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Wu Sangui
Preceded by None, Kangxi Emperor as Emperor of the Qing Dynasty
Succeeded by Wu Shifan
Personal details
Born 1612
Gaoyou, Jiangsu, China
Died October 2, 1678(1678-10-02) (aged 65-66)
Hengyang, Hunan, China
Spouse(s) Chen Yuanyuan

Wu Sangui (Chinese: 吳三桂; pinyin: Wú Sānguì; Wade–Giles: Wu San-kuei; Changbai (長白) or Changbo (長伯); 1612 – October 2, 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 Dynasty, but his revolt was eventually quelled by the Kangxi Emperor of the Qing Dynasty.

Early life and service under Ming[edit | edit source]

Wu was born in Gaoyou, Jiangsu province to Wu Xiang (吳襄) and Lady Zu. Under the patronage of his father Wu Xiang and maternal uncle Zu Dashou, he quickly rose to the rank of full General (Zong Bing) at the young age of 27.

He was one of the generals in 1640 at the Battle of Songjin, in which Qing forces defeated the Ming armies. He, however, escaped capture.

Defection to Qing[edit | edit source]

On 27 May 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.[1] Wu ordered his soldiers to wear a white cloth attached to their armor, to distinguish them from Li Zicheng's forces.[2] He did not side with the Qing Dynasty until after the defensive capability of the Ming Dynasty had been greatly weakened and its political apparatus virtually destroyed by the rebel armies of Li Zicheng. Indeed, Wu was about to join the rebel forces of Li, who had already sacked the Ming capital Beijing, when he heard that his concubine Chen Yuanyuan and her father had been taken into custody by Li. Enraged, Wu contacted and negotiated with the Qing leader Dorgon, negotiations which resulted in the opening of the gates of the Great Wall.[3] Qing forces swept through the gates and on to Beijing.

It is commonly believed that this act led to the ultimate destruction of the Ming Dynasty and the establishment of the Qing Dynasty.

Loyalty and revolt[edit | edit source]

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 a wang. Those being awarded the title of wang who were not members of the imperial clan were called Yixing Wang (異姓王; 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. Wu was not trusted by the Qing imperial court, but he was still able to rule Yunnan with little or no interference from the Qing imperial court. 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 in 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.

In 1673, 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.[4] As a result, the three revolted and thus began the eight-year-long civil war known as the Revolt of the Three Feudatories, with Wu Sangui declaring himself the "All-Supreme-Military Generalissimo" (天下都招討兵馬大元帥). In 1678, he went further and declared himself emperor of the "Great Zhou Dynasty", with the era name of Zhaowu (昭武). 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 battle. 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.[5] The Kangxi Emperor had Wu Sangui's corpse scattered across the provinces of China.[6]

Wu Sangui's son, Wu Yingxiong (吳應熊) (Wu Shifan's father), married Princess Jianning (建寧公主), the 14th daughter of the Kangxi Emperor's grandfather Hong Taiji.

In popular culture[edit | edit source]

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This article does not contain any citations or references. Please improve this article by adding a reference. For information about how to add references, see Template:Citation.

|date= }} In contemporary China, Wu has often been regarded as a traitor and opportunist, due to his betrayal of both the Ming and Qing dynasties. This view has been promoted by those who have an interest in a strongly unified China directed from the Beijing headquarters. 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 Jiangshan Fengyu Qing, 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 (鹿鼎記) 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.

Great Zhou Dynasty (1678–1681)[edit | edit source]

Convention: use personal name
Temple names Family name and first name Period of reign Era name
Tai Zu (太祖) Wú Sānguì (吳三桂) March 1678 – August 1678 Zhāowǔ (昭武)
Wú Shìfán (吳世璠) August 1678 – 1681 Hónghuà (洪化)

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Julia Lovell (1 December 2007). The Great Wall: China Against the World, 1000 BC - Ad 2000. Grove. p. 254. ISBN 978-1-55584-832-3. 
  2. Mark C. Elliott (2001). The Manchu Way: The Eight Banners and Ethnic Identity in Late Imperial China. Stanford University Press. pp. 1–2. ISBN 978-0-8047-4684-7. 
  3. (Chinese) Baidu Baike
  4. Jonathan Spence, Emperor of China, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, p. xvii
  5. Spence, Emperor of China, p. 37
  6. Spence, Emperor of China, p. 31

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