08 February 2006

The Yangzhou Massacre of 1645

Yangzhou was occupied by Shi Kefa, a 44-year-old general with fanatical loyalty to the Ming dynasty. The Manchus tried to win Shi Kefa over in a number of ways, sending numerous letters in the name of Dorgon, but actually drafted by turncoats. Shi Kefa had famously berated the Emperor of Grand Radiance on military matters, using language that would have led to the reprimand or imprisonment of a less valuable soldier. [Manchu Prince] Dorgon's messages capitalised on this, reminding Shi Kefa that, loyal to the Ming or not, he was currently serving a depraved master. While the Manchus fought the Ming loyalists, wrote Dorgon's scribes, both sides lost out on the opportunity to unite and pursue the true enemy: the remnants of the forces of [northern warlord] Li Zicheng. Dorgon urged Shi Kefa at all costs to avoid a situation in which there were 'two suns in the firmament'. But it was too late; already there were two people claiming to be the emperor of China--three, if one was prepared to count the fugitive Li Zicheng.

When the Manchu army finally began the assault of Yangzhou, Shi Kefa's [Jesuit-designed] guns killed them in their thousands. The bodies piled up so high, that after a time, there was no need for siege ladders, and fresh Manchu troops climbed a mountain of corpses to reach the battlements.

The defenders of the city began fleeing the walls by jumping onto the houses immediately below, tearing off their helmets and throwing down their spears, creating an unearthly clatter as their feet smashed tiles on the rooftops. The noise brought townsfolk out of their houses in time to see the defenders running away, and soon the streets were full of refugees. But there was nowhere to run. Someone opened the south gate, and the last possible escape route was cut off by more Manchu soldiers.

In the aftermath Shi Kefa ordered his men to kill him, but his lieutenant could not bring himself to strike the death blow. With the town now in Manchu hands, Shi Kefa was brought to [Manchu Prince] Dodo. The prince advised him that his loyalty had impressed his Manchu enemies.

'You have made a gallant defence,' he said. 'Now that you have done all that duty could dictate, I would be glad to give you a high post.'

Shi Kefa, however, refused to abandon his beloved Dynasty of Brightness [= Ming].

'I ask of you no favour except death,' he replied. Over several days, the Manchus made repeated attempts to persuade Shi Kefa to join them, but he was adamant that the only thing he wanted was to die with his dynasty. On the third day, an exasperated Prince Dodo granted Shi Kefa his wish, and beheaded him personally.

Despite his pleas to Shi Kefa, Dodo was intensely irritated at the human cost of taking Yangzhou. He told his troops to do whatever they wanted with the city for five days, and the ensuing atrocities reached such heights that it was a further five days before Dodo regained control of his men. The surviving Manchus avenged their fallen comrades on the population of the town, slaughtering the menfolk and raping the women. The clemency shown to turncoat towns further in the north was nowhere in evidence here, as Manchus and Chinese traitors looted what they could, and murdered all the witnesses they could find. Fires broke out in numerous quarters of the city, but were largely put out by heavy rain.

A survivor reported that the corpses filled the canals, gutters and ponds, their blood drowning the water itself, creating rivulets of a deep greenish-red throughout the city. Babies were killed or trampled underfoot, and the young women were chained together ready to be shipped to the far north. Many years later, travellers in Manchuria and Mongolia would still report sightings of aging, scarred female slaves with Yangzhou accents, clad in animal skins.
SOURCE: Coxinga and the Fall of the Ming Dynasty, by Jonathan Clements (Sutton, 2005), pp. 116-118

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