Qi Jiguang (November 12, 1528 – January 17, 1588), courtesy name Yuanjing, art names Nantang and Mengzhu, posthumous name Wuyi, was a Chinese military general of the Ming dynasty. He is best known for leading Ming forces to defend China's east coastal regions from raids by the wokou in the 16th century and is widely regarded as a national hero in Chinese culture.
Qi Jiguang was born in the town of Luqiao (鲁橋) in Shandong province to a family with a long military tradition. His forefather served as a military leader under Zhu Yuanzhang and died in battle. When Zhu Yuanzhang later became the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty, he bestowed upon the Qi family the hereditary post of commander-in-chief of Dengzhou Garrison (登州衛), a district of the present day Penglai.
When his father Qi Jingtong (戚景通) died, Qi Jiguang took over the commandership of Dengzhou Garrison at the age of seventeen. As his siblings were still young, he married Wang and left domestic affairs to her. Besides building up naval defense at the garrison, he also had to lead his troops to help in the defense of Jizhou (薊州, east of present-day Beijing) against East Mongolian raiders during spring time from 1548 to 1552.
At twenty-two, Qi Jiguang headed for Beijing to take part in the martial arts section of the imperial examination. During this time, East Mongolian troops led by Altan Khan broke through the northern defense and laid siege on Beijing. Candidates participating in the martial arts exam were also mobilized to defend the capital. Qi Jiguang displayed extraordinary valor and military ingenuity during the battle, which eventually saw the defeat of the invaders.
Battles against the wokou pirates
In 1553, Qi Jiguang was promoted to Assistant Regional Military Commissioner (都指揮僉事) of Shandong's defense force against wokou pirates, which included the Japanese, the Portuguese, and the Southeast Asians, but were mostly Chinese. When Qi Jiguang took over the commandership of Shandong's coastal defense, he had less than 10,000 troops at hand, though the recorded strength was 30,000. Furthermore, most of the deserters were young and strong men who could find a living elsewhere, leaving behind the old and the weak. The troops also lacked training and discipline, while the defense works were dilapidated due to years of negligence.
In the fall of 1555, Qi Jiguang was sent to Zhejiang, where the wokou situation had spiralled out of control. Together with two other renowned generals of his time, Yu Dayou and Tan Lun, Qi Jiguang led the Ming soldiers to a decisive victory at Cengang (岑港) in 1558. Henceafter, his troops continued to deal blows to the pirates at Taozhu (桃渚), Haimen Garrison (海門衛) and Taizhou. After the victory at Cengang, not only was Qi Jiguang not credited for his valor, he was almost demoted over slander that he liaised with Japanese pirates.
With the situation in Zhejiang under control, Qi Jiguang began to concentrate on training a disciplined and effective army. He drafted mainly miners and farmers from the county of Yiwu because he believed these people to be honest and hardworking. He also oversaw the construction of 44 naval vessels of various sizes to be used against pirates at sea.
The first trial for Qi Jiguang's new army came in 1559. After a month-long battle with Japanese pirates in the Taizhou Prefecture, with the pirates suffering over 5,000 casualties, Qi Jiguang's army established a name for itself among both the people of Zhejiang and its enemies.
Partly as a result of Qi Jiguang's military success in Zhejiang, pirate activities surged in the province of Fujian. More than 10,000 pirates had established strongholds along the coast from Fu'an in the north to Zhangzhou in the south. In July 1562, Qi Jiguang led 6,000 elite troops south into Fujian. Within two months, his army eradicated three major lairs of Japanese pirates at Hengyu (橫嶼), Niutian (牛田) and Lindun (林墩).
However, his own army also suffered significant losses to fighting and diseases. Seeing the pirate infestation in Fujian subdued, Qi Jiguang then returned to Zhejiang to regroup his force. The Japanese pirates took the opportunity to invade Fujian again, this time succeeding in conquering Xinghua (興化, present day Putian). In April 1563, Qi Jiguang led 10,000 troops into Fujian and regained Xinghua. Over the next year, a series of victories by Qi Jiguang's army finally saw the pirate problem in Fujian fully resolved.
A major battle against Japanese pirates was fought on the island of Nan'ao, which lies near the boundary between the provinces of Fujian and Guangdong, in September 1565. There Qi Jiguang joined arms with his old comrade Yu Dayou again to defeat the remnant of the combined Japanese and Chinese pirate force.
Years on the northern frontier
With the pirate situation along the coast under control, Qi Jiguang was called to Beijing in late 1567 to take charge of training troops for the imperial guards.
With the revolt against the Yuan Dynasty in mid-14th century, Zhu Yuanzhang drove the Mongols north beyond the Great Wall and founded the Ming Dynasty. However, he did not manage to emasculate the Mongolian power, which continued to pester the northern front of China for the next two hundred years. When Qi Jiguang was in Beijing in 1550, Altan Khan, ruler of the right wing of the Mongols, broke through the northern defenses and nearly felled Beijing. In 1571, the Ming Dynasty bestowed the title "Lord Shunyi" (順義王) upon Altan Khan and established trade with the Mongols. Altan Khan then forbade his subordinates from raiding Chinese settlements. However, the left wing of the Mongols led by Jasaghtu Khan continued to test Qi Jiguang's defenses, though without much success.
In the next year, he was given command of the troops in Jizhou to defend against the Mongols. Qi Jiguang soon began the repair work on the segment of the Great Wall between Shanhai Pass and Juyong Pass. Meanwhile, he also directed the construction of watchtowers along the wall. After two years of hard work, more than 1,000 watchtowers were completed, giving the defensive capability in the north a great boost.
Qi Jiguang also conducted a month-long military exercise involving more than 100,000 troops in winter 1572. From the experience of the maneuver he wrote Records of Military Training (練兵實紀), which became an invaluable reference for military leaders after him.
In early 1583, Qi Jiguang was relieved of his duty on the northern frontier and assigned an idle post in Guangdong. His already ill health worsened in the next two years, forcing him to retire to his hometown. He finally died in 1588, days before the Lunar New Year. His life was probably best summarized by his own poem:
- For three hundred sixty days a year, I hold my weapon ready atop my steed.
Books by Qi Jiguang
Qi Jiguang documented his ideas and practical experience in the form of two books on military strategy - Ji Xiao Xin Shu (紀效新書) and Record of Military Training (練兵實紀). He also wrote a great number of poems and proses, which he compiled into the Collection of Zhizhi Hall (止止堂集), named after his study hall during his office in Jizhou.
A type of hard pancake called guangbing (光餅, Foochow Romanized: guŏng-biāng, known as kompyang in Malaysia and Indonesia) was named after Qi Jiguang.
Chi Kuang frigate
A Republic of China Navy Cheng Kung class frigate based in Tsoying was named Chi Kuang (FFG 1105) after Qi Jiguang.
In popular culture
The 2008 Chinese television series The Shaolin Warriors provided a fictional account of Qi Jiguang enlisting the help of Shaolin Monastery's warrior monks in defending China from the wokou and other invaders. Malaysian actor Christopher Lee played Qi Jiguang.