Ming loyalists

Following the fall of Beijing to Manchu forces in 1644, hundreds of imperial princes and thousands of scholar-officials and others continued to fight to restore the Ming Dynasty, or fled to Japan and elsewhere, refusing to serve under a "barbarian" dynasty. The Qing Dynasty suppressed the last of the resistance on mainland China by around 1660, but Taiwan remained a significant base of loyalist resistance until 1683.

Joseon Dynasty Korea submitted to Qing authority early on, ending its tributary relations with the Ming and entering into such relations with the Qing in 1637, seven years before the Ming fell. The Ming's second chief tributary, the Kingdom of Ryûkyû, on the other hand, continued to be loyal to the Ming until well into the 1650s. Qing envoy Xie Bizhen traveled to Ryûkyû several times, unsuccessfully attempting to convince King Shô Ken to shift loyalties; Ryûkyû delayed its responses to the Qing as long as possible, while waiting whether the Qing would come out dominant, or whether the Ming would be restored. It was only under Shô Ken's successor, King Shô Shitsu, that a mission to Qing-held Beijing was finally sent, in 1653. The Ryukyuan envoys congratulated the Shunzhi Emperor on his enthronement, turned in the royal seal and imperial rescript granted them by the Ming, and requested a new seal and rescript from the Qing, but even at that time did not explicitly request Chinese investiture envoys to continue coming to Ryûkyû. Such a mission would not come until 1663, re-establishing investiture/tribute relations between China and Ryûkyû, after a previous attempt to send an investiture mission in 1654 was blocked by the naval forces of Taiwan-based Ming loyalists.[1]

Claimants to the Throne

The Prince of Fu was the first of the significant claimants to the throne to be defeated. A grandson of the Wanli Emperor, he was based at Nanjing. The Prince attempted to negotiate with the Manchu leader Dorgon, offering large annual tribute payments if the Manchus would withdraw to the north of the Great Wall; this tactic, which worked to an extent for the Han Dynasty keeping the Xiongnu at bay, and for the Song Dynasty against the Khitans and Jurchens, was rejected by Dorgon, who offered a counter-proposal: that the Prince of Fu give up any claims to the throne, or imperial ambitions, and be satisfied with a small independent kingdom. Following the Prince's rejection of this counter-offer, the Manchu forces marched south along the Grand Canal, sacking Yangzhou in May 1645 and taking Nanjing the following month. As the Prince's court was beset by much factional debate, it was unable to provide a coordinated defense of the city, and folded quickly. The Prince was captured and taken to Beijing, where he died in 1646.

Two brothers, supposed descendants of the Hongwu Emperor, the 14th century founder of the Ming, led a short-lived resistance in Fuzhou and Canton (Guangzhou). The older brother was defeated and killed at Fuzhou in late 1646, and his younger brother the following year, as the Manchus took Canton. Another supposed descendant of Hongwu based his court at Xiamen (Amoy), and later at Zhoushan Island (near modern-day Shanghai), attempting to rally followers around him as he moved up the southeast coast; he was eventually forced to flee to sea, continuing to assert his claim from a junk offshore until 1653.

The Prince of Gui was the final major claimant to the Ming throne. The last remaining known grandson of Wanli, the Prince of Gui was 21 years old when Beijing fell. He was driven from his home in Hunan province by the Chinese rebel Zhang Xianzhong, and relocated initially to Zhaoqing, just west of Canton. Though he had no real experience with governance or military leadership, and despite his mother's opposition, the Prince was named "emperor" in late 1646 by a number of his officials. Fleeing Manchu forces, the Prince and his followers left Guangdong province, and spent 1647 into 1648 moving from place to place within Guangxi province, to the west. In 1648, a number of Ming generals who had defected to the Manchus defected back, declaring their support for the Prince of Gui. They then led a reconquest of Zhaoqing and Canton, allowing the Prince to begin setting up his court. Like other pretenders and rebel leaders of the time, he attempted to establish the various institutions of a proper government, including bureaucratic posts, civil service exams, and so forth; however, like even the well-established central Ming Court prior to its fall, the Prince of Gui's court, too, was severely hampered by factional disputes, and even with the help of these turncoat Ming generals, was ultimately unable to present a sufficiently coordinated defense. By 1650, the Qing forces had rallied, retaking areas of central China which had declared for the Prince of Gui, and bringing pressure again on Guangdong. The Prince of Gui and his "court" then fled to the west, first to Yunnan province, and eventually into Burma.

