.
“Wang,” asked Li nervously, remembering how long it had taken to clean up last time, “are you quite well?”
The young apprentice ignored Li, flapping his arms and beginning to drool. Then suddenly, he turned and grabbed the Alchemist-Sage by the shoulders.
“Picture yourself in a boat on the river,” he said urgently, “with tangerine trees and soy sauce skies. Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly, the girl with mirrors for eyes.”
Wang spun around again and moaned. “I see her! I see her!” he screamed. “Lu Xi in the sky with diamonds!”
Li was utterly bewildered. “Who is Lu Xi, Wang?” he asked. “Why is she in the sky? Where are the diamonds?” He scratched his head, pulled out a scroll and brush, and began to take notes as his apprentice raved, hoping that Wang wouldn’t drop dead.
He didn’t drop dead. Four hours later he was back to normal, calling the experience, “the strangest trip I have ever been on.” Li was more than a little perplexed, but he decided that the potion was worth further study, and the Imperial Court agreed . . .
(1) The author is ignoring facts that don’t fit her interpretation here; the Qing, for example, don’t place much importance on religion at all. Still, the basic idea holds.
(2) Although we can give the Wu-Tang some credit, for it was their rise to prominence that raised the profile of esoteric Daoism to begin with.
(3) The Ming, aware of Zhang Xianzhong’s conversion, are essentially convinced that there’s a Christian plot to destroy them. There are also Jesuits in the Manchu court, which lends this interpretation some credence. Thus the invasions of Macau and Taiwan, and now the exclusion ordinances.
(4) There was a lot of trade between Japan and China anyway during this period, but this makes things official and allows for more revenues to flow into the Ming coffers.
(5) This was historically one of the obsessions of esoteric Daoists. Obviously none of the potions ever worked - many were poisonous - but some produced unexpected dividends. For example, it’s probable that gunpowder was invented in this manner.
*Not much happened there, other than the Southern Ming inventing LSD. Next up is probably another Southeast Asia update, then Wu Sangui’s rebellion. As always, thanks for reading.
Excerpted from “The Three Betrayals of General Wu Sangui,” by Albrecht Balboa.
- In April of 1649, more than two years of secret plotting came to fruition when Wu Sangui declared the establishment of the Sultanate of Shenzhou (神州素檀国, Shenzhou Sutanguo) (1) from his power base in Xi’an. As he possessed the only organized military force of any size in the northwest, Wu had little trouble securing the Shaanxi-Ningxia-Gansu area, aided by a mass upwelling of support from his new co-religionists, who took to the streets in droves to support Wu’s new Muslim state. Indeed, Muslim militias were to play a large role in preserving - or in attempting to preserve - internal order during the short history of the Sultanate of Shenzhou, as Wu himself was occupied for great portions of time in his military campaigns. And make no mistake about it - there was a great deal of internal peacekeeping that needed to be done. For while Wu had the unquestioned support of both his troops and the Hui Muslim community, Muslims were only a minority in the Sultanate; the majority of the populace remained Han. Wu was to receive precious little support from these citizens; he had already irreparably alienated those who supported the Ming when he turned his coat and defected to the Qing, and now he had alienated those who supported the Qing by betraying them as well. To many sectors of society, the idea of supporting Wu in any way, shape or form was totally anathema. Most notably, the upper classes - including the scholar-bureaucratic elite - were almost universally outraged by Wu’s establishment of the Sultanate. Almost as soon as word spread of the Sultanate of Shenzhou’s founding, it was beset by a host of rebel movements. The rebels were geographically scattered, disorganized, and primarily operated in small groups, thus rendering it possible for Wu’s Muslim militias combined with elements of his army that remained in the Sultanate to keep some semblance of peace, at least during the first months of Shenzhou’s existence. Yet eventually, something had to give, and give it did, with predictably tragic results (2). Still, at first it seemed possible that Wu would actually emerge victorious. He had, after all, caught the Manchus napping and enjoyed both tactical and strategic surprise during the early portion of the war; the Qing should have paid more attention to Wu’s resume before giving him the keys to their kingdom’s back door.
The opening thrust in the Shenzhou Rebellion (神州起义) took place in eastern Shanxi, as Wu’s army marched unopposed into that province. His armies crossed the Yellow River near Liulin and made for the provincial capital of Taiyuan, as the betrayed Manchus realized what was happening to them and struggled desperately to move troops into position to oppose Wu. The Muslim population of Shanxi - sizable, though not as large as in the neighboring province of Shaanxi (3) and locations further west - rose in support of Wu, further complicating the situation. In the end, the Qing elected not to defend Taiyuan at all, instead attempting to move troops to Shijiazhuang in Hebei to defend against Wu’s approach from the west, while at the same time attempting to extricate their troops in lower Shanxi and Henan from a position where they were trapped between the armies of Wu Sangui and those of the Southern Ming. For the Southern Ming had also renewed their war against the Qing in the aftermath of Wu’s rebellion. It was not as co-belligerents with the Sultanate of Shenzhou that the Ming went to war; on the contrary, they were as shocked to hear of Wu’s uprising as the Manchus were, and their past history with Wu militated against any sort of cooperation between the Ming and their former general. Indeed, the Ming went back to war with the Qing in what could almost be described as a spirit of reluctance. Their chief concern was to ensure that any territory taken away from the Qing would be taken by them rather than by Wu Sangui, who was utterly loathed by the Ming. Yet the Ming, like the Qing, were utterly unprepared for the outbreak of war; many of their troops were far away in the west involved in campaigns both offensive and defensive against the State of Ba. While an army was hastily cobbled together by Shi Kefa and his generals, the Ming took two steps to ensure that they would not be beaten to all of the spoils by Wu. First, they ordered Grand Admiral Zheng Chenggong to sail from Taiwan with his armada and capture as much coastal territory as practicable. Second, they summoned leaders of a certain Daoist rebel group to Nanjing and told them, in the words of Shi Kefa, to “attack everywhere, with all the might you can muster.” And thus the Wu-Tang Clan went to war . . .
While the Ming struggled to turn the confused situation to their advantage, Wu Sangui continued marching inexorably west, heading for Hebei Province and for Beijing itself. His plans rested entirely on speed - if the Manchus had time to summon troops from the south in force and link up with their armies in the north, then Wu was almost certainly doomed. The Sultan’s plan was to strike quickly at the northern Manchu forces, aiming to deal them a decisive defeat and force them back across the Great Wall, where they could be contained and he could then deal with the Manchus remaining in the south at his leisure before turning to face the menace of the Southern Ming. Prince Regent Dorgon of the Qing Dynasty knew this as well as Wu did - yet he could see no other choice but to give battle. There was simply nowhere to run. Thus it was that Dorgon rallied the banners himself and rode out from the capital to meet the turncoat general. The two sides finally met on June 6, 1649 outside Shijiazhuang, which has lent its name to the battle. The fighting was fierce, and in the end it was the death of Prince Regent Dorgon in a cavalry charge that broke the back of the Manchu army, which was comprehensively shattered and defeated by Wu. The way to Beijing was open, and the Manchus had no choice but to quit the city, abandon those troops still in the south, hoping that they could fight their way to safety or establish new lines, and withdraw beyond the Great Wall. In late June the Manchu court, including the child Shunzhi Emperor, along with their household troops, the fragments of their armies, and a large number of civilians who feared reprisal from Wu’s troops or simply feared a general sack of the city, transited Shanhaiguan Pass and retreated beyond the Great Wall, stationing troops on the wall in case of attacks by Wu from the south (4). The great generation of Manchu power was over; their forces were spent, shattered, and scattered to the four directions; they had been forced to withdraw from their greatest conquest in ignominy. Yet the war was by no means over.
(1) Shenzhou is an archaic name for China; Wu adopts it in a bid to reassure Han Chinese that he won’t run the new nation on a totally sectarian basis, etc. But non-Muslims aren’t really convinced/don’t trust him/don’t like him. Anyway, that’s why he didn’t pick a more overtly Muslim name for the new Sultanate.
(2) ITTL alternate historians (alternate alternate historians?) are going to have a lot of fun with Wu’s Sultanate. I see it featuring in a ton of Sealion-esque timelines - because even more than some of the other states I’ve come up with (come on down, Ba!) the Sultanate of Shenzhou is completely unsustainable in the long or even in the medium term. Surrounded by enemies, with a Muslim minority in an ostensibly Muslim nation, and so on and so forth. It is, in short, doomed. Sorry for the spoiler.
(3) Not a typo. 山西 is right next to 陕西, and they are both Shanxi. Different tones, but that’s the only difference, so to avoid confusing everyone, 陕西 is generally transliterated with two letter a’s, thus becoming Shaanxi, even though it’s not pronounced like that transliteration would indicate. Obviously this is all terribly confusing, and I’ll take this opportunity to note that, as per Whanztastic’s request, I’ll make a map soon. Said map will suck - I’m really quite awful at this sort of thing - but there will be bright colors in vaguely contiguous arrangements, and hopefully it will be of some use to everyone in figuring out just where the hell all of this is happening.
(4) Yes, that’s right. Manchus are defending the Great Wall against invasion from the south. I didn’t ever think that sentence would be written.
Excerpted from “The Ming-Qing Wars,” by A.Q. Khan.
- The Southern Ming responded quickly to the collapse of the Qing Dynasty and to the rise of Wu Sangui’s Sultanate of Shenzhou, dispatching Grand Admiral Zheng Chenggong from his base on Taiwan with a large fleet intended to secure coastal areas as far north as was practicable before they were claimed and fortified by the sultanate. Zheng sailed north in the summer of 1649, making for Shandong, where his forces seized the port of Rizhao on July 14. He then continued to sail his fleet up the coast, seizing in succession the cities of Qingdao, Weihai, Yantai, and Longkou and in the process securing control of coastal Shandong for the Southern Ming, although the interior of the province remained in a state of chaos and near-anarchy. Zheng attempted to follow up these successes with a lightning strike on the port of Tianjin, hoping to steal a march on Wu and force him to abandon Beijing. This plan was perhaps too ambitious; Wu’s armies had already fortified Tianjin, and Zheng’s fleet was driven off without much fuss. Largely due to bad weather, Zheng’s activities during the campaign season of 1649 more or less came to a halt after the unsuccessful attack on Tianjin. The Grand Admiral did achieve one notable success the following year, when in May of 1650 he shocked all - including his superiors - by sailing north to the peninsula of Liaoning and seizing the port of Lushunkou and the surrounding towns of Dalian and Jinzhou, denying the retreating Manchus this vital outlet onto the sea (1). However, Zheng’s importance to the war effort declined in 1650, as the Ming embraced a more land-based strategy. With many of their armies tied up either in campaigns against the State of Ba or in Zheng’s armada, they had relatively few forces to commit to the front against both Wu Sangui and the trapped Manchu armies which still patrolled Shandong and Henan. Indeed, during 1650 it was a nominally independent force that was to provide much of the Ming’s firepower. I speak, of course, of the Wu-Tang Clan.
In many ways, the campaigns of 1650 were the zenith of the Wu-Tang Clan’s power, as the Eight Great Masters (2) commanded armies tens of thousands strong on a front stretching hundreds of kilometers from east to west. Yet they were also the beginning of the end for the Clan as an independent power; after this the Wu-Tang Clan became increasingly subsumed into the Ming state and ceased to function as a truly independent actor.
Excerpted from “ Disciples of the 36 Chambers: A New History of the Wu-Tang Clan,” by Lamont Hawkins.
