ABSTRACT

We have already encountered Yang Sichang and touched upon his rise to prominence, but it is worth briefl y recounting his earlier career to give a sense of how the emperor came to trust him so much. Yang Sichang’s rise was intimately tied to the disgrace of his father and to his own sense of fi lial piety. As soon as Yang He was summoned to Beijing, his son, Sichang, petitioned the court to replace his father so as to atone for his mistakes, but Chongzhen refused for the time being. 1 Following in the footsteps of his father, Yang Sichang was a jinshi of 1610. 2 After earning his degree, he was fi rst made an instructor in the prefectural school at Hangzhou and then transferred to a lecturer post in Nanjing before receiving an appointment in the Ministry of Revenue. As we saw earlier, he was quite vocal in making recommendations for improving Ming defenses in the northeast and his proposals tended to be detailed and well-written, even if at times they were overly idealistic. Perhaps desiring to stay out of the factional strife that was then wracking the court, Yang retired on account of illness in 1621 and did not return to offi ce until Chongzhen ascended the throne. After serving in mid-level positions for several years he was transferred to Shanhaiguan in 1631 to oversee military supplies. 3

Although his plea to replace his father had been rejected (as was his offer to serve his father’s sentence of exile), Yang was promoted to Censor-in-Chief of the Right and Touring Pacifi cation Commissioner of Shanhaiguan, Yongping, and the surrounding areas in 1633, later being elevated still further to Vice Minister of War of the Right and concurrently Vice Censor-in-Chief of the Right, as well as Supreme Commander of Military Affairs of Xuanfu, Datong, and Shanxi. Because banditry was still spreading across the central plains, Yang recommended opening up mines to raise additional revenues. 4 He then sent a series of memorials discussing border affairs to the throne, impressing Chongzhen with his talents, though later critics have charged that Yang was more of a clever wordsmith and excellent calligrapher than a solid policy-maker or sound tactician. 5 Nonetheless, because of these very skills, which traditionally marked an able and upright offi cial and human being, the emperor trusted Yang implicitly and Yang

grasp of the big picture with respect to military affairs. However, just as Yang was to assume his posts, his father died in exile and Yang was forced to retire to observe the customary mourning period. Before the mourning period was up, however, Yang was recalled to service by the emperor owing to the suicide of Zhang Fengyi in the wake of the recent Qing raids.