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Was Wu Sangui really a traitor?


bhchao

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Every Chinese knows the name "Wu Sangui" to be synonymous with "traitor". Just last year Beijing labeled Hong Kong politician Martin Lee as "Wu Sangui" for testifying before the US Congress.

Another equally reviled figure in Chinese history, 汪精衛, is associated with the word "traitor". Both the PRC and ROC unanimously condemn Wang as a traitor for forming a collaborationist government with the Japanese in World War 2. When he died in 1944, the Nationalists blew up his tomb, with Chiang's approval.

It is easy to see Wang as a traitor. But was Wu Sangui really a traitor, or do you think he was a victim of circumstances during the last days of the Ming?

True, Wu helped the Manchus rise to power by opening 山海关 to them. But judging from history, his main rival Li Zicheng was not any better than him. History has portrayed Li as a sadistic rebel who let his troops loot, burn, and plunder their way to Beijing. After arriving at the capital, Li Zicheng took Wu's father and 陳圓圓 hostage.

This enraged Wu and he decided to overthrow Li by allying himself with the Manchu forces. Many think that his main reason was because of his love for 陳圓圓. Actually the more likely reason was because he wanted to become emperor himself, and he thought the Manchus would give him a helping hand towards that goal and leave Beijing altogether once they capture the city.

But the Manchus did not leave, and instead installed themselves as the new rulers of China. Li had Wu Sangui's father executed at the palace gates and took 陳圓圓 with him before fleeing from the combined forces.

What do you think of this? Do you think he was a traitor, or do you think the circumstances forced him to ally with the Manchus, or he really wanted to become emperor of a new dynasty? If the latter was the case, he must have been really naive to assume that the Manchus would leave the capital once it is taken. But assuming that the unlikely event occur where the Manchus did leave Beijing, do you think Wu would be seen in a less negative light today and be less regarded as a traitor?

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"慟哭六軍俱縞素, 衝冠一怒為紅顏。" - 吳梅村〈圓圓曲〉

Wu Sangui then became 平西王 until he was removed by Emperor Kangxi.

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You should compare him with those hundreds milliions little potatoes in

late Ming dynasty. They fought for their country, while the hornorable

general helped Ming's enemy for nearly half of his life. Why we are

always so considerate for those high rank officials and so slighting to

the ordinary people?

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Whoever said they were considerate for unscrupulous Wu or "high rank officials" in general? :roll: Who in their right mind would ever want to be considerate for that scum? He deserved what he got at the end after all he did, tracking down the last Ming pretender in Burma for the Manchus and returning him to Yunnan for execution. He also tried to blackmail Kangxi during the 3 Feudatories Revolt.

Having an open mind towards history and being considerate are two different things.

How was Li Yuan able to form a new dynasty with himself as the first emperor? Did he not ally himself with the Turks to overthrow the decadent Sui dynasty? The point is he succeeded with a substantial degree of Turk assistance. What if the Turks did not leave and chose to install themselves as the new rulers of China just like the Manchus did? Li Yuan very likely would have been classified as traitor too!

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There's a chinese saying "成王败寇"(the winner became a king and the loser became a bandit).

A king can order someone to write the history in his willing way. And as time goes by,the truth slowly vanished.What we can refer is the book writen by that time.

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A king can order someone to write the history in his willing way.

Just like what Tang Taizong may have done. There is truth reqarding him as a unique emperor who laid the foundations for a strong dynasty. However some of his accomplishments may have been exaggerated since he controlled the compilation and editing of the daily diaries that recorded the everyday activities of the emperor.

These records later formed the basis for the official history of his reign that was written by historians in the next dynasty.

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There is no point in arguing about who was a "traitor" when discussing events centuries past, and to do so is hyper-nationalistic. The people Wu Sangui let past the gate became the government of three centuries - anyone who fought against them might just as easily be termed "traitor".

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There is no point in arguing about who was a "traitor" when discussing events centuries past, and to do so is hyper-nationalistic.

Woodcutter, I see the point you are trying to make. But you're wrong. Many people just assume that what is thrown at them is true. If you throw the name "Wu Sangui" at them, they will say "Ah, he is a traitor". But do they know why? If you ask them why is he a traitor, most likely their response will be because he let the Manchus right through. (PRC is just one of those folks who thinks Mr. Wu was a traitor)

Well did he let the Manchus in because he genuinely wanted them to become rulers of China? Or did he have some other ulterior motive? If circumstances turned out different, what would his reputation be today? That is what a discussion is about.

This has nothing to do with "hyper-nationalistic" or nationalism for that matter. That is bs. Certainly that will not be the route to take.

The people Wu Sangui let past the gate became the government of three centuries - anyone who fought against them might just as easily be termed "traitor".

You bet. True the Manchus were not considered Han Chinese then. Today they are. The fact that many consider him a traitor today is difficult to comprehend since the people he let in are part of China today.

Woodcutter, by the way, do you know why he let the Manchus past 山海关 three and a half centuries ago? If you do, then you are welcome to bring closure to this issue. History is not "He did this, she did that" or taking things at face value the way it is presented to us. It's looking beneath the surface and beyond. That is what history is all about. Otherwise we wouldn't be on this forum!

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True the Manchus were not considered Han Chinese then. Today they are.

er... Han? Isn't 滿族 one of the 55 ethnic minorities?

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I think you have all done a fine job in discussing Wu's motives, and nobody on this earth could 'bring closure' to the issue.

I think that throwing the word "traitor" into the mix is just to make the subject juicier and sexier - because, as you say, Chinese people are accustomed to thinking of historical persons in such a way. That feels a little excluding to those of us who are not part of the greater Chinese race!

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Isn't 滿族 one of the 55 ethnic minorities?

I doubt if we should still claim having 55 ethic minorities too.

it seems 滿族 have no any evidence to be different from Han now, except something on their ID card.

P.S. 成王败寇而已, other than that, Wu is a 性情中人. :wink:

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