- The warriors of the Wu-Tang Clan, operating in large numbers rather than in small groups for the first time since the early days when they were confined to Hubei, marched into Henan and into a three-way war featuring troops from Wu’s sultanate, the remaining Manchu forces, and a plethora of indigenous rebels. Ironically, the Wu-Tang Clan received little aid from the rebels whom they had been helping previously; many of these groups saw the arrival of the Ming in force as a threat to their hegemony over whatever small chunks of land they controlled, and fought viciously to preserve their rule as warlords of a sort (3). It was this lack of solidarity and brotherhood among the rebels that supposedly prompted Great Sage Ri Za to compose his famous free-style spoken poem-song “Taels Rule Everything Around Me” as a lament at the rampant materialism displayed by the Clan’s erstwhile allies. The situation was made more complicated by the presence of Manchu troops whose line of retreat north was blocked by Wu’s armies. Some Manchu units attempted to fight their way home, with little success; others attempted to set themselves up as local warlords, with even less success. Most units attempted to negotiate surrender agreements with either the Southern Ming or with Wu Sangui’s forces; they found more luck negotiating with Wu, given the Wu-Tang Clan’s and the Southern Ming’s general dislike for foreigners in general and their animus towards Manchus in particular. Wu, on the other hand, saw the Manchus as an opportunity, and often incorporated surrendered Manchus into his own forces, knowing that they would be loyal to him as they were hated by every other ethnic and religious group. Granting the presence of the Manchus and of indigenous rebels, the majority of the fighting in the Shandong-Henan region took place between Wu-Tang/Southern Ming forces and those of Wu Sangui.
“The Wu-Tang Clan swept over Henan like a whirlwind, and in the summer of 1650 the ground shook to the sound of thousands of warriors chanting, “Wu-Tang! Wu-Tang! Wu-Tang!” So wrote Wu-Tang scribe Gao Feiyang in The Story of the Glorious Sword of the Wu-Tang Clan, and for once the Clan’s historian seems to have been right on the money. For that Daoist revolutionary sect achieved many notable successes that year, storming through Nanyang and Pingdingshan and defeating two of Wu’s armies in a pitched battle near Luoyang, forcing the Sultanate forces to withdraw to the north side of the Yellow River. In Shandong the offensive was less successful and Sultanate forces held on to the majority of the province’s interior - the coast having largely been already seized by the armada of the Grand Admiral, Zheng Chenggong - but the Henan offensive was in many ways the Clan’s finest hour. They seized Zhengzhou and Kaifeng for Great Ming; they pacified the rebel bands in the south of Henan; they forced the armies of Wu Sangui to retire from the majority of the province. It is no wonder that surviving spoken poem-songs and other Wu-Tang records from this time display a mind-set that is boastful and prideful almost beyond measure; most famously, Method Man and Master Killer’s collaborative free-style in which they stated that they were, “in an Empire state of mind . . . (帝国之心)”
Excerpted from “Going Rogue: A Compendium of Notable Rebels of the Ming-Xiao Interregnum,” by Alexander Lopez.
DOCTOR DU LEI (杜雷医生, Du Lei yisheng): Likely born between 1600 and 1605, Du Lei was an itinerant medical practitioner before becoming a rebel, traveling from village to village on his donkey cart with home remedies for sale. It was sometime after the fall of the Northern Ming that he joined the Mount Tai West Side Faction, (泰山西边派) which operated in Shandong Province. Du Lei was renowned for using his medical arts to torture prisoners, and was a wily and canny strategist. He also took to the Wu-Tang art of spoken poem-songs (说诗唱), achieving renown for his skills in vocal percussion (also known as beat-boxing). It is said that poem-singers for hundreds of li would come to Mount Tai and beseech Doctor Du Lei to provide them with a beat.
SNOOPING DOG (窥探狗, kuitan gou): The origins of his nom de guerre are lost to time, but what has not been lost is records of the Snooping Dog’s martial prowess and larger-than-life exploits. A leader with Doctor Du Lei of the Tai Shan West Side Faction, the Snooping Dog (sometimes translated as Snoop Dog) was renowned for his ferocity in battle and for his bizarre lifestyle. He often wore garish purple and yellow robes, and it is said that he specially styled his hair with pine sap in strange fashions. Stories tell that he was perpetually drunk, preferring to mix his wine (4) with fruit-flavored beverages. This perhaps accounts for his most well-known spoken poem-song, “Wine and Juice,” in which he sings:
Walking down the road
Sipping on wine and juice
With my mind on my money and my money on my mind
(1) None of this is reflected on the map that I recently posted, unfortunately. I’ll have to update the damn thing or whatever.
(2) Recall that there were originally Nine Great Masters of the Wu-Tang Clan, but with the unfortunate death of the Old Dirty Bastard they’re down to eight.
(3) Remember that a lot of the “rebels and revolutionaries” who I’ve been writing about (the non-Wu Tang ones) are essentially bandits, who pay lip service to the idea of overthrowing the foreign barbarians, then go out and pillage a few villages.
(4) I’m referring to Chinese-style 黄酒 (huangjiu) wine here, not Western-style wine. Although it would still taste pretty awful mixed with fruit-flavored beverages. Baijiu, on the other hand, is much improved mixed with fruit-flavored beverages, but that’s only because it tastes so awful that it’s improved by mixing with anything, or even better by drinking something else. But I digress.
Excerpted from “The Yellow Tiger: A Biography of Zhang Xianzhong,” by Gary Grice.
- After the rebellion of Wu Sangui in 1649 and the outbreak of the Second Ming-Qing War, it was clear that an opening existed for the State of Ba to prosecute renewed offensives against the Southern Ming, should it so desire. However, the attentions of Hegemon-King Zhang Xianzhong and his advisors were not focused on external affairs; on the contrary, they were most concerned by the steady stream of reports trickling in from all corners of the state that told of heterodox sects and syncretic mixings of Christianity and local folk religion. Although some generals, most notably Zhang Xianzhong’s adopted son Dingguo, pushed for renewed attacks against the Ming on the logic that Ba’s adversary would never be more distracted than it was now, the combination of Dingguo’s disgrace after his failed campaigns in Guizhou and Guangxi and the Hegemon-King’s preoccupation with more spiritual matters ensured that the war party in Chengdu remained very much on the periphery of things. In the Hegemon-King’s mind, all considerations were subordinate to the ultimate goal of establishing the State of Ba as a true and pure Christian nation, and the thought of Ba’s population practicing heathen religions filled him with horror. It was thus that the Anti-Heresy Movement (反妖言运动, fan yaoyan yundong) in the spring of 1649. NB: The Anti-Heresy Movement is often referred to in Western scholarship by its informal name, the Great Witch-Hunt (大猎巫, da liewu). Teams of specially trained Inquisitor-Magistrates (裁判长, caipan zhang) were sent with military units to counties that were reportedly heavily affected by heresy (1) with the mission of eradicating all deviations from the Christian line (2). While in theory the Inquisitor-Magistrates were subordinate to local officials, in practice they often assumed dictatorial powers in the areas to which they were assigned, helped immensely by their presence at the head of a number of heavily armed troops. Again in theory, Inquisitor-Magistrates were supposed to act impartially when assessing claims of heresy and to prescribe relatively lenient punishments for all but the worst offenders - a course of self-flagellation, for example, was one of the recommended chastisements for convicted heretics. Yet in practice, the attitudes of Inquisitor-Magistrates varied widely by region. In some areas, individual Inquisitor-Magistrates concluded that so-called “heretics” were in fact simply well-meaning subjects of the Hegemon-King who were ignorant of the True Faith. These magistrates often opted for mass re-education of the populace and generally eschewed the use of harsh punitive measures. Yet in other areas, Inquisitor-Magistrates embraced a harsh and strict policy against any who were accused of heresy and deviationism, with predictably brutal results.
Excerpted from “The Rabbit Worshippers of Leshan,” by Jean-Paul Morimoto.
- The Rabbit Worshippers very existence was due to a fluke, the product of a batch of mistranslated Bibles that had all found their way to southeast Sichuan and to the ancient town of Leshan. Their popularity and rise in the following years was due to the actions of Geng Changsuo, the richest man in Leshan, and one who believed that by ardently embracing what he imagined to be the Hegemon-King’s chosen religion that he could win favor for himself and his lineage (3). Initially, many had merely paid lip service to the faith, only going that far out of deference to Geng and to County Magistrate Zhang Guanzhong, who out of ignorance dutifully traveled from village to village preaching about Jesus and the Twelve Rabbits. Yet in the years immediately following the adoption of what everyone assumed was Christianity, Leshan experienced a series of bumper harvests, and was spared completely from seasonal flooding of the Dadu and Min Rivers. Large numbers of Leshan residents began to believe that they were being blessed by Jesus and the Twelve Rabbits, and impromptu shrines began to spring up all over the county. Yet as the months became years, residents of Leshan started to notice that visitors to town - traveling merchants and the like - invariably raised an eyebrow whenever the Twelve were mentioned, and remarked that they had been to Chengdu and had certainly not heard anything about divine rabbits. Eventually after one too many of these incidents, Magistrate Zhang Guanzhong sent a message to the capital requesting “clarification of some minor doctrinal issues.” What resulted was anything but minor. The Church rather predictably blew a gasket, and Magistrate Zhang was recalled in disgrace; his ultimate fate has been lost to history. As the news seeped out into the general populace, residents of Leshan were divided. Geng Changsuo, the man who had started it all, was utterly horrified; he burnt his Rabbitist Bible and went so far as to order the destruction of the Geng Family Temple, completed the previous year and featuring a mural of Jesus at the Last Supper, surrounded by the Twelve Rabbits. Yet many others held firm to the faith that had taken deep root in their hearts. A faction calling for the establishment of an independent Church of Christ, Rabbit (基督兔子教会, jidu tuzi jiaohui) began to coalesce around the person of several younger sons of moderately prosperous landowners. Their opponents, in a reference to the reputations of several of the Rabbitist Church’s founders, derisively referred to the faction as the Playboy Bunnies (花花公子小兔, huahuagongzi xiaotu). Yet the Bunnies drew considerable support from poor farmers who had come to support the creed of the Twelve. In any event, things changed completely in the summer of 1649, when a detachment of troops under the command of Inquisitor-Magistrate Bu Chuanku arrived in town.
Upon arriving in Leshan, Bu quickly came to embrace the idea that the town was irredeemably marred by heresy, and that it must be utterly purged by the strongest means. The results were predictable. No records survive to indicate the death toll in Leshan, although it doubtless numbered in the thousands. Ironically, despite disavowing Rabbitism, Geng Changsuo was sentenced to death along with his entire family. Yet many Rabbitists survived, either by hiding their beliefs or by hiding themselves, fleeing the town and becoming refugees. The Playboy Bunnies would live on to spread the one true faith, led by the charismatic Hu Hefen, whose name has gone down in history as the Heresiarch of Chongqing . . . (4)
Excerpted from “The Yellow Tiger: A Biography of Zhang Xianzhong,” by Gary Grice.
- Reactions to the Great Witch-Hunt in Ba varied widely. Some praised the campaign as necessary to eradicate heresy, while many others regarded it as a monstrous crime. One of those in the latter group was scholar-official Ma Xianbao, who resigned his post in 1650 in protest and wrote the famous Kun opera The Crucible (坩埚, ganguo). Yet the Hegemon-King himself - who was, in the final analysis, the only person whose opinion really mattered - never wavered. The Great Witch-Hunt was officially ended in September of 1650, although scattered Inquisitor-Magistrates continued to ply their trade well into the following year. The ultimate success of the campaign remains hotly debated in scholarly circles; while the Centralist school argues that the Great Witch-Hunt produced conditions that allowed for the standardized adoption of Christianity throughout Ba, other historians retort that it simply radicalized members of heterodox sects, driving them underground where they would serve as a persistent thorn in the state’s side during the coming years. Zhang Xianzhong thought that the entire project had been a smashing success, and decided to commemorate the Anti-Heresy Movement in his own special way. In October of 1650, a great stele was erected in Chengdu. Known as the “99 Problems Stele,” the great monument listed fully ninety-nine problems, issues and crises that troubled the State of Ba and the Hegemon-King. Yet at the end, it proclaimed: “I’ve got ninety-nine problems, but a witch is not one.”
(1) So some counties receive lots of attention while others are completely ignored. Remember that Ba is a pretty big country, and it also hasn’t fully digested the large Tibetan morsel that it swallowed just a few years ago. There’s also a lot of rugged terrain in Sichuan, which makes simply reaching some places just not worth the trouble.
(2) Any Maoist-sounding vocabulary in this update is completely not coincidental.
(3) The origins of the Rabbit Worshippers were described in more detail in this post.
*Life in the State of Ba is never dull. More on Zhang Xianzhong’s wonderland in the next update, which will deal with the much-anticipated Sino-Christian Monument of Doom (thanks to Ofaloaf for the name).
