Shih Ko-fa

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Shih Ko-fa

The Chinese scholar-soldier Shih Ko-fa (died 1644), also named Hsien-tze and Tao-lin, is a national hero for his defense of Yangchow against the Manchus.

Born in Hsiang-fu, Chihli (Hopei), of a poor family, Shih Ko-fa lived in a period of war and invasion. From an early age he had a profound love for his country and felt an irreconcilable hatred toward the enemy. He regarded the patriot Wen T'ien-hsiang as his greatest inspiration.

Shih had remarkable records in the preliminary examination held in his native town, qualifying him to take the prefectural examination, with the degree of hsiu-t'sai (flowering talent—that is, licentiate or bachelor). Tso Kuang-tou, superintendent of examinations, arranged for him to be educated in a shu-yüan (private academy), with free maintenance and tuition. In 1624/1625 Shih passed the provincial examination with the degree of chü-jen (recommended man). At that time Tso became involved in a political intrigue; he was imprisoned and tortured to death. At the risk of his life, Shih visited the prison and gave proper burial to his patron's body.

In 1628 Shih passed the state examination at Peking, the capital, with the highest degree of chin-shih (presented scholar). He became a member of the Han-lin-yüan (Board of Academicians) and later was appointed governor general of Honan and Anhwei. He was very successful in his military campaign against the rebels. By 1643 he had risen to be minister of the Board of War at Nanking, taking command of the armies south of the Yangtze.

In 1644, when the capital fell to the Manchus, a young prince, Fu Wang, was enthroned to continue the imperial line. Shih was then promoted to ta-hsüeh-shih (grand secretary) in charge of the defense of Yangchow (Kiang-tu). The feeble Ming government, however, exhibited little fervor to defend itself against the onslaughts of the Manchus. As a result, Shih's defense plan was thwarted, and the approaching Manchu troops quickly encircled Yangchow. Shih, refusing to acknowledge the inevitable, led his gallant army and people in a determined resistance. As one story has it, he might have saved the city had he been willing to open the canals and drown the enemy. But he said, "Our people will die in greater number than the Manchu troops!" So the city was taken and sacked, a bloody massacre continuing for many days. Shih was captured and slain.

Years later a shrine at Mei-hua-lin (Plum-flower Hill), Yangchow, where Shih's costume and symbolic articles were buried, was built in his honor. In the reign of Ch'ienlung (1735-1796) he was given the posthumous designation Ch'ung Ch'eng (Man of Loyalty and Integrity). His writings are preserved in Shih Ch'ung Ch'eng Chi (Collected Writings of Shih Ko-fa).

Further Reading

This period of Chinese history is well treated in Kenneth Scott Latourette, The Chinese: Their History and Culture (4th ed. 1964). □