Revolt of the Three Feudatories

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The Revolt of the Three Feudatories (Chinese: 三藩之亂) was a rebellion in the Qing Dynasty during the reign of the Kangxi Emperor. 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.

Shang Kexi, known to the Dutch as the "Old Viceroy" of Guangdong, drawn by Johan Nieuhof in 1655.

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.[1]

Shang Zhixin, known to the Dutch as the "Young Viceroy of Canton", armed on horseback and protected by his bodyguards.

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.[2] 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.[3]

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.[4] 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.[5]

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.[6]

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.[7] 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.[8] 213 Han Chinese Banner companies, and 527 companies of Mongol and Manchu Banners were mobilized by the Qing during the revolt.[9]

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.[10] Wu Sangui's forces were crushed by the Green Standard Army, made out of defected Ming soldiers.[11]

Chahar Mongol rebellion against the Qing

Mukden was endangered by anti-Manchu Mongol rebels.[12]

The Inner Mongolian Chahar leader Ligdan Khan, a descendant of Genghis Khan, opposed and fought against the Qing until he died of smallpox in 1634. Thereafter, the Inner Mongols under his son Ejei Khan surrendered to the Qing and was given the title of Prince (Qin Wang, 親王), and Inner Mongolian nobility became closely tied to the Qing royal family and intermarried with them extensively. Ejei Khan died in 1661 and was succeeded by his brother Abunai. After Abunai showed disaffection with Manchu Qing rule, he was placed under house arrested in 1669 in Shenyang and the Kangxi Emperor gave his title to his son Borni. Abunai then bode his time and then he and his brother Lubuzung and Borni revolted against the Qing in 1675 during the Revolt of the Three Feudatories, with 3,000 Chahar Mongol followers joining in on the revolt. The revolt was put down within two months, the Qing then crushed the rebels in a battle on April 20, 1675, killing Abunai and all his followers. Their title was abolished, all Chahar Mongol royal males were executed even if they were born to Manchu Qing princesses, and all Chahar Mongol royal females were sold into slavery except the Manchu Qing princesses.

The Qing Generals who crushed the Chahar Mongols were Tuhai and Oja, who were Manchu.[13]


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. 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 surrendered in October 1683, and Taiwan became part of the Qing Empire.


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.


  1. Spence, Jonathan. Emperor of China, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, p. xvii
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  4. Di Cosmo 2007, p. 24.
  5. Di Cosmo 2007, pp. 24-25.
  6. Di Cosmo 2007, p. 15.
  7. Di Cosmo 2007, p. 17.
  8. Di Cosmo 2007, p. 17.
  9. Di Cosmo 2007, p. 23.
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  13. Di Cosmo 2007, p. 15.