MING DYNASTY (1368-1644)


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Ming Emperor
The Ming dynasty, the last native Chinese dynasty in China, ruled for nearly 300 years. Chinese science and technological inventiveness declined during this period and Jesuit scholars introduced Western science. Painting and ceramic production however thrived and the merchant class rose in status and power.

According to “The History of East Asian Civilization” The Ming Dynasty was “one of the greatest eras of orderly government and social stability in human history." Ming rule saw the construction of a vast navy and a standing army of one million troops. There were enormous construction projects, including the restoration of the Grand Canal and the Great Wall and the establishment of the Forbidden City in Beijing during the first quarter of the 15th century. Estimates for the late-Ming population vary from 160 to 200 million. [Source: Oliver Pickup, Daily Mail, March 8, 2011]

”Ming” means brightness. The name was chosen by the first Ming Emperor as a contrast to the dark period in which the dynasty came to power. The Ming Dynasty was a time of economic growth and cultural splendor which produced the first direct commercial contacts with the West. During much of the Ming dynasty, China and India together accounted for more than half of the world's gross national product.

Contemporary sources on the Ming period are rare. Of the several million documents on the period once kept in the central government archives all but around 10,000 were destroyed in fighting at the end of the dynasty. By contrast 14 million original government documents remain from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

Ming Dynasty Rulers (Name: Reign Title, Reign Dates): 1) Taizu: Hongwu (1368–98); 2) (Huidi): Jianwen (1399–1402); 3) Chengzu: Yongle (1403–24); 4) Renzong: Hongxi (1425); 5) Xuanzong: Xuande (1426–35); 6) Yingzong: 7) Zhengtong (1436–49); 8) Daizong: Jingtai (1450–56); 9) Yingzong *: Dienshun (1457–64); 10) Xianzong: Chenghua (1465–87); 11) Xiaozong: Hongzhi (1488–1505); 12) Wuzong: Zhengde (1506–21); 13) Shizong: Jiajing (1522–66); 14) Muzong: Longqing (1567–72); 15) Shenzong: Wanli (1573–1620); 16) Guangzong: 17) Taichang (1620); 18) Hsizong: Dianqi (1621–27); 19) (Ssuzong): Chongzheng (1628–44). *Restored to throne

Ming Empress

Website on the Ming Dynasty Wikipedia ; Ming Tombs Wikipedia Wikipedia : UNESCO World Heritage Site: UNESCO World Heritage Site Map ; Good Websites and Sources on Imperial China: List of Emperors and Other World Historical Leaders friesian.com/sangoku ; List of Emperors PaulNoll.com ; Wikipedia Long List with references to major historical events Wikipedia ; Wikipedia shorter list Wikipedia Court Life During the Time of Empress Dowager Cixi etext.virginia.edu ; Book: Chronicle of the Chinese Emperor by Ann Paludan.

Forbidden City: Book:Forbidden City by Frances Wood, a British Sinologist. Web Sites FORBIDDEN CITY factsanddetails.com/china ; Wikipedia; China Vista ; UNESCO World Heritage Site Sites World Heritage Site ; Maps China Map Guide Links in this Website: Temple of Heaven: Wikipedia Wikipedia UNESCO World Heritage Site UNESCO World Heritage Site Map on China Map Guide China Map Guide

Good Chinese History Websites: 1) Chaos Group of University of Maryland chaos.umd.edu/history/toc ; 2) WWW VL: History China vlib.iue.it/history/asia ; 3) Wikipedia article on the History of China Wikipedia 4) China Knowledge; 5) Gutenberg.org e-book gutenberg.org/files ; Links in this Website: Main China Page factsanddetails.com/china (Click History) Books: 1) Cambridge History of China multiple volumes (Cambridge University Press).

Ming Come to Power

Hongwu, first Ming emperor

Rivalry among the Mongol imperial heirs, natural disasters, and numerous peasant uprisings led to the collapse of the Yuan dynasty. The Ming dynasty (1368-1644) was founded by a Han Chinese peasant and former Buddhist monk turned rebel army leader.

