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Chinese women in history - soldiers, pirates, scholars, sages and rulers

Gao Guiying - General of the Peasant Rebels

Gao Guiying was a native of Mizhi City who, with her husband Li Zicheng, led the Dashun peasant revolt in the waning years of the Ming Dynasty.1 The couple first met when Guiying's brother Gao Ligong brought Zicheng home in 1627. Ligong and Zicheng had previously served together in the local garrison, but Zicheng became a prisoner under Gao Ligong's watch after being arrested for murder. Zicheng often took it upon himself to protect the weak from exploitation; he was thrown in jail after killing a local gang leader who had been terrorizing the townsfolk of Yanan.2

Gao Ligong sneaked the badly-beaten Li Zicheng out of jail and hid him in his own home. His widowed older sister Gao Guiying got along very well with the fugitive. Both had a strong sense of justice and enjoyed practicing the martial arts.3 They married and began organizing daily martial arts sessions for the locals. Guiying improved her existing skills rapidly and Zicheng had a hard time beating Guiying in sparring.4

News of the fugitive's whereabouts eventually leaked to the authorities. Li and the Gaos fled and joined a group of peasant rebels.5 Both Li and Gao Guiying rose through the rebel ranks. In 1630, Gao and Li began a large scale revolt. Li recruited starving peasants and Gao organized and trained an all-female fighting force complete with female officers.6 Their combat duties kept the couple apart for many years. According to records, when Li was defeated in Jiangnan, he decided to stay with his main force in Jiugongshan. Gao led a number of generals to the strategic location of Changde in Hunan, where she made her base for 17 years.7 Today, the historic spot is a tourist destination and holds the name of The Lady's Base.8

The peasant rebels took the capital Beijing in 1644, effectively ending the Ming administration, and Gao Guiying declared her husband Emperor.9 Her reign as Empress did not last long. Li Zicheng was killed in battle the following year by the Manchurian Qing Dynasty.10 Gao Guiying continued the fight against the Qing, performing many great feats in battle. In recognition for Gao's anti-Qing efforts, the King of Nantang gave her the noble title of "Lady of the First Degree" and bestowed upon her troops the moniker of "Camp of Loyalty and Virtue".11

The character of Gao Guiying still lives on today in popular culture. She has appeared in novels, plays, films and comic books.12


  1. Historical Sites - King Chuang's Base and Shenglong Base (Chinese article)
    Courage and Battlelust - Gao Guiying (Chinese article)
  2. Courage and Battlelust - Gao Guiying (Chinese article)
  3. Courage and Battlelust - Gao Guiying (Chinese article)
  4. Courage and Battlelust - Gao Guiying (Chinese article)
  5. Courage and Battlelust - Gao Guiying (Chinese article)
  6. Courage and Battlelust - Gao Guiying (Chinese article)
    Archaeologists suggest new theories for Li Zicheng's death (Chinese article)
  7. Courage and Battlelust - Gao Guiying (Chinese article)
    The World of Women Soldiers - Field Marshal Qin Liangyu (Chinese article)
  8. The Lady's Base - China Tourism (Chinese article)
  9. Li Zicheng - Wikipedia
    Courage and Battlelust - Gao Guiying (Chinese article)
  10. Courage and Battlelust - Gao Guiying (Chinese article)
  11. The Story of Li Zicheng (Chinese article)
    Return of the Heroes (Chinese article)
    Life Choices - Heroines of Old (Chinese article)
    Li Zicheng - The Comic Book (Chinese article)