MING DYNASTY (1368-1644)


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Ming Emperor
The Ming dynasty (1368-1644), the last native Chinese dynasty in China, ruled for nearly 300 years. The Ming took over China in 1368 after a long period of peasant rebellion and the defeat of the Yuan Mongols. The Ming dynasty aimed restore Chinese culture by emulating the Song Dynasty. It initially expanded the territory of China and increased trade and had links with a wide array of tribute-paying states, including Japan, Tibet, Central Asia and the Philippines. The famous Ming admiral, Zheng He (Cheng Ho, 1371–1433) led seven naval expeditions between 1405 and 1433, reaching as far as the east coast of Africa. However, the Ming's territorial expansion was largely lost by the early 15th century and the costs of its adventures were high. European trade and European infiltration began with Portuguese settlement of Macao in 1557 but was limited by official Chinese antiforeign policy. [Sources: Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed., Columbia University Press; Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations, Thomson Gale, 2007]

The Ming Dynasty was the last native dynasty in Chinese history. It fell between the rules of the Mongol and the Manchu. There were enormous construction projects, including the restoration of the Great Wall and the establishment of the Forbidden City in Beijing during the first quarter of the fifteenth century. 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. However, 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. [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. Estimates for the late-Ming population vary from 160 to 200 million.

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

Website on the Ming Dynasty Ming Studies mingstudies.arts.ubc.ca; Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Ming Tombs Wikipedia Wikipedia : UNESCO World Heritage Site: UNESCO World Heritage Site Map ; Zheng He and Early Chinese Exploration : Wikipedia Chinese Exploration Wikipedia ; Le Monde Diplomatique mondediplo.com ; Zheng He Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Gavin Menzies’s 1421 1421.tv Matteo Ricci faculty.fairfield.edu Chinese History: Chinese Text Project ctext.org ; 3) Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization depts.washington.edu

Uprising That Brought the Ming to Power

Ming Empress

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.

Wolfram Eberhard wrote in “A History of China”: “In 1352 Kuo Tzuhsing rose in southern Henan. Kuo was the son of a wandering soothsayer and a blind beggar-woman. He had success; his group gained control of a considerable region round his home. There was no longer any serious resistance from the Mongols, for at this time the whole of eastern China was in full revolt. In 1353 Kuo was joined by a man named Zhu Yuanzhang (Chu Yuan-chang), the son of a small peasant, probably a tenant farmer. Zhu's parents and all his relatives had died from a plague, leaving him destitute. He had first entered a monastery and become a monk. This was a favourite resource—and has been almost to the present day—for poor sons of peasants who were threatened with starvation. As a monk he had gone about begging, until in 1353 he returned to his home and collected a group, mostly men from his own village, sons of peasants and young fellows who had already been peasant leaders. [Source: “A History of China” by Wolfram Eberhard, 1951, University of California, Berkeley]

Monks were often peasant leaders. They were trusted because they promised divine aid, and because they were usually rather better educated than the rest of the peasants. Zhu at first also had contacts with a secret society, a branch of the White Lotus Society which several times in the course of Chinese history has been the nucleus of rebellious movements. Zhu took his small group which identified itself by a red turban and a red banner to Kuo, who received him gladly, entered into alliance with him, and in sign of friendship gave him his daughter in marriage. In 1355 Kuo died, and Zhu took over his army, now many thousands strong. In his campaigns against towns in eastern China, Zhu succeeded in winning over some capable members of the gentry. One was the chairman of a committee that yielded a town to Zhu; another was a scholar whose family had always been opposed to the Mongols, and who had himself suffered injustice several times in his official career, so that he was glad to join Zhu out of hatred of the Mongols.

“These men gained great influence over Zhu, and persuaded him to give up attacking rich individuals, and instead to establish an assured control over large parts of the country. He would then, they pointed out, be permanently enriched, while otherwise he would only be in funds at the moment of the plundering of a town. They set before him strategic plans with that aim. Through their counsel Zhu changed from the leader of a popular uprising into a fighter against the dynasty. Of all the peasant leaders he was now the only one pursuing a definite aim. He marched first against Nanking, the great city of central China, and captured it with ease. He then crossed the Yangtze, and conquered the rich provinces of the south-east. He was a rebel who no longer slaughtered the rich or plundered the towns, and the whole of the gentry with all their followers came over to him en masse. The armies of volunteers went over to Zhu, and the whole edifice of the dynasty collapsed.

