Wu Sangui (Chinese: 吳三桂; pinyin: Wú Sānguì; Wade–Giles: Wu San-kuei; courtesy name Changbai (長白) or Changbo (長伯); 1612 – 2 October 1678) was a Chinese military general who was instrumental in the fall of the Ming Dynasty and the establishment of the Qing Dynasty in 1644. Considered by traditional scholars as a traitor to both Ming, and ultimately, Qing, Wu in 1678 declared himself Emperor of China and ruler of the "Great Zhou", but his revolt was eventually quelled by the Kangxi Emperor of the Qing Dynasty.
Wu was born in Gaoyou, Jiangsu province to Wu Xiang and Lady Zu. His ancestral home was Gaoyou, Jiangsu. In 1627, the Chongzhen Emperor decided to restart the imperial examination system on his accession to the throne, and Wu Sangui successfully got the military first-degree scholars at his age of fifteen.
Wu Xiang, father of Wu Sangui, was brother in law of Zu Dashou who was a prominent general in the Ming Dynasty. Wu Xiang was also a general in the Guan Ning Iron Cavalry ruled by Zu, which made him an inseparable role in the Zu clan.The Zu clan is the distinguished military family in Liao Dong as generals in Ming Dynasty from generation to generation. The Zu clan is particularly prominent when it comes to Zu Dashou.
With this special kind of nepotism, within less than 10 years after Wu Xiang starting his political career, namely, in the year of 1631, he rose to the rank of full general (Zong Bing). As a senior military general, Wu ruled over ten thousand troops, and meantime the Wu clan members also made political officials one after another. The Wu clan was developing into a military force that cannot be ignored.
Like the Zu clan, the Wu clan could also be called a military family. Wu Xiang had three sons, the eldest son Wu Sanfeng, the second Wu Sangui and the third Wu Sanfu. The three brothers, joined the army successively following the lead of their father, and served as generals garrisoning the Daling River and Ningyuan in the army of Zu Dashou. In addition, Wu Xiang himself had 3,000 fearless and valiant servants.
Wu Sangui's father and uncle fought in the battlefield day after day. Under the influence of that, Wu was shaped and polished by war in early age and thus he began to pay attention to change of war and the current situation.
In his early years, Wu Sangui was a student of Dong Qichang. Dong, born in Huaning, was a master of literature in the Ming dynasty, exquisite in poetry, calligraphy and painting, serving as Minister of Rituals with high prestige. It was the basic Confucian education that cultivated Wu Sangui's scholarliness, his 'imposing' appearance, and 'resourceful' way of thinking.
In 1630, Wu Xiang was circled by Manchus troop when he was out gathering information about the enemy. Wu Sangui applied to Zu Dashou, his maternal uncle, for a fight with the Manchu troop to rescue his father, but denied. So Wu Sangui chose 20 from his personal soldiers for the rescue by himself. The Manchus troop was bewildered by the Ming Army of only 20 people, which gave Wu Sangui the chance to shoot and took the head of the general of the Manchus troop. After joining forces with his father, they broke through and got back to the Ming Army. Zu Dashou came out of town to welcome them, and applied to the higher authorities for Wu Sangui's promotion. Wu Sangui was promoted to a guerrilla general for the credit, and he was no more than 20 years old by then.
In 1632, the Ming Court transferred the Liaodong army to Shandong, aiming to pacify the rebel armies of Kong Youde. Wu Sangui, who was just 21 years old at that time, served as a guerrilla general, fought side by side with his father Wu Xiang. In 1634, Wu Sangui rose to the rank of deputy general and was promoted as full general in September. In the September of 1638, Wu served as deputy general again.
At the beginning of 1639, as the situation in Liaodong became increasingly tense, the Ming Court transferred general Hong Chengchou to be the governor general (Zong Du) of Jiliao. Hong appointed Wu Sangui to be the general in charge of training, who was just a deputy general at that time.
In October 1639, the Qing army, more than 10,000 of them, mounted the raids towards Ningyuan under the guidance of Duoduo and Haoge. Jin Guofeng, full general of Ningyuan, immediately led the troops to confront Qing army head on, but Jin was surrounded and killed by the Qing army at last due to lacking backup. Thus, Wu Sangui took Jin's place as the full general of Ningyuan, and became a guardian general in the forefront of Liaodong.
