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Red Eyebrow Rebellion

Red Eyebrow Rebellion

Mother Lü – First Woman Chinese Rebel Leader

Mother Lü (Chinese: 呂母; pinyin: Lǚ Mǔ; died 18 AD; Traditional Chinese Kan-chih Calendar 2714 to 2715) was noteworthy for leading a peasant rebellion against the short-lived Xin dynasty (Traditional Chinese: 新朝; pinyin: Xīncháo; Wade–Giles: Hsin-ch'ao; lit. "New dynasty") that reigned from 9 AD to 23 AD (Traditional Chinese Kan-chih Calendar 2705 to 2706 – 2719 to 2720). She became the first female rebel in Chinese history. Though she died of a sickness, her followers played a major role in the fall of the Xin dynasty and the re-establishment of the Han dynasty (Traditional Chinese: 漢朝; pinyin: Hàncháo; 202 BC–220 AD; Traditional Chinese Kan-chih Calendar 2495 to 2496 – 2916 to 2917).

Mother Lü (lit. "mother of Lu") was born during the Western Han dynasty (Traditional Chinese: 西漢; Simplified Chinese: 西汉; pinyin: Xīhàn), also called the Former Han dynasty (Traditional Chinese: 前漢; Simplified Chinese: 前汉; pinyin: Qiánhàn), which reigned from 202 BC–9 AD (Traditional Chinese Kan-chih Calendar 2495 to 2496 – 2705 to 2706). Wang Mang (Traditional Chinese: 王莽; pinyin: Wángmǎng was a Han dynasty official and consort kin (nephew of the empress dowager) who usurped the imperial throne from the ruling Liu family and named himself Emperor of the Xin dynasty. Wang Mang traced his descent back to the kings of Qi (齊), a state of the Zhou dynasty (Traditional Chinese: 周朝; pinyin: Zhōu cháo; c. 1045 BC–221 BC; Traditional Chinese Kan-chih Calendar ? – 2476 to 2477) of ancient China. He was an accomplished Confucian scholar who attempted to implement the harmonious society depicted in the Chinese classics (Traditional Chinese: 中國古典典籍; Simplified Chinese: 中国古典典籍; pinyin: Zhōngguó gǔdiǎn diǎnjí) or dianji (典籍) that originated before the imperial unification of China by the Qin dynasty (Traditional Chinese: 秦朝; pinyin: Qíncháo; Wade–Giles: Ch'in-ch'ao; 221 BC–206 BC; Traditional Chinese Kan-chih Calendar 2476 to 2477 – 2491 to 2792) in 221 BC. His efforts led to chaos instead.

Wang Mang implemented an ambitious reform program that included changes to the taxation system, the nationalization of land, and price fixing. Some of the reforms proved impossible to carry out. All were universally unpopular with every class from the peasants to the merchants to the landowners.

Authoritarian laws that executed people for minor offenses were enacted. Military failures against the Xiongu (Traditional Chinese: 匈奴; pinyin: Xiōngnú; Wade–Giles: Hsiung-nu, lit. "Hun slave") nomad tribes and other tributary kingdoms occurred as well. Natural disasters further undermined Wang Mang's rule. They included the overflowing of the Yellow River or Huang He (黄河) in 11 AD (Traditional Chinese Kan-chih Calendar 2707 to 2708) that flooded much surrounding land. A great shift in the course of the river also occurred in the Great Plain that trapped many people in the Shandong Peninsula (山東半島) between the two branches of the river. The following famine led to prophecies that Wang Mang had lost the Mandate of Heaven (Traditional Chinese: 天命; pinyin: Tiānmìng; Wade–Giles: T'ien-ming, lit. "Heaven's will") and that the Han dynasty would return to power.

As burdens from the external wars, government corruption, and famines continued to grow, numerous peasant rebellions began to break out in the north of the modern Zhejiang (浙江) and Shandong (山东) provinces in the coastal area of the East China region.

Mother Lü lived in Haiqu County (海曲縣), Langya Commandery (琅邪郡), in modern-day Rizhao, Shandong province (山東省日照市). Her family was a very wealthy landowning clan, worth millions of coins according to the Book of the Later Han or the History of the Later Han (Traditional Chinese: 後漢書; pinyin: Hòu Hànshū).