Mongol Collapse and End of the Yuan Dynasty

Hongwu, first Ming emperor

Rivalry among the Mongol imperial heirs and numerous peasant uprisings contributed to the collapse of the Yuan dynasty. The last years of Mongol rule were marked by famines and other natural disasters, which the Chinese took as a sign that their rulers had lost what they called the "Mandate of Heaven"—in other words, the favor of the gods. The Ming dynasty (1368-1644) was founded by a Han Chinese peasant and former Buddhist monk turned rebel army leader. The end of Yuan dynasty came in 1368 when the rebels surrounded Beijing and the Mongols were ousted. The last Yuan emperor, Toghon Temür Khan, didn't even attempt to defend his khanate. Instead he fled with his the Empress and his concubines — first to Shangtu (Xanadu), then to Karakoram, the original Mongol capital, where he was killed when Zhu Yuanzhang became the leader of the Ming Dynasty.

The end of the Yuan Dynasty is celebrated in China with moon cakes and the Mid-Autumn Festival. 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 a paper messages. The clever rebels used the innocent-looking moon cakes to give instructions to the Chinese to rise up and massacre the Mongols at the time of the full moon in August 1368.

Wolfram Eberhard wrote in “A History of China”: “The years 1355-1368 were full of small battles. After his conquest of the whole of the south, Zhu went north. In 1368 his generals captured Beijing almost without a blow. The Mongol ruler fled on horseback with his immediate entourage into the north of China, and soon after into Mongolia. The Mongol dynasty had been brought down, almost without resistance. The Mongols in the isolated garrisons marched northward wherever they could. A few surrendered to the Chinese and were used in southern China as professional soldiers, though they were always regarded with suspicion. The only serious resistance offered came from the regions in which other Chinese popular leaders had established themselves, especially the remote provinces in the west and south-west, which had a different social structure and had been relatively little affected by the Mongol regime. [Source: “A History of China” by Wolfram Eberhard, 1951, University of California, Berkeley]

Were the Ming the Anti-Mongols

Wolfram Eberhard wrote in “A History of China”: Chinese historians have no good word to say of the Mongol epoch and avoid the subject as far as they can. It is true that the union of the national Mongol culture with Chinese culture, as envisaged by the Mongol rulers, was not a sound conception, and consequently did not endure for long. Nevertheless, the Mongol epoch in China left indelible traces, and without it China's further development would certainly have taken a different course. [Source: “A History of China” by Wolfram Eberhard, 1951, University of California, Berkeley]

“The many popular risings during the latter half of the period of Mongol rule in China were all of a purely economic and social character, and at first they were not directed at all against the Mongols as representatives of an alien people. The rising under Chu Yuan-chang, which steadily gained impetus, was at first a purely social movement; indeed, it may fairly be called revolutionary. Chu was of the humblest origin; he became a monk and a peasant leader at one and the same time. Only three times in Chinese history has a man of the peasantry become emperor and founder of a dynasty. The first of these three men founded the Han dynasty; the second founded the first of the so-called "Five Dynasties" in the tenth century; Chu was the third.

“Not until the Mongols had answered Chu's rising with a tightening of the nationality laws did the revolutionary movement become a national movement, directed against the foreigners as such. And only when Chu came under the influence of the first people of the gentry who joined him, whether voluntarily or perforce, did what had been a revolutionary movement become a struggle for the substitution of one dynasty for another without interfering with the existing social system. Both these points were of the utmost importance to the whole development of the Ming epoch.

