Revolt of the Three Feudatories
The Three Feudatories (三藩) were territories in southern China bestowed by the early Manchu rulers on three Chinese generals (Wu Sangui, Geng Jingzhong, and Shang Kexi). In the second half of the 17th century (from around 1674 to 1681), these generals revolted against the Manchu Qing Dynasty. This rebellion came as the Qing rulers were establishing themselves after their conquest of China in 1644, and was the last serious threat to their imperium until the 19th century conflicts that ultimately brought about the end of the dynasty in 1912. The Revolt was followed by almost a decade of civil war which extended across the breadth of China.
In 1655, the Qing government granted Wu Sangui, a man to whom they were indebted for the conquest of China, both civil and military authority over the province of Yunnan. In 1662, after the execution of Zhu Youlang, the last Ming claimant to the throne, Wu was given jurisidiction also over Guizhou. In the next decade he consolidated his power and by 1670 his influence had spread to include much of Hunan, Sichuan, Gansu and even Shaanxi. Two other powerful defected military leaders also developed similar powers: Shang Kexi in Guangdong and Geng Jingzhong in Fujian. They ruled their "feudatories" as their own domains and the Qing court had virtually no control over the provinces in the south and southwest.
By 1672 the young Kangxi Emperor had determined that the feudatories were a threat to the Manchu regime. In 1673 Shang Kexi submitted a memorial requesting permission to retire and in August of the same year a similar request arrived from Wu Sangui, designed to test the court's intentions. Kangxi went against the majority view in the Council of Princes and High Officials and accepted the request, asking them to leave their large fiefs to resettle in Manchuria.. News of Wu's rebellion reached Beijing in January 1674.
The same day, Zhu San taizi, a pretender to the Ming throne, led a revolt of several hundred household slaves at the capital. As chaos spread and a majority of the southern bureaucracy defected, the Kangxi Emperor hurriedly organised a pacification plan. He sent a vanguard at top speed to hold Jingzhou in the Middle Yangtze to press down Hunan and ordered the Xi'an garrison to move to Sichuan. At the end of the month, two staging areas had been established, one in Yanzhou, Shandong to handle logistics in eastern China and another at Taiyuan, Shaanxi, for Shaanxi, Sichuan and the southwest. Prince Lergiyen, son of the great Lekedehun and direct descendant of Nurhaci, was named commander-in-chief of the Qing armies.
In early 1674 the Qing forces suffered a number of setbacks. Wu Sangui captured most areas south of the Yangtze and in the west pushed through Sichuan. In Gansu, General Wang Fuchen(王輔臣) revolted and took Gansu and much of western Shaanxi into the rebel camp. Sun Yanling(孫延齡), who had ordered to hold Guangxi, also revolted, along with Geng Jingzhong's(耿精忠) Fujian feudatory. Only Shang Kexi in the far south remained loyal to the Qing.
In the spring of 1675, the Mongol leader Burni revolted in Manchuria and led an army on Shenyang. A federation of Mongol tribes was coordinated by Mala, a director from the Court of Colonial Affairs, against Burni. An ad-hoc army under generals Oja and Tuhai was also sent against the northern threat. They managed to rout Burni and he was killed by the Korchin Mongols.
Around the spring and early summer of 1675, the Kangxi Emperor became increasingly disillusioned with the performance of Manchu commanders. The pacification campaigns were bogged down in Zhejiang, Shaanxi and Ningxia. The third feudatory, Shang Zhixin, rebelled in Guangdong, and one of the Emperor's most vaunted generals, Chen Fu, was killed in a mutiny in Ningxia. Then, with startling suddenness, the course of the war turned. Without coherent administration and leadership, the rebels fragmented and fought among themselves. Wang Fuchen returned to Qing allegiance and his troops were used by Kangxi in western China. In November, Geng Jingzhong surrendered to General Giyesu in Fujian, and his troops were sent to Jiangxi. Shang Zhixin surrendered in January 1677, and later that year Wu Sangui had Sun Yanling murdered because it was believed he too was about to surrender. Thus, the only major threats remaining to the Qing forces were Wu Sangui himself in the southwest, and Zheng Jing, son of the Ming loyalist general Zheng Chenggong, who threatened the southwestern coastline from Taiwan.
The last four years of the war saw a steady series of Qing victories. Wu Sangui died of natural causes in 1678 and his grandson Wu Shifan committed suicide in Yunnan in December 1681. Zheng Jing was defeated near Xiamen (Amoy) in 1680 and forced to withdraw to Taiwan, dying there in 1681. Geng Jingzhong was sentenced to death by slicing and his head displayed in public. Many who surrendered in good faith in the belief that they would receive amnesty from the throne were likewise executed.
The final victory to round off the wars of the three feudatories was the conquest of Taiwan. As soon as the war on the mainland was over, the Kangxi Emperor chose Shi Lang, a man who had been admiral to the Zheng family fleets during the early 1640s, to lead an amphibious operation against Taiwan. Shi Lang insisted on having independent command, from the Governor-General of Fujian, Yao Qisheng, and the Governor-General of Guangxi and Guangdong, Wu Xingzuo. He assembled a fleet of three hundred vessels and defeated the Zheng family's leading naval commander Liu Guoxuan(劉國軒) on a major engagement near the Pescadores. A few weeks later, in October 1683, the last members of the Zheng family in Taiwan surrendered.
The Kangxi Emperor had finally succeeded in securing his place on the throne and reunified the empire. He cemented this with policies to integrate members of the Chinese literate elite into the Qing state and to reduce the protracted bitterness of south China.