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    China Chronology

    Revolt of the Three Feudatories is Suppressed



    The Revolt of the Three Feudatories occurred during the reign of Emperor Kangxi, one of China's greatest emperors who reigned from 1661-1722. The combined size of the three rebellious feudatories was about the size of the southeastern United States from Texas to Georgia, or France and Spain combined.

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    After the fall of the last of the Ming imperial claimant in 1662, the whole of South and Southwest China was given to the three main generals who had fought the most there in the 1650s. These were Shang Kexi, Geng Jimao, and Wu Sangui. Shang Kexi and Geng Jimao were Chinese Bannermen, who had surrendered to the Qing (Manchus) in 1633 and were therefore trusted even though they had worked for the old regime. The three (Wu Sangui, Shang Kexi, & Geng Jimao) were named as princes by the Qing court and each was given the equivalent of an (almost) independent domain. They collected taxes, administered the civil service (Confucian) exams, and, by the 1660s, even demanded subsidies from the Qing court to keep them loyal (10 million ounces of silver annually). These three leaders also assumed that control of the Feudatories was hereditary. While other emperors had been concerned about these nearly independent generals, the Emperor Kangxi was willing to enforce his views on the three feudatories with military power. Wu dissolved his allegiance to Qing in December of 1673, Geng soon followed suit. Shang Kexi however, remained loyal to Qing and was imprisoned by his son, who joined the rebellion in his stead.

    The trio were defeated largely because of their own incompetence and the superiority of the Qing military staff. Wu grew conceited and began to live lavishly instead of focusing on Ming restoration. Also, he did not press the advantage at the Hunan boarder in 1674, when he had it. The Feudatories failed to mount any cooperative military effort and thus the powerful and tenacious Qing generals were able to defeat them singly, backed by Emperor Kangxi's ability to rally his court with long-term plans for conquest and assimilation. The trio's previous ties to the Qing made it difficult to garner support from Ming loyalists, and they began to break up with the independent surrender of Geng in 1676. Shang's son surrendered a year after that because Wu was trying to assimilate their territories under himself, and in 1678 he declared himself Emperor, but died that same year. His son fought in his name for another 32 years, but committed suicide when he was trapped in his capitol by Qing generals. Wu's followers were executed, as were Geng and Shang. Emperor Kangxi was severe to those senior officials that had supported rebellion but was gentle on the peasants because they had to fight or be killed by the rebellion leaders. Also, he ordered all prisoners as well as woman and children refugees to be returned home.

    A direct result of this was China becoming a unified country again, with nearly the same boarders as it has today. Though Emperor Kangxi gained the throne when he was only thirteen, he showed that he could handle the job of being Emperor. His treatment of the peasant classes won their loyalty away from the former ruling family. He never regretted his decision to reward the three generals with their feudatory positions but did regret the overall loss of life that resulted in the decision. Finally, the unification reestablished the flow of revenue to Peking from feudatory areas.


    [1] Banners were colored banners used to classify different military families/groups. Bannermen were high ranking Generals.


    Adler, Philip J., World Civilizations (New York; West Publishing Company, 1996).

    Alfred Andrea & James Overfield, eds., The Human Record: Sources of Global History, Vol. II, 2nd Ed., (Boston; Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994 ).

    Spence, Jonathan D., The Search for Modern China, (New York; W. W. Norton & Company, 1990).

    Edited by: Harvest J. Pack, [email protected]
    Researched by: Steven R. Dahlin, [email protected]
    Written by: Peter W. Marks, [email protected]
    February 20, 1997

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