Excerpted from “The Yellow Tiger: A Biography of Zhang Xianzhong,” by Gary Grice.
- It was perhaps inevitable that Hegemon-King Zhang Xianzhong would eventually turn to the Bible in his quest to build a monument to his rule that was worthy of his accomplishments. After some initial flirtations with the idea of re-creating the Tower of Babel, Zhang eventually hit on the idea of building the Third Temple, as described in the Book of Ezekiel. In the Hegemon-King’s eyes, this was a statement of purpose and of faith, a bold declaration that should the Messiah return to Earth, his destination would undoubtedly be Chengdu. Zhang immediately put together a committee made up of artisans, scholars, and priests, charging them with drafting a plan for the construction of his masterpiece. It proved to be a difficult task.
Excerpted from “Reports on the Meetings of the Third Temple Committee to the Board of Rituals.”
- . . . after Artisans Zhang and Fu had presented their design to the committee, it was praised for its adherence to the Holy Book by Great Bishop Wang. Magistrate Lu, who had been placed in charge of conscripting labor for the project, inquired as to the exact measurements of the Temple. The Sub-Committee for Translations and Linguistic Questions, headed by Third Rank Priests Qiao and Feng, reported that after much deliberation and consideration they had reached the conclusion that the Biblical “cubit” was equivalent to precisely one-quarter chi (about eight centimeters, or three inches) (1). Fourth-Rank Preceptor Lin expressed the opinion that the Third Temple would be unacceptably small were this system of measurement adhered to. Third-Rank Priests Qiao and Feng replied that the translation was accurate, and that it was probable that the temple was built to the specifications of faraway barbarians from days of yore, who were in all likelihood shrunken due to an improper diet. General Peng inquired as to whether God should be considered a midget based on these findings. A spirited debate ensued on the topics of transubstantiation and both the physical and metaphysical forms of the Deity. Happily, the Royal Physician’s Office has suggested that Third-Rank Priest Feng’s wounds will have recovered enough to allow him to attend the next session. At this point, the Committee adjourned for a light lunch.
Excerpted from “The Small World Guide to China on a Budget,” eds. Angelique Braun and Egbert al-Tikriti.
- Although the city of CHENGDU, in the southwest of China, is justly famed for its many sights, any visitor’s agenda must begin with a trip to the GREAT TEMPLE. Built between 1648 and 1652 at the behest of Hegemon-King Zhang of the State of Ba, the temple was built to Biblical specifications and was believed by its builders to be an essential precondition of the Second Coming of Christ to Earth. The Great Temple cost a staggering sum, and is often fingered by historians as one of the primary factors in the decline and fall of the State of Ba during the mid-to-late 1650s. The Temple is most renowned for its stunning murals, based on the Book of Revelations, which appear on the inner walls of the Sanctuary. Visitors are advised to mind their heads when inside the Temple - due to uncertainty regarding the size of a cubit, the Temple’s final dimensions were noticeably undersized, and in fact upkeep of the structure was largely performed by eight-to-ten year-olds, the only people who could fit through many of the corridors. As a result, large portions of the temple are inaccessible to tourists due to safety and preservation concerns. Yet there’s still plenty to see inside this wondrous marvel of architecture. After the fall of the State of Ba, the Great Temple fell into a state of disrepair, and it was not recognized as a national landmark until 1927, by which time large portions of the building had collapsed. Sadly, by this time many of the Temple’s most glorious and bizarre treasures had already vanished.
Excerpted from “The Lost Artifacts of the Third Temple of Chengdu,” by Gavin Middleton.
- What happened to the Ark of the Covenant? While it is beyond dispute that, at some point, a magnificent gold-plated vessel crowned with two half-dragon half-angels and containing a set of mysterious documents (which many suggest are a personal letter from Zhang Xianzhong to Jesus containing advice and suggestions on what to do after his return) occupied a place in the Holy of Holies, its whereabouts now are uncertain and shrouded in mystery. The orthodox interpretation has long been that the Ark was lost during the chaos and upheaval that accompanied the Sack of Chengdu in 1659. This author begs to differ. Surviving records of the Eternally-Loyal Templar Knights of Ba (2), a society created by the Hegemon-King to safeguard the Temple’s treasures and sworn to secrecy, maintain that this group protected the Ark even after the fall of Ba. Instead, we must look to the first Western expeditions to the temple, which took place in the late 1870s and early 1880s. Most notable was the 1882 expedition of the famous (or infamous) archaeologist Henry Jones, Jr., who was disparaged by many of his colleagues as no more than a grave robber. In this volume, I intend to argue that Dr. Jones removed the Ark from the temple at the behest of his government paymasters and absconded with it (3).
Now let us turn our attention to Fu Kou’s Pendulum . . .
(1) The 尺 (chi) was a Chinese unit of measure that nowadays has been essentially superseded by the metric system. Exactly what a chi meant varied somewhat over time, but in general one chi was something like a foot (30 cm), I think.
(2) Conspiracy theories are as popular ITTL as they are in OTL. Some things never change.
(3) See Note #1.
Excerpted from “A New History of the Great Southeast Asian War,” by Anthony Judd.
- It came as a surprise to exactly no one when Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso, 5th Dalai Lama and Autocrat of Huangmaoguo, decided that he was not content with a kingdom consisting of Yunnan and northern Dai Nam. The Dalai Lama had always been an ambitious man, and thus his declaration of war against Lan Xang (1) in the spring of 1650 shocked only those who had not been paying attention. Yet no one could have predicted that his march on Luang Prabang would kick off a war that lasted five years, cost thousands of lives, and completely redrew the map in Southeast Asia. At the time, the conflict was generally known as the Lamaist War, after the instigator of that bloody period. Later scholars have mostly adopted the more neutral term Great Southeast Asian War, though students of a certain bent have taken to referring to the struggle as the Domino War. Though this author is of the belief that irreverence among the young should be treated harshly, one must concede that these joking students do have a point. For when the Dalai Lama invaded Lan Xang, the House of Nguyen (2), seeing an opportunity to unite Dai Nam under their rule, attacked the Lamaist forces, moving north from their capital at Hue. This three-way war would have been complicated enough, but the Khmer Empire threw a wrench into the proceedings when they moved against the House of Nguyen, hoping to regain the rich coastal lands that they had gradually lost to the power of Dai Nam. We can set aside Ayutthaya and Toungoo Burma for now, as these states did not enter the conflict until 1652, fully two years after the war had begun. For now, let us turn our attention to the early portion of the conflict - in which we can discern with little difficulty that there was one clear winner and one equally clear loser. The winner was Huangmaoguo; the loser was the House of Nguyen.
The war began with the initial Lamaist push into Lan Xang, with the target being the ancient city of Luang Prabang. As the Lan Xang troops were both qualitatively and quantitatively inferior to their Huangmaoguo counterparts, King Sourigna Vongsa and his advisers attempted to fight a guerilla war, relying heavily on hill tribes who were paid off to resist the Lamaist incursion. The House of Nguyen’s entry into the conflict in May of 1650 threatened to spell catastrophe for the Dalai Lama; Nguyen troops penetrated the lightly defended border and within weeks were on the doorstep of the port of Than Hoa, threatening both to seize this vital city and to push farther north and cut the Lamaist troops in Lan Xang off from their supply lines. At this point, many of the Dalai Lama’s generals advised a tactical retreat. Yet the Lama himself spurned their advice, ordering the troops in Lan Xang to double the pace of their advance while attempting to hold off the Nguyen invasion with what remaining forces he could muster. This strategy could very well have ended in disaster, were it not for the Khmer Empire’s sudden and shocking attack against the House of Nguyen in June, barely a month after the Nguyen had entered the war themselves. By the end of July the Khmer had retaken the port of Prey Nokor (3), which had gradually fallen under Dai Nam influence and control in previous years, and were sweeping north of the Mekong Delta towards Nha Trang. As the Nguyen rushed to redeploy their forces, Lan Xang was left alone to deal with the Lamaists; it should come as no surprise that that kingdom ceased to exist by the end of the year. Meanwhile, as the powers fought, foreigners looked on from their colonies, and wondered how the situation could be turned to their advantage.
Excerpted from “Sympathy for Lady Vengeance,” by Park Chan-wook.
- It is a common misconception that the 1636 invasion of Korea by the Manchus resulted in the conquest and subjugation of Korea. This is inaccurate. Not only was Korea not conquered, it was not even vassalized. The main result of the invasion was that the previously existing Ming-Korea tributary state relationship was replaced by a Qing-Korea tributary state relationship. Nevertheless, it was an unquestionable defeat for the Joseon Dynasty, and proved difficult to swallow. An opportunity for the situation to be righted seemed to present itself in 1650, when the Manchus were forced beyond the Great Wall after Wu Sangui’s rebellion. With the Ming in the ascent, King Hyojong - who had been released from Manchu captivity only a few short years ago - seized the chance to throw off the Manchu domination and renew the old order between Ming and Korea. In 1651 Korea renounced the terms to which they had been forced to submit to in 1637, breaking their ties with the Manchus in the process. The news from Hanseong came as yet another blow to an already weak and tottering state whose sphere of influence was rapidly becoming more and more attenuated. While a full-scale invasion of Korea was totally out of the question, given the state of Manchu arms, it was equally clear that some response had to be made, and the wholly unsatisfactory solution that was decided upon was a policy of raiding in force south of the Korean border. Manchu troops looted, plundered, and killed, seizing valuables and in the process beginning to refill their own almost empty coffers. The Joseon military lacked anything to counter the maneuvering capabilities of the Manchus (4), with the result that Manchu troops were often able to extend their raids deep into Korean territory.
It was during one of these raids in the fall of 1651 when Manchu cavalry struck the northeastern port city of Kimch’aek. Among the dead was the entire family of a mid-level bureaucrat named Oh Dae-su - all, that is, except for his wife, Geum-ja. Unlike many in those trying times, the bereaved wife and mother did not flee for safer ground. Instead, she appealed to the lower classes in Kimch’aek, many of whom had also lost everything in the raid. Urging them to “defend what the King cannot,” the force of Geum-ja’s rhetoric and the almost messianic aura that contemporary accounts say clung to her won the widow a small core of followers. She led them north, launching a shocking cross-border raid of her own against the town of Mudanbira in the fall, causing little damage but somehow escaping with minimal losses. Tales of Geum-ja’s exploits began to spread throughout the increasingly war-torn northern sections of Korea, and more and more of the dispossessed came to her camp. It was around this point that Geum-ja came to be known as “Lady Vengeance,” and her followers as “Oldboys,” after Geum-ja lamented, “In our land these days, even the youngest of boys are born old.” Privation was a fact of life for Lady Vengeance and the Oldboys, many of whom had been farmers and went to their raids carrying sickles and scythes (NB: the style of fighting popularized by the Oldboys eventually morphed into today’s popular Whirlwind Scythe school of martial arts, which is characterized by swift and repeated open-palmed blows to the opponent’s face). A rigorous martial ethic began to take root among Geum-ja’s followers. One habit, first popularized by fighters operating in coastal regions, was the consumption of live seafood, especially octopi, before entering battle; it was believed that this would boost the body’s masculine yang energies. Initially, Oldboy raids into Manchu territory were little more than an irritant, and in fact it was the Joseon court that was more worried about the faction, which they viewed as an implicit challenge to their authority - rightly so, as later events would prove. Nevertheless, despite the bloodshed that they would cause in later years, it is hard not to feel some sympathy for Lady Vengeance and the Oldboys . . .
(1) Laos, more or less.
(2) Recall that currently, Vietnam (or Dai Nam, as it was then known) was divided between the northern House of Trinh and the southern House of Nguyen. ITTL the Trinh have been conquered by Huangmaoguo, leaving the Nguyen in possession of the southern half (a bit more, actually) of Vietnam.
(3) Which in both OTL and TTL gradually came under first Vietnamese influence and then outright control and was renamed Saigon (and much later Ho Chi Minh City, but that’s really neither here nor there for our purposes).
(4) Essentially what’s happening here is that Manchu cavalry units are making raids into Korean territory, and the Koreans don’t have any comparable cavalry that can oppose the Manchus, so you’ve got big conscript forces blundering around instead, which often causes more problems than it solves.
