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Revolt of the Three Feudatories

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Han rebels
Chahar Mongols

Qing Empire victory

1673 – 1681

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Qing conquest of the Ming, Dzungar–Qing Wars, Sino‑Russian border conflicts, White Lotus Rebellion, Ten Great Campaigns

Revolt of the three feudatories

The Revolt of the Three Feudatories (Chinese: 三藩之亂) was a rebellion lasting from 1673 to 1681 in the Qing dynasty (1644–1912) during the early reign of the Kangxi Emperor (r. 1661–1722). The revolt was led by the three lords of the fiefdoms in Yunnan, Guangdong and Fujian provinces against the Qing central government.


Three feudatories

In the early years of the Qing Dynasty during the reign of the Shunzhi Emperor, the central government's influence was not strong enough and the rulers were unable to control the provinces in southern China directly. The Qing government initiated a policy of "letting the Han Chinese govern the Han Chinese" (以漢制漢), which was to allow some surrendered generals from the former Ming Dynasty to help them govern the provinces in the south.

In 1655, Wu Sangui was granted the title of "Pingxi Prince" (平西王; "West Pacifying Prince") by the Qing government and granted governorship of the provinces of Yunnan and Guizhou. Shang Kexi and Geng Zhongming were granted the titles of "Pingnan Prince" and "Jingnan Prince" (both mean "South Pacifying Prince") respectively and were put in charge of the provinces of Guangdong and Fujian. After Geng's death, his son Geng Jimao inherited his father's title and fiefdom, and Geng Jimao was later succeeded by his son Geng Jingzhong. The three lords had great influence over their lands and wielded far greater power than any other regional or provincial governors. They had their own military forces and had the authority to alter tax rates in their fiefs.

Zheng Jing, ruler of the Kingdom of Tungning in present-day Taiwan, also participated in the rebellion in the name of "opposing Qing to restore Ming" (反清復明).


The Three Feudatories occupied almost half of China and caused the division of the Qing empire. Wu Sangui was granted permission by the Shunzhi Emperor to appoint and promote his own personal group of officials, as well as the privilege of choosing warhorses first before the Qing armies. Wu Sangui's forces took up several million taels of silver in military pay, taking up a third of the Qing government's revenue from taxes. Wu was also in charge of handling the Qing government's diplomatic relationships with the Dalai Lama and Tibet. Most of Wu's troops were formerly Li Zicheng and Zhang Xianzhong's forces and they were well-versed in warfare.

In Fujian province, Geng Jingzhong ruled as a tyrant over his fief, allowing his subordinates to extort food supplies and money from the common people. As for the situation in Guangdong province, Shang Kexi ruled his fief in a similar fashion to Geng Jingzhong. In total, much of the central government's state revenue and reserves were spent on the Three Feudatories and their expenses emptied almost half of the imperial treasury. When the Kangxi Emperor came to the throne, he felt that the Three Feudatories posed a great threat to his sovereignty over the empire and wanted to reduce the three lords' powers.


In 1667, Wu Sangui submitted a request to the Kangxi Emperor, asking for permission to be relieved of his duties in Yunnan and Guizhou provinces, on the premise that he was ill, and Kangxi approved. In 1673, Shang Kexi asked for permission to retire, and in July, Wu Sangui and Geng Jingzhong followed suit. Kangxi called for a council to seek his subjects' views on the issue and received divided responses. Some thought that the Three Feudatories should be left as they were, while others supported the idea of reducing the three lords' powers. Kangxi went against the views of the majority in the council and accepted the three lords' requests for retirement, ordering them to leave their respective fiefs and resettle in Manchuria.

The next year, Wu Sangui instigated the rebellion under the banner of "opposing Qing and restoring Ming" (反清復明). Wu's forces captured Hunan and Sichuan provinces. Geng Jingzhong followed suit in Fujian, while Guangdong remained loyal to the Qing. At the same time, Sun Yanling and Wang Fuchen also rose in revolt in Guangxi and Shaanxi provinces. Zheng Jing, ruler of the Kingdom of Tungning, led a 150,000 strong army from Taiwan and landed in Fujian to join the rebel forces. On the Qing government's side, the Kangxi Emperor rallied the imperial armies to crush the rebellions.

The Qing forces were crushed by Wu from 1673-1674.

Manchu Generals and Bannermen were initially put to shame by the better performance of the Han Chinese Green Standard Army, who fought better than them against the rebels and this was noted by Kangxi, leading him to task Generals Sun Sike, Wang Jinbao, and Zhao Liangdong to lead Green Standard Soldiers to crush the rebels. The Qing thought that Han Chinese were superior at battling other Han people and so used the Green Standard Army as the dominant and majority army in crushing the rebels instead of Bannermen.

In northwestern China against Wang Fuchen, the Qing put Bannermen in the rear as reserves while they used Han Chinese Green Standard Army soldiers and Han Chinese Generals like Zhang Liangdong, Wang Jinbao, and Zhang Yong as the primary military forces, considering Han troops as better at fighting other Han people, and these Han generals achieved victory over the rebels.

