Sun Chengzong -- The Last Exceptional Commander of the Ming Dynasty in the History of China

Sun Chengzong (1563 -- 1638) was a remarkable and loyal militarist, educator, poet, and strategist in the history of China.


He was the last exceptional marshal of the Ming Dynasty, who built a strong Maginot Line for his empire, and was able to defend his country.


Scholars of the next Qing Dynasty believed that if Sun was always trusted and in charge of Ming’s military, Qing would still be a nomadic regime that would never have the chance to replace Ming. 

Intelligent Scholar and His Early Years Teaching in the Border

Sun Chengzong was born into an ordinary family in northern China, there was a battlefront among the Ming Empire and different nomadic regimes.


After he passed the local Imperial Examination when he was 15 years old, Sun started to be a teacher in many front-line cities of the Ming Empire in the north.


During those years, Sun Chengzong witnessed lots of wars, destruction, blood, and suffering; then he made up his mind to make a change, and try to bring people with stable lives.


So he participated in the National Imperial Examination and won second place when he was 41 years old. 


Brilliant Royal Teacher and Remarkable Marshal

Soon he was nominated as the teacher of the crown princes; Emperor Zhu Youjiao and his father both had been Sun Chengzong's students for a long time. 


At that time, the Ming Empire had already lost many cities in northeast China to the nomadic regime Manchu; therefore, Emperor Zhu Youjiao sent his trusted teacher Sun Chengzong to try to defeat the nomads in the battlefront. 


This turned out to be one of the best commands that Emperor Zhu Youjiao ever made.


As soon as Sun Chengzong arrived there, he immediately promoted some exceptional generals, recruited many refugees, and trained them into a strong troop, while expelling those incapable ones.


Construct Unbreakable Line of Defense and Strong Troops

Sun Chengzong also led his soldiers to finish many functional military constructions and apprenticed his last student Yuan, another excellent but controversial general.


Many refugees, those who had great hatreds against the Manchu army, were trained into an extremely powerful and strong cavalry troop, which then made great contributions in defending the Ming Empire.


Sun Chengzong was already in his 60s at that time, so he also selected and trained five other remarkably brave and strong generals to assist his apprentice Yuan.


Then he took back many lost cities and built a strong Maginot Line of the Ming Dynasty, which was consisted of several geographically important strongholds and military cities, with large numbers of food and well-trained troops.


This line of defense that Sun Chengzong designed and built was unbreakable; even after Ming’s last emperor was departed and the Ming Empire has perished, the aggressive Manchu soldiers were still fighting here and couldn’t break it. ​

Under Sun’s excellent management, the Ming Empire kept expanding gradually and stably.


The regime Manchu initiated several attack wars, but all ended up with big failures.


With those excellent generals and loyal soldiers, everything looked perfect. 


Political Frame Up and Retirement 

Then Emperor Youjiao’s favorite and powerful eunuch Wei eliminated the political party that Sun Chengzong belonged to and murdered many of their loyal officials, but Sun refused to comply with Wei.


Sun Chengzong wanted to go back and plead to the emperor, but Wei successfully persuaded the emperor to let Sun Chengzong go back to the front city.


Then Eunuch Wei tried several times to frame Sun Chengzong up, under the charge of corruption.


The emperor still respected him as his teacher, so he just let Sun Chengzong retired, and warned the Eunuch Wei not to assassinate Sun. 


Retreating of Ming Empire After Sun Chengzong Left

Eunuch Wei then nominated one of his followers to replace Sun Chengzong’s position, who was an absolute coward.


This person commanded everyone to give up all the strongholds and cities that Sun had built and then retreated inside of the Great Wall, where he believed to be safer.


Tens of thousands of soldiers and large numbers of civilians had to move back to a narrow city, while hundreds of valuable military sites and several important cities were abandoned. 


At that time, only Sun Chengzong’s apprentice General Yuan refused to retreat; he insisted to stay in an important city, together with his 10,000 soldiers, in the very front line to defend the country. 


General Yuan claimed that he and his army would keep fighting until the last person. 


Inspiring Success of Sun's Apprentice 

As soon as Sun Chengzong left, Manchu’s lord, a talented marshal who used to led 40,000 cavalrymen defeated Ming’s 120,000 soldiers before, immediately occupied strongholds and cities that Sun built before, and tried to march southward.


This time, the lord led 60,000 of his main forces, trying to attack General Yuan’s isolated city with only 10,000 soldiers inside.


After intense battles, the lord with exceptional military skills, however, ended up with big failure; he was injured in this battle and soon passed away.


Then General Yuan got promoted and reestablished Sun Chengzong’s Line of Defense; he led his army kept winning and expanding, while the Manchu army encountered huge losses. 


