Qin Liangyu was born in Zhong County, Sichuan during the late Ming Dynasty to ethnic Miao parents. Her father, Qin Kui, believed girls should get the same education as boys and had her study history and the classics with her brothers. He also taught them kung fu. She studied martial arts more than her brothers and became proficient in both archery and riding, while also getting known for her skills in poetry.
Forming of the White Cavalry
She married a local district commander of Shizhu chiefdom, Ma Qiancheng, and accompanied him during minor battles against local warlords in the southwestern border of the Ming Empire. They had a good marriage and he often sought her advice. In 1599 Yang Yinglong rebelled, Ma Qiancheng took three thousand riders with him to suppress it, while Qin Liangyu brought an additional five hundred and they were successful, which made their army gain in importance.
In 1613, her husband was arrested because he offended a court eunuch and he died in prison. At his death, Qin Liangyu took over his post, and those under her command were known as the White Cavalry (白杆兵).
Final years of the Ming
When Nurhaci declared independence from the Ming, Qin Liangyu, accompanied by her brothers, rushed to the northeastern frontier in 1620 to help the Ming military effort in Shenyang. She also sold her personal belongings in order to recruit 3000 soldiers at her command, and was garrisoned at Shanhai Pass.
Qin returned to Sichuan to combat against local warlords and because of her success was promoted to the title Commander in Chief (都督佥事). In 1630, Qin Liangyu again sold her personal property to fund another expedition north to the Ming capital Beijing in order to aid the emperor against the rising Manchus. The Ming Chongzhen Emperor showered her with praises in poetry. He presented her with four poems as she passed through Beijing.
In the following 11 years, Qin Liangyu fought various battles against the rising rebel leader Zhang Xianzhong around Sichuan. As the Ming Dynasty crumbled and the Manchus broke south into the Central Plains, Qin redirected her efforts to resist the advancing Qing front. As a result of her will and determination in combating the Manchus, Qin Liangyu was given the title Grand Protector of the Crown Prince (太子太保) by the Southern Ming Emperor. Since very few distinguished characters ever attain that title, she is considered one of the highest ranking female generals in Chinese history.
After Beijing fell to the Qing in 1644, Qin Liangyu continued her resistance.
Emperor Longwu of the Southern Ming Dynasty made her a Marquess, but he was soon overthrown. Qin Liangyu then controlled part of Shizhu and her policy of agricultural self-sufficiency made her region attractive for refugees, of whom she helped settle down about a hundred thousand.
Qin Liangyu died after falling off a horse while examining her troops, at the age of 75.
Her legacy, along with her arms and armor, remain today in Shizhu, Chongqing. A statue of her is in the Ganyu Hall of the Shibaozhai in Zhong County (that was preserved during the Three Gorges Project) along with statues of the famous Three Kingdoms generals Zhang Fei and Yan Yan.. Together with Hua Mulan, Liang Hongyu and Thirteenth Sister, she is one of the most well-known military women in China.
- Belsky, Richard (2005). Localities at the center: native place, space, and power in late imperial Beijing. President and Fellows of Harvard College.
- Bennet Peterson, Barbara (2000). Notable Women of China: Shang Dynasty to the Early Twentieth Century. M.E. Sharpe, Inc.
- Edwards, Louise P (2001). Men and Women in Qing China. Hawai'i Press.