A rebellion against the Mongols was launched by Zhu Yuanzhang (Hung Wu), a "self-made man of great talents" and the son of a farm laborer who lost his entire family in an epidemic when he was only seventeen. After spending several years in a Buddhist monastery Zhu launched what became a thirteen year revolt against the Mongols as the head of a Chinese peasant insurgency, called the Red Turbans, made up of Buddhists, Taoists, Confucianists and Manichaeists.

Mongols cracked down ruthlessly on the Chinese but failed to suppress the Chinese custom of exchanging little round full moon cakes during the coming of the full moon. Like fortune cookies, the cakes carried paper messages. The clever rebels used the innocent-looking cakes to give instructions to the Chinese population to rise up and massacre the Mongols at the time of the full moon in August 1368.

The end of Yuan dynasty came in 1368 when the rebels surrounded Beijing. The last Yuan emperor, Toghon Temür Khan, didn't even attempt to defend his khanate. Instead he fled with his empress and concubines---first to Shangdu (Xanadu), then to Karakoram, the original Mongol capital, where he was killed when Zhu Yuanzhang became the leader of the Ming Dynasty.

Ming Power

Ming Dynasty territory

Having its capital first at Nanjing (which means Southern Capital) and later at Beijing (Northern Capital), the Ming reached the zenith of its power during the first quarter of the fifteenth century.The Ming emperors usurped unprecedented personal power as the Confucian bureaucracy began to suffer from inertia. They increased their authority by granting themselves the power to dismiss any prime minister who opposed them.

"The Ming," wrote military historian Jack Keegan, "in effect militarized China and created a hereditary military class; it was under the Ming that China embarked on it only sustained effort of overseas expansion, and its largest effort to control the steppe by direct offensive action; five great expeditions were mounted north of the Great Wall, which was also then rebuilt in the form we see it today." [Source: "History of Warfare" by John Keegan, Vintage Books]

The Ming were not very skilled at dealing with the Central Asian tribes that challenged them. They eschewed both diplomacy and war but were too weak too drive them out and too proud to make deals. The Ming built walls and mocked the Central Asia horsemen, demanding that they be referred to as yi (“barbarians”) and insisting that yi always be written in the smallest possible letters.

Great Wall of China Under the Ming Dynasty

The most famous and impressive sections of the Great Wall were built from mud, brick and stone during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The Ming emperors devoted a huge amount of resources and manpower to the project. Stones weighing over a ton were shaped, moved and heaved on top of each other. Over 60 million tons of bricks and stone slabs were used.

The Ming built their walls as lines of defense with as many as four rows of fortifications in strategic areas. They used durable materials and construction methods, intending to make something that lasted. Stone was quarried in the Beijing area. The mud bricks were made of soil, straw, tamarisk, egg yolk and rice paste. The earth was tamped with large chunks of rock and special tools.

The project took over a 100 years to complete. At one time, nearly one in every three males in China was conscripted to help build it. Towns along the wall became industrial areas for firing bricks, blasting rocks to make fill and sharpening stones. Army units were put to work on a rotating basis so no one unit would be overworked and rebel.

The towers and walls were often made separately with the towers being made first from brick that was carried in. Wall sections were built between the towers, first with local stone, and later with materials that were carried in. Construction was usually done in the spring when the weather was good but the Mongols were not active (they usually raided and attacked in the fall after their horses had been fattened up on summer grass). In some places tablets identify when a given wall section was built and name the officials involved in building it.

Hundreds of thousand of people died from severe weather, starvation and exhaustion while building the Great Wall of China. Many women were widowed and children left without fathers. A popular Ming era song went: "If a son is born, mind you don't raise him! If a girl is born, don't feed her dried meat. Don't you just see below the Long Wall, dead men's skeletons prop each other up."

Many people who live around the Great Wall today, especially in the hills northeast of Beijing, claim to be descendants of soldiers that were stationed on the wall. Many of these trace their roots back to a policy in the mid 1550s that aimed to prevent soldiers firm deserting by allowing their wives and families to move into the watchtowers with them. Some of the towers bear the same surnames of the families that live in nearby villages.

