Ran Min


Ran Min

Ran Min (zh-stp|s=冉闵|t=冉閔|p=Rǎn Mǐn; d. 352), also known as Shi Min (石閔), posthumously honored by Former Yan as Heavenly Prince Daowu of (Ran) Wei ((冉)魏悼武天王), courtesy name Yongzeng (永曾), nickname Jinu (棘奴), was a Han Chinese military leader during the era of Sixteen Kingdoms in China and the only emperor of the short-lived state Ran Wei (冉魏). Ran (冉) is an uncommon Chinese family name. He was noted for provoking massacres of Jie people due to racial tension under Later Zhao.

Family background

Ran Min's father Ran Liang (冉良), who later changed his name to Ran Zhan (冉瞻), was ethnically Han and from Wei Commandery (魏郡, roughly modern Handan, Hebei) and was a descendant of an aristocratic family, but one who must have, in the serious famines circa 310, joined a group of refugees led by Chen Wu (陳午). When Later Zhao's founder Shi Le defeated Chen in 311, he captured the 11-year-old Ran Zhan as well, and for reasons unknown, he had his nephew Shi Hu adopt Ran Zhan as his son and change his name accordingly to Shi Zhan. Ran Min's mother was named Wang (王). It is not known when he was born, but he would have been known as Shi Min.

A Shi Zhan was mentioned to have died in battle when Shi Hu was defeated by Han Zhao's emperor Liu Yao in 328, but it is not clear whether this Shi Zhan was Shi Min's father.

During Shi Hu's reign

As Shi Min grew in age, Shi Hu became impressed at him for his bravery in battle and battlefield tactics, and he treated Shi Min as a biological grandson. The first mention in history of him as a general was in 338, when Shi Hu unsuccessfully tried to destroy the rival state Former Yan but saw his army collapse after sieging the Former Yan capital Jicheng (棘城, in modern Jinzhou, Liaoning) for about 20 days but failing to capture it. The only army group that remained intact was the one commanded by Shi Min.

During the remainder of Shi Hu's reign, Shi Min was often referred to as a general he turned to. For example, in 339, when the Jin general Yu Liang considered launching a major campaign against Later Zhao, Shi Hu chose to react, and he had his general Kui An (夔安) command five generals, one of whom was Shi Min, to attack Jin's northern regions. (Shi Min's later ally Li Nong (李農) was one of the other generals, while Shi Hu's son Shi Jian the Prince of Yiyang was another.) Shi Min was successful in his task, and the five generals together inflicted heavy damages, thwarting Yu's plans. For his accomplishments, Shi Min was created the Duke of Wuxing.

During the confusion after Shi Hu's death

After Shi Hu's death in 349, his youngest son and crown prince Shi Shi became emperor, but the government was controlled by Shi Shi's mother Empress Dowager Liu and the official Zhang Chai (張豺). Shi Shi's older brother Shi Zun the Prince of Pengcheng was unhappy about the situation, and a number of generals who were unimpressed with Empress Dowager Liu and Zhang, including Shi Min, suggested that he march to the capital Yecheng and overthrow them. Shi Zun did so -- and also promised to create Shi Min crown prince if they were victorious. In summer 349, Shi Zun defeated Shi Shi's forces and deposed and killed him, along with Empress Dowager Liu and Zhang Chai. Shi Zun claimed the imperial title. However, he did not create Shi Min crown prince as promised, but rather created another nephew, Shi Yan (石衍), crown prince. Further, while he gave Shi Min important posts, he did not allow him to have control of the government, as Shi Min wished. Shi Min became disgruntled.

In winter 349, in fear of Shi Min, Shi Zun summoned a meeting of the princes before his mother, Empress Dowager Zheng, announcing that he would execute Shi Min. Empress Dowager Zheng opposed, reasoning that Shi Min's contributions during the coup against Shi Shi had to be remembered. Shi Zun hesitated, and meanwhile, Shi Jian, one of the princes attending the meeting, quickly reported the news to Shi Min, who acted quickly and surrounded the palace, capturing and executing Shi Zun, Empress Dowager Zheng, Shi Zun's wife Empress Zhang, Shi Yan, and several key officials loyal to Shi Zun. He made Shi Jian emperor, but he and Li Nong became in control of the government.

Shi Jian could not endure Shi Min's hold on power, and he sent his brother Shi Bao the Prince of Leping and the generals Li Song (李松) and Zhang Cai (張才) against Shi Min, but after they were defeated, Shi Jian pretended as if they acted independently and executed them all. Another brother of his, Shi Zhi the Prince of Xinxing, then rose in the old capital Xiangguo (襄國, in modern Xintai, Hebei), in alliance with the Qiang chieftain Yao Yizhong (姚弋仲) and the Di chieftain Pu Hong (蒲洪) against Shi Min and Li Nong. Shi Jian tried to then have the general Sun Fudu (孫伏都), a fellow Jie, attack Shi Min, but Shi Min quickly defeated him, and Shi Jian, trying to absolve himself, then ordered Shi Min to execute Sun. Shi Min, however, began to realize that Shi Jian was behind Sun's attack, and he decided that he needed to disarm the Jie, who knew that he was not Jie but ethnically Han. He ordered that all non-Han not be allowed to carry arms, and most fled Yecheng in light of the command. Shi Min put Shi Jian under house arrest with no communication with the outside. As the non-Han continued to flee Yecheng, Shi Min saw that, in particular, the Xiongnu and the Jie would never support him, so he issued an order that if a Han killed a non-Han and presented the head, he would be rewarded. Some 200,000 died in the massacre -- including some Han who had higher nose structure or thicker beard, both considered signs of non-Hanness.