In his youth, Wu Sangui was not only a valiant general, but also a born commander. Right after Wu served as full general in Ningyuan, he trained the local army to be the strongest among all the towns in Liaodong. At that time, Ningyuan town stationed a total of 20,000 military forces. In order to enhance the combat power of the army, Wu selected a 1,000 eminent soldiers to consist a pioneer battalion fearing no sacrifices. The pioneer battalion was trained and commanded by Wu himself, which basically made these thousand men bodyguards of Wu Sangui. They risked their lives and came to Wu's call at any time, through life and death. They were the core of the 20,000 troops in Ningyuan. It is this special formation and training that laid the foundation for Wu Sangui's military achievement in the days to come.
In March 1640, Hong Taiji appointed Jirgalang and Duoduo as left and right commander, respectively, marching towards the north of Jinzhou. They reestablished Yizhou, garrisoned the troops, opened up wasteland, grew food grain and forbade any cultivation in Ningjin area outside Shanhai Pass, aiming to siege Jinzhou step by step.
On May 18, 1640, Wu Sangui met with the first encounter battle with the Qing army in Xingshan. Jirgalang was leading 1,500 soldiers to accept the surrender of the Mongolian people, but they were spotted by the general Liu Zhaoji when passing the garrison of the Ming army. Liu Zhaoji led 3,000 soldiers against the Qing army. At that time Wu Sangui was stationed in Songshan. Wu brought 3,000 military force the moment he heard the news. Also from Jinzhou, Zu Dashou sent more than 700 soldiers as backup. At first, the Ming army was more powerful with superior numbers in military force. But after the pursuit to Jiamashan, the Qing army was able to take advantage of their field operation ability and as a result, Wu Sangui was surrounded.
Valiant as Wu Sangui was, he was not able to withstand the repeated attacks from both Jirgalang and Duoduo. He fought a bloody battle with the Qing army, but he just couldn't break through the siege until Liu Zhaoji came to rescue. The Ming army casualties were more than 1,000, with deputy general Yanglun and Zhou Yanzhou dead, but Wu Sangui's braveness was still praised.
On April 25, 1641, the battle of Songjin broke out and the Ming army first began to strike. Wu Sangui led the strike himself and killed 10 enemies, defeating the attack of the Qing cavalry. After the battle, Wu Sangui ranked first in contributions among all the generals.
In June 1641, Hong Chengchou, together with Wu Sangui, returned to Songshan and garrisoned in the northwest area. Prince Zheng Jirgalang raised several strikes, but was defeated repeatedly. The Ming army succeeded to surround the Qing army four times. Though the Qing army finally broke through the encirclement, the casualties were very high. Because of Wu Sangui's bravery, Ming army is in an active position. However, the Ming army itself also paid a heavy price in spite of the fact that they repeatedly frustrated the Qing army's invasion towards Songshan and Xinshan.
On August 20, 1641, the Ming army attacked the Qing army camp. The battle of the two sides last the whole day, but the result was too close to call. However, Prince Ajige, unexpectedly captured the army provision in Bijia Mountain, which greatly undermined the stability of the Ming army. The battle continued on August 21, but it was still unfavorable to the Ming army.
On August 9, 1641, Datong full general Wang Pu lost will to fight after a defeat. The moment the military meeting was over, before general Hong Chengchou gave orders, Wang fled with his troops, which completely disrupted the original break through plan. More surprisingly, Wu Sangui also fled in this chaotic break through. In contrast to his brave and valiant figure all along, Wu almost escaped at Wang's heel. At such a life or death moment, Wu revealed his selfish personality.
As the Ming army lost the combat power, the Qing army began pursue. In a matter of a few days, more than 53,000 people and 7,400 horses of the Ming army were killed in this battle, where they had no way to flee and no will to fight. Only 30,000 people fled back to Ningyuan.
