The War of Shanhaiguan Great Wall

The War of Shanhaiguan Great Wall happened in 1644. Wu Sangui, leader of the Ming Court army, surrendered to Qing Court and opened the Shanhaiguan Pass to the Qing army for military help. The two groups of army then defeated the great army led by Li Zicheng, the leader of peasant uprisings against the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644). Through the war, the Qing court entered the Central Plain, set up Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911) and started its rule over the whole China.

How did the War of Shanhaiguan Great Wall happen?

Shanhaiguan Pass, Qinhuangdao, Hebei
Shanhaiguan Pass, Qinhuangdao, Hebei

In the last years of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), two strong forces threatened the rule of the Ming Dynasty. One was from the fierce attack of the great army led by Li Zicheng, and the other was from the army of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) garrisoned outside the Shanhaiguan Pass. Dorgon, the prime regent of the Qing Dynasty, commended an army of 150,000 soldiers to attack the army of Ming Dynasty, and Li Zicheng was planning a major war in Beijing, the capital of the Ming Dynasty).

At this time of emergency, Wu Sangui and his 40,000 soldiers were garrisoning the Shanhaiguan Pass. For generations, the pass was often the point of battle due to its important strategic position. Received the order of rescuing the Ming court, Wu immediately led his army back to Beijing. But on the half way, he was told that the Emperor Chongzhen had already committed suicide, which meant the end of the Ming Dynasty. Worried about the variable situation, Wu returned to the pass in a hurry.

Li Zicheng well understood the importance of the Shanhaiguan Pass. On the verge of overthrowing the Ming Dynasty thoroughly, he decided to summon Wu Sangui to surrender. On witnessing the Ming Dynasty's number up, and after much deliberation, Wu agreed. But on his way to meet Li Zicheng, he was told that his concubine Chen Yuanyuan was taken possession and his father was imprisoned by the general of Li Zicheng. In great fury, Wu immediately changed the mind, and went back and took Li Zicheng as his sworn enemy from then on.

The War of Shanhaiguan Great Wall

Shanhaiguan Pass of Great Wall
Shanhaiguan Pass of Great Wall

To be reluctant to show weakness, in May 1644, Li Zicheng headed the troop of 100,000 soldiers to crusade against Wu Sangui. Being outnumbered, Wu Sangui judged the situation and asked help from the Qing Army at the expense of his surrender. With great joy, Dorgon advanced to Shanhaiguan Pass because he also wanted to wipe out the force of Li Zicheng and set up the Qing Dynasty all over China.

Li Zicheng heavily attacked the Shanhaiguan Pass. Till the next morning after the war started, the defenders on the pass died a half and many soldiers were forced to surrender. At this time, Dorgon's army had arrived, but Dorgon kept the troop unmoved on seeing the other two sides fight fiercely. In this critical moment, Wu Sangui ventured to meet Dorgon in person in the camp of Qing army. He showed his sincerity and loyalty to Dorgon again. Finally, they reached an agreement that Wu's army would reinforce inside the pass by tying a white list on each soldier's shoulder, and they would open the gate to welcome Dorgon's army enter.

When returned, Wu Sangui opened the gate of the pass. The Qing Army entered from Nanshui Gate, Beishui Gate and Guanzhong Gate. The large army force quickly crushingly defeated the army of Li Zicheng. Li escaped to Yongping (in today's Qinhuangdao City) and finally was killed in Jiangxi.

The War of Shanhaiguan Pass is vital to the history of China. After entering the pass, the army of Dorgon smoothly marched in the center of China. The Qing Dynasty was established thereafter.

Further Reading on Famous Great Wall Battles:

 General Meng Tian Attacked the Huns in the North

 Wei Qing and Huo Qubing Beat Back the Huns

 Genghis Khan Breached China Great Wall

 Tumu Crisis

 Battle of Rehe - Last Battle on the Great Wall 

 See also: Top 8 Great Wall of China Events in History

- Last updated on Jan. 19, 2023 by Brenda Lian -
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