Great Wall in Jinshngling

In the 1500s, Ming General Qi Jiguang, trying to stem massive desertions, allowed soldiers to bring wives and children to the frontlines. Local commanders were assigned to different towers, which their families treated with proprietary pride. Today, the six towers along the ridge above Dongjiakou bear surnames shared by nearly all the village's 122 families: Sun, Chen, Geng, Li, Zhao and Zhang. [Source: Brook Larmer, Smithsonian Magazine, August 2008]

Arts During the Ming Dynasty

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “The early Ming dynasty was a period of cultural restoration and expansion. The reestablishment of an indigenous Chinese ruling house led to the imposition of court-dictated styles in the arts. Painters recruited by the Ming court were instructed to return to didactic and realistic representation, in emulation of the styles of the earlier Southern Song (1127–1279) Imperial Painting Academy. Large-scale landscapes, flower-and-bird compositions, and figural narratives were particularly favored as images that would glorify the new dynasty and convey its benevolence, virtue, and majesty. [Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org \^/]

“In Ming painting, the traditions of both the Southern Song painting academy and the Yuan (1279–1368) scholar-artist were developed further. While the Zhe (Zhejiang Province) school of painters carried on the descriptive, ink-wash style of the Southern Song with great technical virtuosity, the Wu (Suzhou) school explored the expressive calligraphic styles of Yuan scholar-painters emphasizing restraint and self-cultivation. In Ming scholar-painting, as in calligraphy, each form is built up of a recognized set of brushstrokes, yet the execution of these forms is, each time, a unique personal performance. Valuing the presence of personality in a work over mere technical skill, the Ming scholar-painter aimed for mastery of performance rather than laborious craftsmanship. \^/

“Early Ming decorative arts inherited the richly eclectic legacy of the Mongol Yuan dynasty, which included both regional Chinese traditions and foreign influences. For example, the fourteenth-century development of blue-and-white ware and cloisonné; enamelware arose, at least in part, in response to lively trade with the Islamic world, and many Ming examples continued to reflect strong West Asian influences. A special court-based Bureau of Design ensured that a uniform standard of decoration was established for imperial production in ceramics, textiles, metalwork, and lacquer. \^/

During the Ming Dynasty scholarly painting continued to prevail and ink wash painting of the Imperial Painting Academy and Southern Song court was briefly popular. Paintings were often filled with human figures, whose size was an indication of their rank. During the late Ming and early Qing Dynasties two approaches to scholarly painting were developed: the first in which artists copied and studied ancient themes and subjects, and the second in which artists abandoned models and expressed their own creativity through inventive means. The individualist expressive form predominated in the mid Qing dynasty. Research on ancient inscriptions influenced painting in the late Qing period. Hanging scroll portraits of emperors and other nobleman contained Tibetan and Islamic influences.

Ming Porcelain

rightMing Dynasty ceramics were known for the boldness of their form and decoration and the varieties of design. Craftsmen made both huge and highly decorated vessels and small, delicate, white ones. Many of the wonderful decorations and glazes — peach bloom, moonlight blue, cracked ice, and ox blood glazes; and rice grain, rose pink and black decorations — were inspired by nature.

In 1402, the Ming Emperor Jianwen ordered the establishment of an imperial porcelain factory in Jingdezhen. It's sole function was to produce porcelain for court use in state and religious ceremonies and for tableware and gifts.

Between 1350 and 1750 Jiangdezhen was the production center for nearly all of the world's porcelain. Jiangdezhen was located near abundant supplies of kaolin, the clay used in porcelain making, and fuel needed to fire up kilns. It also had access to China's coast, which was used for transporting finished products to places in China and around the world. So much porcelain was made that Jingdezhen now sits on a foundation of shards from discarded pottery that over is four meters deep in places.

