Zhuang Tinglong case

The Zhuang Tinglong case, also known as the Ming History case, was a 17th-century case of literary inquisition which took place in China between 1661 and 1663 during the Qing dynasty. The case was about the publication of an unauthorised history of the Ming dynasty – the ruling dynasty in China before the Qing dynasty – by Zhuang Tinglong (莊廷鑨; Zhuāng Tínglóng; died 1655), a merchant from northern Zhejiang Province. At the end, thousands of people associated with the publication of the work were punished, including over 70 put to death.


Zhuang Tinglong was a wealthy merchant from Nanxun, Wucheng County, which is in present-day Huzhou, Zhejiang Province. He desired to emulate Zuo Qiuming (556–451 BCE), the author of the Zuo Zhuan, who was also blind like him, by publishing a book of history, specifically on the Ming dynasty. However, he knew little about Ming history, so he decided to start with materials that were already available. He purchased a draft of Ming history, written earlier by Zhu Guozhen (1557–1632). Later, he hired a team of more than 15 scholars from the Jiangnan region, including Wu Yan (1624–1663) and Pan Chengzhang (1626–1663), to help him edit and build on Zhu Guozhen's work.

The book contained a number of inappropriate references to the Ming dynasty, as well as text considered taboo and defamatory to the Qing dynasty. Some examples include: use of era names of the Ming emperors and other Ming titles and forms;[1] denial of the legitimacy of the Qing dynasty; references to the Manchus and Jianzhou Jurchens as "barbarians"; references to the Qing rulers by their personal names.[2]

The book was published under the title History of Ming and contained more than 100 volumes. Li Lingxi (died 1663) wrote the preface, while Zhuang Tinglong was credited as the lead writer. Other contributors to the book include: Wu Yan, Pan Chengzhang, Mao Yuanming, Wu Zhiming, Wu Zhirong, Li Tao, Mao Cilai, Wu Chu, Tang Yuanlou (died 1663), Yan Yunqi, Jiang Linzheng (died 1663), Wei Jinyou, Wei Yiwei, Zhang Gao, Dong Eryou, Lu Qi, Zha Jizuo (1601–1676) and Fan Xiang (1608–1675).

Literary inquisitionEdit

Zhuang Tinglong died of illness in 1655 shortly after the book was completed. In 1660, Zhuang Tinglong's father, Zhuang Yuncheng (莊允誠), had the book printed and distributed under the title Brief Series of Ming History. In 1661, Wu Zhirong (died 1665), the magistrate of Gui'an County (in present-day Huzhou, Zhejiang), reported the book to Chen Yongming (died 1662), the prefecture governor. However, Chen Yongming dismissed the case after accepting a bribe of a few thousand silver taels from Zhuang Yuncheng. As Zhuang Yuncheng refused to bribe Wu Zhirong, the latter made another report – this time to higher authority. The central government in Beijing eventually found out about the book.

Oboi, the regent for the then underage Kangxi Emperor, ordered officials from the Ministry of Justice to go to Huzhou to conduct an investigation. This led to the arrests of multiple individuals associated with the book, including Zhuang Tinglong's family, the publishers of the book, people who possessed copies of the book, and officials who failed to report the book. Wu Zhirong, who bore a grudge against the merchant Zhu Youming, took the opportunity to frame Zhu Youming for being involved. He claimed that the "Zhu" mentioned in "Zhu's original draft" in the book referred to Zhu Youming, when the "Zhu" actually referred to Zhu Guozhen.

