In the early decades of the seventeenth century, the Ming court slowly lost control of its rural bureaucracy and, as a result, of its tax structure. Pressed at the same time for more money to pay and supply the troops needed to counter the attacks of the Nuchen leader Nurhaci in Manchuria, the court both increased extra levies on those populated areas that it still controlled and laid off employees in the northwest, where the danger to the state seemed less pressing. One of those laid off in the economy move was a post station attendant from a rural family named Li Zicheng(1606-45).
Li Zicheng’s life
Li Zicheng worked previously in a wine shop and as an ironworker’s apprentice. In 1630. Li was enrolled in a military unit in western Shaanxi, but once again the government let him down. Deprived of promised supplies, Li and other soldiers mutinied, and over the next few years Li slowly as a natural leader among a group of uprooted men that numbered in the thousands, proving himself as intuitively skillful tactician. In 1634 Li was captured near the southern Shanxi border by a capable Ming general, who bottled up the rebel forces in a mountain gorges. Li was released after promising that he would take his troops back into the barren northern part of the province, but the agreement fell apart after a local magistrate executed thirty-six of the surrendered rebels.Li and his men retaliated by killing the local officials and taking once more to the hills. By 1635 he was stronger than ever, and was a leading representative at an extraordinary conclave of rebel leaders that took place at the town of Rongyang in central Henan Province, just south of the Yellow River.
The end of the Ming Dynasty
Finally, it was not the Manchus, but the rebel Li Zicheng who overthrew the Ming Dynasty. In 1644 Li Zicheng mounted a huge attack on Beijing, moving across North China with hundreds of thousands of troops, sacking the towns that resisted him, and incorporating into his own army the forces of those that surrounded. He waged a skillful propaganda war, pointing to the excesses and cruelties of the Ming regime and promising a new era of peace and prosperity to the exhausted Chinese people. In April 1644 his army men entered Beijing without a fight, the city gates having been treacherously opened at his coming. It is recorded that Emperor Chongzhen, after hearing that the rebels had enered the city, rang a bell to summon his ministers in order to get their advice or assistance. When none of them appeared, the emperor killed his daughter and favourate concubine and then walked to the imperial garden (Coal Hill Park) just outside the walls of the Forbidden City. In this garden there was a hill, from the crest of which the emperor and his consorts had been out to look over the panorama of Beijing. This time the emperor did not mount the hill, but attached a cord to a tree at its foot, and there hanged himself. The last ruler of the Ming Dynasty died. After the collapse of the Ming Dynasty, Li Zicheng called his new kingdom Dashun (the Region of Grand Obedience).