The People’s Liberation Army recently held a military exercise in Hong Kong aimed at demonstrating its land, sea and air capabilities. Officially, the exercise was “routine” but observers were surprised by its scale, in particular the street fighting staged in a mock-up of Hong Kong’s urban area and the PLA’s use of Cantonese to address the “enemy”. There were murmurs that this flexing of military muscle was a warning to local advocates of Hong Kong independence that they had better stop waving their flag, as it were.

In 1645, real street warfare took place in the walled city of Yangzhou, Jiangsu province, with horrifying consequences. The Manchu conquerors had overrun much of China but Ming dynasty loyalists, led by Shi Kefa, were holding out in the city, located some 200 kilometres northwest of present-day Shanghai. After its defences were breached and Shi executed, his remaining men fought tenaciously in the streets.

The combat was so fierce and prolonged that when the Ming loyalists were finally put down, the Manchu commander ordered a massacre of Yangzhou residents. It was recorded by a survivor in a secretly penned booklet that the Yangzhou Massacre lasted 10 days. Women were raped and the roads were strewn with the mangled bodies of infants. The stench was unbearable. When the Buddhist clergy finally began to clear the mess, they collected 800,000 corpses.