*Southeast Asia will get even more interesting as more and more states get involved and as the Western powers start to sniff around the action. As for Korea, I’m still feeling my way towards what I want to have happen. I’ll need to do some more thinking and research before going any farther there - for now it’s just a chance to add modern Korean film to the timeline’s stew of references.
Excerpted from “The Rise and Fall and Rise and Fall of the Ming Dynasty,” by Humbert Nabokov.
- After the Second Ming-Qing Wa, the Ming seemed to have made a remarkable comeback; from being on the verge of extinction five short years ago, they now controlled more than half of their former domain once more. Yet even with the removal of the Manchus from the geopolitical chessboard, the Ming were still surrounded by foes. The most proximate and threatening of those enemies was clearly the two-time traitor Wu Sangui, now a convert to Islam and ruler of the Sultanate of Shenzhou. Peace with the turncoat general was clearly out of the question; after the Manchu withdrawal, the Ming and Shenzhou neither made peace, nor attempted to make peace, nor even considered the possibility of coming to an accommodation. Yet there was nonetheless a lull in the fighting after the campaigns of 1650, as both sides digested their new territorial gains, came to grips with the strategic situation, and struggled with internal dissent. Few, if any, major engagements were fought until the renewal of general war in 1653, which followed the infamous Noodle Incident (面事件, mian shijian) (1). The State of Ba and Huangmaoguo were lesser concerns for the Ming; after the inconclusive and costly campaigns against Ba in 1648-9, much of the enthusiasm for taking the fight to Zhang Xianzhong’s crypto-Christian state had dissipated, and Huangmaoguo was both remote and also clearly focused on affairs to their south rather than those to their north. Indeed, the early 1650s saw the Ming focused less on foreign affairs and more on domestic ones, as the Imperial Court at Nanjing was increasingly riven by factional disputes and infighting among the Hongguang Emperor’s counselors. It was this factional infighting, driven by ideological and religious tensions, that would ultimately doom the Ming to defeat and make them but one more failed state in the tumultuous Nine Kingdoms Period. But we should not get too far ahead of ourselves.
The fissure between the Confucian-oriented Five Virtues Faction (五德派, wu de pai) and the esoteric Daoist-centered Internal Alchemy Faction (内丹派, nei dan pai) continued to widen in the early 1650s, as the Hongguang Emperor retreated further and further from day-to-day governance in favor of meditation sessions and the comfort of hallucinogenic drugs. In practice, this meant that the responsibility for governing the Ming domains largely fell on the shoulders of Shi Kefa, the Emperor’s Chief Minister and the unquestioned leader of the Five Virtues Faction. Yet Shi’s power only extended so far, and his loyalty to the Hongguang Emperor was set in stone. He was thus loathe to object when the Emperor elevated his personal favorites - who were all adherents of esoteric Daoism and partisans of the Internal Alchemy faction - to positions of power and prominence in the government. At the same time, the Emperor both respected and feared Shi Kefa, and was reluctant to bring himself into open conflict with the man who was his right hand. The two men increasingly turned to subordinates to do the dirty work of bureaucratic combat and backstabbing, neither one wanting to place himself in a position of unquestioned opposition to the other. Government at all levels became factionalized, and even the military was not immune. While most of the key generals were personally loyal to Shi Kefa and were also staunch Confucians, the Internal Alchemy faction had the allegiance of many of the secret societies and rebel groups which were gradually becoming incorporated into the structure of the Ming state as quasi-official militias. Chief among these groups was the militant and radical Wu-Tang Clan, and in the period immediately following the defeat of the Manchus several Wu-Tang leaders maneuvred themselves into offices of high rank and prestige. Great Sage Ri Za, primus inter pares of the Clan’s Nine Masters, was in 1651 appointed Minister of the influential Board of Rituals (礼部, or Libu) (2). Other Wu-Tang leaders, including Inspector of the Deck and Stratagem Man, were given prestigious positions in the Board of War (兵部, or Bingbu), while the Ghost-Face Killer assumed the post of Minister at the Board of Appointments (吏部, or Libu). The rampant factionalism and infighting omnipresent during this period severely hampered the efficiency of the Ming government apparatus.
Governmental and administrative efficiency was also not aided by the institutionalized use of LSD on the part of scholar-bureaucrats (3). After the synthesis of LSD was accidentally achieved by Alchemist-Sage Li Shide in 1649, its popularity skyrocketed among the esoteric Daoist elite. While making the substance was a complicated process involving the soaking of crushed morning glory seeds in solutions of both benzoic acid and ethanol, followed by repeated filtrations, the resulting “voyage,” as the effects of LSD were referred to, made it all worth the trouble. Interestingly enough, the demand for benzoin resin and the need to secure supplies of the substance, which could only be obtained from Southeast Asia, was the primary impetus behind the Ming intervention in the Great Southeast Asian War and later Chinese expeditions to Java and Sumatra (4). Known in Chinese as 荣精 (rongjing, or “Glorious Essence”), LSD became a vital substance for esoteric Daoists, who believed that it expanded their minds and allowed them to commune with other planes of existence. Frequently, groups of scholar-officials of the Internal Alchemy faction would take LSD before meetings in the hope that it would aid them in coming to the correct choice. Officials of the Five Virtues faction, on the other hand, eschewed the use of LSD. When officials from both sides were present in a meeting, the results were often not conducive to productive discussion and formulation of policy.
The third session of the Subcommittee for Examination of Certain Questions Regarding the Salt Tax was at an impasse. On one side of the varnished circular table, Reviewing Officer Su Jinfeng was adamant that the state of Imperial finances required that the tax be raised by at least two percentage points in the coming year. On the other side of the table, Junior Censor Fang Jiaquan was equally insistent that Su was not a colleague, but was rather a talking mouse with glowing purple eyes. These diametrically opposed positions made reaching consensus a tricky proposition at best.
Councillor of the Fourth Rank Hu Zhiqiang batted ineffectually at the thin ribbon of drool stretching down from a corner of his lip, then rose to address the committee. “Colleagues,” he began, “I live in a boat. But not just any boat! It is a yellow boat, and moreover, it sails not on the sea, but under it. I live in a yellow sub-marine, if you will.”
“I fail to see the relevance of your point to the topic of discussion, Councillor,” snapped Su, motioning towards a thick stack of documents piled high at the center of the table. “If we could focus our attention on the reports from Fujian here, it is clear that --”
He was interrupted by Under-Officer of Transmission Wu Dengyi, who rose abruptly, scattering papers and teacups to the four corners of the conference room. “I wish to have it entered into the record in response to Councillor Hu’s point,” he said, pointing imperiously at the wide-eyed scribe near the window, “that in the town where I was born lived a man who sailed to sea, and he told us of his life in the land of sub-marines.”
Junior Censor Fang chose this moment to chime in, staring all the while at the ceiling with a certain kind of horrified fascination. “So we sailed into the sun,” he said dreamily, “until we found the sea of green, and we lived beneath the waves in our yellow sub-marine.”
Fang broke into song, followed by Wu and then Hu, their voices rising and falling as they swayed in their chairs. “We all live in a yellow sub-marine,” they sang, “a yellow sub-marine, a yellow sub-marine.”
Su smacked the table with his palm, hard, shouting, “Please, Colleagues! We are engaged in vital and serious business!”
No one was listening.
(1) For now, I will leave the particulars of this incident to your imaginations. Have fun.
(2) The Board of Rituals was responsible for administering the imperial examinations and court rites and protocol (which included foreign affairs).
(3) If the forum had an Understatement of the Week competition, this sentence would be my entry.
(4) If we can trust Wikipedia (no), the Ming need benzoic acid to make their LSD, so they’ll be wanting Styrax tonkinensis or Styrax benzoin, which are variously native to Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Java and Sumatra. The properties of this stuff were known, I think, as it’s used to make various types of incense.
*They’re dazed and confused in Nanjing, man, but things are pretty groovy for the Ming right now.
Excerpted from “The Three Betrayals of General Wu Sangui,” by Albrecht Balboa.
- From the moment of its inception, the Sultanate of Shenzhou was beset on all sides by enemies. To the south, ongoing skirmishes with the Ming were a fact of life, while to the north and the west Mongols and Dzungar raids were common. Even in the southwest, the State of Ba bestirred itself after the establishment of the Sultanate and began sending probing expeditions into Wu’s newly proclaimed kingdom, searching for weaknesses. There were many to find. For despite these threats to the Sultanate from the outside, doubtless the most pressing threat to the nation’s stability and existence came from the inside. In the end, it proved highly difficult to administer a state supposedly based around submission to Islam in a region where Muslims were no more than a sizable minority of the population. Wu’s standing with the Han majority of his domain was suspect at best. He could count on no support from those who still supported the Ming Dynasty, as he had previously betrayed the Ming; likewise, his recent betrayal of the Qing meant that he could count on receiving no succor from those in his kingdom who were partisans of the Manchus (1). Wu was cognizant of the need to appeal to the Han populace in Shenzhou, and some significant tensions developed between his court at Xi’an and Muslim community leaders, who pushed for reforms to give the Sultanate a more distinctively Islamic character. As Muslims were virtually the only sector of society that supported Wu without reservations, he was loathe to take any actions that antagonized them; on the other hand, he was equally reluctant to take measures that would prejudice the Han people of Shenzhou against him even more than they already were. Wu resisted entreaties from, among others, Hu Qianyun, imam of the Great Mosque at Xi’an, to institute a tax on all non-Muslim residents of Shenzhou, but he did introduce a additional levy on crops that was meant to fund hajj pilgrimages to Mecca for Muslim citizens of Shenzhou. This and additional preferential treatment toward Muslims - they were exempted from curfews in major cities, for example - only stirred more resentment towards Wu’s regime on the part of the non-Muslims that made up the majority of the population of the Sultanate of Shenzhou. In decidedly non-technical terms, Wu was caught between a rock and a hard place.
It should thus come as little surprise that, for most of its short existence, the Sultanate of Shenzhou was wracked by internal tensions and uprisings. An uneasy peace was kept largely through the efforts of Wu’s army, the majority of whom, while they had not converted to Islam, were personally loyal to their former General and their current Sultan (2). In many cities, Muslim citizens were formed into quasi-paramilitary organizations which patrolled the cities where they lived and frequently instigated brawls with local toughs. Foremost among these groups were the Soldiers of Allah (阿拉之兵, Ala zhi bing), which was based in Beijing, the Army of Muhammad (穆罕默德之军, Muhanmode zhi jun), based in Shijiazhuang, and the infamous Shenzhou Jihad Organization (神州圣战团, Shenzhou shengzhan tuan), which evolved into a secret society with chapters in major and minor cities throughout the Sultanate; they generally took a harder line than the other groups, which were more neighborhood watch committees and less death squads. The Sultanate’s internal stability was also undermined by Ming activities directed against them. When they absorbed a great deal of formerly Manchu territory after the Second Ming-Qing War, the Ming also absorbed the large number of rebel bands that were active in those territories. While some of these bands were made up of genuine Ming loyalists or were adherents of esoteric Daoism, and thus could be brought into the fold, the majority of the rebels were no more than armed mobs which had no ideology other than looting and killing. In a bid to both increase stability in their own realm and to damage Wu Sangui, the Ming directed local officials to make deals with the recalcitrant rebels, offering them safe passage and no reprisals were they to move their operations from Ming territory across the porous border into Shenzhou. Given that the other side of the deal was a stern warning that future rebel activity in Ming territory would be punished most harshly, a surprisingly large number of roving bands did indeed remove themselves to Shenzhou, which was also thought of as offering easier pickings given the general climate of unrest and the need for Wu’s forces to busy themselves putting down that unrest as opposed to dealing with the odd rebel group here and there. While some of these rebels did indeed make all kinds of trouble for Wu Sangui, other rebel leaders found the religion that was preached in Shenzhou to be surprisingly appealing.
Excerpted from “Going Rogue: A Compendium of Notable Rebels of the Ming-Xiao Interregnum,” by Alexander Lopez.