In 350, under duress from Shi Min, Shi Jian changed the name of the state from Zhao to Wei (衛) and the family name of the imperial clan from Shi to Li (李). Many key officials fled to Shi Zhi. Local generals throughout the empire effectively became independent, waiting for the war to resolve itself. As Shi Min was engaging his troops against Shi Zhi's, Shi Jian made one final attempt against him -- ordering the general Zhang Shen (張沈) to, after Shi Min left the capital, attack it. However, Shi Jian's eunuchs reported this to Shi Min and Li Nong, and they quickly returned to Yecheng and executed Shi Jian, along with 28 grandsons of Shi Hu and the rest of the Shi clan. Shi Min, restoring his father's original family name of Ran (冉), then took the throne as the emperor of a new state, Wei (魏, note different character than the state declared previously).

As emperor of Ran Wei

Ran Min honored his mother Lady Wang as empress dowager. He created his wife Lady Dong empress, and his oldest son Ran Zhi crown prince. His other sons were created princes, as was his ally Li Nong, whose sons were created dukes. He sent out a general pardon, hoping to have the generals who had effectively become independent powers abide by his edicts, but few accepted, even though the Han generals mostly did not outwardly defy him either. He soon, for reasons unknown, killed Li. He sent a letter to Emperor Mu of Jin's court with mixed messages -- appearing to invite Jin to send forces north and agreeing to submit, but the letter could also be read as a defiant challenge. Jin did not react, although it began to also seek allegiance of the generals in the southern provinces of Later Zhao's former territory.

Ran Min's brief reign was characterized by rash decisions and massive executions. He would often react violently to advisors who suggested ideas different from his -- including killing them -- and then regret those violent reactions after he realized that he was wrong.

In spring 351, Ran Min sieged Shi Zhi's capital Xiangguo. Shi Zhi sought aid from Former Yan's prince Murong Jun and was able to deal Ran a major defeat. At this time, the Xiongnu soldiers in Yecheng rebelled, captured his son Ran Yin, and surrendered to Shi Zhi, who executed Ran Yin. Ran Min was thought to be dead, but when he appeared in Yecheng, the city was calmed. Shi Zhi had his general Liu Xian (劉顯) siege Yecheng, but Ran Min defeated Liu in battle and awed him so much that Liu agreed that once he returned to Xiangguo, he would kill Shi Zhi and surrender. He did so and sent Shi Zhi's head to Ran Min, and Ran Min had Shi Zhi's head be burned on a busy street in Yecheng. Later Zhao was at its final end.

However, wars continued. Liu Xian, after briefly submitting to Ran Min, proclaimed himself emperor. The western provinces were taken over by Fu Jiàn, who established Former Qin. The southern provinces larely switched their allegiance to Jin. Meanwhile, Former Yan, which had already captured You Province (幽州, modern Beijing, Tianjin, and northern Hebei) and moved its capital to Jicheng (薊城, in modern Beijing -- note different character than old capital), continued to advance south. Ran Min, who captured Xiangguo in early 352 and executed Liu Xian, decided to head north to face the Former Yan army, against advice of several officials who felt that his army needed a rest. The Former Yan general Murong Ke, Murong Jun's brother, pretended to lose several skirmishes and then retreat, tricking Ran Min and his infantry into the open field, and then used his cavalry to surround Ran Min's, inflicting great losses. Ran Min's horse suddenly died, and he fell off and was captured. Former Yan forces delivered him to Murong Jun, and he insulted Murong Jun. Murong Jun had him whipped 300 times and then executed, although was soon fearful that his spirit was causing a draught, and therefore honored him with the posthumous name Daowu. Ran Min's wife Empress Dong and her son Ran Zhi would hold out for several more months, but eventually surrendered later that year, ending Ran Wei's brief existence.

Ran Min is mostly known for his famous order to execute all of the barbarians, particularly the Jie, which were reported as a race of caucasians. Although the North soon again fell under control of the Xuanbei, Ran Min's actions caused them to think twice before adopting the genocidal policy of the Jie. Despite its brief existence, Ran Wei was able to serve as a warning to the Northern barbarian tribes who ruled in North China, and played a great role in their eventual decision to sinocize and give up their former ways.

Ran Wei

Personal information

* Father
** Ran Zhan (冉瞻), later adopted by Shi Hu and name changed to Shi Zhan (石瞻), likely died 327 in battle against Han Zhao, posthumously honored as Emperor Gao
* Mother
** Empress Dowager Wang
* Wife
** Empress Dong
* Children
** Ran Zhi (冉智), the Crown Prince (created 350), later created the Marquess of Haibin by Former Yan
** Ran Yin (冉胤) (created prince 350, killed by Later Zhao emperor Shi Zhi 351)
** Ran Ming (冉明) (created prince 350)
** Ran Yu (冉裕) (created prince 350)
** Ran Cao (冉操)

ee also

*Jie
*Wu Hu
*List of past Chinese ethnic groups
*Later Zhao
*Shi Hu
*Genocide
*Former Yan


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