Posted 04 August 2004 - 06:34 AM
Wang Mang's socialistic policies pissed off the aristocrats, but they also came at a time of famine, and so rather than enjoying the benefits the peasants blamed the new government for their misery as well. The "Green Woodsmen" (Lulin 绿林) were only one of many peasant rebellions that broke out against the Xin regime. By the time Wang Mang's regime fell, the whole empire was seething with warlords, rebels and self-defence militias, all trying to stay alive and gain some measure of power. In the end, different members of the Han imperial clan were also fighting one another for the right to be the man who restores the Han dynasty. Liu Xuan and Liu Xiu were two of these.
17 AD: Gua Tianyi 瓜田仪 starts a rebellion in Kuaiji 会稽 (Suzhou).
"Mama Lu" 吕母 forms a band of pirates to avenge her son after he is framed and murdered by local officials in Haiqu 海曲 (in Shandong).
And in Jingzhou 荆州, famine drives the peasants into the marshes to dig roots for food. Local residents Wang Kuang 王匡 and Wang Feng 王凤 champion their cause and decide to organise them into a rebellion. They are joined by other local leaders, and begin raiding the cities. Their base is on Mount Lulin 绿林山, and they are thus called the Lulin rebels (mistakenly translated in English sources as Green Woodsmen). The Lulin forces quickly swell to 7,000-8,000 men.
18 AD: A famine in the Qingzhou 青州 and Xuzhou 徐州 areas (Shandong and Jiangsu) sparks off another peasant rebellion, led by Fan Chong 樊崇. Their base of operations is on the sacred Mount Tai 泰山. Within a year, they grow to 10,000 men, and keep growing as other local rebel leaders join forces with them. Their discipline is strict, and they have an egalitarian system in which warriors call each other "Giant" (juren 巨人). Liu Penzi 刘盆子, a descendant of the Han imperial house, is captured by these rebels and made to herd their cows for them.
Also, in Donghai 东海 (in Shandong) Li Zidu 力子都 leads an army of bandits on raids around the Xuzhou and Yanzhou 兖州 areas.
21 AD: Gua Tianyi dies, but his rebellion in Kuaiji is still going strong despite government attempts to suppress the rebels or bribe them into surrender.
The governor of Jingzhou leads 20,000 troops to suppress the Lulin rebels, but is defeated at Yundu 云杜, with several thousands of government troops killed and all their supplies captured. The Lulin rebels seize more territory in Jingzhou, and increase to more than 50,000 men.
22 AD: The Western Han imperial clansmen Liu Yan 刘演 and Liu Xiu 刘秀 start a rebellion in Chongling 舂陵 (near Zaoyang 枣阳 in Hubei) with 7,000-8,000 men. The Lulin rebels split into two after a plague on Mount Lulin kills more than half of them. One group, under Wang Chang 王常 and Cheng Dan 成丹, moves south; the other group under Wang Kuang and Wang Feng moves north. Liu Yan and Liu Xiu join forces with this northern group.
In Pinglin 平林 (also in Hubei), Chen Mu 陈牧 and Liao Zhan 廖湛 rise in support of the Lulin with more than a thousand men, and call their forces the Pinglin Troops. Liu Xuan 刘玄, another Han imperial clansman, joins the Pinglin Troops and is appointed as a clerical officer.
In the east, 100,000 government troops close in on Fan Chong's rebels in Shandong. In order to distinguish themselves from the enemy, Fan Chong orders his men to all colour their eyebrows with vermillion dye, thus giving them the nickname "Red Eyebrows" (chimei 赤眉). At the Battle of Chengchang 成昌, the government troops are defeated. The Red Eyebrows pursue them to Wuyan 无盐, where they kill one of the two Xin generals.
"Mama" Lu the pirate dies of illness - by this time, her army has grown to 10,000. These pirates disperse and join the Red Eyebrows or two other rebel groups in Hebei - the Green Calves (Qingdu 青犊) and the Bronze Horses (Tongma 铜马).
23 AD: The northern and southern detachments of the Lulin rebels regroup at Nanyang 南阳 (near Zaoyang in Hubei). Marching northwards into Henan, they win victory after victory and grow to the strength of more than 100,000. The Lulin leaders decide to enthrone one of the Han imperial clansmen so as to give themselves more political legitimacy. The southern Lulin group support Liu Yan, while the northern group and the Pinglin Troops support Liu Xuan. Liu Xuan is chosen, and formally assumes the reign title of Gengshi 更始 (hence he is known to history as the Gengshi Emperor - Gengshidi 更始帝). A few months later, the city of Wan 宛 (in Henan) is captured and chosen as the Lulin capital.
Wang Mang is alarmed at the rise of this imperial pretender and sends an army of 420,000 (which is falsely claimed to be a million for propaganda purposes) from Luoyang to attack Wan. Passing by the city of Kunyang 昆阳 on the way, they surround the city which is garrisoned by the Lulin leaders Wang Feng, Wang Chang and Liu Xiu with only 8,000-9,000 men. The Xin army uses tunnelling and siege towers to try and take Kunyang and showers crossbow bolts into the city from the towers. Liu Xiu sees that the situation is hopeless without reinforcements, and leads 13 cavalrymen to break out of the city. He gathers 3,000 shock troops and returns, catching the Xin troops by surprise. The Lulin troops in the city sally out, and the Xin troops flee towards the nearby river. At this time a thunderstorm is raging, and the river has flooded - nearly all the Xin troops are drowned in its waters, except for a few thousand who escape back to Luoyang.