In 14 AD (Traditional Chinese Kan-chih Calendar 2710 to 2711), her son Lü Yu (呂育) who was a minor government official was executed by the county magistrate for not collecting taxes from the peasants within his jurisdiction. Mother Lü then plotted a rebellion against the regime of Wang Mang to avenge her son. She sold all her properties and opened a tavern as a front for her revolutionary activities. She recruited poor young peasant men across her county, gathered weapons, and bought horses. When local peasants had no money for wine, she provided drink on credit. She gave food and clothing to those in need as well. Additionally, she went from household to household to rally support and explain how Wang Mang's policies of high taxes and military conscription were causing hardship for the common people. With a few hundred followers, she rose up in revolt and incited the first agrarian peasant rebellion against Wang Mang's government.

Mother Lü's rebel forces established an island base near the coast of Shandong province from which they waged a guerrilla campaign against government troops on land and at sea. As taxes increased despite the growing rate of farmer bankruptcy caused by natural disasters, thousands more joined Mother Lü's banner. She organized her peasant soldiers into units of a hundred. She also instituted strict rules for her troops and forbade them from taking the land of other peasants.

In 17 AD (Traditional Chinese Kan-chih Calendar 2713 to 2714), Mother Lü's forces raised a great banner with the word "Lü" emblazoned on it. Mother Lü took on the title of general and marched her rebel forces against Haiqu County. The county capital fell to the rebels after a fierce battle and the county supervisor was captured.

When county officials pleaded with Mother Lü to have mercy on the supervisor, she replied that her son had received no such mercy from the supervisor. The supervisor was beheaded by the rebels and his head was offered on the altar of Lü Yu.

When the governor of Langya Commandery learned of the seizure of Haiqu, he sent the district army to Haiqu. Mother Lü had already returned her troops to her island base, though. Her name spread far and wide following her victory at Haiqu. The ranks of Mother Lü's army soon swelled to over tens of thousands and it continued to wage attacks against Xin dynasty forces from its island bastion.

Wang Mang grew increasingly concerned of Mother Lü's power in the face of the inability of his generals to defeat her. He repeatedly sent envoys who urged Mother Lü and her rebels to surrender with no success.

Mother Lü's success inspired the outbreak of peasant revolts across all of China. She died of an illness in 18 AD (Traditional Chinese Kan-chih Calendar 2714 to 2715), though.

Red Eyebrows Rebellion

Most of Mother Lü's followers joined with the forces of Fan Chong (樊崇), another Langya native who had risen in rebellion in nearby Ju County (莒县) in 18 AD. They formed a fierce combined army and came to be called the Chimei (赤眉; lit. "Red Eyebrows"), who were characterized by their painted scarlet eyebrows and lower foreheads. Since red was the color of the deposed Han dynasty, the Chimei may have been aligning themselves with the Han. The Chimei voiced no religious identity or political ideology. They were simply angry, disaffected peasants seeking food and financial relief.

Chimei

Chimei 赤眉 – The Red Eyebrows

The Chimei became one of the two primary rebel forces that overthrew the Xin dynasty and helped lead to the restoration of the Han dynasty by Liu Xiu (劉秀), who became Emperor Guangwu (漢光武帝) (r. 5 August 25 AD – 29 March 57 AD; Traditional Chinese Kan-chih Calendar 2721 to 2722 – 2753 to 2754). Emperor Guangwu established the Eastern Han dynasty (Traditional Chinese: 東漢; Simplified Chinese: 东汉; pinyin: Dōnghàn), also called the Later Han dynasty (Traditional Chinese: 後漢; Simplified Chinese: 后汉; pinyin: Hòuhàn) which ruled from 25 AD–220 AD (Traditional Chinese Kan-chih Calendar 2721 to 2722 – 2916 to 2917).

Red Eyebrows Uprising

Red Eyebrow Uprising

Mother Lü, who sounded the cry of an outraged mother, shook China by becoming its first woman rebel leader and joining China's tradition of women warriors. Men and women can learn the practical techniques and culture of the monks and nuns of the Shaolin Temple in martial arts classes offered by the Michigan Shaolin Wugong Temple.

 

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