After 1676, the tide was in favor of the Qing forces, as Wang Fuchen surrendered after a three-year-long stalemate, while Geng Jingzhong and Shang Zhixin consecutively surrendered as their forces weakened. After conquering Hunan, Wu Sangui did not wait for a response from Wang Fuchen and moved his armies north, while the Qing forces concentrated on recapturing Hunan. In 1678, Wu proclaimed himself emperor of a Great Zhou Dynasty (大周) in Hengzhou (衡州; present-day Hengyang, Hunan province) and established his own imperial court. Wu died of illness in August (lunar month) that year and was succeeded by his grandson Wu Shifan, who ordered a retreat back to Yunnan. While the rebel army's morale was unstable, the Qing forces launched an attack on Yuezhou (岳州; present-day Yueyang, Hunan province) and captured it later, along with the rebels' territories of Changde, Hengzhou and others. Wu Shifan's forces retreated to Chenlong Pass. Sichuan and southern Shaanxi were retaken by the Han Chinese Green Standard Army under Wang Jinbao and Zhao Liangdong in 1680, with Manchus only participating in dealing with logistics and provisions. In 1680, the provinces of Hunan, Guizhou, Guangxi, and Sichuan, previously captured by the rebels, were recovered by the Qing, and Wu Shifan retreated to Kunming in October.

In 1681, the Qing general Zhao Liangdong proposed a three-pronged attack on Yunnan, with imperial armies from Hunan, Guangxi and Sichuan. Cai Yurong, Viceroy of Yungui, led the attack on the rebels together with Zhang Tai and Laita Giyesu, conquering Mount Wuhua and besieging Kunming. In October, Zhao Liandong's army was the first to break through into Kunming and the others followed suit, swiftly capturing the city. Wu Shifan committed suicide in December and the rebels surrendered the following day.

400,000 Green Standard Army soldiers and 150,000 Bannermen served on the Qing side during the war. 213 Han Chinese Banner companies, and 527 companies of Mongol and Manchu Banners were mobilized by the Qing during the revolt.

The Qing had the support of the majority of Han Chinese soldiers and Han elite against the Three Feudatories, since they refused to join Wu Sangui in the revolt, while the Eight Banners and Manchu officers fared poorly against Wu Sangui, so the Qing responded with using a massive army of more than 900,000 Han Chinese (non-Banner) instead of the Eight Banners, to fight and crush the Three Feudatories. Wu Sangui's forces were crushed by the Green Standard Army, made out of defected Ming soldiers.

E. H. Parker wrote that "During this war, nearly all the fighting was done by the ‘ greens ’ or Chinese troops, and the Manchu cavalry only played a secondary part, or came in at critical moments."


Zheng Jing's forces were defeated near Xiamen in 1680 and forced to withdraw to Taiwan. Shang Zhixin was forced to commit suicide in 1680 while Geng Jingzhong was executed. There were thirty six brothers of Shang Zhixin, four of them were executed during Shang Zhixin's suicide while the rest of his family was allowed to live. Geng Jingzhong's brother Geng Juzhong 耿聚忠 was in Beijing with the Qing court with the Kangxi Emperor during the rebellion and was not punished by the Kangxi Emperor for his brother's revolt. Geng Juzhong died of natural causes in 1687.

The final victory over the revolt was the Qing conquest of the Kingdom of Tungning on Taiwan. Shi Lang was appointed as admiral of the Qing navy and led an invasion of Taiwan, defeating the Tungning navy under Liu Guoxuan in the Battle of Penghu. Zheng Jing's son Zheng Keshuang surrendered in October 1683, and Taiwan became part of the Qing Empire. Zheng Keshuang was awarded by the Kangxi Emperor with the title "Duke of Haicheng" (海澄公) and he and his soldiers were inducted into the Eight Banners. Several Ming princes had accompanied Koxinga to Taiwan in 1661-1662, including the Prince of Ningjing Zhu Shugui and Prince Zhu Honghuan (朱弘桓), son of Zhu Yihai. The Qing sent the 17 Ming princes still living on Taiwan back to mainland China where they spent the rest of their lives in exile since their lives were spared from execution.

Zheng Keshuang was rewarded by the Qing Emperor with the title "Duke of Haicheng" (海澄公) and he and his soldiers were inducted into the Eight Banners. The Qing used Koxinga's former rattan shield troops (Tengpaiying 藤牌营) who were placed in the Eight Banners against Russian Cossacks at Albazin.

Noble titles were given to the officers of the Zheng and the Zheng themselves. The Russians were fought against by the Taiwan-based former soldiers of Koxinga. The Qing used former Ming loyalist Han Chinese naval specialists who had served under the Zheng family in Taiwan in the siege of Albazin. Former Ming loyalist Han Chinese troops who had served under Zheng Chenggong and who specialized at fighting with rattan shields and swords (Tengpaiying) 藤牌营 were recommended to the Kangxi Emperor to reinforce Albazin against the Russians. Kangxi was impressed by a demonstration of their techniques and ordered 500 of them to defend Albazin, under Ho Yu, a former Koxinga follower, and Lin Hsing-chu, a former General of Wu (Wu Sangui). These rattan shield troops did not suffer a single casualty when they defeated and cut down Russian forces traveling by rafts on the river, only using the rattan shields and swords while fighting naked.

"[the Russian reinforcements were coming down to the fort on the river] Thereupon he [Marquis Lin] ordered all our marines to take off their cloths and jump into the water. Each wore a rattan shield on his head and held a huge sword in his hand. Thus they swam forward. The Russians were so frightened that they all shouted: 'Behold, the big-capped Tartars!' Since our marines were in the water, they could not use their firearms. Our sailors wore rattan shields to protect their heads so that enemy bullets and arrows could not pierce them. Our marines used long swords to cut the enemy's ankles. The Russians fell into the river, most of them either killed or wounded. The rest fled and escaped. [Lin[ Hsing-chu had not lost a single marine when he returned to take part in besieging the city." written by Yang Hai-Chai who was related to Marquis Lin, a participant in the war


The revolt is featured in Louis Cha's novel The Deer and the Cauldron. The story tells of how the protagonist, Wei Xiaobao, helps the Kangxi Emperor suppress the rebellion.


Revolt of the Three Feudatories Wikipedia

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