Bloody shovel

Don't call it a spade


I hadn’t thought about it, but my last post on Whites converting to Islam has a somewhat similar theme to a very famous episode in Chinese history. It’s been a while since I write another Chinese history tale, and this is one of my favorites. So let’s talk about Wu Sangui 吳三桂.

The year is 1644. The Ming Dynasty is in ruins. It is actually in ruins; a peasant rebellion led by a man called Li Zicheng 李自成 has been ravishing the country for a decade, conquering and utterly destroying much of the central and western areas of the country. The rebel leader had already conquered the largest city in the west, Xi’an 西安, and had proclaimed himself as the king of the Shun 順 Dynasty. The Shun army raced from Xi’An up through the province of Shanxi 山西, where most of the cities openly surrendered to him without bloodshed. In no time he crossed the western passes close to Beijing, and on May 26, the capital fell. The emperor of the Ming Dynasty stabbed his wives and daughters with his own hand, and then hanged himself on a nearby hill.

A resistance had formed in the south, where several imperial princes were proclaimed as emperors in different provinces. The north though was completely in control of the rebels of the Shun Dynasty. They felt safe, and spent 10 days sacking Beijing, raping the wives and daughters of the mandarins and merchants, and torturing them to extort untold quantities of gold and silver. Then one advisor to the rebel army came with news: we haven’t completely conquered the north. There is still Wu Sangui.

Most maps you can see of the Ming Dynasty are complete bullshit, because they throw in every place where the Ming ever had a garrison during its 270 years of life. And this guys had lots of garrisons around at first, but they soon abandoned most of them. For all purposes, the effective northern borders of the Ming Dynasty were the Great Wall, which they built. Here’s an accurate map of the north.


By this time, May 1644, mostly everything south of the wall and north of Yang-tze river has fallen to the Shun rebels, and most Ming generals in the area had surrendered and joined the fun. All except the most important. You’ll see in this map that there’s a weird discontinuous piece of wall up in the Northeast. That’s Liaodong 遼東. That used to be firm Ming territory, settled with Han farmers, but since the 1600s a nearby tribal people, the Manchus (Jurchens back then) had built a very strong state, and conquered most of the Ming settlements in the area. The Manchus were extremely good fighters, they had managed to beat the Mongols and put them in their army, and had been raiding inside China for decades, doing massive damage. By 1644 there was only one fortress left in Liaodong, the castle of Ningyuan 寧遠. And Wu Sangui was its commander.

Weeks before Beijing fell to the rebels, the Ming emperor had sent an edict to Wu Sangui, ordering him to abandon the fortress and come with his troops to defend the capital. He was actually on his way, not far from Beijing, when the city fell and the emperor killed himself. Unsure what to do, Wu Sangui got his army and moved back to the Northeast, and set camp at Shanhaiguan 山海關, the last fortress of the continuous Great Wall, where the wall meets the sea. The fortress was very strong, and he decided to hold up there.

Soon the rebels having fun at Beijing decided that all Ming generals had surrendered, surely this one would surrender too. What is he going to do, fight us? The conquerors of the capital? Good luck with that. The rebels soon found that Wu Sangui’s family was all in Beijing, 38 persons in all, led by his father, who had been chief of the capital’s garrison at the time. They… persuaded the man to write a letter to his son, saying how virtuous and sagely the rebels were, that the game was over, and his duty as a filial son was to obey and surrender to the rebels. He’ll be given a title of nobility and treated with all the honor he deserves.

The letter gets to the fortress, alongside shitloads of gold and silver for his soldiers. Wu Sangui sees that this is a pretty good deal, gets his army and marches towards Beijing in order to formally surrender to his new lord. On his second journey to Beijing in a few days, he suddenly bumps into two servants of his household. “What are you doing here?”

