The Southern Ming was a loyalist movement that was active in southern China following the Ming dynasty's collapse in 1644. The Ming were overthrown when peasant rebels captured Beijing. Ming generals then opened the gates of the Great Wall to the Qing, hoping they would fight the rebels. Loyalists fled to Nanjing, where they enthroned the Zhu Yousong, Prince of Fu. The Nanjing regime lasted until 1645, when the Qing captured Nanjing. Later, a series of pretenders held court in various southern Chinese cities.
The Nanjing regime lacked the resources to pay and supply its soldiers, who were left to live off the land and pillaged the countryside. The soldiers' behavior was so notorious that they were refused entry by those cities in a position to do so. Court official Shi Kefa obtained modern cannons and organized resistance at Yangzhou. The cannons mowed down a large number of Qing soldiers, but this only enraged those who survived. After the city fell in May 1645, the Qing slaughtered as many as 800,000 inhabitants in a notorious massacre. Nanjing surrendered promptly and without resistance on June 6. The Prince of Fu was taken to Beijing and executed in 1646.
The literati in the provinces responded to the news from Yangzhou and Nanjing with an outpouring of emotion. Some recruited their own militia and became resistance leaders. Shi was lionized and there was a wave of hopeless sacrifice by loyalists who vowed to erase the shame of Nanjing. By late 1646, the heroics had petered out and the Qing advance had resumed. Notable Ming pretenders held court in Fuzhou (1645–1646), Guangzhou (1646–1647), and Anlong (1652–1659). The Prince of Ningjing maintained a palace in the Kingdom of Tungning (modern-day Tainan, Taiwan) until 1683.
The end of the Ming and the subsequent Nanjing regime are depicted in Peach Blossom Fan, a classic of Chinese literature. The upheaval of this period, sometimes referred to as the Ming–Qing cataclysm, has been linked to a decline in global temperature. With agriculture devastated by a severe drought, there was manpower available for numerous rebel armies.
The fall of the Ming and the Qing conquest that followed was a period of catastrophic war and population decline in China, comparable to Europe's Thirty Years War (1618–1648). China experienced a period of extremely cold weather from the 1620s until the 1710s. Some modern scholars link the worldwide drop in temperature at this time to the Maunder Minimum, an extended period from 1645 to 1715 when sunspots were absent. Whatever the cause, the change in the climate reduced agricultural yields and cut state revenue. It also led to drought, which displaced many peasants. There were a series of peasant revolts in the late Ming, culminating in a revolt led by Li Zicheng which overthrew the dynasty in 1644.
Ming ideology emphasized authoritarian and centralized administration, referred to as "imperial supremacy" or huángjí. However, comprehensive central decision-making was beyond the technology of the time. The principle of uniformity meant that the lowest common denominator was often selected as the standard. The need to implement change on an empire-wide basis complicated any effort to reform the system, leaving administrators helpless to respond in an age of upheaval.
Civil servants were selected by an arduous examination system which tested knowledge of classic literature. While they might be adapt at citing precedents from the Zhou dynasty of righteous and unrighteous behavior, they were rarely as knowledgeable when it came to contemporary economic, social, or military matters. Unlike previous dynasties, the Ming had no prime minister. So when a young ruler retreated to the inner court to enjoy the company of his concubines, power devolved to the eunuchs. Only the eunuchs had access to the inner court, but the eunuch cliques were distrusted by the officials who were expected to carry out the emperor's decrees. Officials educated at the Donglin Academy were known for accusing the eunuchs and others of a lack of righteousness.
On April 24, 1644, Li's soldiers breached the walls of Beijing. The Chongzhen emperor committed suicide the next day to avoid humiliation at their hands. Remnants of the Ming imperial family and some court ministers then sought refuge in the southern part of China and regrouped around Nanjing, the Ming auxiliary capital, south of the Yangtze River. Four different power groups emerged:The Shun dynasty, led by Li Zicheng, ruled north of the Huai river.
Zhang Xianzhong's Great West regime controlled Sichuan province.
The Manchu-founded Qing dynasty controlled the north-east area beyond Shanhai Pass, as well as many of the Mongol tribes.
