Friday, March 03, 2006

Ming punitive expedition to
the Tai-Yunnan frontier (1388) V

In the period after the Ming conquest of Yunnan (1382-1388), Tai attacks on Ming frontier outposts eventually led to a large-scale Ming punitive expedition. The governor of Yunnan, Mu Ying, was ordered to punish the Tai leader Si Lun-fa and a military training mission was sent to Yunnan. To ensure an adequate food supply for the large expedition, an official was sent to Sichuan with 32,000 ding of paper money to purchase 10,000 head of ploughing buffalo. State farms (屯田) and grain stores were to be set up in Yunnan to provide a food supply for the increased troops in Yunnan (MSL 1 Oct 1387). Local rulers loyal to the Ming asked for troop reinforcements (MSL 6 Jul 1387). With a cavalry of 30,000 Mu Ying marched towards Dingbian on the Tai frontier. Arriving near the Tai encampment after 15 days, he built defensive fortifications for battle. The Ming Shi-lu relates:

"First 300 light cavalrymen were sent to provoke them. The Bai-yi met them with 10,000 men and 30 vanguard elephants to do battle. Zhang Yin, commander of the Yun-nan Forward Guard, led 50-plus cavalrymen as a vanguard, while the chieftains, astride their huge elephants, proceeded forward. Our army let fly with their arrows and these hit an elephant in the left knee and the ribs. The elephant fell to the ground and the chieftain was also hit, but fled. He was pursued and killed with arrows. Then, with great screams, the troops rushed forward and hundreds of heads were taken. The army took advantage of the victory and proceeded forward with a great uproar. The bandit forces thus drew back" (MSL 6 May 1388).

The next morning Mu Ying brought his generals and aides together and addressed them to spur them into battle and brought a special repeating crossbow weapon into the battle:

"[Mu Ying] issued orders to the army to set up guns and 'mystical-mechanism arrows' (神機箭) in three lines within the ranks. Then when the elephants advanced, the front line of guns was to fire its arrows. If the elephants did not retreat, the second line was to fire off its arrows. If the elephants still did not fall back, the third line was to fire its arrows" (MSL 6 May 1388)

The Ming Shi-lu describes the Tai battle array:

"[The Tais] came out of their camp and joined ranks to meet them. The chieftains, local commanders and the zhao-gang all rode on elephants. The elephants were all armoured and on their backs they bore a battle-turret like a parapet, while bamboo tubes hung on the two sides. Short lances were placed between these prepared for attacks. When the forces were about to meet, the massed elephants rushed forward. Our army attacked them and fired off arrows and stones. The sound shook the mountains and valleys and the elephants, shaking with fear, fled" (MSL 6 May 1388)

The Ming forces pursued the Tai forces right up to their stockade and lit the stockade on fire. The Ming Shi-lu describes how discipline increased the intensity of battle:

"From a high vantage point Mu Ying saw that the left force of our army had retreated a little. He thus sent urgent orders that the force commander be beheaded. The force commander was thus frightened and roused and, with a yell, rushed into the fray. The troops followed him and each was worth 100 men" (MSL 6 May 1388).

There were heavy casualties among the defeated Tai forces:

"the bandits' most valiant and powerful fighter was called Xi-la-zhe and he led their troops in fighting to the death…Over 30,000 heads were taken and over 10,000 men were taken prisoner. More than half of the elephants were killed and 37 were taken alive. The remaining bandits all fled. Our army pursued and attacked them, the bandits were unable to eat for days on end, and their corpses were found lying side by side. Si Lun-fa fled" (MSL 6 May 1388).

Mu Ying sent word of the victory to the capital and led his troops back.

The Pursuit

The defeated Tai forces retreated to Jing-dong and Ding-bian and Mu Ying received instructions from the Ming capital to move against them:

"Your report has recently been received and it is known that you have destroyed the Bai-yi and that Si Lun-fa has fled. You are now to move the troops and exert gradual pressure on Jing-dong. However, the yi are by nature obstinate and barbaric. If they do not accept guilt and offer to surrender, they will indeed engage in more intrusive attacks” (MSL 25 May 1388).

