Zhang Xianzhong : biography
Zhang Xianzhong or Chang Hsien-chung () (September 18, 1606 – January 2, 1647), nicknamed Yellow Tiger, was a leader of a peasant revolt from Yan'an, Shaanxi Province and he later conquered Sichuan in the 17th century. His rule in Sichuan was brief and was ended by the invading Manchu army. He is commonly associated with the massacres in Sichuan which depopulated the region, however the extent of his killings is disputed.
The devastation of Sichuan
The events surrounding Zhang Xianzhong's rule and afterwards devastated Sichuan, where he was said to have "engaged in one of the most hair-raising genocides in imperial history". Lurid stories of his killings and flayings were given in various accounts. According to Shu Bi (蜀碧), an 18th-century account of the massacre, after every slaughter, the heads were collected and placed in several big piles, while the hands were placed in other big piles, and the ears and noses in more piles, so that Zhang Xianzhong can keep count of his killings. Original text: 賊每屠一方，標記所殺人數，儲竹園中。人頭幾大堆，人手掌幾大堆，人耳鼻幾大堆。所過處皆有記。 In one incident, he was said to have organized an imperial examination ostensibly to recruit scholars for his administration, only to have all the candidates which numbered several thousands killed. In another, to give thank for his recovery after an illness, he was said to have cut off the feet of many women. The severed feet were heaped in two piles with those of his favorite concubine, whose feet were unusually small, placed on top, and these two piles of feet were then doused in oil and set alight to be what he called "heavenly candles".
He was also reported to have ordered further massacres before he abandoned Chengdu in advance of the invading Manchus. The massacres, a subsequent famine and epidemic, as well as people fleeing from the turmoil and the invasion of the Manchus, resulted in the depopulation of Sichuan.
The Seven Kill Stele
A popular account of his life has it that he erected in Chengdu a stele, which came to be known as the Seven Kill Stele (七殺碑), with the following inscription:
| ||Heaven brings forth innumerable things to nurture man.Man has nothing good with which to recompense Heaven.Kill. Kill. Kill. Kill. Kill. Kill. Kill.|
There are however considerable doubts that this account is accurate. A stele was found in 1934 which was thought to be this very one. However, while the first two lines are similar, the line with the seven kills is absent in this stele and the actual line is completely different, and many therefore considered the story to be a fabrication from the Qing era.
The actual number of people killed by Zhang is not known and is disputed. Official Ming Dynasty history Ming Shi recorded a figure of 600 million deaths due to Zhang's activities, an exaggeration since the total population of China at that time was less than 150 millon, perhaps much lower. Original text: 将卒以杀人多少叙功次，共杀男女六万万有奇。 One historian wrote "The death toll is reputed to have been enormous, possibly one million out of a total provincial population of three million, before he was eventually killed by the Manchus." from J.B. Parsons, The Peasant Rebellions of the Late Ming Dynasty (University of Arizona Press). 1970 The combination of deaths from the massacres and other causes as well as flight of people from the province resulted in a sharp drop in the population of Sichuan. The population was estimated to have dropped by as much as 75%, with fewer than a million people left in Sichuan, most of whom were clustered in the periphery areas. The last Ming census figure for Sichuan in 1578 (more than 60 years before Zhang entered Sichuan) gave a population of 3,102,073. However, by 1661, only 16,096 adult males were registered in Sichuan, and Chengdu was said to have become a virtual ghost town frequented by tigers. A later figure for Sichuan was from the 1720s, which is over 70 years after Zhang's death and long after the resettlement of Sichuan had began, and it recorded 634,802 househoulds (which one estimate calculated to be around 2.5 million individuals).
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