Southern Ming

Ming army
Ming army

When a frontier people, the Manchus, took over control of China in 1644, Ming dynasty loyalists fled to southern China, where they held out for many years; they became known as the Southern Ming.

Over several centuries, descendants of the Ming emperor surnamed Zhu (Chu) were settled throughout the Chinese empire. As a result when the last Ming emperor committed suicide there were members of the imperial family throughout China, especially in the south, and it was natural that anti-Manchu forces would use them to legitimize their rebellions.

The first of these was Zhu Yusong (Chu Yu-sung), better known as the Prince of Fu. He was descended from Emperor Wanli (Wan-Li) (r. 1573–1620); in fact all of the main claimants of the Southern Ming were descended from him. He assumed the title Emperor Hongguang (Hung-kuang) and reigned in Nanjing (Nanking).

The new Southern Ming emperor sent emissaries to the Manchus. He initially tried to conciliate the Manchus and offered them a subsidy if they would return to Manchuria. The offer was rejected by the Manchu regent, Prince Dorgon. In the ensuing fighting, the Southern Ming fared badly. Nanjing was captured by the Manchus and Hongguang was taken prisoner to Beijing (Peking), where he died in captivity in 1646.

Following the Manchu capture of Nanjing, several Ming princes were elevated to lead movements by loyalists against the Manchus, but none of them showed worthy qualities and their causes fizzled in quick succession, succumbing to campaigns led by both Manchus and Han Chinese generals who had defected to the Manchus.

The most notable example of Han Chinese participation in opposing the restoration of the Ming was Wu Sangui (Wu San-kuei), the general guarding the easternmost pass of the Great Wall against the Manchus, who opened the way for the combined Manchu and his effort that defeated the rebel Li Zicheng (Le Tzu-ch’eng). General Wu commanded a force that drove Prince Guei (Kuei), a Ming pretender, into Burma and was rewarded with a princely title and granted Yunnan Province as his fief.

The most sustained resistance was led by Zheng Chenggong (Cheng Ch’eng-kung), better known as Koxing in the West (1624–62) who had a formidable force along the southern coast and along the Yangzi (Yangtze) River. After his defeat on mainland China, Zeng and his son retreated to Taiwan where they held out until 1683. The fall of Taiwan to Manchu forces ended the southern Ming resistance.