chapter  6
29 Pages

To catch a tiger: the suppression of the Yang Yinglong Miao uprising (1587–1600) as a case study in Ming military and borderlands history: Kenneth M. Swope


In the spring of 1600, fresh on the heels of an eight-year war against the Japanese in Korea, the Ming empire assembled a mighty host of over 240,000 troops to suppress the uprising of a hereditary Miao chieftain named Yang Yinglong in its southern borderlands. 1 Yang had ascended to the post of Pacifi cation Commissioner ( xuan wei shi ) of the territory known as Bozhou nearly thirty years earlier and had originally discharged his duties well. But sometime in the late 1580s due to either local political and personal disputes, identifi cation with local tribal interests against the claims of the expanding Ming state, or a combination of these factors, Yang placed himself in opposition to the empire and raised troops in rebellion. Though the authorities initially attempted to negotiate with or even appease Yang to a certain extent, they eventually realized that he had to be eliminated altogether, lest his discontent spread to neighboring borderland regions. Moreover, in crushing Yang’s rebellion, the Ming state would be able to advance its own goals of territorial expansion and the acculturation of always dangerous and unpredictable frontier minorities. 2

That the Ming state was able to muster such a large force so late in its history when the dynasty was supposedly already well into its irrevocable decline might be surprising enough to some readers, as also that the bulk of the forces on the government side were comprised of regional semi-nomadic “tribesmen.” Rather than merely identifying with so-called “tribal” or ethnic interests against the exactions of the expanding imperial state, many locals sought to side with the government for personal and group advantages. Indeed many local chieftains, or tusi , saw the state as more of an ally or partner that could be used to advance their own interests. As Leo Shin has observed, “just as the centralizing state depended on native chieftains to provide a degree of local order, local chieftains who had consolidated power also sought formal endorsement from the imperial court to bolster their own positions” and would cooperate, even militarily, against their rivals and competitors, regardless of ethnic identifi - cation or cultural affi liation. 3 This study will examine the use of these local semi-nomadic military units to suppress Yang Yinglong’s uprising and consider the implications of their use from the perspectives of both the imperial state and the localities.