Li Zicheng

For other uses, see Li Zicheng (disambiguation).
Li Zicheng
Emperor of China (more...)
Reign 1644-1645
Born 22 September 1606
Died 1645 (aged 3839)
Full name
Li Zicheng (李自成)
Li Hongji (李鴻基) (birth name)
Era name and dates
Yongchang (永昌): 1644-1645
Dynasty Shun dynasty
This is a Chinese name; the family name is Li.
Li Zicheng
Chinese 李自成
Li Hongji
Traditional Chinese 李鴻基
Simplified Chinese 李鸿基
"Dashing King"
Traditional Chinese 闖王
Simplified Chinese 闯王

Li Zicheng (22 September 1606 – 1645), born Li Hongji, nicknamed "Dashing King", was a Chinese rebel leader who overthrew the Ming dynasty in 1644 and ruled over China briefly as the emperor of the short-lived Shun dynasty before his death a year later.

Early years

Li was born in Mizhi County, Yulin, Shaanxi in the late Ming dynasty. Initially a shepherd, he started learning horse riding and archery at the age of 20, and had also worked in a wine shop and as a blacksmith's apprentice.

According to folklore, in 1630, Li was put on public display in an iron collar and shackles for his failure to repay loans to a usurious magistrate, Ai. Ai struck a guard who offered shade and water to Li, whence a group of peasants friendly to Li tore apart Li's shackles, spirited him to a nearby hill, and proclaimed him their leader. Although they were only armed with wooden sticks, Li and his band managed to ambush a group of government soldiers sent to arrest them, and obtained their first real weapons.

As a general under Gao Yingxiang

At the same time, the Shaanxi region was hit by a famine, and the common people resented the Ming government. Li joined a rebel army led by Gao Yingxiang, who was nicknamed "Dashing King". He inherited Gao's nickname and command of the rebel army after Gao's death.

Within three years, Li succeeded in rallying more than 20,000 men to form a rebel army. They attacked and killed prominent government officials, such as Sun Chuanting, in Henan, Shanxi and Shaanxi provinces.

Some battles Li fought in this period

Battles of Luoyang, Nanyang and Kaifeng

Li advocated the slogan of "dividing land equally and abolishing the grain taxes payment system" which won great support of peasants. The song of "killing cattle and sheep, preparing tasty wine and opening the city gate to welcome the Dashing King" was widely spread at that time.

The 1642 Kaifeng flood (during the 3rd Battle of Kaifeng), caused by breaches of the Yellow River dikes by both sides,[1] ended the siege of Kaifeng and killed over 300,000 of its 378,000 residents.[2] After the battles of Luoyang and Kaifeng, the Ming government was unable to stop Li's rebellion, as most of its military force was involved in the battle against the Manchus in the north. Li declared himself the King of the Shun dynasty in Xi'an, Shaanxi.

From the Battle of Xiangyang to the creation of the Shun dynasty

In 1642, Li captured Xiangyang and proclaimed himself "King Xinshun".

Battle of Beijing and Battle of Shanhai Pass

In April 1644, Li's rebels sacked the Ming capital of Beijing, and the Chongzhen Emperor committed suicide. Li proclaimed himself the Emperor of the Shun dynasty.

After Li's army was defeated on 27 May 1644 at the Battle of Shanhai Pass by the combined forces of the defecting Ming general Wu Sangui and the Manchus, Li fled from Beijing towards his base in Shaanxi.

The decline and death of Li

After a number of defeats Li Zicheng disappeared. In the long term, it led to the development of myths and legends concerning Li. The principal one being that he was a great hope. Some folktales hold that Li survived after his defeats and became a monk for the rest of his life. Li mysteriously disappeared and there were different theories about his death too, at the age of 40. Some suggested that he committed suicide by hanging himself on a lotus tree, while others thought that he was killed by pro-Ming militia during his escape in 1645. It is thought that in 1645, Li Zicheng was killed in battle at Mount Jiugong. He fled into the south, in present-day Hubei.


Temporary Palace of Li Zicheng in Mizhi County, Shaanxi

Although the success of the Manchu conquest of China was attributed to the weakening of the Ming dynasty (exacerbated by Li Zicheng's rebellion), ironically, official historiography during the Qing dynasty regarded Li as an illegitimate usurper and outlaw. This view sought to discourage and demonize notions of rebellion against the Qing government, by propagating that the Manchus put an end to Li's illegitimate rule and restore peace to the empire, thus receiving the Mandate of Heaven to rule China. In 20th century China, the anti-Confucian and radical inclinations of the Communist Party of China viewed Li favourably, portraying him as an early revolutionary against feudalism.

Li appears as a bandit in Baifa Monü Zhuan, a wuxia novel by Liang Yusheng, where the heroine comments he is worthy of being a king. Li is featured as a character in some of the works of Hong Kong wuxia writer Jin Yong (Louis Cha). Li's rebellion against the Ming dynasty is featured in Sword Stained with Royal Blood and his personality is analysed from the point of view of Yuan Chengzhi, the protagonist. In The Deer and the Cauldron, set in the Qing dynasty during the early reign of the Kangxi Emperor, Li is revealed to have survived and fathered a daughter, A'ke, with Chen Yuanyuan. Li is also briefly mentioned by name in Fox Volant of the Snowy Mountain and The Young Flying Fox.

Li is the main character of the historical epic novel Li Zicheng by Yao Xueyin.[3]


  1. Lorge, Peter Allan War, Politics and Society in Early Modern China, 900–1795 Routledge; 1 edition (27 Oct 2005) ISBN 978-0-415-31691-0 p.147
  2. Xu, Xin The Jews of Kaifeng, China: history, culture, and religion Ktav Pub Inc (Feb 2003) ISBN 978-0-88125-791-5 p.47
  3. Martinsen, Joel (17 January 2008). "A tragic peasant rebellion, abridged for today's readers". Danwei.
"Dashing King"
Born: 22 September 1606 Died: 1645
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Chongzhen Emperor of Ming
Emperor of China
Shun dynasty
Succeeded by
Shunzhi Emperor of Qing
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