TI-PAIN (题苦, ti ku): Born as Ti Wei to traveling salesmen in Shaanxi in the mid-1610s, this rebel changed his given name to ku, or “pain,” after seeing the horrors of combat up close and personal. One of the “removed rebels” that was induced to migrate to Shenzhou by Ming officials, Ti-Pain confounded them on his arrival by converting to Islam. The old saw about how there is no greater zealot than a convert proved true in the case of Ti-Pain, who remained antagonistic to Wu Sangui even after conversion; he viewed Wu as insufficiently devoted to Islam. His faction operated mostly in northern Hebei, staging raids on villages and leaving any Muslims in the communities they raided unharmed. Ti-Pain fancied himself a poet, often imitating and outright plagiarizing Tang and Song Dynasty luminaries, although several of his original compositions have gained critical notice over the years, the most well-known of which is “I’m On A Boat” (我在船上, wo zai chuan shang), written during a period when he was operating in the vicinity of Baiyangdian Lake.
THE OUTCASTS (流浪者, liulangzhe): Led by An De Three Thousand (安德三千, an de san qian), whose nom de guerre derived from the fact that he made “An De” (安德, or “peace and virtue”) his personal mantra, supposedly reciting it three thousand times every night, and Big Boy (大童, da tong), the Outcasts were among the “removed rebels” who moved to Shenzhou following the Second Ming-Qing War from their previous territory in eastern Shandong. They were highly successful in their new home, recruiting new members from impoverished farmers in completely Han communities and adopting an explicit anti-Muslim stance. They operated mostly in southern Shanxi and western Hebei, although at certain points their territory was much larger. The Outcasts’ ultimate staying power was limited by their unusual dual leadership structure; as time went on, An De 3000 and Big Boy began to disagree and clash over matters both major and minor. Nevertheless, the Outcasts were among the most successful rebel groups to operate in Shenzhou, and indeed during the period of that kingdom’s fall they briefly managed to make the transition from itinerant rebels to local warlords, the details of which are more fully recounted in Nobuyuki Alicante’s prize-winning Empire of Stankonia (3).
(1) Even more than the Muslim issue, Wu is hurt by the fact that he simply hasn’t spent enough time in his domain to have built up patronage networks and established himself as the unquestioned power. OTL he ruled in his southern fief for something like twenty-five years before coming out against the Qing in the Revolt of the Three Feudatories. Granted, that didn’t work out for him so well either in the end, but he’s in a much weaker position in this timeline for the reasons I’ve delineated.
(2) The army and the generals will stay loyal to Wu; though they may not have much love for Islam, most of them have been with Wu for many years and have significant personal ties to him, etc., and there’s also a realistic calculation that their bridges with both the Ming and Qing are pretty well burned and that trying to eke out an existence as an independent warlord doesn’t look promising.
(3) This will be dealt with in more detail as soon as I come up with an even vaguely plausible sounding translation for Stankonia, and not a moment before.
*I wasn’t exactly subtle about hinting at it before, but Wu’s sultanate is really not in good shape.
DECEMBER 12, 1653
CHENGDU, STATE OF BA
- The voices came to him more often now, subtle whispers gently insinuating themselves into his ears, speaking in hushed tones of birth and death and rebirth and Heaven and Hell and the mysteries of existence, taunting him with paradoxes and glimpses of the void. He tried not to pay attention, tried to banish them from his mind as flights of fancy, but they always returned. In the droning interminable meetings that it was his duty to suffer through, in the long and winding halls of his palace, even in the quiet moments of night, when he desired rest above all things, the voices were there, an invisible chorus whose refrain seemed to grow louder with each passing day. The end is near, they sang in tones both sweet and grating at the same time, there is precious little sand left in the glass, your time has run its course. He could not control them, could not regulate their comings and goings. The rest of the world bent to his whims, twisted itself into contortions to satisfy the power of his will, but the voices only laughed. He closed his mind to their existence, prayed repeatedly for deliverance from the invisible whisperers, ordered the architects and geomancers to reconfigure the space of his quarters to ward off evil, shook and raged and swore at the walls when there was no one to look on, all to no avail. It made him afraid. Zhang Xianzhong, Hegemon-King of the State of Ba, had not been afraid for a very long time.
He felt more old and tired than he had a year ago, or a month ago, or even a week ago. Every morning, when the bells chimed the Hour of the Dragon (1) and he rose from bed, it was just a bit harder than it had been the previous day to rise, to emerge from his bed and the world of dreams and to face the business of the day. He often thought of the Mountain. It was there, he knew, that this long slow dragging decline had begun, when he fell through the thin white blanket of snow and ice and tumbled down into the crevasse (2). Yet he bore the Mountain no ill-will. Indeed, it was to the Mountain that his thoughts always returned, that great shimmering spike of rock and ice that soared up into the heavens and seemed to touch the clouds. Sometimes he talked to it, or to his vision of it, a courtesy which he did not extend to the insistent chorus of voices that invaded his mind. They swirled back and forth in his mind, asking questions to which he had no answers, questions about the nature of life and the meaning of things. It was harder for him to concentrate in deliberations with his advisors and counselors. How could he devote his mind to questions of the labor tax and border quarrels with Dzungaria when a symphony was playing in his head, issuing questions and pronouncements that ultimately boiled down to no more than a few sentences. Think of all that you do not know, they said. Know that you will die soon, they warned. Do you not wish to answer the great questions of life, instead of being bogged down in the mire of the small? The voices whispered and nagged, until one day, without notice, he suddenly found himself agreeing with them.
It was clear that they feared him less now, the great servile mass of sycophants and bootlickers and courtiers who made as if to hang on his every word. They were still careful enough to tread lightly around him, to be wary of his caprice and rage, but not so careful as to let him know, ever so subtly, that the fear he had once inspired was but a shadow of a memory now. His sons (3) began to treat him with a strange blend of obsequiousness and veiled contempt, until it seemed that even their most benign utterances concealed malign intent. You look weary, Father, one would say, and he would hear a twisted echo reverberating through the room, asking When will you finally die? The other would say Let me lend you a hand, Father, and the silence that followed all but screamed, Make me your heir, old fool. The generals and priests and bureaucrats and functionaries, all part of the vast pool of flotsam and jetsam that swirls around a royal court, began to move into the orbits of his sons. He could feel the shift, the allegiances being formed and discarded, the factions beginning to coalesce and jell. Like life emerging from the primordial ooze, the intrigue began to evolve, enmeshing the court in innumberable strands of deceits and stratagems and designs. They were looking and thinking beyond him now, he realized, planning and working towards a future that did not feature him in it. Perhaps some of them even dared to plot. It was an unsettling prospect, to say the least.
It was much to his surprise that he found himself seeking solace in numbers. Previously he had had nothing but contempt for them and the meddling nebbishes who dealt in them, who stuttered warnings in council, presuming to say what could and could not be done, as if he would be deterred from his grand designs by a fraction here or a decimal there. Yet then he started to listen to the voices that inhabited his mind, urging him to answer questions that, by their very existence, had no answers. He prayed for guidance, tried to hone his mind to its sharpest, spent hours at a time lost in a fog of thought, his mind contorted into a pretzel of ontological riddles. Each night he would go to bed frustrated, taunted by the voices, who laughed as they said, You do not know the answer yet. He could not have said when it happened, but he found himself realizing belatedly how wonderfully concrete numbers were. There were no open-ended riddles without an answer. Every problem had a solution. Every question had an answer. It was glorious how numbers could impose order on a chaotic world, and they even reassured of his continued relevance at court. Two plus two is four, and I am the king and you are not, so you will do as I say, he thought, and it somehow made everything better. It was thus perhaps unsurprising that he turned to this logic at the meeting near the end of the year, when he gathered his strength and summoned forth his counselors to the Hall of Supreme Virtue and ordered them, Discover for me what the meaning of life is. A silence filled the room, until one of the black-robed foreign priests said, This question cannot be answered by men, O King; only God has the answer. But he had asked God more times than he could count, and had received only the same silence as an answer. So Zhang Xianzhong, first and last Hegemon-King of the State of Ba, rose and said, I do not wish to hear excuses. I wish to hear answers. If Man cannot answer the question, then it is to another that we will turn. Build me a machine that will tell me the meaning of life. Do not fail.
The voices approved.
(1) 7.00 - 9.00 AM.
(2) Zhang here refers to his failed attempt to summit Mount Everest.
(3) His adopted sons Zhang Kewang and Zhang Dingguo, who are perpetually at each other’s throats. Zhang has not designated a heir as of yet, preferring to play one off against the other.
*Something new here, as you can see. I felt like I was getting into a bit of a rut with the history-book format. What I’d like to do is make this sort of post an every once-in-a-while thing and begin to incorporate people who I’ve previously introduced as POV characters of a sort. I’m not totally pleased with how this entry turned out, although if nothing else it was a fun exercise that let me stretch some different writing muscles than the ones I’ve been using.
Excerpted from “A New History of the Dzungar Empire,” by Khan Noonien Singh.
- Out of the feuding and chaos that predominated among the Western Mongol tribes, known as the Four Oirats, in the early seventeenth century a new polity emerged that united the fractious clans. Under the leadership of Baatar Khuntaiji (also known as Erdeni Batur), the Dzungar Empire was formed, initially encompassing the northern portion of East Turkestan as well as some chunks of Western Mongolia. His campaigns against the Kazakhs added further territory to the empire’s domains, and after twenty years of his leadership it seemed as though the Dzungar Empire was developing into an entity worthy of its somewhat grandiose name (1). Baatar Khuntaiji was not merely content to establish a legacy as a warrior, however; on the contrary, he also promulgated the Oirat Mongol legal code sometime in the 1640s, which set down in written form rules for relations between tribes and clans and demanded group resistance to aggression from external forces. The Khuntaiji was a great proponent of Buddhism, especially the Yellow Hat sect that predominated in Tibet, and the seizure of that state by Ba in 1647 seemed at first likely to result in intervention on the part of the Dzungars. Yet due to the Khuntaiji’s health, which was already failing, and factional struggles at court, the conquest of Tibet was allowed to proceed as a fait accompli, and indeed it benefited the Dzungars indirectly due to the concomitant collapse of the Khutugu Khanate that was a byproduct of Zhang Xianzhong’s invasion of Lamaist Tibet (2). Baatar Khuntaiji’s death, which had been long anticipated in the Dzungar capital of Ghulja, finally occurred in 1651 after years of illness (3). His choice of a successor surprised many.
As per the Khuntaiji’s will, power fell to his third son, Sengge, whom the Khuntaiji had judged to be the most capable and adept of his offspring. Several of Sengge’s numerous brothers and half-brothers had their own ideas as to whom the most capable one was, and for a brief period after the Khuntaiji’s death it seemed as if a power struggle was in the offing. Yet Sengge proved to be a canny operator, and indeed he eliminated all resistance in a single stroke. Sometime in the spring of 1652, he invited all of his brothers and half-brothers to a grand banquet in Ghulja, ostensibly to discuss dividing their father’s empire and sharing the spoils. As the dessert course was served, Sengge’s picked men rushed into the banquet hall and decapitated all of his unfortunate siblings (4). With his power secure, Sengge focused on expanding the Dzungar domains to the south and east, where a power vacuum had opened up in the wake of both the Ming and Qing collapses and the decline of several minor khanates due to interference from the State of Ba. Throughout the 1650s the Dzungars made inroads into the Tarim Basin and into Qinghai (5), drawing closer to borders with both the State of Ba and with Wu Sangui’s nascent Sultanate of Shenzhou. Under Sengge Khan’s rule, the Dzungar Empire changed from a state that was characterized by an almost slavish adherence to Yellow Hat Buddhism to a much more religiously polyglot configuration. In great part, this was due to the removal of the Dalai Lama from the scene; it was also aided by the large number of Muslim subjects that came under the Dzungar sway as their territory expanded. In any event, traditional shamanism grew exponentially in the 1650s, as did the practice of Islam in the Dzungar domains. Sengge also attempted to develop a cult of personality centered around his person - the “Khan Mythos,” as it has been labeled by scholars. Feared and loved in equal measure by his subjects, Sengge sought to make himself synonymous with the Dzungar state. Although his attempts in this regard were only moderately successful, it did result in one of the great unheralded classics of Mongolian epic poetry . . .