The remnants of the Ming dynasty could only survive south of the Huai river.
In 1644, Muslim Ming loyalists in Gansu led by Muslim leaders Milayin and Ding Guodong led a revolt in 1646 against the Qing during the Milayin rebellion in order to drive the Qing out and restore the Ming Prince of Yanchang Zhu Shichuan to the throne as the emperor. The Muslim Ming loyalists were supported by Hami's Sultan Sa'id Baba and his son Prince Turumtay. The Muslim Ming loyalists were joined by Tibetans and Han Chinese in the revolt. After fierce fighting, and negotiations, a peace agreement was agreed on in 1649, and Milayan and Ding nominally pledged alleigance to the Qing and were given ranks as members of the Qing military. When other Ming loyalists in southern China made a resurgence and the Qing were forced to withdraw their forces from Gansu to fight them, Milayan and Ding once again took up arms and rebelled against the Qing. The Muslim Ming loyalists were then crushed by the Qing with 100,000 of them, including Milayin, Ding Guodong, and Turumtay killed in battle.
The Confucian Hui Muslim scholar Ma Zhu (1640–1710) served with the southern Ming loyalists against the Qing. Zhu Yu'ai, the Ming Prince Gui was accompanied by Hui refugees when he fled from Huguang to the Burmese border in Yunnan and as a mark of their defiance against the Qing and loyalty to the Ming, they changed their surname to Ming.
In Guangzhou, the national monuments known as "The Muslim's Loyal Trio" are the tombs of Ming loyalist Muslims who were martyred while fighting in battle against the Qing in the Qing conquest of the Ming in Guangzhou. The Ming Muslim loyalists were called "jiaomen sanzhong "Three defenders of the faith".
When the news of the Chongzhen emperor's death reached Nanjing in May 1644, the fate of the heir apparent was still unknown. But court officials quickly agreed that an imperial figure was necessary to rally loyalist support. In early June, a caretaker government led by the Prince of Fu was created. By the time he arrived in the vicinity of Nanjing, the prince could already count on the support of both Ma Shiying and Shi Kefa. He entered the city on June 5 and accepted the title "protector of the state" the next day. Prodded by some court officials, the Prince of Fu immediately begin to consider ascending the throne. The prince had a problematic reputation in terms of Confucian morality, so some members of the Donglin faction suggested the Prince of Lu as an alternative. Other officials noted that the Prince of Fu, as next in line by blood, was clearly the safer choice. In any case, the so-called "righteousness" faction was not keen to risk a confrontation with Ma, who arrived in Nanjing with a large fleet on June 17. The Prince of Fu was crowned as the Hongguang emperor on June 19. It was decided that the next lunar year would be the first year of the Hongguang reign.
The Hongguang court proclaimed that its goal was "to ally with the Tartars to pacify the bandits," that is, to seek cooperation with Qing military forces in order to annihilate rebel peasant militia led by Li Zicheng and Zhang Xianzhong.
Because Ma was the emperor's main supporter, he started to monopolize the royal court's administration by reviving the functions of the remaining eunuchs. This resulted in rampant corruptions and illegal dealings. Moreover, Ma engaged in intense political bickering with Shi, who was affiliated with the Donglin movement.
In 1645, Zuo Liangyu, a former warlord and governor of Wuchang for the Hongguang regime, sent his troops towards Nanjing with the purpose of "clearing corrupt officials from the emperor's court." Seeing that this threat targeted him, Ma declared: "I and the emperor would rather die at the hand of the Great Qing, we will not die at the hand of Zuo Liangyu." By then, the Qing army had begun to move southwards: it had occupied Xuzhou and was preparing to cross the Huai River. Ma nonetheless ordered Shi to direct his riverine troops (which were positioned to counter the incoming Qing attack) against Zuo Liangyu.
This displacement of troops facilitated the Qing capture of Yangzhou. This resulted in the Yangzhou massacre and the death of Shi in May 1645. It also led directly to the demise of the Nanjing regime. After the Qing armies crossed the Yangtze River near Zhenjiang on June 1, the emperor fled Nanjing. Qing armies led by the Manchu prince Dodo immediately moved toward Nanjing, which surrendered without a fight on June 8, 1645. A detachment of Qing soldiers then captured the fleeing emperor on June 15, and he was brought back to Nanjing on June 18. The fallen emperor was later transported to Beijing, where he died the following year.