Soon, however, the Eunuch Wei forced General Yuan to resign, because Yuan was also considered as his political enemy. 

Sun's Apprentice General Yuan - Ambition and Fault


Years later, Emperor Zhu Youjiao passed away and gave the throne to his younger brother Zhu Youjian, the last emperor of the Ming Dynasty in the history of China.


Zhu Youjian was an ambitious monarch, he used several months perished Eunuch Wei and his eunuch party, and then summoned General Yuan back to the battlefront city to fight with Manchu. 


General Yuan finally had the opportunity to rebuild and strengthen the Line of Defense that Sun Chengzong built before.


But unlike his teacher Sun, Yuan was a proud and arrogant person.


He wrongly executed another contributive and loyal general; then when Manchu's new lord made a long detour, avoided his Line of Defense, and marched toward capital Beijing, Yuan didn’t react well and put Beijing in danger again, because of his wrong judgment. ​

Intense War of Defending Beijing City 

Under that circumstance, Sun Chengzong was summoned back to defend the Ming Empire.


This time, Yuan didn’t listen to Sun’s order to directly fight against the Manchu army; instead, Yuan just followed them marching around the Beijing City, and watched them robing and burning many nearby places down.


The reason why General Yuan did this was unclear; some said he already secretly surrendered to Manchu, some believed that he was better at defending a city, and others thought he was afraid to lose because he had fewer soldiers than Manchu, or he was just waiting for a good opportunity to attack.  


Anyway, Yuan didn’t ambush the Manchu army in other cities as Sun Chengzong had planned; this made Manchu troop soon arrived outside of Beijing City. 


Soon, Yuan was put into prison, because he illegally murdered an important general before, and he should be responsible for the Manchu army’s besieging of Beijing.


After a series of intense battles, the Manchu army still couldn’t get inside of Ming's capital, and the Ming Empire also lost many good soldiers and brave generals.


Therefore, the Manchu army occupied four other cities surrounding Beijing, waiting for other opportunities to attack this capital.


Invincible Marshal Sun Chengzong, Savior of Ming Empire

Then, Sun Chengzong who was now already 66 years old, led only 27 people and rushed into the battlefront city near Beijing.


He used a few months to organize his former aggressive generals and cavalry troops, who now only respected and listened to Yuan and Sun and then started to prepare to fight back.


This remarkable commander led his troop, successfully defeated, and expelled the Manchu army back outside of the Great Wall; Sun Chengzong took back the lost cities with the speed of one city per day. 


After that, Sun Chengzong was nominated as the chief commander again, to reinforce and expand the Line of Defense that he built before, and led his troop to fight against the Manchu army. ​


Later, another military site that Sun Chengzong constructed was attacked and defeated by Manchu; then, some people blamed Sun Chengzong for being "radical" on constructions and having implemented wrong commands.


Sun Chengzong was forced to resign again. 


Sun Chengzong's Epic Final War and Honorable Sacrifice 

In the next few years, the Manchu Lord detoured and tried to attack Beijing city again.


This time, the Manchu troop also surrounded a very small town that had no soldiers nor enough food nor any military weapons, the city where the retired Sun Chengzong was living.


Lord of the Manchu sent many people trying to persuade Sun Chengzong to comply, and promised him countless treasures and power, but he refused. ​

Then Sun Chengzong led his entire family, five sons, six grandsons, and ten nephews, climbed onto the city wall to fight against Manchu. Around 1000 civilians inside the city were highly moved by Sun Chengzong and all listened to his command.


This 76-year-old general led his entire family members and those civilians bravely fought with the strong Manchu cavalry army for a few days, and then was captured.


Again, the Manchu Lord started to try to make Sun Chengzong comply, and he refused as always. 


Lord of Manchu regarded Sun Chengzong as their most threatening enemy, so they gave Sun the dignity to choose the way he left the world. Sun then bowed to the direction where his emperor was and committed suicide.


Another saying was that the Lord of Manchu tied Sun Chengzong on a horse, dragged and tortured him to death cruelly, but they then hid the truth in historical documents.


Sun Chengzong's entire family was sacrificed in that battle, except a very old lady and a five-year-old toddler. 


This exceptional genius, who was knowledgeable enough to be the crown princes’ teacher, who was brave and intelligent to gain such extraordinary military achievements and saved his kingdom for several times, dedicated his entire life to protecting his country.


Sun Chengzong was a brave general, a great militarist, an insightful strategist, talented literature, and a genuine patriot.


He and large numbers of other generals and soldiers, together, they showed the world that there is a certain kind of people in the history of China, they always would choose the path that they believe in, even it is quite difficult or cruel, even when they knew that they wouldn’t see what they had expected in the end. 

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