Excerpted from “The Wrath of Khan,” by Ejei Chuluunbat.
TRANSLATOR’S NOTE: “The Wrath of Khan,” written in the mid-1650s as a paean to Sengge Khan, ruler of the Dzungar Empire, is one of the finest extant examples of Jianggar epic Western Mongol poetry. Posterity is indeed fortunate that a written record of this classic has survived through the ages . . .
- In Xanadu did Sengge Khan a stately pleasure-dome decree
For the mutilation of all who dared to oppose him.
In his house at Ghulja the dread Khan lies dreaming
Of the great old ones who have preceded him.
As the clever hopes expire of our low dishonest age
The Great Khan watches, and waits, and sees all.
He is not green, or purple with green rings,
Or green with yellow rings, or yellow with blue rings.
No, he is the Great Khan, whose wrath shakes mountains,
Look on his works, ye mighty, and despair!
(couplets #4-3697 omitted for reasons of space)
Great Sengge Khan, you are our only hope!
Terrible and swift is his sword, the fearsome KHAAAAAAAAAN! (6)
Excerpted from “A Crippled Phoenix: The Third Age of the Manchu Empire,” by Alice C. Tokmor.
- After their flight from China proper and retrenchment beyond the Great Wall, the Manchus struggled to come to grips with their new reality. From being masters of the world to masters of a northern wasteland in just a few short years was a long steep fall. Yet far from being consigned to the dustbin of history, the Manchu Empire managed to survive and prosper. How did they manage it?
One vital factor in the Manchu resurgence was the assumption of real power by the Shunzhi Emperor, who had been shunted aside by his uncle the Prince Regent Dorgon while the Manchus controlled China. With Dorgon’s death, the boy king assumed power in his own right, and proved to be a natural at exercising it. Indeed, it was through diplomatic intrigue and compromise that he managed to secure the allegiance of the Eastern Mongols in 1652 and forestall the further collapse of the Manchu Empire barely months into his reign, when he was but fourteen years of age. Ejei Khonggor, son of Ligden Khan and heir to the Northern Yuan Dynasty, who had surrendered to Shunzhi’s father the Hong Taiji scarcely fifteen years before, had to be appeased if the Manchus were to retain their suzerainty over the clans of Eastern Mongolia. Shunzhi managed to curb his own sizable ego and give Ejei what the latter wanted, raising him in rank from 亲王 (Qin wang, or Prince) to the specially created title 西部大将亲王 (Xi bu da jiang qin wang, or “Prince Grand Marshal of the Western Domain”) and marrying off several of his sisters to Ejei and an assortment of Ejei’s brothers. The appeased Mongol heir promptly made life easier for Shunzhi by arranging the rather timely death of a few of his more intransigent relatives, who had been heard muttering in the night about the chance to rid themselves of the meddlesome Manchus. With eastern Mongolia secure, the Manchus could look to other parts of their territory, and they did exactly that in the 1650s, beginning to develop the rudiments of a port city in Haishenwai (OTL Vladivostok) where trade was conducted with Japan, for the most part. Yet not all of those who had sworn allegiance to the Manchus in the past still stuck to their oaths. Korea, in particular, seemed to be inexorably slipping away.
(1) All as per OTL, or at least I think it’s as per OTL. The Dzungars were clearly not great at leaving behind detailed historical records for timeline writers a few centuries in the future to peruse.
(2) Don’t worry if you don’t understand this part. We’re deep in the weeds of mid-17th century Mongol history at this point, and dealing with minor khanates at that. Things get more fun from here on out.
(3) A couple of years earlier than in OTL, more for shits and giggles than anything else.
(4) This most definitely did not happen in real life. Inspiration for the idea comes from an early 20th century Xinjiang warlord. OTL, Sengge assumed power but was hamstrung by his brothers who were constantly eying the throne, one of whom eventually assassinated him.
(5) A solid 15 years earlier than they did OTL, aided in part by a more dynamic/less constrained Sengge and partly because I’m playing a bit fast and loose with dates here.
(6) Name all of the references here and win a prize!
Excerpted from “Rise of the Roujuu: The Tokugawa Shogunate Reconsidered,” by Hosokawa Tsuyoshi.
- In a sense, all Japanese history from 1650 to 1750 must be considered in the context of one fateful choice: the decision to re-normalize relations with the Southern Ming Dynasty and resume trade with that polity, which was made in 1648 after an embassy headed by the Prince of Tang anchored off Nagasaki Bay and entreated the Shogunate to re-open its doors to the world. Had the Ming been stronger at the time, the embassy likely would have ended in failure; paradoxically, had they been weaker, it likely would have had the same result (1). Yet the Ming were neither too strong nor too weak; they came to the Shogunate not as supplicants, nor as domineering would-be overlords - they valued the resumption of the lucrative Japan trade too much for such a posture - but as equals, more or less, and it was this negotiating stance which secured the reopening of trade. Chinese luxury goods, such as silk and porcelain, began to flow into Japan with increasing speed, sparking something of a boom in the port cities of Nagasaki and Shimonoseki, among others. Meanwhile, Japan exported large quantities of copper, mostly in coin form, and silver to ports controlled by the Southern Ming (2). As the 1650s began, Japanese traders also began to make voyages to the retrenching Manchu Empire, which established a port at Haishenwai for foreign trade; Japan began to export significant quantities of high-quality swords and firearms to the Manchus at this time. The China trade and the burgeoning commercial relationship with the Manchu Empire brought considerable wealth to Japan, as merchant lineages competed to win permission to send ships abroad.
Yet while the China trade was undoubtedly lucrative, it also exacerbated already-existing social problems that threatened stability, which the Shogunate prized above all else. In particular, Japan during the early 1650s had a serious rounin (浪人, or “masterless samurai”) problem. Due to the general peace that had persisted since the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, feudal lords no longer found it necessary to employ the vast number of retainers which had previously been the norm. The policies of the shogunal government toward the growing number of rounin only made the situation worse; Rounin were generally prohibited from finding new masters to serve after being discharged, and they were also banished from many large cities due to crime concerns. The resumption of the China trade would have offered an outlet for many of these unemployed samurai, were they to take service on one of the ships plying the seas; however, the majority of them viewed such an occupation as menial and unworthy of their status as samurai (3). Meanwhile, with ocean trade came sailors, and a host of unsavoury elements disembarked on Japanese shores in the early 1650s. Somewhat paradoxically, despite many rounin turning down berths on trading ships due to the job’s supposed meniality, not a few of them formed criminal partnerships with freebooters who had made their way to Japanese shores, mostly dealing in stolen goods and acting as hired muscle. Many rounin who took on such tasks viewed it as a deep shame on their honor, yet preferred a clandestine life of crime to openly engaging in an occupation which they believed to be beneath their station. In any event, large numbers of rounin and imported criminal elements made for a combustible mixture, and eventually something had to give.
Matters came to a head in 1651 with the outbreak of the 慶安事件 (Keian jiken, or “Keian Incident”), an uprising of disaffected rounin led by Yui Shousetsu, who was himself a rounin. The plotters mounted coordinated attacks on Osaka, Shizuoka, and Edo Castle, the beating heart of the Shogunate itself. Ultimately the revolt failed, though it was not without considerable loss of life and damages; parts of both Edo and Kyoto were burnt to the ground in the melees that ensued during the chaos of battle (4). In the wake of the struggle, after the remaining leaders of the rebellion had been hunted down and put to death in inventive and painful fashion, it was very clear to the bakufu and to the 老中 (roujuu, or “Elder”; a term that refers both to individuals and to the collective council of roujuu that ruled at the time in place of Shogun Tokugawa Ietsuna, who was barely ten years old) that drastic measures needed to be taken to combat the growing rounin crisis. A more widespread and general campaign of persecution was viewed as counterproductive, while simply relaxing the laws regarding rounin was viewed as not going far enough. What was needed was to give the rounin something to do, even if that something was essentially make-work; in the words of Roujuu member Matsudaira Nobutsuna, the court needed to send them on a “wild sheep chase” (羊をめぐる冒険, hitsuji wo meguru bouken). In the end, the shogunal court decided to relax the laws regarding inheritance of feudal lords, creating new members of the aristocracy. These men - who surely needed samurai retainers as per their new status, and how fortunate it was that there were so many masterless samurai wandering around - were not given lands carved out of existing domains. Rather, they were granted entirely new domains on the wild and largely unpacified northern island of Ezo (Hokkaido). The Northern Expedition had begun.
Even with their new status, many of the newly-made feudal lords were less than thrilled at the prospect of relocating to Ezo, essentially considered the end of the world by most Japanese at the time. In recognition of the expenses that they would have to assume, including the cost of hiring samurai retainers and carving their fiefs out of the northern wilderness, the shogunate gave these new lords “grants” of what amounted to start-up cash in addition to generous tax breaks and incentives (5). Yet despite the hardships associated with Ezo, it quickly became clear that the northern island was not without its compensations. For one, it was excellently situated for trade with the Manchu Empire, which continued to increase throughout the 1650s, and later on for Korea. However, what truly made the Ezo expansion viable and rescued what otherwise would have been a disastrous venture was the Southern Ming, and more precisely, the Hongguang Emperor’s infatuation with esoteric Daoism. For in the early 1650s, the latest and most popular ingredient demanded by the Emperor’s army of alchemist-sages (炼丹圣, liandan sheng) was bear bile, a traditional element of Chinese medicine and one that was thought to reduce harmful toxins, prolong life, and even act as an aphrodisiac. It was thus extremely fortunate that Ezo was renowned for the number of its bears, although it was less fortunate for those unlucky souls tasked as hunters that Ezo was also justly renowned for the ferocity of its bears. Indeed, the bear trade would prove to be so lucrative that in only a few short years, it was evident that a new supply of those animals that were worth their weight in gold would have to be found - and it was then that Japan headed north once more, to Karafuto (Sakhalin) and eventually to points beyond.
(1) In OTL the collapsing Southern Ming sent an informal mission or two to Japan asking for aid and were basically laughed out of town by the Shogunate, which correctly judged that the Ming were about to go under anyway and took the opportunity to sneer at their former rival. ITTL things are rather different . . .
(2) Contrary to what you may have heard from the contemporary historico-industrial complex, Japan wasn’t always totally bereft of natural resources. On the contrary, it was a large exporter of copper and silver in particular for centuries.
(3) In this context, it’s not without some irony that the literal translation of rounin is actually “man of the waves.”
(4) Although the Keian Uprising failed as it did OTL, ITTL it’s a much bigger deal and the response to the incident by the bakufu is correspondingly more of a, “Holy shit, we’ve got to do something serious!” reaction.
(5) Among these tax breaks is an exemption from sankin koutai, which is absolutely going to come back and bite the bakufu in the ass sometime in the future.
*I meant to deal with Korea in this update too, but got too caught up in talking about bear bile.
Excerpted from “The Rise and Fall and Rise and Fall of the Ming Dynasty,” by Humbert Nabokov.
- As the Ming establishment in Nanjing continued to sort itself into the ranks of the two opposing factions that dominated court life in the early and mid-1650s - the Confucian Wude, or Five Virtues, faction and the esoteric Daoist Neidan, or Internal Alchemy, faction - one of the most influential leaders of the Ming remained on the outside looking in. That man, of course, was Zheng Chenggong, the Great Barbarian-Subduing Admiral, Lord of Five Thousand Years. Although he did not fit neatly into the established hierarchy at court, in many ways Zheng exercised more personal power than any member of the Ming bureaucracy save for Chancellor Shi Kefa and the Hongguang Emperor themselves. In large part, this was due to his unique status as the sole commander of all Ming naval forces, a task which had fallen to him after his successful expulsion of the Dutch from Fort Zeelandia and his continued success in the campaigns of the Second Ming-Qing War against both the Manchus and Wu Sangui. While Shi Kefa had undertaken a comprehensive reorganization of the military establishment in the late 1640s, appointing many of the Ming “guardian generals,” who were warlords in all but name, to higher posts in order to move them away from their independent bases of power (1), and naming trusted subordinates to command battlefield armies in their stead, he had not acted to limit Zheng’s authority, judging (quite correctly) that Zheng’s loyalty to the Ming was unquestioned. Thus, though the Ming military establishment was no longer threatened by the specter of warlordism, Zheng’s star continued to rise. He ruled Taiwan virtually as a private fief, and he also exercised ultimate jurisdiction in several important port cities, including the northern port of Lushun and the southern port of Guangzhou. In that he possessed an independent base of power, Zheng’s unique status made him a kingmaker of sorts in the factional struggle that dominated life at court. For several years, he declined to get caught up in the internecine struggle; Zheng spent the vast majority of his time far away from court, mostly at Tainan, and he had little wish to get involved in the murky and difficult world of court politics.
