The rebellion started after massacres of Hui perpetrated by the Manchu authorities. Du used anti-Manchu rhetoric in his rebellion against the Qing, calling for Han to join the Hui to overthrow the Manchu Qing after 200 years of their rule. Du invited the fellow Hui Muslim leader Ma Rulong to join him in driving the Manchu Qing out and "recover China".For his war against Manchu "oppresion", Du "became a Muslim hero", while Ma Rulong defected to the Qing. On multiple occasions Kunming was attacked and sacked by Du Wenxiu's forces.
In Kunming, there was a slaughter of 3,000 Muslims on the instigation of the judicial commissioner, who was a Manchu, in 1856. De Wenxiu was of Han Chinese origin despite being a Muslim and he led both Hui Muslims and Han Chinese in his civil and military bureaucracy. Du Wenxiu was fought against by another Muslim leader, the defector to the Qing Ma Rulong. The Muslim scholar Ma Dexin, who said that Neo-Confucianism was reconcilable with Islam, approved of Ma Rulong defecting to the Qing and he also assisted other Muslims in defecting.
Tribal pagan animism, Confucianism, and Islam were all legalized and "honoured" with a "Chinese-style bureaucracy" in Du Wenxiu's Sultanate. A third of the Sultanate's military posts were filled with Han Chinese, who also filled the majority of civil posts.
His capital was Dali. The revolt ended in 1873. Du Wenxiu is regarded as a hero by the present day government of China.