April 25th, 2010 dogboy
The Shun Dynasty only lasted two months in China, but it still managed to find its way to these pages by deposing the ruling Ming Dynasty and setting the scene for the Q’ing Dynasty.
In the early 1500s, the Ming Dynasty significantly increased contact with Europe, and it immediately saw the value in exploited mineral wealth from the West. At the time, the government was having difficulty maintaining a currency with perceived value: paper money was a massive flop and standard copper coins could not be trusted. Something new was needed, and European silver was a quick and easy answer.
But the decision to move to silver coins backfired a century later, when a variety of converging factors cut the silver supply to China and caused a spike in the price of the metal. As a result, the economy sagged. In the mid-1640s, a drought also gripped the country, and the Ming government was in the unenviable position of watching over a collapsing nation. It didn’t help that the government was highly centralized, with almost all activity occurring in Beijing; a working regional governing mechanism may have allowed it to dig out of the hole, but with the rise of an elite class — and prospective officials seeking every opportunity to serve as close to the power center as possible — there was no hope of a savior once the emperor’s power waned.
Enter the Manchu.
Originating in Northeast China and Southeast Siberia,* the Manchu occupied their own territory under a local khan. The Manchu army was building strength at the same time that the economic woes under Ming rule increased. While the Manchu originally considered themselves distinct from and superior to the Han Chinese, they made several legal concessions to match the social mores of those they ruled over which enhanced their credibility.
With the Ming Dynasty weakening, the Manchu saw their opportunity to move south.
But even as the Ming fought to repel those Manchu invaders, an internal insurrection was brewing under a man named Li Zu’cheng, an apprentice ironworker from Yan’an. The Chuang Wang (“Roaming King”, Li’s regnal name) was considered a savior of the common folk, even earning a widespread local song looking forward to the day he would arrive:
You’ll feed your mates,
You’ll dress your mates,
You’ll open wide your city gates.
When Prince Chuang arrives, there’ll be no more rates.
Li had a strong foothold in the heart of the country, and he was persistent. More importantly, the Ming government was hemorrhaging cash to its frontiers. Eventually, the money began to dry up, and even the ministers within the Chongzhen Emperor’s circle saw the writing on the wall. By mid-March, the Manchus were known to be marching through nearly undefended lines; by mid-April, the treasury stopped paying its military entirely.
On April 24, with Li Zu’cheng at the city gates, Emperor Ch’ung Chen tried in vain to escape his own compound. In his wake, he left the corpse of the empress (suicide), the corpse of his daughter (killed by the drunken emperor in a rage), and a seriously injured crown princess (maimed by the drunken emperor). Having mowed through his family, the emperor joined his chief eunuch Wang Cheng’en, climbed atop a local hill, and, shortly after midnight on April 25, hanged himself.
Li Zu’cheng entered the city unopposed, the gates (as the ditty had promised) flung open for his invading army.
Government officials hid in an attempt to escape retribution, but Li’s forces were reportedly quite orderly and did not seek revenge. Instead, they marched slowly through the city, where many of the locals marked themselves as Shun-min, or subjects of Li’s Shun dynasty.
Looters and bandits, however, were not tolerated, and the well-disciplined force dispatched them quickly and without trial. Their bodies were put on display by nailing them to local streetposts, and by noon, the city was calm.
The Roaming King only managed to hold power for a few weeks before his army was swept away by the Manchus. Li Zu’cheng lived almost two more years on the run, still claiming his title of Emperor of Shaanxi as he fled the newly installed government. It would be several more years before the Manchu would retake Southern China,** but the Q’ing Dynasty would dominate China until the Xinhai Revolution in 1912.
* The Manchurians were technically Tungusic, a significant Chinese minority both then and now. The Manchu largely resisted integration into Han society until the latter half of the 19th century.
** Southern China remained, technically, a distinct entity called the Southern Ming Dynasty, south of the Huai River, until 1662.
Also on this date
- 1900: Bill Brown, Sonnie Crain and John Watson
- 1945: Ewald Ehlers lynched
- 1938: Yakov Peters, Siege of Sidney Street survivor
- 1649: John Poyer, the lucky winner
- 1792: Nicolas Pelletier, Madame Guillotine's first kiss
Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,China,Common Criminals,Crucifixion,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,History,Known But To God,Other Voices,Power,Public Executions,Put to the Sword,Rioting,Summary Executions,Theft,Wartime Executions