Particular attention was again paid to ensuring an adequate food supply to support the soldiers on the expedition:

“Ding-bian is distant from the Yun-nan lake by at least 10 days by slow march. If the troops proceed there at a fast march, they will find it difficult to do battle. You should ensure security, state farms should be opened up, and firm walls should be erected so that battle can be done with them. When the Great Army is collected and ready, the advance should begin” (MSL 25 May 1388).

Mu Ying was also instructed to give the Tai leaders the option of paying an indemnity if they wished to surrender:

“If they want to offer tribute and request that the troops be withdrawn, you should instruct them in the Great Precepts of Right Conduct, require them to repay the funds (Alt: food) we have expended and have them present to the Court 15,000 horses and the troops who were killed in Jing-dong. They are also to be instructed to offer as tribute 500 elephants, 30,000 buffalo and 300 elephant attendants. If they listen to orders and offer tribute in the amounts specified, their request to surrender should be allowed” (MSL 25 May 1388).

The Tai leader Si Lun-fa sent a mission to Kunming to submit to the Ming, but blamed two other Tai leaders for the military actions against the Ming:

“Then he [Si Lun-fa] sent his local commanders and pacifiers to Yun-nan [Kun-ming] to advise that plans for rebellion in the past had not been his, and rather had been hatched by his subordinates Dao Si-lang and Dao Si-yang. He requested that his crimes be forgiven and advised willingness to offer tribute.”

Mu Ying sent word of the Tai submission to the capital and an official named Da-yong was sent to deal with the matter. The envoy carried with him a message for Si Lun-fa from the emperor. Si Lun-fa’s domain, Luchuan was seen as a distant and strange place:

"…Lu-chuan is secluded in the South-west, 10,000 li in the distance. It is not in China's maps. Why is Lu-chuan alone like this? Like in Yun-nan's territory, the roads are precipitous, the people make their lairs on cliffs and have to drink their water from the springs and rivers below. They have animal form and yi appearance and their ways are lacking in moral principles.”

The emperor relates the history of the Ming conquest of Yunnan and compares the intransigence of the Tai leader with the “Liang Prince”, the former Mongol-Yuan ruler of Yunnan, Balaswarmi.

“Only you, Si Lun-fa, have imitated and surpassed the Liang Prince. You have taken in our fugitives and have done so for several years. The Jin-chi and Jing-dong campaigns resulted from your actions. I said that you sought more people and wanted to expand your territory, that you wanted to challenge China and it was thus that you dared to create trouble. Therefore I ordered the skilled generals to lead their troops to establish camps and fields where they could both plant crops and protect our territory. Now, you have come and claimed that the previous violations on the border were not your doing but rather the acts of Dao Si-lang and so on. I have not examined whether this is so or not” (MSL 28 Nov 1389, my italics).

In a way, the emperor admits that he could be wrong in attributing all the Tai attacks to Si Lun-fa, but he demands that Si Lun-fa pay an indemnity to “assuage the anger of the various generals.” The emperor also demands that Si Lun-fa join with Chinese forces in an expedition against a rebellious Yunnan leader named Zhi-chun.

An alternative interpretation to the traditional interpretation of these events is possible, namely that Si Lun-fa was basically the Chinese emperor’s agent among a Tai leadership that lacked any unity and coordination. Ming officials misunderstood the nature of political control in the Tai-Yunnan frontier region, attributing to Si Lun-fa the leadership of a centralized, unified state, and in the end through their support, Si Lun-fa effectively becomes their agent in the frontier region.

Around 1390 there was an incident that casts in bold relief the different Tai versus Chinese views of gift giving. In 1389-90 the Chinese court appointed an official to deliver credentials and orders of instruction to Luchuan-Lingmian. When he arrived, they presented him with gifts including gold which he refused. According to the Ming Annals, he was told by the Tai "if you do not accept this display of kindness, the man people may well harbour suspicion and engage in rebellion. It is better to accept the presents," but he quickly handed them over to the Yunnan provincial administration. Following his successful mission, when he returned to the capital he was promoted to his new post (MSL 16 Oct 1390). In 1390 Si-Lun-fa again sent a tribute mission to the capital (MSL 26 Oct 1390). Two garrisons were established in Jing-dong and Meng-hua around 1391 (MSL 2 Jan 1391).