Exploration and Expansion During the Ming Dynasty

The Chinese armies reconquered Annam, as northern Vietnam was then known, in Southeast Asia and kept back the Mongols, while the Chinese fleet sailed the China seas and the Indian Ocean, cruising as far as the east coast of Africa. The maritime Asian nations sent envoys with tribute for the Chinese emperor. Internally, the Grand Canal was expanded to its farthest limits and proved to be a stimulus to domestic trade."Source: The Library of Congress]

The Ming maritime expeditions stopped rather suddenly after 1433, the date of the last voyage. Historians have given as one of the reasons the great expense of large-scale expeditions at a time of preoccupation with northern defenses against the Mongols. Opposition at court also may have been a contributing factor, as conservative officials found the concept of expansion and commercial ventures alien to Chinese ideas of government. Pressure from the powerful Neo-Confucian bureaucracy led to a revival of strict agrarian-centered society. The stability of the Ming dynasty, which was without major disruptions of the population (then around 100 million), economy, arts, society, or politics, promoted a belief among the Chinese that they had achieved the most satisfactory civilization on earth and that nothing foreign was needed or welcome.

See Chinese Exploration

Eunuchs During the Ming Dynasty

Chinese imperial eunuchs were nicknamed “bob-tailed dogs". During the Ming dynasty it was said that 20,000 of them were employed in the Forbidden City. They made their some contributions to Chinese culture and civilization. Court eunuchs in the Ming Dynasty were the first Chinese to play Western classical music. The eunuch Zheng He was China's greatest explorer.

Court eunuchs reached the height of their political power under the Ming Emperor Wanhi, who employed over 10,000 eunuchs in the imperial court and had 70,000 to 100,000 of them in official positions throughout the country. While the emperor was preoccupied with his beautiful concubines powerful eunuchs embezzled huge fortunes. In the 1620s an eunuch named Wei Zhinganxian for all intents and purposes ran China.

Ming eunuchs

During the Ming dynasty, the Forbidden City contained a special eunuch clinic where candidates had their genitals removed while sitting on a special chair with a hole in it. Candidates that didn't survive were carried away with their penis and testicles in a pouch for reunification in the afterlife.

Neo-Confucianism and Wang Yangming

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “ “Neo-Confucianism” is a general term used to refer to the renaissance of Confucianism during the Song dynasty following a long period in which Buddhism and Daoism had dominated the philosophical world of the Chinese and also to the various philosophical schools of thought that developed as a result of that renaissance. Neo-Confucianism had its roots in the late Tang, came to maturity in the Northern and Southern Song periods, and continued to develop in the Yuan, Ming, and Qing periods. As a whole, Neo-Confucianism can best be understood as an intellectual reaction to the challenges of Buddhist and Daoist philosophy in which avowedly Confucian scholars incorporated Buddhist and Daoist concepts in order to produce a more sophisticated new Confucian metaphysics. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]

“As Neo-Confucianism developed, two trends of thought emerged out of the Southern Song philosopher and official Zhu Xi’s synthesis of the “learning of Principle” and the “Learning of the Mind and Heart.” Both trends agreed that all the myriad things of the universe are manifestations of a single “Principle” (li) and that this Principle is the essence of morality. By understanding the Principle that underlies the universe (just as Buddhists understood all things in the universe as manifestations of the single Buddha spirit), then, men may understand the moral principles that they must put into practice in order to achieve an ordered family, good government, and peace under heaven. The two trends of thought differed, however, on the way in which human beings are to understand Principle. <|>

“The thinking surrounding the “Learning of the Mind and Heart” is most often identified with the Ming general and statesman Wang Yangming (1472-1529). Wang argued that inasmuch as every living thing is a manifestation of Principle, then one need not look outside oneself in order to understand Principle (and therefore morality): one should consult one’s own heart (or mind), wherein Principle surely lay. Since Principle is the basis of human nature, then it follows that anyone who understands his or her true nature understands the Principle of the universe.