The official history, written under Qing sponsorship in the eighteenth century, blames Ma's lack of foresight, his hunger for power and money, and his thirst for private revenge for the fall of the Nanjing court.
In 1644, Zhu Yujian was a ninth-generation descendant of Zhu Yuanzhang who had been put under house arrest in 1636 by the Chongzhen emperor. He was pardoned and restored to his princely title by the Hongguang emperor. When Nanjing fell in June 1645, he was in Suzhou en route to his new fiefdom in Guangxi. When Hangzhou fell on July 6, he retreated up the Qiantang River and proceeded to Fujian from a land route that went through northeastern Jiangxi and mountainous areas in northern Fujian. Protected by General Zheng Hongkui, on July 10 he proclaimed his intention to become regent of the Ming dynasty, a title that he formally received on July 29, a few days after reaching Fuzhou. He was enthroned as emperor on August 18, 1645. Most Nanjing officials had surrendered to the Qing, but some followed the Prince of Tang in his flight to Fuzhou.
In Fuzhou, the Prince of Tang was under the protection of Zheng Zhilong, a sea trader with exceptional organizational skills who had surrendered to the Ming in 1628 and recently been made an earl by the Hongguang emperor. The pretender, who was childless, adopted Zheng Zhilong's eldest son, granted him the imperial surname, and gave him a new personal name: Chenggong. The name Koxinga is derived of his title "lord of the imperial surname" (guóxìngyé).
In October 1645 the Longwu emperor heard that another Ming pretender, the Prince of Lu Zhu Yihai, had named himself regent in Zhejiang, and thus represented another center of loyalist resistance. But the two regimes failed to cooperate, making their chances of success even lower than they already were.
In February 1646, Qing armies seized land west of the Qiantang River from the Lu regime and defeated a ragtag force representing the Longwu emperor in northeastern Jiangxi. In May of that year Qing forces besieged Ganzhou, the last Ming bastion in Jiangxi. In July, a new Southern Campaign led by Manchu Prince Bolo sent the Zhejiang regime of Prince Lu into disarray and proceeded to attack the Longwu regime in Fujian. Zheng Zhilong, the Longwu emperor's main military defender, fled to the coast. On the pretext of relieving the siege of Ganzhou in southern Jiangxi, the Longwu court left their base in northeastern Fujian in late September 1646, but the Qing army caught up with them. Longwu and his empress were summarily executed in Tingzhou (western Fujian) on 6 October. After the fall of Fuzhou on 17 October, Zheng Zhilong surrendered to the Qing and his son Koxinga fled to the island of Taiwan with his fleet.
The Longwu Emperor's younger brother Zhu Yuyue, who had fled Fuzhou by sea, soon founded another Ming regime in Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong Province, taking the reign title Shaowu (紹武) on 11 December 1646. Short of official costumes, the court had to purchase robes from local theater troupes. On 24 December, Prince of Gui Zhu Youlang established the Yongli (永曆) regime in the same vicinity. The two Ming regimes fought each other until 20 January 1647, when a small Qing force led by former Southern Ming commander Li Chengdong (李成東) captured Guangzhou, killing the Shaowu Emperor and sending the Yongli emperor fleeing to Nanning in Guangxi.
Li Chengdong suppressed more loyalist resistance in Guangdong in 1647, but mutinied against the Qing in May 1648 because he resented having been named only regional commander of the province he had conquered. The concurrent rebellion of another former Ming general in Jiangxi helped the Yongli regime to retake most of southern China, leaving the Qing in control of only a few enclaves in Guangdong and southern Jiangxi. But this resurgence of loyalist hopes was short-lived. New Qing armies managed to reconquer the central provinces of Huguang (present-day Hubei and Hunan), Jiangxi, and Guangdong in 1649 and 1650. The Yongli emperor fled to Nanning and from there to Guizhou. On 24 November 1650, Qing forces led by Shang Kexi––one of the "Three Feudatories" who would rebel against the Qing in 1673––captured Guangzhou after a ten-month siege and massacred the city's population, killing as many as 70,000 people.
