Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Loyalist Holdouts of the Great Ming

It may seem strange to some, with a basic understanding of the Chinese monarchial concept of the “Mandate of Heaven” that there could ever be loyalists of a fallen dynasty. Yet, such a thing was not that uncommon. In Vietnam, for example, well into the reign of the Nguyen Dynasty, there were still those who were loyal to and wished to restore the fallen Le Dynasty. In China, particularly Manchuria of course, most are familiar with the efforts, ultimately successful for a time, to restore the last emperor of the Qing Dynasty to his throne, in China during World War I and later in Manchuria which lasted more than ten years. However, simultaneously with the reign and decline of the Qing Dynasty there were also still loyalist holdouts of the former Ming Dynasty for much longer than most people realized. Their cause was probably helped by the fact that they had nationalism to bolster their cause as the Ming were the last dynasty of the majority Chinese Han nationality before the rise to power of the foreign Qing Dynasty from Manchuria, which had been a totally separate and self-governing country.

Chongzhen, last official Ming emperor
Founded in 1368 the Ming Dynasty reign over China lasted officially until 1644 when the last Ming emperor was overthrown by a Chinese rebel who tried and failed to found his own dynasty. He was quickly defeated by the Manchu and pro-Manchu Chinese forces and the “Great Qing Empire” was formally proclaimed. However, Ming Dynasty loyalists remained, some with powerful armies and in control of extensive territories throughout central and southern China. The last major Ming resistance was carried on under a recently proclaimed kingdom (The Kingdom of Tungning) on the island of Formosa (Taiwan), conquered from the Dutch, until 1683. Previously, the major focus of Ming loyalists had been the city of Nanking which had held out against the Manchu forces until 1645. However, there had been other centers of Ming resistance in several other Chinese cities as well. Their problem was that they lacked unity, having no recognized emperor to rally around. Each faction had their own pretender making a claim on the Ming legacy such as Prince Fu who held court at Nanking, the Prince of Tang later at Foochow, another Prince of Tang later at Canton and finally the Prince of Gui who was ultimately forced to retreat all the way south into Burma. The final major forces attempted to retake Nanking but failed and it was this faction that ultimately invaded Formosa, defeating the Dutch and establishing the island as a base for Ming loyalists until 1683.

Oppose Qing and Restore Ming
The Ming princes not killed in the course of these campaigns ultimately surrendered or were captured by the Manchu armies and were given titles and pensions by the new Qing Dynasty in keeping with accepted custom. However, while the Qing Dynasty was firmly in control and became well established, there were still Ming loyalists who did not go away. With open military opposition having been defeated, these Ming holdouts resorted to more clandestine modes of operation. Some of these joined or made alliance with outlawed secret societies such as the Hongmen or Society of the Heaven and the Earth. Their original proclaimed intent was to “Destroy the Qing and Restore the Ming”. They later branched out to form other organizations such as the “Three Harmonies Society”. These groups, probably due to a triangle symbol they adopted, came to be known by British authorities as the Triads, probably the most famous Chinese organized crime syndicate in the world still around today.

Three Harmonies Society
The Green Gang of Shanghai, which is not around anymore and so is less well known, was one a major criminal organization which even had ties with the Kuomintang that also, especially early on, contained no small amount of Ming Dynasty loyalists within its ranks. Now, unless any take the wrong impression from this, the Ming had no monopoly on ties to outlawed secret societies and criminal organizations. The massive mobster Chang Yuqing of the Yellow Way Society of Shanghai was a supporter of the last Qing Dynasty monarch, sending a message of congratulations and loyalty when he was enthroned as Emperor of Manchukuo. Oftentimes in such cases, the motivation for such groups and activities tends to become circular. A secret society that is outlawed by the Qing adopts the cause of the Ming in order to oppose the Qing and the Qing pursues them because they support the Ming and so on. In some cases, such clandestine operations began with the clear goal and purpose of restoring the Ming Dynasty, which made them outlaws under the Qing Dynasty, but in order to survive while evading the authorities, they became more and more involved in criminal activity, necessarily so because legitimate business would have been forbidden to them so long as they opposed the ruling dynasty. One of the early leaders of what became the Boxers (“Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists”), though aimed at reviving the Qing, bolstered his credentials by claiming to be a descendant of the Ming.

One could say that, ultimately, the total hatred of the Qing Dynasty by the Ming Dynasty loyalists was a part of their own failure to realize their goal of seeing a Ming Emperor once more on the Dragon Throne. In effect, many seemed to have become more anti-Qing than pro-Ming. During the 1911 Revolution there were still those who took up the cry of the Ming loyalists, calling for the downfall of the Qing Empire and the restoration of the Ming Empire. However, with the western-educated Sun Yat-sen as the driving ideological force behind the revolutionary movement, that was not going to happen. He ultimately made some token gestures to the Ming Dynasty as the last native imperial line but even that was half-hearted and short-lived. With the downfall of the Qing Dynasty, the Ming loyalists seemed fade away. Some joined the republican movement, some went deeper into organized crime to the point that the original intent of these groups were totally forgotten and so on. Many histories have pointed out that the Ming loyalists seemed to lose focus and their reason for existing with the collapse of the Qing Empire. Few bother delving into much detail to explain why, why after so many years of being committed to ending the Qing and restoring the Ming, they would stop with only half of their mission accomplished.