This changed in 1655, when Zheng Chenggong returned to court for an extended period, ostensibly to participate in discussions regarding whether the Ming should intervene in the ongoing Lamaist War in Southeast Asia, and if so, what form the intervention should assume. It was during these discussions that Zheng was introduced to, and eventually formed a strong friendship with Method Man, formerly the Wu-Tang Clan’s chief strategist and now Vice-Secretary of the Board of War (2). Method Man, realizing the importance of Zheng in the factional conflict between Confucians and esoteric Daoists, did not miss the opportunity to present esoteric Daoism to Zheng in the most favorable light possible, constantly sending tracts to the rented villa where Zheng was staying as well as arranging for a parade of esoteric Daoist luminaries to drop by and pay a call on the Great Barbarian-Subduing Admiral. And if, during their visits, they happened to speak about the wonders of the Dao, then so much the better. It is unfortunate that none of Zheng’s personal papers or correspondence from this period has survived, to give us a sense of his thought process and frame of mind. We can only judge from his actions, and they indicate that by the end of 1655 Zheng considered himself a member of the esoteric Daoist camp beyond a shadow of a doubt. Archives from the Board of Personnel note that Zheng requested the transfer of several Alchemist-Sages from the Emperor’s workshops to his base of power on Taiwan, and further requested funds from the Board of Works in order to build Daoist temples in Tainan and Gaoxiong (2). The movement of Zheng into the esoteric Daoist camp shifted the balance of power, which had previously teetered precariously from one side to the other, firmly in the favor of the Internal Alchemy faction. Indeed, many scholars have argued that it was Zheng’s embrace of esoteric Daoism that gave the Hongguang Emperor the self-confidence and the conviction to more firmly challenge Shi Kefa, as he began to deliver more pointed rebukes to his right-hand man when the latter spoke out in disfavor of esoteric Daoism. In this climate, even more outré practices soon began to be the norm at court.
Excerpted from “Esoteric Daoism and the Southern Ming,” by Scheherazade Wang.
- Divination based on the 易經 (Yi Jing, or Book of Changes) (3) had been around for thousands of years. For virtually all of that time, divination had been almost wholly practiced by itinerant fortune-tellers, who mostly plied their trade in market towns and were patronized by the peasant masses. The elite almost universally frowned on divination, considering it peasant foolishness and believing that the future was determined as a result of one’s virtuous actions, not as a result of peering at some stalks of grain and deciphering meaning from them. Prior to the initial Ming collapse and the outbreak of war, several of the monks in the Wudang Temple complex had themselves practiced divination and fortune-telling; most notably, the Old Dirty Bastard and Raekwon were considered to be masters at interpreting the Yi Jing. Indeed, during their growth divination was used frequently by the Wu-Tang Clan, though on an informal and ad hoc basis. Doubtless the most famous instance of this came in the Battle of Luoyang in 1651, when Method Man’s forces were heavily outnumbered by Wu Sangui; Method Man cast the hexagrams for guidance, and interpreting the result to mean that he should attack, did so and won a famous victory despite the disparity in numbers. With the end of war and the entrance of numerous Wu-Tang adherents into the court bureaucracy, divination thus made its way to Nanjing, where it rather quickly caught the eye of the Hongguang Emperor. It is not hard to see why it appealed to the Emperor, who was famously indecisive and inconstant, often taking days to come to a decision and frequently contradicting himself numerous times in doing so. For a monarch who had trouble making decisions, divination was thus highly appealing, in that it enabled him to appeal to a higher authority for guidance and thus bypass the whole tiresome process of making decisions by himself. The increasing use of divination by bureaucrats affiliated with the Internal Alchemy faction of course infuriated their Confucian counterparts, who could not abide divination on general principles, and simply could not stand it when policy was made based on the Yi Jing.
Yet the Emperor’s love of divination assured it a place at court; indeed, he considered unilaterally declaring war on Wu Sangui’s Sultanate in 1654 on the advice of many in the Internal Alchemy faction, but was dissuaded after casting the hexagrams and receiving an unfavorable augury (Penetration changing to Waiting, which carries the strong implication that patience is the correct choice at this point in time). In organs of government that were dominated by esoteric Daoists and by the Internal Alchemy faction, divination based on the Yi Jing was common in the mid-1650s and was used by bureaucrats before making policy to ensure that the choice they had decided on was the correct one. At times, an ambiguous augury caused governmental gridlock, as was the case in 1655 when the Board of Works was considering a plan to enlarge and refurbish the road from Nanjing to Wuhan, only to cast the hexagrams and receive hexagram 13, “People Together,” changing to number 17, “Following,” which implied that following another’s initiative is the correct course. In this case, the Board of Works decided to scrap the road upgrade plan, on the hopes that someone else would begin to refurbish the Nanjing-Wuhan road and they could then follow that person’s initiative. At other times, conflicting auguries caused an equal amount of trouble; consider one case of 1654, when the Board of Punishments ruled against clemency for one Liu Han, a convicted murderer, after casting the hexagrams, only to receive a confused reply from the provincial magistrate who had himself originally granted clemency, saying that he had as well consulted the Yi Jing and had received a fortune that indicated clemency was the correct choice. It is likely that the wholesale embrace of divination on the part of the esoteric Daoist party at court would have caused a total rupture between the competing factions - Shi Kefa was in the process of preparing a memorial to the Emperor in which he denounced the Internal Alchemy faction and threatened to resign were the power of that faction not checked - but events forestalled that clash. For in 1656, the war that everyone had known was destined finally came to pass, and the Southern Ming put aside their internal differences for the time to focus on destroying their nemesis, Sultan Wu Sangui, once and for all.
(1) By appointing the “guardian generals” to prestigious and lucrative positions in Nanjing, he’s hoping to separate them from their armies and their fiefs and thus begin the process of cutting down on the warlordism that plagued the military establishment of the Southern Ming during its early years.
(2) Many members of the Wu-Tang Clan received government positions in the years after the Second Ming-Qing War, as part of the process by which the Wu-Tang Clan was subsumed into the apparatus of the Ming bureaucracy and more or less ceased to exist as an independent religious sect. Obviously, as one of the Nine Masters of the Clan, Method Man is assured an especially prestigious post.
(3) More commonly transliterated as the I Ching, but I love me some pinyin.
Excerpted from “A Crippled Phoenix: The Third Age of the Manchu Empire,” by Alice C. Tokmor.
- One of the factors that should not be overlooked when considering the Manchu resurgence after being forced from China proper is the vast amount of human capital they brought with them beyond the Great Wall. After what seemed to one and all to be the collapse of the Ming Dynasty in 1644 with the Manchu capture of Beijing, numerous Chinese scholar-officials and bureaucrats chose to cast their lots in with the new power, hoping either for personal advancement and gain or simply because they wished to be a part of a new and hopefully more virtuous dynasty than the one which had come before. Of course, events showed that the reports of the Ming death were greatly exaggerated, so to speak; this left those Chinese who had sworn allegiance to the Manchus in a difficult position. Taking service with Wu Sangui was completely out of the question for many of these elite officials, most of whom viewed him as a two-time traitor. However, attempting to rejoin the Ming was a course fraught with peril, as no sign had come from Nanjing to indicate that they would welcome those who had sworn allegiance with the Manchus back into the fold. It was thus that a large number of bureaucrats and officials, possibly numbering in the tens of thousands even, went north with the Manchus and continued serving that now somewhat diminished polity (1). Their aid and expertise proved to be invaluable in establishing a functioning state and a centralized apparatus of government; it is notable that despite being unceremoniously ejected from China, the language spoken at the Manchu court was Chinese, reflecting the influence of their Chinese advisors and statesmen (2). These bureaucrats, along with the rest of the Manchu court, settled at the capital of Shengjing in Liaoning, and devoted themselves in the ensuing years to restoring the fortunes of the Manchu Empire, also sometimes known as the Jin Dynasty or Later Jin Dynasty (金朝 or 后金朝, Jin chao or hou Jin chao) (3). The influence of the Chinese bureaucrats also no doubt played a large role in the Manchu Empire’s embrace of Confucianism as a guiding ideology in the years after being forced beyond the wall; this, combined with the Ming’s increasing embrace of esoteric Daoism, left most of the ethnic Chinese who had decamped to Shengjing with little doubt that they had indeed made the right choice.
In the early years of their retrenchment, one of the issues that weighed most heavily on the Shunzhi Emperor’s mind was the need to establish regional trade links. Unfortunately for the Manchus, the port of Lushun, at the tip of the Liaodong Peninsula, was under Ming control, having fallen to the armada of Zheng Chenggong during the Second Ming-Qing War. While Zheng’s steadily more desultory attempts to move north from Lushun were comprehensively defeated, his occupation of Lushun still deprived the Manchus of their most usable port. As a result of this, the Manchus decided to develop and expand the fishing village of Haishenwai (4) into their one and only major port town. In the early and mid-1650s the town expanded apace, with most of the trade being conducted with Japan, although Manchu-Japanese trade links did not truly begin to flourish until after Japan’s conscious decision to devote itself to developing its northern islands in 1652. Overland trade was essentially out of the question; the poor relations between the Manchus and both the Ming and Wu Sangui made that option a dead letter, as did the ongoing struggle between the Manchus and the Dzungar Khanate to their west. Although the Manchus retained the allegiance of the Eastern Tumens that were still under the sway of Ejei Khonggor, who had agreed to maintain his subsidiary position in return for titles and influence - indeed, he was on paper at least the second most important man in the Manchu Empire - the Western Tumens and the Four Oirats had largely been absorbed into the expanding Dzungar Khanate (5). While the Manchus maintained their expansive claims to suzerainty over all Mongolia, the Dzungars and their vassals were not terribly inclined to listen. Full-scale war between the two northern powers was averted, due largely to the fact that both sides had bigger fish to fry. The Dzungar focus was largely trained to the south, where Zhang Xianzhong and the State of Ba continued to menace them, and to the west and the encroachment of the Russian Empire. Meanwhile, the Manchu gaze was also largely trained south, on their nemeses the Ming Dynasty and Wu Sangui, and it was also turned increasingly to the north and east. The Russians were coming, and the Koreans, who had been forced into a tributary relationship in 1637, had decided that they no longer wanted any part of such an arrangement.
Excerpted from “Eastern Expansion of the Russian Empire,” by Elagabalus Nosworthy.
- The Russian Empire’s steady march east picked up speed in the mid-17th century, as the Czars drew ever closer to the elusive goal of reaching the Pacific Ocean. That goal was finally reached in the early 1640s, when Russia reached the Sea of Okhotsk, only to find that it was awfully cold and the prospects for agriculture, and indeed for establishing much of a permanent presence in the area, were virtually nil. In the late 1640s and early 1650s expeditions from Yakutsk began to move south, in the hopes of finding more fertile and promising land; the first one was headed by the Cossack Vasilii Poiarkov, and the second by his fellow Cossack Yerofei Khabarov, in 1644 and 1649 respectively. It was at this point, and especially during the Khabarov expedition and future forays, that the Russians ran straight into the Manchu Empire. The first clashes between the two powers came in the early 1650s, when Manchu forces attacked the Russian fortified encampment at Achansk, and ultimately left the field after a rather inconclusive battle. Further skirmishes between the two sides in the early 1650s left the Manchus increasingly concerned about their northern frontier; additional troops were deployed to patrol the wild area around the Amur River. For the Russians’ part, it was clear that any sustained action against the Manchus could not be successfully carried out without the presence of many more men at arms than they currently possessed in Siberia, or indeed anywhere east of the Urals. For the moment, the situation was one of tense stalemate (6).