Wu Sangui was the lucky one in the defeated army. It's not just that he was following Wang Pu closely in the first place, but also because he had a good retreat plan. When Hong Chengchou ordered to break through, Wu Sangui went back to his camp and discussed the strategy with his generals immediately. Finally they decided to give up the small path, but fled back on the main road. As expected, the Qing army had only cut off the small path, while on the main road there were only Hong Taiji and his military troop with no more than 400 soldiers. Even worse, there were few generals at side. Seeing Wu Sangui charging fiercely, Hong Taiji demanded the army not to pursue. Even so, Hong thought highly of Wu, and considered him as the key to conquer the dynasty.
The breakthrough of Songshan caused the death of 52,000 members of the Ming elite army, which had greatly wounded the Ming dynasty. Wu Sangui, Wang Pu and any other generals who survived the battle couldn't escape the fate of being punished for fleeing and avoiding combat. Wu and Wang, particularly, just got themselves sentence to death for violation against national law, due to their escape.
However, only a few days later, Wu Sangui, who had just fled back to Ningyuan, received the imperial decree of Chongzhen emperor. Surprisingly, Wu Sangui was promoted and ranked above all the full generals. That is, Wu wasn't punished even if he committed a crime, which was beyond comprehension for a large number of government officials. Even more surprising was the fact that, months later, when someone in the court called for an investigation into the responsibility of Songshan defeat, only Wang Pu was arrested, while Wu Sangui still served as governor general of Liaodong and garrisoned in Ningyuan. To this end, the results caused a public outcry in the Ming court.
In May 1642, the result of the Ming court's reexamination was death penalty to Wang Pu, and three levels demotion in rank to Wu Sangui. Wu served as full general in Ningyuan and was in charge of the training of the Liaodong army. Apparently, Wu Sangui got a light sentence.
By February 1642, the Ming Dynasty had lost 4 of the 8 vital cities beyond the Shanhaiguan Pass to the Manchu army. Ningyuan, where Wu Sangui stationed, became the last defence for Beijing against the Manchu army. Hong Taiji repeatedly attempted to persuade Wu Sangui to surrender to no avail. Wu Sangui did not side with the Qing Dynasty until after the defensive capability of the Ming Dynasty had been greatly weakened with its political apparatus destroyed by the rebel armies of Li Zicheng's Shun dynasty. In early 1644, Li Zicheng, the head of a peasant rebel army, launched his force from Xi'an for his final offensive northeast toward capital Beijing. The Chongzhen Emperor finally decided to abandon Ningyuan and call on Wu Sangui to return to Beijing in defense against the rebel army. Wu Sangui received the title Pingxi Bo (平西伯，translated as "Prince Who Pacifies the West") as he moved to face the peasant army.
At the time of Beijing's fall to Li Zicheng on 25 April 1644, Wu Sangui was in command of the largest fighting force under the Ming in northern China. Wu Sangui and his 40,000-man strong army were on the way to Beijing to come to the Chongzhen Emperor's aid but had received word of the emperor's suicide, so they garrisoned the Shanhai Pass, the eastern terminus of the main Great Wall instead. He and his men were now caught between the rebels within the Great Wall and the Manchus without.
After the collapse of the Ming dynasty, Wu Sangui and his army became a vital military force in deciding the fate of China. Both Dorgon and Li Zicheng tried to gain support from Wu Sangui. Li Zicheng took a number of measures to secure his surrender, granting silver and gold, dukedom, and most crucially by capturing Wu's father Wu Xiang, and ordered the latter to write a letter persuading Wu Sangui to pledge allegiance to Li.
At first, Wu Sangui tended to surrender to Li Zicheng. But when he heard the predatory behavior of Li's army and the bad situation of his father Wu Xiang, he changed the idea. On the contrary, he killed Li's envoy. To save the life of his family, he wrote back to his father to scold for his disloyalty, and claim to break the relation with his father. Furthermore, he sent several generals to pretend to pledge allegiance to Li. But he knew that his force alone was insufficient to fight Li Zicheng's main army. He wrote to Dorgon for military support under the condition of separate dominance of Ming and Manchus in southern and northern China, claiming to resume the Ming Dynasty. The Manchu prince-regent Dorgon determined that this was the opportunity to claim the Mandate of Heaven for the Qing. Dorgon made clear in his reply that the Manchus would help Wu Sangui, but Wu would have to submit to the Qing. Wu did not accept at first.