Whatever their motivations may have been, we are left with the basic fact that inveterate opposition to the Qing Dynasty seemed to outweigh loyalty to the Ming Dynasty and once the Qing Empire was gone, most former Ming loyalists accepted the less traditional systems of government that came after and abandoned any efforts to restore the Ming Empire in full. There seemed to be little, if any, support for the heir of the Ming Dynasty (discussed here earlier), the Marquis of Extended Grace, who lived in poor conditions and who remained loyal to the Qing Emperor throughout the republican period until the end of the Second World War by which point he disappears from the historical record. The republican government eventually withdraw all recognition and support for him and the later communist government went a step further and in their propaganda made a hero of the rebel Li Zicheng who overthrew the last Ming Emperor.

It would be interesting to know how many, if any at all, of the Triads around the world today are aware of their origins among the diehard loyalists of the Ming Dynasty. The same could be asked of the Hongmen who do still exist as a fraternal organization to this day. Some might object to or be repelled by the notion of monarchists being associated with a major force in organized crime such as the Triads but such would be rather selective outrage. It is now a matter of common knowledge that the United States government cultivated numerous ties with the Sicilian mafia during World War II, some of the greatest heroes of the Kingdom of England were pirates once upon a time and bandits such as Emilio Zapata and Pancho Villa are revered national heroes in Mexico to this day (as misguided as that is). After a certain point, most obviously when the pursuit of criminal enterprises overtook or entirely replaced efforts to restore the Ming Emperor, such activities can be soundly condemned. However, hardly anyone can be entirely untainted by association with those deemed “criminals” by the powers-that-be, particularly during a period of “regime-change”.

Emperor Hongwu
To the King of France, the revolutionaries were certainly outlaws, according to every law of man and God that France knew at that time. Likewise, those counterrevolutionaries who rose up against the First Republic were, according to the new revolutionary regime and the law of the land as they had devised it, outlaws and treated them as such. For the sake of “full disclosure” I should also add that I tend to be partial to the Qing Dynasty myself, though not for particularly substantive reasons I will be the first to admit, but according to ancient Chinese custom, just as the Qing were entitled to rule as evidenced by the fact that they did rule, if the Ming loyalists had prevailed it would have likewise been proof enough that they were entitled to be restored to power. Yesterday’s criminal becoming tomorrow’s emperor was not entirely unprecedented in Chinese history, nor in the history of the Great Ming itself for that matter. For those unfamiliar, the founding monarch and first Emperor of the Ming Dynasty had been a poor peasant and outlaw, leading rebel forces against the ruling Mongol Yuan Dynasty which he eventually expelled back to Mongolia and established himself as Emperor of China. So, again, it is not an unprecedented concept.

In summary, there were Ming loyalists who resisted in traditional fashion for as long as they could, until all were ultimately defeated and after that a smaller number still held on and continued to resist outside the bounds of the law, either as silent dissidents biding their time or members of organized crime. Unfortunately, the Qing Dynasty fell and the Ming Dynasty remained fallen as well. Are there any lingering Ming loyalists around today? I would hope so and with more than a billion Chinese people around the world the odds would be in favor of there being some, somewhere. I will close by saying, as carefully and prudently as I can, that in my view at least, taking back something that was stolen from you, even if outside the law of the land, is not wrong but right.


  1. May I ask what your not "particularly substantive reasons" are for being partial to the Qing Empire? Just out of curiosity. Full disclosure: as an ethnic Han, I have inherited a non-substantive dislike of the Qing. On substantive terms, I admire their realising the Middle Empire as multi-ethnic. But I have significant reservations about their having done so by employing different theories of sovereignty for different regions of their Empire.

    1. I said not "substantive" because none of my reasons have anything to do with the Qing being objectively "better" at anything compared to the Ming or any other Han dynasty. It is purely a matter of superficial taste. I like the horse-culture of the Jurchen, the style of dress, the organizational structure and things like that. It is mostly just a preference of style and not of substance.

  2. "Some might object to or be repelled by the notion of monarchists being associated with a major force in organized crime such as the Triads but such would be rather selective outrage... After a certain point, most obviously when the pursuit of criminal enterprises overtook or entirely replaced efforts to restore the Ming Emperor, such activities can be soundly condemned. However, hardly anyone can be entirely untainted by association with those deemed 'criminals' by the powers-that-be, particularly during a period of 'regime-change'."