Though the Qing under the leadership of Prince Regent Dorgon (1612–1650) had successfully pushed the Southern Ming deep into southern China, Ming loyalism was not dead yet. In early August 1652, Li Dingguo, who had served as general in Sichuan under bandit king Zhang Xianzhong (d. 1647) and was now protecting the Yongli emperor, retook Guilin (Guangxi province) from the Qing. Within a month, most of the commanders who had been supporting the Qing in Guangxi reverted to the Ming side. Despite occasionally successful military campaigns in Huguang and Guangdong in the next two years, Li failed to retake important cities.
In 1653, the Qing court put Hong Chengchou in charge of retaking the southwest. Headquartered in Changsha (in what is now Hunan province), he patiently built up his forces; only in late 1658 did well-fed and well-supplied Qing troops mount a multipronged campaign to take Guizhou and Yunnan. In late January 1659, a Qing army led by Manchu prince Doni took the capital of Yunnan, sending the Yongli emperor fleeing into nearby Burma, which was then ruled by King Pindale Min of the Toungoo dynasty. The last sovereign of the Southern Ming stayed there until 1662, when he was captured and executed by Wu Sangui, whose surrender to the Qing in April 1644 had allowed Dorgon to start the Qing conquest of China.
Koxinga (Zheng Chenggong), son of Zheng Zhilong, was awarded with the titles: Wei Yuan Hou, Zhang Guo Gong, and Yan Ping Wang by the Yongli emperor.
In the eleventh year of Yongli, various anti-Qing military commanders gathered in Fujian to select a northern expedition target. Koxinga chose Nanjing, which was Hongwu emperor's choice of a state capital, which would naturally have a large anti-Qing population. Nanjing was also an important strategic location. On the fifth month and the twelve year of Yongli, Koxinga led an army of 100,000 soldiers and 290 warships to attack Nanjing, leaving a small military force for the defence of Xiamen
Koxinga's military force went through Zhejiang, Pingyang, Ruian, Wenzhou, and Zhoushan, joining forces with another military commander Zhang Huanyan. On the ninth day of the eight month, near Yangsan Island a hurricane caused massive damage to the fleet, resulting in the loss of 8,000 personnel, sinking of 40 warships, and various degree of damage to all the ships. Koxinga called a temporary halt to the military advance and ordered repairs and refurbishing of the fleet, waiting for the right moment to attack. The Qing governor called for the strengthening of its defence surrounding Chongmin Island, Mount Fu, Quanzhou, and Zhengjiang by laying a long iron chain across the river, and building wooden rafts stationed with soldiers and cannons. Koxinga ordered soldiers to cut the iron chain by axes, and to set fire to the enemy's wooden rafts. When Koxinga joined forces with Zhang Huanyan at the Yangtze River, the defending forces' resistance was minimal and soon Nanjing was encroached.
However, he had fallen into the Qing trap and ambush, a number of his generals perished on the battlefield. After suffering a humiliating defeat at Nanjing, Koxinga eventually decided to retreat back to Xiamen. Chinese historians concluded that the battle of Nanjing was of the utmost importance in the life of Koxinga, since it seriously undermined his grand anti-Qing ambitions.
Koxinga then decided to take Taiwan from the Dutch. He launched the Siege of Fort Zeelandia, defeating the Dutch and driving them out of Taiwan. He then established the Kingdom of Tungning on the site of the former Dutch colony. The Ming dynasty Princes who accompanied Koxinga to Taiwan were the Prince of Ningjing Zhu Shugui and Prince Zhu Hónghuán 朱弘桓, son of Zhu Yihai. Zhu Shugui was acting in the name of the dead Yongli Emperor. Koxinga's grandson Zheng Keshuang surrendered to the Qing dynasty in 1683 and was rewarded by the Kangxi Emperor with the title "Duke of Haicheng" (海澄公) and he and his soldiers were inducted into the Eight Banners. The Qing sent the 17 Ming princes still living on Taiwan back to mainland China where they spent the rest of their lives.