Li Zicheng misjudged the intention of Wu, missed the good chance of attacking Shanhai Pass. However, Dorgon has arrived the Pass during this time. On April 21th, Li Zicheng arrived at Shanhai Pass, and began the fight to take the city. Wu Sangui lost his battle with [Li Zicheng, and next day he wrote to Dorgon for help again. Dorgon thus took the opportunity to forced Wu Sangui to surrender under the critical situation. Wu had little choice but to accept On 22 April 1644, Wu opened the gates of the Great Wall of China at Shanhai Pass to let Qing forces into China proper, forming an alliance with the Manchus. Wu ordered his soldiers to wear a white cloth attached to their armor, to distinguish them from Li Zicheng's forces. Together, Wu's army and the Qing forces defeated the Shun rebels. Having defeated Li's main army, the Qing marched into Beijing unopposed and enthroned the young Shunzhi Emperor in the Forbidden City. Since then, Wu Sangui paid allegiance to the Qing dynasty.
Li Zicheng held a grudge against Wu for his faithlessness, so he executed thirty-eight members of the Wu household, including Wu's father, whose head was displayed from the city wall. Enraged, Wu Sangui hardened his resolve to resist the new Shun regime, and twice defeated the Shun vanguard led by Tang Tong on May 3 and May 10, In the June of 1645, Wu Sangui captured Yulin and Yan'an, at the same time Li Zicheng was killed by local head of village in Tongshan county, Hubei Province.
Wu Sangui surrendered to the Qing dynasty and received the title of Pingxi Wang, but as surrender, he was very anxious, for the fear of being suspected by the Qing dynasty was always haunting him.
In October 1644, Wu Sangui received orders to suppress the peasant army. At that time, Li Zicheng still held Shanxi, Hubei, Henan and other areas resurrecting his troops to rise up again. Wu Sangui, together with Shang Kexi, led the troops to Shanxi against the rebellion army under the guidance of Ajige, General of Jingyuan appointed by the prince regent Dorgon. From October to the following early August when he returned to Beijing, Wu Sangui fought on the front lines against the peasant army, and achieved great success.
In 1645, the Qing court rewarded Wu Sangui the title of Qin Wang (Prince) and ordered him to garrison Jinzhou. The title Qin Wang means that he was in high position. However, it also showed a sense of restraint from the court in transferring Wu to Jinzhou, because after the Qing army entering Shanhai Pass, Jinzhou has lost its position as an important military town, but became an insignificant military rear. Moreover, along with the large number of Manchu and Han people migrating into the central China, it had been sparsely populated and desolate around Jinzhou. Hence Wu Sangui felt perplexed and upset.
On August 19, 1645, before Wu Sangui returning to Liaodong from Beijing, he submitted his request to the Qing imperial court to take off his title as Qin Wang (Prince). Wu Sangui used the skill of retreating in order to advance in resigning from the title. After giving up his title, he began to make efforts to consolidate his strength by demanding troops, territory, compensation and reward for generals under his command, which were all granted by the Qing imperial court.
In July 1646, when Wu Sangui was summoned by the emperor, the Qing court granted him a total of 10 horses and 20,000 silver as extra reward, but he wasn't pleased at all. That's because while army of Kong Youde, Geng Jingzhong and Shang Kexi had been fighting against the South Ming Dynasty in Hunan and Guangxi since 1646, Wu had been set aside for three years since he returned to Jinzhou in 1645.
In 1648, the rebellion against the Qing Dynasty affecting the whole country reached its climax. In the western battlefield, Jiang Xiang, the full general of Datong, waged rebellion in Shanxi, while in the south Jin Shenghuan and Li Chengdong also rebelled in Nanchang and Guangzhou, which caused a dramatic change in military situation.
The rebellion from the Han surrendered generals greatly shocked the Qing Dynasty rulers. They came to realize the significant role of these surrendered generals to the control of central China, as well as importance of the strategy 'utilizing Han to rule Han'. Thus, Wu Sangui thrived again in this situation.
