The Daze Township Uprising-大泽乡起义

In 209 BC, the Qin Dynasty was conscripting laborers from all over the country. One day, a group of over 900 peasants hurried from Yangcheng (present-day Dengfeng, Henan) to Yuyang (present-day Miyun, Beijing) to garrison the border. Unfortunately, they were caught in a torrential rainstorm as they reached Da Ze Township in Qi County (near present-day Liucun, Suzhou, Anhui), forcing them to seek temporary shelter nearby.

Among the group was a man named Chen Sheng from Yangcheng. He had long harbored ambitions for greatness and had made a pact with his comrades to not forget each other once they achieved success. Despite being ridiculed for his ambitions, Chen Sheng remained undeterred, quoting, “How can sparrows know the ambitions of swans!” Now, facing the prospect of being late to report to the border and facing execution, he grew anxious.

According to Qin law, failing to report to the border on time was punishable by death. So, he sought advice from another leader in the group, Wu Guang, from Yangxia (present-day Taikang, Henan). Chen Sheng proposed that rather than facing execution for tardiness, they should seize the opportunity to start a rebellion. Wu Guang saw merit in this plan and agreed to join forces.

Under their careful planning, they manipulated public perception to make it seem as though the rebellion was divinely sanctioned, knowing that the peasantry held a deep reverence for the divine. Soon, under the banner of Chen Sheng, oppressed peasants flocked to their cause, hailing Chen Sheng as their savior sent from the heavens.

Their rebellion quickly gained momentum as they seized control of multiple counties, including Zhi County (west of present-day Suzhou, Anhui), Lao County (west of present-day Yongcheng, Henan), Ku County (north of present-day Zhecheng County, Henan), Zhe County, and Qiao County (present-day Bozhou, Anhui). The spark ignited in Daze Township had grown into a blazing fire spreading across the Central Plains.

Chen Sheng was not merely a rash insurgent; he understood the need for sound military strategy. With their rebellion gaining ground in Anhui and Henan, and their ranks swelling, Chen Sheng’s forces were well-equipped with hundreds of chariots, over a thousand cavalrymen, and tens of thousands of infantry. Their next target was Chen County (present-day Huaiyang, Henan), strategically vital as it had served as the capital of Chen State during the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period, and later as the seat of the county during the Qin Dynasty’s rule. Capturing Chen County would deal a severe blow to the Qin regime.

Chen Sheng’s forces encountered resistance in their siege of Chen County, where the local officials, unaccustomed to warfare, fled at the first sign of conflict. However, Chen County’s defenses were reinforced by Qin troops, and Chen Sheng’s forces were ultimately driven back to Mianchi (in western Henan). With their supply lines cut off and facing defeat after weeks of resistance, Chen Sheng’s forces found themselves in dire straits. Ultimately, seeing no way out, their leader, Zhou Wen, took his own life.

Meanwhile, General Zhang Han seized the opportunity to attack Yangcheng. Due to a dispute between Wu Guang and one of his subordinates, the latter killed Wu Guang, allowing the Qin forces to exploit the situation and annihilate the rebel forces garrisoned in Yangcheng.

From then on, internal discord began to plague the rebel ranks. Coupled with Chen Sheng’s failure to formulate effective governance policies, the rebellion began to lose coherence, and several territories were recaptured by remnants of the old feudal states. Chen Sheng himself became increasingly detached from the masses, leading to his isolation and eventual demise at the hands of his own charioteer.

Though Chen Sheng’s reign as King Zhang Chu was short-lived, his legacy was profound. His uprising marked the beginning of the end for the Qin Dynasty, inspiring a wave of peasant rebellions across the land. Thus, the Daze Township Uprising played a pivotal role in the downfall of the Qin Dynasty.


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