The Burmese king was originally welcoming to the Prince, but later changed his mind, massacring many of the Prince's followers, and taking the Prince of Gui himself hostage. The Prince then fell into the hands of Qing forces in 1661, which penetrated into Burmese territory led by Wu Sangui; they took the Prince back to Yunnan, where he and his son were executed in 1662, marking the end of the last significant threat to the Qing from descendants of the Ming Imperial family.

On Taiwan

Pirate captain Zheng Zhilong and his son Zheng Chenggong fled from the fall of Fuzhou in 1646, taking their loyalist forces to the sea, and to Taiwan, where they established a new base of operations, harassing Qing ships and the Chinese coast, and resisting Qing forces until 1683. While intercepting maritime trade originating from mainland China, these Taiwan-based loyalists maintained communications and trade connections with the Chinese community in Nagasaki.[2]

In a policy known as qianjie, ports in southern China were closed in 1657, and again in 1661, and residents moved away from the coast, in response to raids and pirate attacks by Ming loyalists based on Taiwan.[3] Around that same time, one hundred seventy people fled from Taiwan to Nagasaki, including at least three European women, 11 women of mixed race, and 28 slaves. These would be the last women of non-East Asian origin to live in Japan until 1817.

Ming loyalists in mainland China, and on Taiwan, sent numerous requests to Japanese authorities, and to the Ryûkyû Kingdom, requesting aid against the Manchus. The Japanese referred to the messengers bringing these requests as Nihon kisshi (日本乞師). Some prominent shogunate officials supported the notion of sending support, and the matter was briefly discussed; the shogunate went so far as to send messages to the Korean court, via Tsushima han, testing out Korean support for such pro-Ming actions. However, a number of prominent officials opposed sending any support. They pointed to the Ming's unfriendly and even hostile attitudes for nearly a century against Japanese ships coming to China, and to the fact that the loyalists requesting aid were not clear representatives of the Ming Imperial Court, but were essentially unknowns. In the end, the shogunate made no official recognition of the legitimacy of these loyalists, nor entered into formal relations, nor made formal responses to these requests, but did on more than one occasion send arms, metal, funds, medicine, and other materials to their aid.[4]


  • Jonathan Spence, The Search for Modern China, Second Edition, W.W. Norton & Co. (1999), 35-37.
  1. Nishizato Kikô. "The Problem of Royal Investiture during the Ming-Qing Transition Period." Abstract. Paper presented at 5th International Conference on Okinawan Studies, Ca' Foscari University of Venice, September 2006.
  2. Marius Jansen, China in the Tokugawa World, Harvard University Press (1992), 27.
  3. Angela Schottenhammer, "The East Asian maritime world, 1400-1800: Its fabrics of power and dynamics of exchanges - China and her neighbors." in Schottenhammer (ed.) The East Asian maritime world, 1400-1800: Its fabrics of power and dynamics of exchanges, Harrassowitz Verlag, 2007. pp1-83.
  4. Mizuno Norihito, “China in Tokugawa Foreign Relations: The Tokugawa Bakufu’s Perception of and Attitudes toward Ming-Qing China,” Sino-Japanese Studies 15 (2003), 138.; Jansen, 27.; Schottenhammer, Angela. “Empire and Periphery? The Qing Empire’s Relations with Japan and the Ryūkyūs (1644–c. 1800), a Comparison.” The Medieval History Journal 16, no. 1 (April 1, 2013): 159.