Excerpted from “Korea Old and New,” by Zebulon Kim.
- After the Manchu defeat in the Second Ming-Qing War and their retreat beyond the Great Wall, Korea saw the opportunity to rid itself of the tributary state relationship with the Manchus imposed after the second Manchu invasion of Korea in 1637. King Hyojong, who had only recently returned from a stint as a hostage in Manchuria and had even more recently ascended to the throne, ordered his military advisors to explore plans for ridding Korea of Manchu domination, even going so far as to consider a northern expedition into Manchuria itself. However, when Korea did formally renounce their tributary state relationship with the Manchus in 1651, the strength of their arms proved to be less than the King had anticipated. Indeed, Korea was quickly forced on the defensive, as the Manchus adopted a policy of raiding northern Korea in force, striking quickly with highly mobile cavalry units and then retreating north. The resulting devastation in northern towns and villages caused an outcry among the common people. Yet in reality, the Manchu strategy was selected out of weakness rather than strength; they simply did not have the force necessary to attempt a third general invasion of Korea, and both sides realized it. King Hyojong dispatched additional troops to the north and abandoned any plans at going on the attack, instead attempting to more securely fortify the already mountainous and rugged border between Korea and Manchuria. His strategy, which was to more or less wait the Manchus out, bore fruit in 1654, when the Manchus, tired of sending their troops on meaningless sorties and fearing invasion by one of their many foes, agreed to discuss peace. The tributary state relationship between the two parties was formally dissolved, and for the first time in living memory, Korea was all on its own in the world (7).
(1) They really don’t have much of a choice in the matter ITTL, as they fear that, were they to attempt to rejoin the Ming, all they would receive was death in a gruesome and painful fashion. Anyway, the presence of so many experienced officials will really be a boon for the Manchus, though you probably didn’t need me to tell you that.
(2) Partly due to the influence of the bureaucrats, partly as a reminder that the Manchus haven’t dropped their claims on China, but mostly because I don’t know a word of Manchu and this will be much easier with names, places, etc.
(3) Shengjing is OTL Shenyang, and the Qing Dynasty name is largely dropped after the retreat from China, as the Manchus revert to the Jin Dynasty moniker that they adopted before getting all ambitious.
(4) Haishenwai is the old Chinese name for Vladivostok.
(5) I should admit that I really have no idea what this would look like on a map, so let’s keep things vague for the moment. Mongol history confuses the hell out of me, because there are about 80 different tribes or what have you, and it’s damned hard to figure out who lives where and who owes allegiance to whom.
(6) Obviously, the Manchus are weaker ITTL than OTL, but they’re also more likely to defend the north with much more vigor, as it’s really all they’ve got. So any Russian incursions will be treated very seriously. Originally I thought that Russia would do better in the Pacific ITTL, but now I’m leaning towards going the opposite way.
(7) I came to this decision after figuring that there’s no way that the Manchus could invade Korea. They have to deal with the threat of invasion - or at least the perceived threat of invasion - from the south (Ming), the west (Dzungars), and the north (Russians), and they’re just a few years removed from a rather enormous military reverse. On the other hand, Korea won’t be eager to jump back in bed with the Ming, given the latter’s tilt towards esoteric Daoism and away from Confucianism. So I think there’s room for an arrangement where the Manchus renounce their tributary state relationship with Korea, who in return promises not to re-enter a tributary relationship with the Ming, which they don’t want to do anyway. Thus, we have an autonomous Korea, although who knows what they’ll do with themselves.
Excerpted from “The Short and Tumultuous History of the State of Ba,” by Akiko Suzuki.
- From about the winter of 1653 onwards, it became clear to all those in Zhang Xianzhong’s court at Chengdu who had eyes and cared to see that the Hegemon-King’s health was in a state of decline. Zhang had never fully recovered from his failed attempt to summit Mount Zhumulangma more than five years ago, and as the years wore on he was afflicted with a persistent and racking cough; by 1654, he was unable to get out of bed for days at a time. Yet despite the Hegemon-King’s failing health, he strongly resisted pressure from the court to formally designate either of his adopted sons, Zhang Kewang or Zhang Dingguo, as his heir, believing that were he to do so the designee would almost immediately take over power in all but name. While Zhang’s gambit did indeed ensure him continued primacy, as both sons and their hangers-on vied for the favor of the king, the uncertainty engendered by such a maneuver made for a complex and shifting web of alliances at court. Bureaucrats, generals, and priests weighed the two sons against each other and lined up behind their favored candidate, hoping to win title and rank for themselves after the inevitable succession. Yet a considerable number of worthies held off on affiliating themselves with either Kewang or Dingguo. Some made this choice in the hopes that they could play one off against the other, while others chose this option because they distrusted the fitness of both men to lead the realm. As Sun Fo, the Archbishop of Chengdu, was said to have remarked, it was a shame that both men could not be combined into one, for their talents complemented each other neatly. Dingguo was impetuous, bold and martial, while Kewang’s talents lay in the more mundane - yet no less important - field of administration and bureaucracy; he was quiet, self-contained, and personally quite timid in nature. Though many distrusted the abilities of either man to lead in his own right, as 1654 gave way to 1655 and the Hegemon-King’s health continued to decline, it was clear to even the fence-sitters that the time had come to make a choice. It was the manner in which they chose to make this decision that garnered them substantial amounts of ridicule.
Sometime in the spring of 1655, a group of influential bureaucrats gathered at the home of Jiang Chunfeng, a high-ranking official in the Censorate. All of the men who were there remained undecided about whether to support Kewang or Dingguo, and given their indecision they decided to choose one of the two and throw their support to that one as a group. However, after several hours of discussion and sometimes heated argument, the group was no closer to achieving consensus than they had been when the meeting started. It was after reaching this impasse that an altogether unusual method of decision-making was settled on. Fully fifty bamboo slats, each with the name of either Kewang or Dingguo written on it, were placed on the floor; the men then sat down in a circle around the lots. At this point, one of the most junior members of the group, a certain Wang Peng, a junior bureaucrat in the Ministry of Works, was blindfolded. As the rest of the men locked arms, Wang stepped into the circle and yanked one of the bamboo slats from the pile; the group had agreed that whoever’s name was written on the slat that Wang pulled from the pile would be the one to whom the undecided officials would give their support to. More than anything else, this totally random method of decision illustrates the deep uncertainty and even distrust that many bureaucrats and officials felt towards both Kewang and Dingguo, neither of whom was perhaps terribly well-suited to fill his adoptive father’s rather large shoes. In any event, the entire exercise proved to be futile, as after the blindfolded Wang grabbed a slat with Kewang’s name written on it, numerous members of the group protested that he had been looking and that the process would have to be repeated. Others in the circle argued that they had all agreed to abide by the presumably random choice that Wang had made, and after more desultory argument the meeting broke up without a clear conclusion. Word of the shambolic proceedings quickly spread through the grapevine at court, however, and before long the members of the clique found themselves derided as “circle-jerkers” (团猛拉人, tuan mengla ren) (1), a reference to the process by which the group had hoped to reach consensus. While the court was caught up in these byzantine machinations, the actual affairs of government were proceeding rather less smoothly. On the infrequent occasions when Zhang Xianzhong felt healthy and lucid, he demanded that resources be poured into one or another of his increasingly extravagant and absurd obsessions, the latest of which was the construction of a machine that would tell him the meaning of life (2). Meanwhile, despite the conclusion of the Great Witch-Hunt, heresies still thrived in the State of Ba.
Excerpted from “The Heresiarch of Chonqing: A Biography of Hu Hefen,” by Jean-Paul Morimoto.
- Chongqing in the later years of the State of Ba was a city in ferment. The early programmes of Christianization had been applied with an unusually light hand, owing to the city’s status as being almost on the eastern border with Ming, and it was spared generalized upheaval in the Great Witch-Hunt for the same reason; the powers in Chengdu were loathe to provoke unrest in this important river port that was close to the edge of their domain (3). It was thus a cosmopolitan city, filled with dissenters, refugees, and idolaters of every conceivable make and model. Catholics mingled with unorthodox Christian sects, a thriving Muslim community flourished in Yuzhong District in the heart of the city, indigenous peoples from the former Yunnan fled to Chongqing in large numbers escaping persecution by Lamaist Gelugpa Buddhism in their homeland, and traditional Buddhism, Daoism and folk religions remained a vital part of everyday life. Chongqing was, in short, the perfect place for an arch-heretic to hide, and thus it was no surprise that the remains of the Rabbitist Christians fled there after the Great Witch Hunt’s bloody denouement in Leshan. They were led by the charismatic Hu Hefen, the younger son of a prominent Leshan landowner; his clique had been mockingly titled the “Playboy Bunnies” at home for their youth, strict adherence to Rabbitism, and rumors about their somewhat dissolute personal lives. Despite the name being intended as an insult, in Chongqing they clung to the moniker, perhaps because it simply reminded them of home. Those who had managed to escape the purges in Leshan and had chosen to follow Hu to Chongqing were a rather disparate and motley lot, numbering no more than perhaps fifty or sixty at the time of their arrival in the city sometime in the winter of 1649-50. They were far from monolithic when it came to class; while many were, like Hu himself, the sons of moderately prosperous landowners, equally as many of his followers had been impoverished peasants. The only thing that united these heretic refugees was their fierce and unyielding belief in Rabbitist Christianity. In one of the more improbable occurrences in history, a typo had sparked the creation of a new religious faith; persecution had sustained it.
After settling in Chongqing, the Playboy Bunnies immediately turned themselves to the task of proselytizing and covertly spreading their creed throughout the city. In the early 1650s, Hu claimed to have had a series of “revelations” from Jesus, all of which emphasized the place of rabbits in the Christian canon; for example, while the original translation of the Bible read that Zhou Dasi Apostle sold Jesus to the Western Barbarians for thirty taels, and the error-riddled copies distributed in Leshan read that Zhou Dasi Rabbit had sold Jesus to the Western Barbarians for thirty taels, in Hu’s new formulation, Zhou Dasi Rabbit had sold Jesus to the Western Barbarians for thirty carrots. Hu’s “revelations” and his increasingly overt attempts to establish a cult of personality around himself led to the splintering of the Rabbitists who had come to Leshan sometime in 1652, with a group that opposed Hu breaking off and casting themselves as “Orthodox Rabbitist Christians” (正宗兔子基督教者, zhengzong tuzi Jidujiaozhe) as opposed to Hu’s band of “Schismatic Rabbitist Christians” (分裂兔子基督教者, fenlie tuzi Jidujiaozhe). The splinter group, lacking a personage of Hu’s talents, quickly foundered, and many of them eventually returned to the fold. Meanwhile, Hu’s charisma and public speaking talents won the Rabbitists a not inconsiderable number of converts in the early 1650s. The Rabbitists also proved to be skilled pamphleteers, operating a rudimentary printing press which they used to crank out flyers espousing their beliefs. The flyers, printed on crude rice paper and folded once in the middle to hide their heretical content before being passed out, were ubiquitous enough that they became generally known in the city as “centerfolds” (中折册, zhongzhe ce). Of course, ubiquity inevitably leads to notoriety, and the growing profile of the Rabbitists meant that they could not but come to the attention of the municipal authorities. While the Chongqing authorities were, as noted earlier, more tolerant of heresies and religions other than Christianity than their counterparts in other cities, such a blatant perversion of the true faith could not help but draw their ire, and the Rabbitists soon found themselves under siege. Hu Hefen was given the title “Heresiarch of Chongqing” (重庆异端领导, Chongqing yiduan lingdao) and a price was put on his head. Yet the Rabbitists were not to be trapped so easily . . .
(1) This translation actually works on two levels, since 团 means both “group” and “circle.” Yes, I’m bragging about my translation of “circle-jerk” into Chinese. Deal with it.
(2) This creation will be unveiled in the next Ba post, whenever that may be. Of course, suggestions as to its nature are more than welcome.
(3) Essentially, no one is wild about spreading religious upheaval and social unrest in a vital city that’s rather inconveniently located fairly close to the border with the Ming, and as such would be not too difficult for them to retake were things to get out of hand.