At the beginning of 1648, the Qing imperial court ordered Wu Sanzhu to move his family west, and garrisoned Hanzhong as Pingxi Wang with Chief General (Du Tong) of the Eight Banners Moergen and Li Weihan. In less than one year, Wu Sangui pacified the rebellion in most regions of Shanxi and reversed the situation in the northwest. After that, Wu Sangui still kept winning and charged at the head of the troop in every battle, proving his loyalty to the Qing Dynasty by his actions. After four years of hard struggle, peace finally came to Shaanxi province. Wu was praised for his contribution by the Qing imperial court and that became the starting point of his rise in status.
In 1652, Daxi army became the main force rebelling against the Qing Dynasty. The situation was severe that general Kong Youde and Ni Kan died while Li Dingguo and Liu Wenxiu's troop marched into Sichuan. It was only at this time, the Qing imperial court summoned Wu Sangui to suppress the Daxi rebellion army in Sichuan. However, unlike the Southern campaign army, such as Kong Youde, Wu Sangui was being watched by general Li Guohan, a trusted follower of the imperial court. Wu wasn't able to free himself from surveillance until a few years later when Li Guohan died in the army. Hence, Wu Sangui enhanced his military strength rapidly through a large number of surrender from the enemies.
In 1660, the Qing army, split into three parts, marched into Yunnan province and eliminated the South Ming Dynasty, which achieved the preliminary unification of the mainland. Nevertheless, the imperial court still faced a number of serious military and political threats. Yongli Emperor of South Ming Dynasty and Li Dingguo of the Daxi army retreated to Burma, and they still kept certain influence in Yunnan. It was inconvenient for the Eight Banners soldiers to garrison the Yunnan Guizhou border area, for it was extremely far away from the capital. As a result, out of frustration, the imperial court could only approve the proposal by Hong Chengchou to withdraw the soldiers, and keep Wu Sangui garrisoning the border, and give him the corresponding power. Therefore, Wu Sangui not only owned a huge army, but also controlled the vast territory.
In 1661, the green-flag army under the jurisdiction of Wu Sangui numbered 60,000, while only 7,500 by Shang Kexi, and 7,000 by Geng Jimao. Wu Sangui planned to garrison permanently and was preparing to make the border area of his own. However, Yunnan was not stable at that time, for new surrendered soldiers were still being skeptical. Moreover, Daxi army who had been developing Yunnan over decades shared a close relationship with various minority nationalities. Thus a lot of Tusi leaders refused to accept the rule of Wu Sangui, which led to a series of rebellions. The existence of Yongli Emperor of South Ming Dynasty and Li Dingguo's army was regarded as a great threat to Wu Sangui. Therefore, Wu Sangui was actively preparing for the elimination by force to consolidate his rule. He exaggerated the status, spread the rumors and submitted his proposal to the court, urging the invasion into Burma. Finally the imperial court granted the invasion.
In the June of 1662, Yongli Emperor of the South Ming Dynasty was captured and killed, while Li Dingguo died of illness. During a dozen years, Wu Sangui led his army from the northwest to the southwest border, which performed meritorious deeds for the dominance over the whole country of Qing Dynasty.
After he defeated remnant forces consisting of Ming loyalists in southwestern China, he was rewarded with the title of Pingxi Wang (平西王; translated as "Prince Who Pacifies the West" or "King Who Pacifies the West") with a fief in Yunnan by the Qing imperial court. It had been extremely rare for someone outside of the imperial clan, especially a non-Manchu, to be granted the title of wang. Those awarded the title who were not members of the imperial clan were called Yixing Wang ( literally meaning "kings with other family names") or known as "vassal kings". It was believed that these vassal kings usually came to a bad end, largely because they were not trusted by emperors as members of his own clan were. At the end of 1662, Guizhou province came to the jurisdiction of Wu Sangui. Meanwhile, Wu Sangui's son, Wu Yingxiong (Wu Shifan's father), married Princess Jianning, the 14th daughter of the Kangxi Emperor's grandfather Hong Taiji. She was Fulin's (the Shunzhi Emperor's) sister.
Wu was not trusted by the Qing imperial court, but he was still able to rule Yunnan with little or no interference. This was because the Manchus, an ethnic minority, needed time after their prolonged conquest to figure out how to impose the rule of a dynasty of a very small minority on the vast Han-Chinese society they held in their hands. In fact, as a semi-independent ruler in the distant southwest, he was seen as an asset to the Qing court, and for much of his rule he received massive annual subsidies from the central government. This money, as well as the long period of stability, was spent by Wu in bolstering his army in the southwest, in preparation for an eventual clash with the Qing Dynasty.