﹣Oh you have no idea, young lord.
– What happened? How is my father?
– They got him, my lord.
– Who got him? What happened to him?
– One rebel general came to father, and asked him for your concubine, Chen Yuan. Your father refused, said she wasn’t there, that she was with you, but they refused to believe, and they tortured him. They tortured all of us, it was awful, only we two were able to escape. Father Lord was tortured so badly that he’s likely to be dead by now. You should prepare yourself, young master.

Not good. Not good at all. These rebel bastards were scamming him. They didn’t want him to surrender and join their army as a general. No, they wanted to lure him to the capital to kill him and get rid of a problem. That they didn’t wait to steal my women and torture my father is proof that nothing good expected him at Beijing. Oh, this won’t do. Wu Sangui again got his army and led them back to the Great Wall fortress.

What could he do, though. His army was perhaps the best in the empire. Tough, hardly men from the Northeast frontier, seasoned by constant war with the fierce Manchus. He had a sizable army, but could he beat the rebels? All of them? Soon he heard that Li Zicheng, the rebel emperor himself was personally leading a 100k strong army to kill him. And behind his back, on the other side of the Great Wall, Dorgon, the effective king of the Manchus had departed from their capital with two thirds of the fierce Manchu army. He obviously knew that his Chinese enemies had collapsed and he wanted part of the fun.

So there he is, our famed general, holding the strongest fortress on the Chinese empire, facing a 100,000 rebel army on his front, and another 100,000 army of Manchu riders on his back. What can he do now? The Manchus are on his back. His uncle are with them; he was captured years ago, and had surrendered to the Manchus. He was now a very high status nobleman in the Manchu state, and he sent letters to his nephew to surrender. These are good people too, manly, virtuous, just men, not like the corrupt and decadent mandarins who used to rule over us. You cannot trust them, nephew. They maybe Chinese like you and us, share our culture and language. But they are evil, false men, and you know that. Join the Manchu army, they know of you, admire your martial skills, they’ll make you into a prince and give you untold riches and honor.

The rebel leader though has brought Wu Sangui’s father with him. He tells him it has all been a misunderstanding. One of the top rebel generals got a bit carried away. But the Shun emperor guarantees his safety, and he seems to mean it. He calls him to fulfill his duty towards his father and his country. The Mandate of Heaven has changed, the Shun now has it. His duty as a general is to follow him, and start a new glorious dynasty. Once the old corrupt mandarins of the Ming Dynasty are dealt with, the new, vigorous armies of the Chinese nation will come back north, where he can take part on the glorious retaking of the Northeast from the evil barbarians. Do the right thing, general. Your family and your nation need you.

Guess what he did? 2 days later his father alongside the 38 members of his family were killed. 2 days later he was made a prince. The Manchus ruled China until 1911.



17 responses to “Choices

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  3. Karl February 5, 2016 at 20:21

    This post and your last post are connected. I can see the parallel between converting to Islam and Wu Sangui joing the Manchu. The timing seems an important Point. Wu Sangui joined the Manchu at the very latest. At that time his options where very limited and he had to make a decision. The situation in Europe is not yet that dire. I understand your point about the benefits, but don’t quite see why a man might not simply wait another 5 years.

    Although I’m very pessimistic about Europe future and agree that an Islamic Europe is likely, I don’t think it’s certain.

    I think that a civil war in Europe is quite possible. An ethnic and/or religious minority can be purged. I happend (locally) in former Jugoslavia and I believe that the Serbs and Croats would have been much more thorough if NATO had not intervened. Whether the USA or any other European Country will be able to something similar in a European country in 5 or 10 year seems doubtful. Keep in mind that there have once been 6 million jews in Germany. Intelligent, law-abiding, tax paying people. Now there are 5 million or so muslims. History suggests that this is not irreversible.

    Even the low fertility of Europe might be reversed without mass conversions. I have read recently that in Russia fertility has been for the last two years above replacement level (among non-muslim Europeans – sorry I have no citation for that). Russion Society is, of course, much less progressive than western Europe, but even so it’s a start and a sign of hope.