Wang Yangming’s Philosophy

Wang Yangming

The following passage from Instructions for Practical Living by Wang’s disciple Xu Ai relates Wang’s teaching regarding knowledge and action: “I [Xu Ai] did not understand the Teacher’s doctrine of the unity of knowing and acting and, debated over it back and forth with Huang Zongxian and Gu Weixian without coming to any conclusion. Therefore I took the matter to the Teacher. The Teacher said, “Give an example and let me see.” I said, “For example, there are people who know that parents should be served with filiality and elder brothers treated with respect, but they cannot put these things into practice. [Source: “Unity of Knowing and Acting” by Wang Yangming, from “Sources of Chinese Tradition,” compiled by Wm. Theodore de Bary and Irene Bloom, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999); Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]

“This shows that knowing and acting are clearly two different things.” The Teacher said, “The knowing and acting you refer to are already separated by selfish desires and are no longer knowing and acting in their original substance. There have never been people who know but do not act. Those who are supposed to know but do not act simply do not yet know. When sages and worthies taught people about knowing and acting, it was precisely because they wanted them to restore this original substance, and not just to have them behave like that and be satisfied.” <|>

In “Identification of Mind and Principle” Wang discusses the Mind/Principle relationship: “What Zhu Xi meant by the investigation of things is “to investigate the principle in things to the utmost as we come into contact with them.” To investigate the principle in things to the utmost as we come into contact with them means to search in each individual thing for its so-called definite principle. It means further that the principle in each individual thing is to be sought with the mind, thus separating the mind and principle into two. To seek for principle in each individual thing is like looking for the principle of filiality in parents. [Source: “The Identification of Mind and Principle” by Wang Yangming, from “Sources of Chinese Tradition,” compiled by Wm. Theodore de Bary and Irene Bloom, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999); Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]

“If the principle of filiality is to be sought in parents, then is it actually in my own mind or is it in my parents? If it is actually in the person of my parents, is it true that as soon as parents pass away the mind will then lack the principle of filiality? When I see a child about to fall into a well [and have a feeling of commiseration], there must be the principle of commiseration. Is this principle of commiseration actually in the person of the child or is it in the innate knowledge of my mind? Perhaps one cannot follow the child into the well [to rescue it]. Perhaps one can rescue it by seizing it with the hand. All this involves principle. Is it really in the person of the child or does it emanate from the innate knowledge in my mind? What is true here is true of all things and events. From this we know the mistake of separating the mind and principle into two.” <|>

Hai Rui: Ming Dynasty Official behind the Cultural Revolution

Hai Rui (1514 to 1587) was a famous official in the Ming dynasty. His name has come down in history as a model of honesty and integrity in office and he reemerged as an important historical character during the Cultural Revolution. Hai Rui, whose great-grandfather married an Arab and subsequently adopted Islam, was born in Qiongshan, Hainan, where he was raised by his mother (also a Muslim, from a Hui, family). Unsuccessful in the official examinations, his official career started in 1553, when he was aged 39, with a humble position as clerk of education in Fujian province. [Source: Cultural China \=/]

Hai Rui

At the beginning of his career, Hai Rui was appointed the post of Fujian Nanping Jiaoyu, then was promoted as the magistrate of Chun'an county in Zhejiang and Xingguo county in Jiangxi, he pursued the policy of measuring land carefully and equalizing the tax, and reversed many unjust cases, cracked down corrupt officials, and enjoyed the ardent support of the people. In the 45th year of Jiajing emperor, he was promoted as president of Yunnan department of the Board of Revenue. He criticized that Shizong emperor for practicing witchcraft, living in luxury and neglecting his duties. For this he was thrown into prison. After Shizong died, he was released. In the 3rd year of Longqing emperor (1569), he was promoted as vice Qiandu Yushi. As before, he punished corrupt officials, cracked down on despots, dredged and built river channels, constructed irrigation works and forced corrupt officials to work in the fields to people, and thus became known as "Hai the Clear Sky". After that, he was purged and stayed at home idle for 16 years. In the 13th year of Wanli emperor (1585), he was appointed to an important position again, the vice president of the Board of Civil Office in Nanjing, and again worked diligently to strictly punish corrupt officials and clampdown on the practice of accepting bribes. Hai Rui died in office two years later. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]