Wu Sangui in Yunnan, along with Shang Kexi in Guangdong, and Geng Jinghong in Fujian, the three great Chinese military allies of the Manchus who had pursued the rebels and the Southern Ming pretenders became a financial burden of the central government, even powerful, virtually autonomous princedoms which threaten the stability of Qing dynasty. The Kangxi Emperor decided to make Wu Sangui and two other princes who had been rewarded with large fiefs in southern and western China move from their lands to resettle in Manchuria. In 1673, Shang Kexi requested a permission to retire and return to his homeland in the north firstly, and Kangxi emperor permitted the request at once. Forced into an awkward situation, Wu Sangui and Geng Jingzhong requested the same tentatively shortly afterwards. Kangxi emperor radically decided to revoke the three vassal states at once, and permitted their request, overriding all objections.
Driven by interests, the three revolted and thus began the eight-year-long civil war known as the Revolt of the Three Feudatories. Before the rebellion, Wu Sangui send confidant to Beijing to pick up Wu Yingxiong, his son and young emperor's uncle-in-law, but his son disagreed with him. The confidant could only get back Wu Shipan, Wu Yingxiong's son of concubine. On December 28th 1673, Wu Sangui killed Zhu Guozhi, the governor of Yunnan, rebelled in the named of “against the alien and rebuilding Ming dynasty”. On January 7th 1674, 62 year old Wu Sangui led troops from Yunnan to the northern expedition, and took the whole territory of Guizhou province without any loss. Wu Yingxiong and his sons with Jianning Princess was executed by the Kangxi Emperor soon after his father's rebellion. Shortly afterwards, Wu Sangui founded the Zhou dynasty of his own. Till the April of 1674, Wu Sangui's army quickly occupied Hunan, Hubei, Sichuan and Guangxi. In next 2 years, Geng Jingzhong, Wang Fuchen and Shang Zhixin successively rose in rebellion. Wu Sangui's rebellion expanded into the Revolt of the Three Feudatories. Till the April of 1676, the rebel force possessed 11 provinces (Yunnan, Guizhou, Sichuan, Shanxi, Gansu, Hunan, Guangdong, Guangxi, Fujian, Zhejiang, Jiangxi). For a moment, the situation was very good for Wu Sangui.
Unexpectedly, Wu Sangui stopped his marching and stayed at the south of Yangzi River for 3 month because of the shortage of troops and financial resources, which give Kangxi emperor the chance to assemble his forces. Wang Fuchen, Geng Jingzhong, Shang Zhixin surrendered one after another under the attack of Qing force.
In 1678, Wu Sangui went further and declared himself emperor of the "Great Zhou Dynasty", with the era name of Zhaowu. He established his capital at Hengzhou (present-day Hengyang, Hunan). When he died in October 1678, Wu's grandson Wu Shifan took over command of his forces and continued the struggle. The remnants of Wu's armies were defeated soon thereafter in December 1681 and Wu Shifan committed suicide; Wu Sangui's son-in-law was sent to Beijing with Wu Shifan's head. The Kangxi Emperor had Wu Sangui's corpse scattered across the provinces of China.
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In contemporary China, Wu has often been regarded as a traitor and opportunist, due to his betrayal of both the Ming and Qing dynasties. However more sympathetic characterisations are sometimes voiced, and it is clear that Wu's romance with and love for his concubine Chen Yuanyuan remains one of the classic love stories in Chinese history.
Wu's early life and military career are portrayed in a more positive light in the CCTV television series The Affaire in the Swing Age, in which he is shown to be forced into making the fateful decisions which have made him famous.
Wuxia writer Louis Cha's novel The Deer and the Cauldron portrays Wu as a powerful nemesis to the Kangxi Emperor, who sends the protagonist of the novel, Wei Xiaobao, to scout out Wu's forces in Yunnan.
|Convention: use personal name|
|Temple names||Family name and first name||Period of reign||Era name|
|Tai Zu||Wú Sānguì||March 1678 – August 1678||Zhāowǔ|
|Wú Shìfán||August 1678 – 1681||Hónghuà|