Yongli Emperor

Zhu Youlang, Prince of Gui, the Yongli Emperor (永曆) (b.1623, r.18 November 1646 - June 1662) was the fourth and last emperor of the Southern ming dynasty of China. His era name means "Perpetual calendar".

Zhu Youlang ("Zhu" was the family name of the ming dynasty) was the son of Zhu Changying (朱常瀛), who was the seventh son of the Wanli emperor. He inherited the title Prince of Gui (桂王) from his brother and lived an obscure life as a minor member of the extremely large imperial family until the fall of Beijing and the suicide of Chongzhen, the last Ming emperor, in 1644. The true beneficiaries of the collapse of the Ming were the Manchus, a northeastern people that rapidly conquered northern China, the Lower Yangzi valley, and Central China. Descendants of the Ming continued to hang on in the south, and Youlang ascended the throne as the fourth Southern Ming emperor, with the reign-title Yongli in November 1646. By 1661, pressed back into Yunnan province, he fled in Burma. A Manchu army followed and captured him there, and he was executed in June 1662.

Historical background

In April 1644 the last Ming emperor to rule all China committed suicide as a rebel army entered Beijing . Six weeks later, on 5 June, the army of the Manchus, a people from beyond the Great Wall , entered the city and proclaimed the end of the Ming and the beginning of the Qing. In the following two years, as the Qing extended their control over northern China, the remaining Ming loyalists attempted to regroup in the south, but in rapid succession the Hongguang, Longwu, and Shaowu emperors were captured and executed.

Campaigns in southern China

Zhu Youlang became "Caretaker of the State" on 20 November 1646, following the death of the Longwu emperor. When Longwu's brother then declared himself emperor with the reign-title Shaowu, Youlang himself ascended the throne (24 December 1646) as Yongli emperor. A brief war between the two emperors ended a month later when the Qing captured and executed Shaowu. The continuing military pressure of the Qing forced Youlang to withdraw further into the south and west, first to Guilin in Guangxi , then to Jiangxi and Hunan , then south again to Nanning in Guangxi . He had a number of experienced and devoted followers, but became increasingly reliant on the military support of local warlords and bandit chieftains. The best and most effective of these was Li Dingguo, who for five years was highly successful in enlarging Southern Ming territories in the southwest. This success, however, caused the Qing to place the entire region in the hands of the extremely capable Hong Chengchou, who was named governor-general of five provinces. By 1658 Youlang had been forced back into Yunnan , on the very edge of China's southwestern frontier.

In 1658 Zhu Youlang retreated to Kunming in Yunnan , from where he sought refuge under the protection of Pindale (1608–1661), ninth king of the Taungoo dynasty of Burma. Pindale gave him permission to live at Sagaing, near the Burmese capital of Ava (both near the modern Burmese city of Mandalay), provided his men surrendered their weapons. He finally fled into Burma in 1661.

It soon became apparent to the Burmese that Zhu Youlang intended to carve himself a kingdom in Burma, and war broke out between the exiled prince and his hosts. The Chinese devastated the land around Ava but failed to capture it, thanks to the defence offered by Pindale's mercenary Portuguese artillery (led by a mysterious Mi-thari Kattan, which might be a Burmese attempt at an otherwise unknown "Mister Cotton"). Pindale's attempt to profiteer from the resulting famine led to his overthrow by his brother and chief general, Pye Min (meaning "Prince Pye"), in May 1661. Pye broke the siege and demanded that all the Chinese, with the exception of Youlang himself, swear allegiance to the king of Ava, after which they would be dispersed through the kingdom. The ceremony at which this was to be carried out turned into a disaster, with the Chinese, fearing that the plan was to murder them all, turning on the Burmese. Pye now ordered all the Chinese, again with the exception of Youlang, to be put to death.

At this point, in December 1661, a Qing army of 20,000 under Wu Sangui entered Burma and demanded the surrender of Youlang. Pye summoned his advisors, who pointed out that both the Burmese and the Chinese had previously delivered up persons to each other. In addition, Wu Sangui's army was large, and the Burmese had already suffered enough from the presence of their guest. Accordingly, on 22 January 1662, the last monarch of the Southern Ming, together with his sons and grandsons, were put on boats and forwarded to Wu Sangui's camp near Ava. Thinking that he was being taken to his longtime military protector Li Dingguo, the forlorn emperor only realized his real destination when he arrived at Wu's camp.


Zhu Youlang, Prince of Gui and last serious claimant to the Ming throne, was delivered into the custody of Wu Sangui, a Chinese general who had once served the Ming, and Manchu prince, general, and high minister of state, Aisingga. He was transported to Yunnan fu, the capital of Yunnan , where in June he was personally strangled by Wu Sangui. Wu had played a major role in the overthrow of the dynasty, having opened the gates in the Great Wall to the Qing and later leading the Qing campaign against the Southern Ming. It is said that Youlang scorned Wu in his last moments, saying that he betrayed his people and country, and urged Wu to kill him faster because he was disgusted to see "a traitor's face."

Last update 18-06-2012

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