Hai Rui built his reputation on uncompromising adherence to an upright morality, scrupulous honesty, poverty, and fairness. This won him widespread popular support but made him many enemies in the bureaucracy. When he impeached the Jiajing Emperor himself in 1565 and was initially sentenced to death but escaped that fate perhaps because of his reputation and popularity. Throughout his life, Hai Rui was known as an honest and incorruptible official, upright and above flattery, and was deeply respected and venerated by the people. It was said, when hearing the grievous news of his death, the local ordinary people were filled with deep sorrow and felt like they lost a family member. When his bier was transported back to his hometown by the waterway in Nanjing, the banks of the Yangtze River were filled with people to see him off. Many ordinary people places his portrait in their homes. Dramas and literary works inspired by him include The Big Red Gown of Lord Hai and The Small Red Gown of Lord Hai, and Hai Rui Submitted a Memorial to the Emperor.

Hai Rui's fame lived on in modern times. An article entitled "Hai Rui Dismissed from Office", written by Communist Party official Wu Han in 1959 and later made into a Peking Opera play, was interpreted by Gang of Four member Yao Wenyuan as an allegorical work with the honest moral official Hai Rui representing disgraced official Peng Dehuai, who was purged by Mao for his outspoken criticism of the Great Leap Forward, and corrupt emperor representing Mao Zedong. The November 10, 1965 article in a prominent Shanghai newspaper, "A Criticism of the Historical Drama 'Hai Rui Dismissed From Office'", written by Yao, is widely seen as the spark that ignited the Cultural Revolution. During the Cultural Revolution, the grave of Hai Rui was destroyed but it has since been rebuilt. \=/

The origins of the Cultural Revolution are complex and even today not completely understood. In 1966, the Communist Party Congress softened the revolutionary party line and Mao saw this as a threat on his leadership. He was also upset by the popular Beijing play “Dismissal of Hai Rui From Office," which was viewed as veiled attack on his leadership. Yao Wenyuan condemned “Dismissal of Hai Rui From Office” as a coded attack on Mao by his rivals. Yao wrote the article under orders from Jiang Qing, Mao's wife, and was rewarded with a position in the Politburo.

Decline and Fall of the Ming Dynasty

Long wars with the Mongols, incursions by the Japanese into Korea, and harassment of Chinese coastal cities by the Japanese in the sixteenth century weakened Ming rule, which became, as earlier Chinese dynasties had, ripe for an alien takeover. In 1644 the Manchus took Beijing from the north and became masters of north China, establishing the last imperial dynasty, the Qing (1644- 1911).

The Ming court was very corrupt. Some court eunuchs and civil servants made small fortunes by setting fires and getting kickbacks from the contractors who repaired the damage. Others embezzled money that was intended to buy food for the court elephants.

In its final years the Ming Dynasty was weakened by corruption, power-hungry eunuchs and political trouble on its borders. The decline was accelerated after a costly war against Japan over Korea. After Manchu invasions from the north, the great 16th century historian Zhang Dai wrote that Beijing was overrun with “unemployed soldiers and clerks, laid off couriers, miners, landless laborers driven from the desiccated farms, refugees from the Manchu-dominated areas north of the Great Wall, Muslim and other traders who had lost their money as the Silk Road trade faltered."

Peasant Rebellions and Manchu Invasion

The Ming dynasty finally collapsed as a result of a peasant rebellion launched in the Shaanxi province after a devastating famine there and an invasion of Manchus from the north. In the early 17th century, persistent drought and famine driven by the Little Ice Age accelerated the collapse of the Ming dynasty. Two major popular uprisings swelled up, led by Zhang Xianzhong and Li Zicheng, both poor men from famine-hit Shaanxi who took up arms in the 1620s. At the same time, Ming armies were occupied in the defence of the northern border against the Manchu ruler Huangtaiji, whose father, Nurhaci, had united the Manchu tribes into a cohesive force. In 1636, after years of campaigns against Ming fortifications north of the Great Wall, Huangtaiji declared himself emperor of the Qing dynasty. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Through the 1630s, rebellion spread from Shaanxi to nearby Huguang and Henan. In 1641, Xiangyang fell to Zhang Xianzhong, and Luoyang to Li Zicheng. The next year, Li Zicheng captured Kaifeng. The year after that, Zhang Xianzhong took Wuchang and established himself the ruler of his Xi kingdom. Court officials offered a number of unrealistic proposals to stop the rebel armies, including the establishment of archery contests, the restoration of the weisuo military colony system, and the execution of disloyal peasants. Li Zicheng took Xi'an in last 1643, renaming it Chang'an, which had been the city's name when it was the capital of the Tang dynasty. On the lunar New Year of 1644, he proclaimed himself king of the Shun dynasty and prepared to capture Beijing. +