Following the great victory at Kunyang, Liu Xuan grows jealous of the prestige of Liu Yan and Liu Xiu. He finds an excuse and has Liu Yan executed. Liu Xiu is outraged but controls himself, begging forgiveness from Liu Xuan and biding his time for revenge.
Liu Xuan sends one army to take Luoyang and one to take Chang'an. Luoyang falls first, and Liu Xuan moves his capital there. The Red Eyebrows also arrive at Luoyang after their own northward campaign. But Liu Xuan gives them the cold shoulder, and they leave. Liu Xuan also send Liu Xiu to Hebei to reestablish Han rule there. In Hebei, Liu Xiu carefully builds up his own power base and prepares to challenge Liu Xuan when the time is ripe.
The Lulin western expedition reaches Chang'an. Wang Mang resorts to gathering the convicts in the city into an army, but they instead start looting his palace. In a last stand with his bodyguards against the Lulin, he is killed by a rebel merchant named Du Wu 杜吴. Wang's head is cut off and his body dismembered. His Xin dynasty, founded in 8 AD, comes to a bloody end after only 15 years.
At this time, other warlords are rampant all over the empire: Gongsun Shu 公孙述 in Sichuan, Kui Xiao 隗嚣 in Gansu, Qin Feng 秦丰 ("King of Chuli" 楚黎王) in the Xiangyang 襄阳 area, and a whole bunch of lesser bandit kings. Besides Liu Xuan in Luoyang, there are three other "emperors" claiming to be the heir to the Han throne: Liu Wang 刘望 in Runan 汝南, Liu Yong in Juyang 雎阳, and Wang Lang 王郎 in Handan 邯郸. Liu Wang and Liu Yong are true imperial clansmen, while Wang is only claiming to be the son of the late Han Emperor Chengdi.
24 AD: Liu Xuan moves his capital again, from Luoyang to Chang'an. There, he quickly becomes absorbed in wine and women, and the other Lulin leaders also slip into corruption and tyranny. The Red Eyebrows decide that their time has come, and begin preparations to march on Chang'an and overthrow Liu Xuan. In Hebei, Liu Xiu defeats and kills the Handan "emperor" Wang Lang, and also destroys the rebel armies of the Green Calves and Bronze Horses.
25 AD: Liu Xiu makes his move and proclaims himself emperor of the Han in Hebei. At exactly the same time, the Red Eyebrows, advancing towards Chang'an, decide to proclaim their former captive Liu Penzi as the new Han emperor. There are now at least six Han emperors in China.
The Red Eyebrows defeat Liu Xuan's army, while other Gengshi leaders like Wang Kuang defect to their side. They enter Chang'an, and Liu Xuan surrenders and is given an aristocratic title. Two months later, the Red Eyebrows change their mind and strangle him to death.
In Chengdu 成都, Gongsun Shu having defeated an invasion by Gengshi troops, proclaims himself emperor as well, with the name of his state as Chengjia 成家.
26 AD: In Chang'an the Red Eyebrows' famed discipline breaks down, and they begin to loot and vandalise the capital. Their supplies also run out, just as a famine begins in the area. They loot all the wealth they can find, burn down the imperial palace, and return eastwards.
Liu Xiu makes Luoyang his capital, but has sent an army to tail the Red Eyebrows to Chang'an. His troops try to take Chang'an from the Red Eyebrows, but are defeated. Short of supplies just like the Red Eyebrows, they withdraw.
Receiving news that the Red Eyebrows are returning to the east from Chang'an, Liu Xiu sends another army to intercept them. He also sends an army against the other rival Han emperor Liu Yong in Juyang. After a long siege, Liu Yong breaks out of the city but is betrayed and murdered by one of his generals. But Liu Yong's other generals flee into Anhui and proclaim Liu Yong's son Liu Yu 刘纡 as their leader, with the title King of Liang 梁王.
27 AD: Liu Xiu's forces intercept the Red Eyebrows, but are soundly defeated, suffering heavy losses. They regroup and attack again, and this time the Red Eyebrows are crushed, with 80,000 men and women surrendering. Hearing of this, Liu Xiu personally leads his main army to surround the Red Eyebrows. Starving and outnumbered, the remaining 100,000 rebels simply lay down their arms. Liu Penzi's career as a Han emperor is over, while Liu Xiu's is just beginning. Over the next ten years, he will have to mount many more campaigns to defeat Gongsun Shu, Kui Xiao, Liu Yu and all the other warlords who remain independent. But his capital remains at Luoyang, east of the old Han capital of Chang'an - and thus his revived Han dynasty comes to be known in history as the Eastern Han.
The dead have passed beyond our power to honour or dishonour them, but not beyond our ability to try and understand.