Wang and Huang both proved good organizers of the peasant masses, and in a short time they had captured the whole of eastern China, without the military governors being able to do anything against them, for the provincial troops were more inclined to show sympathy to the peasant armies than to fight them. The terrified government issued an order to arm the people of the other parts of the country against the rebels; naturally this helped the rebels more than the government, since the peasants thus armed went over to the rebels. Finally Wang was offered a high office. But Huang urged him not to betray his own people, and Wang declined the offer. In the end the government, with the aid of the troops of the Turkish Sha-t’o, defeated Wang and beheaded him (878). Huang Ch’ao now moved into the south-east and the south, where in 879 he captured and burned down Canton; according to an Arab source, over 120,000 foreign merchants lost their lives in addition to the Chinese. From Canton Huang Ch’ao returned to the north, laden with loot from that wealthy commercial city. His advance was held up again by the Sha-t’o troops; he turned away to the lower Yangtze, and from there marched north again. At the end of 880 he captured the eastern capital. The emperor fled from the western capital, Ch’ang-an, into Szechwan, and Huang Ch’ao now captured with ease the western capital as well, and removed every member of the ruling family on whom he could lay hands. He then made himself emperor, in a Ch’i dynasty. It was the first time that a peasant rising had succeeded against the gentry.
There was still, however, the greatest disorder in the empire. There were other peasant armies on the move, armies that had deserted their governors and were fighting for themselves; finally, there were still a few supporters of the imperial house and, above all, the Turkish Sha-t’o, who had a competent commander with the sinified name of Li K’o-yung. The Sha-t’o, who had remained loyal to the government, revolted the moment the government had been overthrown. They ran the risk, however, of defeat at the hands of an alien army of the Chinese government’s, commanded by an Uighur, and they therefore fled to the Tatars. In spite of this, the Chinese entered again into relations with the Sha-t’o, as without them there could be no possibility of getting rid of Huang Ch’ao. At the end of 881 Li K’o-yung fell upon the capital; there was a fearful battle. Huang Ch’ao was able to hold out, but a further attack was made in 883 and he was defeated and forced to flee; in 884 he was killed by the Sha-t’o.