By this point, the situation had become critical for the Chongzhen Emperor — the Last Ming Emperor — who rejected proposals to recruit new militias from the Beijing region and to recall general Wu Sangui, the defender of Shanhai Pass on the Great Wall. The Chongzhen Emperor had dispatched a new field commander, Yu Yinggui, who failed to stop Li Zicheng's armies as they crossed the Yellow River in December 1643. Back in Beijing, the capital defence forces consisted of old and feeble men, who were starving because of the corruption of eunuchs responsible for provisioning their supplies. The troops had not been paid for nearly a year. Meanwhile, the capture of Taiyuan by Li Zicheng's forces gave his campaign additional momentum; garrisons began to surrender to him without a fight. Through February and March of 1644, the Chongzhen Emperor declined repeated proposals to move the court south to Nanjing, and in early April, he rejected a suggestion to move the crown prince to the south.

Fall of the Ming Dynasty and Its Displacement by the Manchus

The last Ming emperor killed himself by hanging himself from a tree in the northern edge of the Forbidden rather that being captured. The Manchus overthrew the rebel group that overthrew the Ming dynasty in 1644. The impact of the Machu success one historian said "was comparable to that experienced by the Christian world after the loss of the Holy Land to the Muslim world."

The Ming dynasty was overthrown by the Manchus in 1644. The impact of this one historian said "was comparable to that experienced by the Christian world after the loss of the Holy Land to the Muslim world."

In April 1644, when rebel forces were advancing on Beijing, their leader Li Zicheng offered the emperor an opportunity to surrender, but the negotiations produced no result. Rather than face capture by the rebels, the Chongzhen Emperor gathered all members of the imperial household except his sons. Using his sword, he killed Consort Yuan and Princess Kunyi, and severed the arm of Princess Changping. The empress hanged herself. Tthe Chongzhen Emperor was said to have walked to Meishan, a small hill in present-day Jingshan Park. There, he either hanged himself, or strangled himself with a sash. By some accounts, the emperor left a suicide note which said, "I die unable to face my ancestors in the underworld, dejected and ashamed. May the rebels dismember my corpse and slaughter my officials, but let them not despoil the imperial tombs nor harm a single one of our people."According to a servant who discovered the emperor's body under a tree, however, the words tianzi (Son of Heaven) were the only written evidence left after his death. The emperor was buried in the Ming tombs. [Source: Wikipedia +]

The Manchus were quick to exploit the death of the Chongzhen Emperor: by claiming to "avenge the emperor," they rallied support from loyalist Ming forces and civilians. The Shun dynasty lasted less than a year with Li Zicheng's defeat at the Battle of Shanhai Pass. The victorious Manchus established the Shunzhi Emperor of the Qing dynasty as ruler of all China. Because the Chongzhen Emperor had refused to move the court south to Nanjing, the new Qing government was able to take over a largely intact Beijing bureaucracy, aiding their efforts to displace the Ming. +

After the Chongzhen Emperor's death, loyalist forces proclaimed a Southern Ming dynasty in Nanjing, naming Zhu Yousong (the Prince of Fu) as the Hongguang Emperor. However, in 1645, Qing armies started to move against the Ming remnants. The Southern Ming, again bogged down by factional infighting, were unable to hold back the Qing onslaught, and Nanjing surrendered in June 1645. Zhu Yousong was captured and brought to Beijing, where he died the following year. The dwindling Southern Ming were continually pushed farther south, and the last emperor of the Southern Ming, Zhu Youlang, was finally caught in Burma, transported to Yunnan, and executed in 1662 by Wu Sangui. +

Ming Tombs

The Ming Tombs (45 kilometers northwest of Beijing) are not far from the Great Wall of China. The 13 tombs are reached by following the four-mile Sacred Way which begins at a white marble gate and ends in a beautiful secluded ravine surrounded by trees. Many people find the tombs themselves to be disappointing but enjoy the walk and the lovely countryside.