    Another point is that families choose the number of childer according to they (esoecially the woman) considers to be the socially accepted or expected nor. In Germany, 2 children are socially OK, three are unusual. 4 or more and the family stands out. Now the government is forcing all Germans to have lots of Muslims in their immediate neighborhood. People will get used to large families. It might even become prestigious amongst Europeans like it is amongst Arabs. Of course, that won’t increase the fraction of women who have families, but those who do might have more children.

    So what are the reasons for converting now? I guess for a woman approaching the wall it’s to have any family at all. Better an illiterate foreign man than no man at all. For a man the main benefit that I see is protection from divorce rape. European law varies a lot, but prenuptial agreements offer some protection. A protection (however weak or strong it might be) most men (in my experience) are not using. Any other benefits should still be available by converting in 5 or even 10 years.

    You mentioned that converting would offer protection from the progressive state religion. Maybe so, but at least in German it would presently be rather limited. Sure the Courts treat muslims much more softly than native Europeans, but the legal reason is (mostly) that they are immigrats who grew up in a different culture and therefore cant be held to the same standarts as Europeans. The other reason is that they often have large clans willing and able to intimidate judges, prosecuters and witnesses. Coverting won’t give a European those benefits.

    • spandrell February 6, 2016 at 05:10

      A better example might be Fan Wencheng. He joined the Manchus in 1618, voluntarily, when the Manchus weren’t even doing so well. He was their foremost minister for decades, and one of the architects of the conquest of China proper. He did very, very well.

      Wu Sangui ended up rebelling and having his whole family destroyed, so there’s that.

  4. Duke of Qin February 5, 2016 at 20:21

    Probably the worst decision ever made since Vortigern decided inviting Hengist and Horsa over to fight against his fellow Britons was a smashing idea.

    It saw China plunged into a barbaric dark age from which it has yet to recover. It’s civilization stained by nomadic filth. The idea of Chinese “stagnation” is false, what actually happened was degeneration. China during the late Ming was as prosperous as Europe at the time only to see everything wither and die under the Manchu yolk. The average Chinese was 2/3’s wealthier in 1600 than they were in 1900.

    The historians who write grandly of a so-called Qing “Golden Age” are odious fork tongued liars and propagandists, usually shameless Communist lickspittles both Chinese and Western. The Chinese historians who advocate such are cowardly quislings who believe in the great lie of “multiracial” China and think the root of all of China’s problems begin in the 19th century. The Western historians are simple nihilists in the same vein as those champions of so-called Islamic “civilization” and other primitive peoples who have spent their entire academic careers turning black white.

    Wu Sangui is a race traitor. The capitulation you advocate will be worse for you in the long term than you can imagine.

    • spandrell February 6, 2016 at 05:05

      Keep telling yourself that. If the Qing were so bad and the Ming so awesome, you can still give back all the territory out of China proper that the Manchus conquered for you. You should break your skull kowtowing to thank the Manchus that they conquered the Mongols and Dzungars so you could have some coal and oil.

      You are not a historian, read some more on the Ming. It sucked. Not that the Qing were that great, but the Ming sucked very, very badly. That 100k Manchus were able to conquer the whole thing says a lot about what kind of laughable mess the Ming Dynasty was.

      Note that Dorgon didn’t need Wu Sangui to open the gates. The Manchus had entered China 5 times already and they could’ve come back again and conquer without a problem. Wu Sangui just made it marginally easier.

      • Silenus February 6, 2016 at 08:33

        Reviewing multi-generational dynasties is stupid. How do you generalize that the Ming sucked any more than the Qing? With Chinese dynasties, who are you blaming exactly? The family in power? The individual emperors who happened to live and rule at the time? The culture of power that develops? All of that could vary greatly within any dynasty that lasts longer than a century.

        • spandrell February 6, 2016 at 15:57

          Well, to the extent that you can do a comparison, the Qing had vastly more territory, more political stability, 4 times the population, etc.

