Huang Ch'ao

Huang Ch'ao (died 884) was a Chinese rebel leader. From 875 to 884 he conducted a major rebellion against the T'ang dynasty.

Huang Ch'ao was born to a family of merchants living in northeast China on the Shantung peninsula. His family was wealthy enough to provide him with some education, and he tried to pass the civil service examination. His failure to do so embittered him against the ruling T'ang dynasty.

Although the T'ang had nearly been overthrown by the An Lu-shan rebellion in the middle of the 8th century, there had been a period of imperial recovery lasting until about 820. The following half century was one of steady decline for the ruling house.

In 874 the 11-year-old emperor Hsi-tsung succeeded to the throne. This boy was, of course, unable to give any positive direction to imperial policy. The result was tragic, because the beginning of his reign coincided with a period of severe drought in China. The central government was incapable of helping the desperate people, and by 875 full-scale rebellion had broken out.

The leader of the rebellion was Wang Hsien-chih; Huang Ch'ao was one of his lieutenants. In 878, after 3 years of hard fighting, Wang was killed in battle and Huang Ch'ao became commander of the rebel troops. In 879 they occupied Canton and its outlying areas. Success began to follow success for the rebels. Huang Ch'ao led a major campaign toward the north and by the winter of 880 occupied the eastern capital, Loyang, which had put up no resistance. Early in 881, just weeks after taking Loyang, Huang Ch'ao took Ch'ang-an, the western capital.

Huang's first act was to proclaim himself emperor. In an effort to create a government, he preserved the bureaucratic structure, putting his own followers in the top posts. This effort was short-lived, however, as imperial troops recovered the capital in the spring of 881.

The military situation fluctuated for the next 2 years, although the rebels were able to regain and hold Ch'angan. They could not obtain provisions, however, and their situation became desperate. The real turning point came when the T'ang enlisted the aid of non-Chinese armies, which drove Huang Ch'ao and his troops out of the capital. The rebels struggled to the east, but within a year their army was dispersed and their leader dead. The T'ang dynasty survived, in name at least, for 2 more decades, but in 907 the same armies which had driven Huang Ch'ao out of the capital in 883 overthrew the dynasty.

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Further Reading on Huang Ch'ao

Howard S. Levy's edition of Hsiu Ou-Yang, Biography of Huang Ch'ao (1955), is recommended. For background information see the excellent, detailed work by Wang Gungwu, The Structure of Power in North China during the Five Dynasties (1963).

Additional Biography Sources

Huang, Chao-chin, Grandpa Huang Chao-chin's memoirs: for his grandchildren, Taipei, Taiwan, R.O.C.: Huang Chen Inlien, 1986.