Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Mass suicide in China

19th March 1644

This day in history...Over 200 members of the Peking imperial family and court commit suicide in loyalty to the Emperor 

As extreme as that sounds in this day and age, the mass suicides in China were out of respect and loyalty and was pretty much expected at the time. To be exact, the figure of those who committed suicide on this day is closer to 900 people, and that's excluding the thousands of Eunuch's who died fighting and defending the Palace from rebels. Eunuchs, by the way, are men who have been castrated, typically before puberty, in beliefs that they might perform specific social functions. Eunuchs were seen as asexual and trustworthy as the inability to have children prevented them from having children, thus would not be tempted to seize power. Anyway, on to the history behind this event.

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Emperor Chongzhen

A History Lesson: During the 17th Century a little Ice Age caused widespread drought, famine and farmer uprisings throughout China, and accelerated the fall of the Ming Dynasty during Chongzhen's reign. In early 1644, the situation of uprisings had become very dire and unfavourable to Chongzhen. Li Zingcheng, a popular and important uprising, prepared to take the Ming capital of Beijing. Rather than facing capture, humiliation and probable execution, Chongzhen arranged a feast and gathered all the members of the imperial household, except his sons. He cried out "Why must you be born into my family?!" ( 汝何故生我家!) and killed them with his sword. The only person who survived was his second daughter, 126 year old Princess Chang Ping, who severed her arm whilst trying to block the blow of the sword. Chongzhen then fled to Jingshan Park, behind the Palace, and committed suicide by hanging himself from the Guilty Chinese Scholar-tree, leaving behind a death note on his robe:

 "I am insufficient in virtues and weak in conducts, hence the heavenly punishment, and the ministers also failed me. Having no dignity to face my ancestors, I would undress my crown and cover my face with hair. Mutilate my body as you wish, but do not harm a single civilian."(朕涼德藐躬,上干天咎,然皆諸臣誤朕。朕死無面目見祖宗,自去冠冕,以髮覆面。任賊分裂,勿傷百姓一人)

Image retrieved from Google. Will remove at owners request.
Chongzhen commits suicide.
Following the Emperor's death, dozens of loyal high-level government official and over 700 imperial household scholars committed suicide. This shows their loyalty to Chongzhen. In addition to these deaths, more than a 1000 palace eunuchs died fighting desperately to defend the Palace against rebels, and over 300 imperial maids committed suicide when they heard of the Emperor's death. This has remained as one of the biggest acts of loyalty in the history of the world. This doesn't go to say it is necessary and expected, especially in this day and age, but shows the impact that the Emperor had during his reign. 

Image retrieved from Google. Will remove at owner's request.
The tree where Chongzhen committed suicide. His gravestone can still be visited today
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