Qin Liangyu (1574/84-1648) was a native of Sichuan Province.1 She trained in the martial arts from an early age and was an excellent mounted archer who often practised archery with her brothers. In addition to being skilled in the arts of war, Qin was also well-read and a good strategist.2 She married Ma Qiancheng, the military commander of Shizu County (in today's Chongqing).3 In 1599, Yang Yinglong, the commander at Bozhou, rebelled and Ma Qiancheng went to confront him with 3000 soldiers. According to The History of Ming: Biography of Qin Liangyu, "Liangyu had separate command of 500 elite troops and followed after Qiancheng with the army's food supply." The following year, the rebels from Bozhou launched a sneak attack on the government forces but "Liangyu and her husband defeated them and chased them back into rebel territory, taking over seven enemy strongholds. She pushed right on to take Mulberry Pass in what was a major defeat for the enemy. This was the first of her major achievements on the battlefields of Southern Sichuan."4
After Ma Qiancheng passed away, Qin Liangyu assumed his rank and responsibilities.5The History of Ming describes Liangyu as "refined and elegant, yet a stern commander with a towering presence who was revered by her troops. Her troops were called the 'White Staff Soldiers', and were dreaded far and near."6 In 1620, she ordered her older brother Banbing and her younger brother Minbing to lead 3000 White Staff Soldiers to Liaodong, where the Manchurians were fighting against the Ming Dynasty.7 In 1621, Qin Banbing perished on the battlefield with more than a thousand of his troops.8 Qin Liangyu led another 3000 of her White Staff Soldiers up north to hold the strategic Shanhai Pass against the enemy, contributing her own financial resources towards the war effort.9
Qin Liangyu then returned to Sichuan to rescue Chengdu, which was under attack by rebels led by Shechongming. After defeating the rebels at Chengdu, she went on to retake Chongqing from Shechongming.10 Qin ended Shechongming's rebellion for good by cutting off the rebels' retreat.11 In recognition for these victories, the Imperial Court gave her the title of "Lady", the position of "Overall Administrator of Military Affairs" and the rank of "Commander-in-Chief" for Sichuan Province.12 Flushed with success, she went on to take Hongya Hill, Guanyin Temple, Qingshan Hill and other rebel bases.13 Qin Liangyu would fight many battles against Zhang Xianzhong's peasant rebels over the next decade, putting up a stiff resistance even after the bulk of her forces were decimated.14
In 1630, Lady Qin once again financed a military operation at her own expense - this time, she led her troops to relieve Beijing which was under siege by Manchurian forces. After the Manchurians retreated, Emperor Chongzheng met with her and composed a poem in her honor.15 With civil war and foreign invasion combined, the Ming Dynasty which Qin served so faithfully was teetering on the brink of extinction. By 1646, Longwu, the last Ming Emperor had abandoned the northern capital and taken refuge in the southern city of Fuzhou. Emperor Longwu sent a messenger to Qin, giving her the title of "Protector of the Crown Prince - Duchess of Loyalty and Honor", and commanding her to take her troops into battle against the Manchurian Qing Dynasty. At age 73, Qin Liangyu accepted this responsibility, but before she could move her troops out, Fuzhou fell and the Ming Dynasty came to an end.16 Not long later, the aged Qin Liangyu died of illness, ending a military career of more than 40 years.
Alhough long dead, Qin Liangyu is far from forgotten. She is a popular character in historical novels, and also inspired music and sculpture.17 Her tomb near Chongqing is a modern day tourist destination.18