Tumu Crisis

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Coordinates: 40°23′N 115°36′E / 40.383°N 115.6°E / 40.383; 115.6

The Tumu Crisis (simplified Chinese: 土木之变; traditional Chinese: 土木之變; pinyin: Tŭmù zhī Bìan); also called the Crisis of Tumubao (simplified Chinese: 土木堡之变; traditional Chinese: 土木堡之變; pinyin: Tǔmù zhī Biàn) or Battle of Tumu Fortress (Chinese: 土木之役; pinyin: Tǔmù zhī Yì), was a frontier conflict between the Oirat Mongols and the Chinese Ming Dynasty which led to the capture of the Zhengtong Emperor on September 1, 1449 and the lossof an army of 500,000 men to a much smaller force.[1] This outcome was largely due to the Chinese army's remarkably bad deployment. The Ming expedition is regarded as the greatest military debacle of the dynasty.

In July 1449 Esen Tayisi (Chinese: 也先台吉) of the Oirat Mongols launched a large-scale three-pronged invasion of China with his puppet 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 twenty-two year old Zhengtong Emperor to lead his own armies into battle against Esen. Esen's raiding army in size is unknown but a best guess puts it at some 20,000 men. The Ming army of about 500,000 men was hastily assembled; its command was made up of twenty 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 Chinese 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 to 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 wished 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 China proper.

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