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40°23′N 115°36′E / 40.383°N 115.600°E / 40.383; 115.600

Crisis of the Tumu Fortress
DateSeptember 1, 1449
Result Mongol victory, capture of Chinese Emperor Yingzong, and return to status quo ante bellum
Northern Yuan, Oirat Mongols Ming dynasty
Commanders and leaders
20,000 500,000[1]
Casualties and losses
5,000 250,000+

The Crisis of the Tumu Fortress (simplified Chinese: 土木堡之变; traditional Chinese: 土木堡之變), also known as the Tumu Crisis (simplified Chinese: 土木之变; traditional Chinese: 土木之變; Mongolian: Тумугийн тулалдаан), or the Jisi Incident (simplified Chinese: 己巳之变; traditional Chinese: 己巳之變), was a frontier conflict between the Northern Yuan and Ming dynasties. The Oirat ruler of the Northern Yuan, Esen, captured the Emperor Yingzong of Ming on September 1, 1449.[1]

Beginning of the conflict

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In July 1449, Esen Taishi launched a large-scale, three-pronged invasion of the Ming with khagan Toqtaq-Buqa. He personally advanced on Datong (in northern Shanxi province) in August. The eunuch official Wang Zhen, who dominated the Ming court, encouraged the 22-year-old Emperor Yingzong of Ming to lead his own armies into battle against Esen. The size of Esen's army is unknown. The Ming army of about 500,000 personnel was hastily assembled; its command was made up of 20 experienced generals and a large entourage of high-ranking civil officials, with Wang Zhen acting as field marshal.

On August 3, Esen's army crushed a badly supplied Ming army at Yanghe, just inside the Great Wall. The same day the Emperor appointed his half-brother Zhu Qiyu as regent. The next day he left Beijing for Juyong Pass. The objective was a short, sharp march west to Datong via the Xuanfu garrison, a campaign into the steppe and then a return to Beijing by a southerly route through Yuzhou. Initially the march was mired by heavy rain. At Juyong Pass the civil officials and generals wanted to halt and send the emperor back to Beijing, but their opinions were overruled by Wang Zhen. On August 16, the army came upon the corpse-strewn battlefield of Yanghe. When it reached Datong on August 18, reports from garrison commanders persuaded Wang Zhen that a campaign into the steppe would be too dangerous. The "expedition" was declared to have reached a victorious conclusion and on August 20 the army set out back toward the Ming.[citation needed]

Wang Zhen

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Fearing that the restless soldiers would cause damage to his estates in Yuzhou, Wang Zhen decided to strike northeast and return by the same exposed route as they had come. The army reached Xuanfu on August 27. On August 30, the Northern Yuan forces attacked the rearguard east of Xuanfu and wiped it out. Soon afterwards they also annihilated a powerful new rearguard of cavalry, led by the elderly General Zhu Yong, at Yaoerling. On August 31, the imperial army camped at the post station of Tumu. Wang Zhen refused his ministers' suggestion to have the emperor take refuge in the walled city of Huailai, just 45 km ahead.

Esen sent an advance force to cut access to water from a river south of the Ming camp. By the morning of September 1 they had surrounded the Ming army. Wang Zhen rejected any offers to negotiate and ordered the confused army to move toward the river. A battle ensued between the disorganized Ming army and the advance guard of Esen's army (Esen was not at the battle). The Ming army basically dissolved and was almost annihilated. The Northern Yuan forces captured a huge quantity of arms and armour while killing most of the Ming troops. All the high-ranking Ming generals and court officials were killed. According to some accounts, Wang Zhen was killed by his own officers. The Emperor was captured, and on September 3 he was sent to Esen's main camp near Xuanfu.


Esen attempted to use the captured emperor to raise a ransom and negotiate a favourable treaty including trade benefits.[2] However, his plan was foiled in the Defense of Beijing due to the steadfast leadership of the Ming commander in the capital, General Yu Qian. The Ming leaders rejected Esen's offer, appointing Zhu Qizhen's brother as the Jingtai Emperor.[3]

The Ming never paid a ransom for the return of Zhu Qizhen, and Esen released him four years later after securing a weak trade deal. Zhu Qizhen was allowed to return to Beijing after agreeing to give up his claim to the throne, and was kept under house arrest at the Forbidden City. Esen faced growing criticism for his failure to exploit his victory over the Ming and was assassinated in 1455.[4] Zhu Qizhen retook the throne in 1457, after deposing his brother in a military coup.

See also


  1. ^ a b Nolan, Cathal J. The Age of Wars of Religion, 1000–1650, Volume 1: An Encyclopedia of Global Warfare and Civilization Greenwood Press (2006) ISBN 978-0-313-33733-8 p. 151 [1]
  2. ^ Barfield 1992, p. 241.
  3. ^ Brook, Timothy (2013). The Troubled Empire: China in the Yuan and Ming Dynasties. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0674072534.
  4. ^ Barfield 1992, p. 242.

Works cited

Further reading