Huang Chao

This is a Chinese name; the family name is Huang.

Huang Chao (Chinese:黃巢) (d. 884) was the leader of the Huang Chao Rebellion (875~884) in China that seriously weakened the once-mighty Tang Dynasty. Huang Chao was well-educated but was bitterly disappointed when he failed to pass the civil service examinations, and became a salt smuggler. Around the 870s a severe drought and famine struck northern and central China, and mobs of starving people joined the criminal gangs of Wang Xianzhi and Huang Chao, who revolted against Tang rule and began to gain in strength. Huang Chao led his forces in guerrilla attacks against the regular Tang army, gradually attracting as many as 600,000 followers who burned and plundered cities as far south as Canton. In 881, Huang Chao moved north and sacked the capital Chang'an, slaughtering its residents and leaving the city in ruins. He proclaimed himself the first emperor of the Ta Ch'i dynasty, but was unable to organize a government or a stable food supply for the capital. In 883, Tang armies, assisted by nomadic Turkish tribes under the Shatuo Turk chieftain Li Keyong, recaptured Chang’an. Huang Chao fled east to Tai Shan, where he died in 884.

The Huang Chao Rebellion was the final blow for the Tang Dynasty, which had begun its decline a century before after the Anshi Rebellion. The imperial government had never been able to regain control over the provincial governors, who had virtually become autonomous, and many functions of the government, including command of the palace armies, had been taken over by eunuchs. The Tang dynasty was overthrown in 907 by Huang Chao's former follower Zhu Wen, initiating several decades of civil war called the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period. The Huang Chao Rebellion also gave power to the Turkish chief Li Keyong, whose son defeated Zhu Wen's Later Liang Dynasty and established the Later Tang.

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Background of the Rebellion

By the ninth century, the Tang Dynasty, established in 618, had already passed its golden age and entered its long decline, beginning with the An Shi Rebellion (755- 763) by Turkish-Sogdian general An Lushan. After the rebellion was crushed, the Tang Dynasty never recovered its former glory. Millions had died or fled to the south, and the population of the rich agricultural regions in Henan and Heibei was decimated. The Yangzi River (Changjiang) valley became the richest and most populated region of China. Provincial governors became almost autonomous and resisted the effort of the Tang government to exact taxes, end hereditary succession to provincial posts, and reduce the size of their armies. The central Tang government gradually developed large palace armies, commanded by eunuch generals, to deal with thee rebellions. Eunuchs began to take power on all levels of government, even controlling succession to the throne. Among the Chinese people, resentment against the corruption and incompetence of the Tang government increased.

During the 830s the Yangzi Valley experienced a series of natural disasters, including floods, epidemics of disease, and droughts which led to famine. From 860 to 880, several anti-government rebellions arose among the impoverished farmers, tax-burdened landowners and merchants, and big salt-gangs(Perkins 1999).

Huang Chao’s Early Life

The exact date and place of Huang Chao's birth is unknown; all that is known about his youth was that he was born somewhere near today's Shandong region, and that by the age of five, he had already written a poem. Huang Chao exhibited an aptitude for scholarship, and tried to enter a career as a government bureaucrat by taking the civil service examination. After failing the exam, he began to doubt the justice of society and the government, and entered the salt smuggling trade (the lucrative salt business had been officially monopolized by government of China since the reign of Emperor Wu of Han), while at the same time agitating against the government, along with other famous salt kingpins such as Wang Xianzhi.

Rebellion and Expansion

Around the 870s a severe drought and famine struck northern and central China, and most of the starving people joined various criminal gangs, and turned into mobs. Wang Xianzhi, in the same region as Huang Chao, revolted against Tang rule and began to gather followers. Huang Chao also rebelled against the government, leading his gang in guerrilla attacks against the regular Tang army.

In 875, when the Royal Tang court in Chang'an, received news of the rebellion, it dispatched more troops to the area, and began to work on generating a rivalry between the two gangs. The Tang government rewarded Wang Xianzhi with a formal office at the imperial court, and offered his gang wealth in return for their cooperation. Wang Xianzhi and his forces turned against Huang Chao; however, Huang Chao overpowered them and convinced Wang again to revolt against the emperor. Wang Xianzhi began to fight Tang forces again, and was soon captured and executed by the Tang government. Large numbers of Wang Xianzhi's followers joined Huang Chao's group, almost doubling the size of his forces. Huang Chao further expanded his power by attracting the support of millions of desperate farmers, impoverished merchants and anarchists who joined his army in burning and looting several cities. In 879, they moved as far south as Canton, where they massacred the community of merchants in the foreign quarter. In 881, Huang Chao moved north and, with his forces now numbering 600,000, sacked the capital Chang'an, slaughtering its residents and leaving the city in ruins, (Morton and Lewis 2005) and then attacked Luoyang, which was at the time the largest city in China.

Downfall and Death

Huang Chao proclaimed himself the first emperor of the Ta Ch'i dynasty, and invited many Tang officials to his new court. However, he was unable to organize a supply of food for the capital, and had no agenda for governing the nation effectively. The Tang Emperor Xizong, based in the present-day Sichuan region, began a counter-attack against the rebel troops. A group of nomadic Turkish tribes under the Shatuo Turk chieftain Li Keyong allied with Tang, sending cavalry to their aid, and harassing Huang Chao's new regime. Huang Chao's forces surrendered Chang'an in 883, and Huang Chao began to flee eastward.

The Korean student Choe Chi-won won recognition for his service under the Tang general Gao Ping in the struggle against Huang Zhao rebellion, and is credited with convincing, through his writing, thousands of Huang's followers to betray Huang and return to Tang Dynasty.

In 882, Zhu Wen, a once-loyal follower of Huang Chao, deserted him and joined the Chinese regular army with his unit. Zhu was promoted to the rank of general, and drove Huang Chao to Tai Shan. Huang Chao was captured and was either killed or committed suicide in 884.

Aftermath

Even though Huang Chao was only one of many rebel leaders in Chinese history, and though his rebellion was only one of the numerous uprisings that took place during the late Tang dynasty, the impact of the Huang Chao Rebellion equals that of Tai Ping Rebellion or the Yellow Turbans. Although the Huang Chao Rebellion occurred on a smaller scale than An Shi Rebellion, it led to the overthrow of the Tang Dynasty in 907, by Huang Chao's former follower Zhu Wen, initiating several decades of civil war called the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period.

The Huang Chao Rebellion gave power to the Turkish chief Li Keyong, whose son defeated Zhu Wen's Later Liang Dynasty and established Later Tang, extending the civil war even further.

The Huang Chao Rebellion also has historical significance as an agrarian protest and anarchist movement.

References

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