A Dynasty is Founded
On 8 February 1644, Li Zicheng, a rebel warlord, proclaimed the foundation of his own Shun dynasty.
Zhu Youjian, the Chongzhen Emperor, was the last of the Ming dynasty to rule China. He came to the imperial throne in 1627 aged 16, but his reign was plagued with threats: famines, rebellions and invasions by the Manchu.
On 8 February 1644, Li Zicheng, a rebel warlord, proclaimed the foundation of his own Shun dynasty. He set out with an army for Beijing. Two days later, on 10 February, Chongzhen was advised to flee. After two months he decided against it. By 24 April, the rebel army were at the gates. That night the emperor drank heavily, rampaging through the palace with a sword, killing his favourite concubine and one of his daughters. He severed the arm of another daughter, but failed to kill her.
Chongzhen then tried to escape dressed as a commoner; he was driven back to the palace by his own soldiers, mistaken for a spy. ‘My ministers have failed me’, he said. ‘An empire [that has] lasted 277 years; lost in one day.’
After dawn he left the palace and climbed the summit of a nearby hill. There he strangled himself with a sash. Two characters, written in his hand, were found beside his body: ‘tian zi’, ‘son of heaven’.
Li Zicheng entered the city later that day. His empire would last six weeks.