Zhuang Yuncheng was arrested and escorted to Beijing for trial, but eventually died in prison from abuse and torture. Zhuang Tinglong's remains were excavated from his grave and destroyed.[2] In 1663, the arrested people were given various sentences ranging from execution to exile. Tang Dafu and Li Xiangfu, who published the book, along with bookstore owners Wang Yunjiao and Lu Deru, who sold copies of the book, were executed. Zhuang Tinglong's brother, Zhuang Tingyue, was executed by lingchi, and the entire Zhuang family was massacred. Li Lingxi and his son Li Rengdao, Zhu Youming and his sons Zhu Nianshao, Zhu Yanshao, Zhu Keshao (朱克紹) and nephew Zhu Yi (朱繹), were executed by beheading. Zhu Youming's wife committed suicide. The sentencing judge took pity on Li Lingxi's youngest son, who was then 16 years old, and offered to reduce his legal age by one year, thus sparing him from death and sentencing him to exile instead. However, the boy refused and was executed along with his family. Dong Eryou, who had already died by then, had his remains excavated and dismembered into 36 parts. His son, Dong Yuyi (董與沂), was executed. Zhao Junsong (趙君宋), a teacher in Huzhou who reported the book, was also convicted and executed for secretly keeping a copy of the book. Li Jibai (李繼白), an official in charge of Xuyeguan Town (滸墅關鎮) in Suzhou, was executed for purchasing a copy of the book. Other officials such as Hu Shangheng (胡尚衡), Liang Huafeng (梁化鳳) and Zhang Wulie (張武烈) managed to escape persecution by heavily bribing the authorities. Fan Xiang, Zha Jizuo and Lu Qi were saved due to the intervention of Wu Liuqi and were pardoned. Wu Zhirong, who reported the book, received Zhuang Yuncheng and Zhu Youming's family fortunes as his reward.[1]


The case was closed on 21 June 1663. The thousands of people who were involved or implicated in the case were rounded up at a military camp in Hangzhou, where they were sentenced. 72 people[3] were condemned to death: Zhuang Tingyue, Mao Yuanming, Jiang Linzheng, Zhang Gao, Wei Yuanjie (韋元介), Pan Chengzhang, Wu Yan, Wu Zhirong (吳之熔; not the same person as the Wu Zhirong (吳之榮) who reported the book), Wu Zhiming and others were executed by lingchi. Song Kui (松奎), the General of Hangzhou, and Zhu Changzuo (朱昌祚), the Provincial Governor of Zhejiang, along with their subordinates, were dismissed from office. Cheng Weifan (程維藩), who instigated Song Kui to accept bribes to cover up the case, was executed. Two teachers from Gui'an and Wucheng counties were also executed. Chen Yongming, the prefecture governor of Huzhou, was removed from office and sent to Tai'erzhuang, Shandong. Even after he committed suicide by hanging himself during the journey, his body was sent back to Hangzhou and dismembered. Chen Yonglai (陳永賴), Chen Yongming's brother who was serving as the magistrate of Jiangning County (江寧縣), was executed as well. Wang Zhaozhen (王兆禎) and Li Huan (李煥), teachers in Gui'an County, along with Tan Ximin (譚希閔), Chen Yongming's successor as prefecture governor of Huzhou, were executed by hanging, while their families were exiled to Ningguta (寧古塔; near present-day Mudanjiang, Heilongjiang Province). The writer Gu Yanwu (1613–1682), who was in Fenyang, Shanxi Province, wrote two poems to describe his grief over the case.

Modern referencesEdit

The Zhuang Tinglong case is mentioned in the wuxia novel The Deer and the Cauldron by Louis Cha.


  1. ^ a b Mote 2003, pp. 864–865.
  2. ^ a b Waley-Cohen 2000, p. 120.
  3. ^ Liu, Zehua (Jul 31, 2015). "Political and Intellectual Authority: The Concept of the "Sage-Monarch" and Its Modern Fate". In Yuri Pines (ed.). Ideology of Power and Power of Ideology in Early China. Brill. p. 296.


  • Mote, F. W. (2003). Imperial China: 900-1800. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-01212-7.
  • Waley-Cohen, Joanna (2000). "Collective Responsibility in Qing Criminal Law". In Turner, Karen G.; Feinerman, James V.; Guy, R. Kent (eds.). The Limits of Rule of Law in China. Seattle: University of Washington Press. pp. 112–131. ISBN 0-295-97907-0..