The Sacred Way passes through Great Red Gate, a group of three great archways, each 120 feet high and 35 feet wide. Further along is the 30-foot-high Stele Pavilion, decorated with carvings of dragons and tortoises, and the famous Avenue of the Animals, featuring 12 pairs of stone animals, facing each other and kneeling and standing on either side of the Sacred Way. The animals include elephants, horses, camels, lions and two mythical creatures---a qilin (a dragon-like beast with deer antlers and a cow's tail) and a xiechi (a horned cat). The human figures look like generals. Continuing further visitors pass several rows of mandarin statues, a Dragon and Phoenix Gate and a seven-arch bridge to finally arrive at the tombs.

The tomb of Emperor Shen Zong (A.D. 1573-1620) is the only one that is open. It is surrounded by several buildings, courtyards, terraces and two museums. Inside the tomb are three rooms. The first one doesn't have much. The second one contains altars, funerary lamps and a throne. The bodies of the Emperor and his two empresses were kept in the third room along with various treasures. The Emperor's crown, his robe and the Empress's phoenix tiaras are kept in one of the museums. The tomb of Emperor Cheng Zu (A.D. 1403-1424) is unexcavated and surrounded by lovely terraces, courtyard, garden, pavilions and gates.

20080217-minng tomb bucklin.jpg
Ming tomb

Ming Mummy

In March 2011, the Daily Mail reported: “The corpse of the high-ranking woman believed to be from the Ming Dynasty was stumbled across by a team who were looking to expand a street in the city of Taizhou, in the Jiangsu Province. Discovered two metres below the road surface and preserved in a brown liquid, the woman's features - from her head to her shoes - have retained their original condition, and have hardly deteriorated. [Source: Oliver Pickup, Daily Mail, March 8 2011 ////]

“When the discovery was made by the road workers in February 2011 Chinese archaeologists, from the nearby Museum of Taizhou, were called into excavate the area, the state agency Xinhua News reported. They were surprised by the remarkably good condition of the woman's skin, hair, eyelashes and face. It was as though she had only recently died. ////

“The woman is thought to be 700 years old. She is wearing Ming Dynasty dress and has a ring on her right hand. The skin is well preserved. The eyebrows are still intact. Her body, which measures 1.5 metres high, was found at the construction site immersed in a brown liquid inside the coffin. Also in the coffin were bones, ceramics, ancient writings and other relics. A map of the Ming Dynasty and two other wooden coffins were also discovered This is the latest discovery after a lull of three years in the area. Between 1979 and 2008 five mummies were found, all in very good condition. ////

“Those findings raised the interest in learning the techniques to better understand the Ming dynasty's expertise in mummifying as well as their funeral rituals and customs. Director of the Museum of Taizhou, Wang Weiyin, told Xinhua that the mummy's clothes are made mostly of silk, with a little cotton. He said usually silk and cotton are very hard to preserve and excavations found that this mummifying technology was used only at very high-profile funerals.” ////

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ; Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>; University of Washington’s Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv /=\; National Palace Museum, Taipei npm.gov.tw \=/ Library of Congress; New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; China National Tourist Office (CNTO); Xinhua; China.org; China Daily; Japan News; Times of London; National Geographic; The New Yorker; Time; Newsweek; Reuters; Associated Press; Lonely Planet Guides; Compton’s Encyclopedia; Smithsonian magazine; The Guardian; Yomiuri Shimbun; AFP; Wikipedia; BBC. Many sources are cited at the end of the facts for which they are used.

Last updated November 2016

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