    This reminds one of the origins of the word "Tory" in English politics- from Irish Gaelic "toraidhe", meaning "pursued or hunted one; outlaw". Also known as Rapparees, Tories were originally supporters of James II who turned to banditry and highway robbery after their defeat. Like most party epithets, it entered politics as a term of abuse aimed at those believed by their enemies (probably falsely) to harbor crypto-Jacobite sympathies.

  3. Peasant revolution is not anything new in the lands what we now occupied by China. Pre 250 B.C. all populations were classified into 5 casts - the lowest being peasants and slaves without casts (which is by default the 6th and 7th casts). Qin Dynasty (a short dormancy that lasted 14 years) was a harsh time and her demise started with direct revolts by 2 minor military officers. The other old time noblemen wanted to revive the 5 casts system and however the war was fought against another low ranking peasant by the name of Liu. Peasant wins and all the 5 casts system was not carried on. The pre Qin-Han noblemen and casts were survived by the family names now used by the Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean and some Japanese.

  4. The Republic of China after 1912 was supported to retain the Qing Emperor in the Forbidden City like the Pope in the Vatican, and retain the entire system of Chinese nobility. The Republic of China initially retained most of them- Uyghur nobles like the Khans of Kumul and Khan of Turfan, various Mongol Princes in Inner Mongolia and Qinghai, various Tibetan princes in Kham, the Eight Manchu Qing royal Aisin Gioro "Iron Cap" Princes, and Han Chinese nobles like the northern Confucius branch of Duke Yansheng and the southern branch of Confucius descendants who had the title "Wujing Boshi" as well as descendants of ancient Chinese philosophers like Mencius, Yan Hui, Zengzi, who also had the title "Wujing Boshi" and finally the Ming Marquis of Extended Grace. They were all to keep their hereditary titles and receive stipends from the government of the Republic of China. (The reason that there were two noble titles granted to different branches of the Confucius family is because of the Southern Song and Jurchen Jin dynasty appointing different brothers as the Duke Yansheng which split into different cadet branches)

    The Beiyang warlord government from 1912-1927 kept most of the noble titles intact. However the agreement at the Forbidden City didn't hold up as we all know because of the brief restoration in 1917. Most of the noble titles were terminated after the Kuomintang seized power in 1927. The Marquis of Extended Grace didn't receive his pension for years and his title got terminated in 1933. The Uyghur hereditary Khanates at Turfan and Kumul got the boot and were terminated in 1930. The last holders of the Aisin Gioro Iron Cap peerages like Zaizhen, the Prince Qing, were allowed to hold their titles but after their deaths in the 1940s, their titles were terminated. Tibetan and Mongol Princes lost their titles after 1949.

    The Republic of China only retained a grand total of four hereditary noble titles when it evacuated to Taiwan and downgraded them- Confucius's northern branch descendants holding the Duke Yansheng were downgraded to Sacrificial Official to Confucius, and the Wujing Boshi titles granted to Mencius's Yan Hui's, and Zengzi's descendants were downgraded as well to Sacrificial Official.

    The Republic of China government on Taiwan in 2008 stripped the pension paid to the four Sacrificial officials and turned them into symbolic titles with no payment.

  5. It was the custom to grand noble titles to members of previous dynasties overthrown in China. The Zhou dynasty overthrew the Shang dynasty and then granted a member of the Shang royal family the title of Duke of Song. Confucius himself was a descendant of the Dukes of Song and therefore his descendants, the Dukes Yansheng, were descendants of the Shang royal house. Mencius himself was a descendant of a cadet branch of the Zhou dynasty. The Mongol Yuan dynasty granted titles to Song royals after conquering the Song. The Song royal Zhao Mengfu painted for the Yuan royal court. A lot of the hereditary nobility in China was in essence, the accumulated descendants of former dynasties which were overthrown. The Qing dynasty nobility consisted of descendants of the Shang dynasty (Confucius's descendants ), Zhou dynasty (Mencius's descendants), Yuan dynasty (Mongol Princes), Ming dynasty (Marquis of Extended Grace).

    There is a somewhat well known monarchist in China today. Jiang Qing promotes the revival of Confucianism to replace Marxist thought. He advocates for a "trilateral parliament" system with a sort of House of Peers equivalent called- "House of Cultural Continuity" with hereditary positions filled by the descendants of Confucius and the descendants of previous overthrown dynasties along with Buddhist, Daoist, Muslim, and Christian religious leaders. One would assume that it would include representatives of the Qing, Ming, Yuan, Song, Tang and Sui dynasties as well as the hereditary Daoist Celestial Masters. He suggests Confucius's descendants, the former Dukes Yansheng, be appointed as "King" to preside over this house.

    His vision is outlined on pages six and seven of this article.

    Jiang Qing is the one of the only vocal monarchists making his opinions known in China.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...