          As to who to blame, well of course the game is everybody blaming everyone else. The question is that since the 20th century, the mainstream current of Chinese intellectuals have blamed the Manchus for fact that Europe surpassed China in technology and used it to beat China militarily. Apparently if the Ming dynasty had continued, none of that would have happened. The godly Han race would’ve had an Industrial Revolution and used its might to kick whitey’s ass, if only those perfid Manchus hadn’t oppressed the Chinese so much.

          If anything I’d blame the Manchus for pulling off the conquest of the whole country plus the whole of Mongolia. Li Zicheng wouldn’t have been able to hold the whole country, and a divided China might have had the right incentives to introduce European technology faster.

          • Silenus February 6, 2016 at 21:01

            I think both the Ming and the Qing were perfectly great dynasties that did much to advance China as a civilization and as a polity. Quantitative analysis between the two needs to be couched by the fact that the Qing existed centuries after the height of the Ming, and so benefited from the technological and economical advances that came later. The Yuan was also pretty good.

            I just think that you bashing the Ming as a response to revisionist history that bashes the Qing are both wrongheaded, because dynasties that span centuries are very difficult to compare and cannot simply be ranked, as if in a listicle.

          • anon January 14, 2017 at 14:56

            If the Mongols hadn’t invaded, China might have had the industrial revolution in the Song dynasty.

            “The Song dynasty saw intensive industry in steel production, and coal mining. No other premodern state advanced as nearly as starting an industrial revolution than the Southern Song.” See: Bulliet & Crossley & Headrick & Hirsch & Johnson 2014

      • maopai February 6, 2016 at 09:20

        Manchus won only due to internal chaos in China. No part of China belongs Manchus. They should all go back to Siberia.

      • Duke of Qin February 6, 2016 at 15:56

        The land that China controls today isn’t the legacy of the Manchus, but rather Communist force of arms. There was no bequeathed land and armies alas the British Raj to modern India. Every inch of it had to be recontested.

        You also completely avoided my point. Even by the early 17th century collapse period of the Ming State, the Chinese were still more prosperous than nearly 3 centuries later by a significant amount. You cannot refute that. Shit they were actually still wealthier than Japan at around the time of the Meiji restoration. This was the result of the “Not great” qing rule compared to the “terrible” Ming.

        Even worse of all, the degenerate Manchus fostered among the Chinese the insipid multiracial imperial ideology that they used to legitimize rule over subject peoples that now tolerates barbarians in a Chinese state. The presence of thieving Uyghur and Tibetan gypsies in China’s cities is a result of this. Yet most Chinese foolishly regard them as “colorful” natives and an examples of Chinas greatness and “diversity” than as alien threats that need to be done away with.

        I would rather have a China that is 99% Han and territorially reduced to its Ming core if it meant that China were as prosperous today as South Korea or Taiwan.

        • spandrell February 6, 2016 at 16:12

          Dude. China in 1900 had 4 times the population of 1600. That average living standards where 2/3s is pretty neat. Japanese population and living standards didn’t improve much at all during that time frame.

          Chinese communists were able to reconquer Xinjiang, Tibet and Inner Mongolia because those regions had had a Chinese presence for 200 years thanks to the Manchu conquest. If the Manchus hadn’t conquered it, the Russians or British would have ages ago. No chance of China having access to those natural resources.

          Now you seem to think that China would be richer without Mongolian minerals. Why don’t you give them back?

          I agree that thieving Uyghurs and Tibetans are a blight in Chinese cities, but you can’t blame the Qing for that. The Qing had no multiracial imperial ideology; certainly nothing that the vast majority of Han people gave a shit about. Communist ideology comes from Lenin. Blame him for Chinese nationality policy. All the Manchus did was kick Mongol ass so that Chinese peasants in Gansu and Shanxi could live in peace.

          You obviously have no idea about what you’re talking. Chinese anti-nationalism comes from Communism. The Qing had no ideology besides Confucianism, and the Manchu people as a whole had completely sinicized by the 1750s. That the Ming could have developed to British is laughable. Read a book. If you want to blame foreigners for the plight of your people blame the Russians. They brought you Communism.

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