“The Mongols were driven out fairly quickly and without great difficulty. The Chinese drew from the ease of their success a sense of superiority and a clear feeling of nationalism. This feeling should not be confounded with the very old feeling of Chinese as a culturally superior group according to which, at least in theory though rarely in practice, every person who assimilated Chinese cultural values and traits was a "Chinese". The roots of nationalism seem to lie in the Southern Song period, growing up in the course of contacts with the Jurchen and Mongols; but the discriminatory laws of the Mongols greatly fostered this feeling. From now on, it was regarded a shame to serve a foreigner as official, even if he was a ruler of China.

Ming Military and 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]

Michael Szonyi wrote in Aeon: “The exact size of the Ming army is unknown but it was in the order of 2 million men. It was by a wide margin the largest standing army in the world at that time. For most of the dynasty, the core of the standing army came from a special category of the population known as military households or junhu. The junhu comprised perhaps 10 per cent of the total population of Ming China. Families could be registered as military households in a number of different ways. The first followers of Zhu Yuanzhang, the founding emperor of the Ming, and those of his defeated rivals became the earliest military households. A second group was conscripted in a series of drafts during the late-14th century. Registration also later became a punishment for certain serious crimes. [Source: Michael Szonyi, Aeon, April 11, 2018. Michael Szonyi is professor of Chinese history at Harvard]

“Not everyone in a junhu served as a soldier. Rather, every military household had a permanent, hereditary obligation to supply one able-bodied man to serve in the military at all times. Being a military household thus implied an ongoing obligation to provide a certain amount of labour, the services of one able-bodied male. Once a family was registered as a military household, this labour obligation persisted regardless of the social circumstances of the family."

Threats from Mongols, Japanese Pirates and Southern Tribes

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.

Wolfram Eberhard wrote in “A History of China”: “It had been easy to drive the Mongols out of China, but they were never really beaten in their own country. On the contrary, they seem to have regained strength after their withdrawal from China: they reorganized themselves and were soon capable of counter-thrusts, while Chinese offensives had as a rule very little success, and at all events no decisive success. In the course of time, however, the Chinese gained a certain influence over Turkestan, but it was never absolute, always challenged. After the Mongol empire had fallen to pieces, small states came into existence in Turkestan, for a long time with varying fortunes; the most important one during the Ming epoch was that of Hami, until in 1473 it was occupied by the city-state of Turfan. At this time China actively intervened in the policy of Turkestan in a number of combats with the Mongols. As the situation changed from time to time, these city-states united more or less closely with China or fell away from her altogether. In this period, however, Turkestan was of no military or economic importance to China. [Source: “A History of China” by Wolfram Eberhard, 1951, University of California, Berkeley]

“In the time of the Ming there also began in the east and south the plague of Japanese piracy. Japanese contacts with the coastal provinces of China (Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Fujian) had a very long history: pilgrims from Japan often went to these places in order to study Buddhism in the famous monasteries of Central China; businessmen sold at high prices Japanese swords and other Japanese products here and bought Chinese products; they also tried to get Chinese copper coins which had a higher value in Japan. Chinese merchants co-operated with Japanese merchants and also with pirates in the guise of merchants. Some Chinese who were or felt persecuted by the government, became pirates themselves. This trade-piracy had started already at the end of the Song dynasty, when Japanese navigation had become superior to Korean shipping which had in earlier times dominated the eastern seaboard. These conditions may even have been one of the reasons why the Mongols tried to subdue Japan. As early as 1387 the Chinese had to begin the building of fortifications along the eastern and southern coasts of the country; The Japanese attacks now often took the character of organized raids: a small, fast-sailing flotilla would land in a bay, as far as possible without attracting notice; the soldiers would march against the nearest town, generally overcoming it, looting, and withdrawing. The defensive measures adopted from time to time during the Ming epoch were of little avail, as it was impossible effectively to garrison the whole coast. Some of the coastal settlements were transferred inland, to prevent the Chinese from co-operating with the Japanese, and to give the Japanese so long a march inland as to allow time for defensive measures. The Japanese pirates prevented the creation of a Chinese navy in this period by their continual threats to the coastal cities in which the shipyards lay. Not until much later, at a time of unrest in Japan in 1467, was there any peace from the Japanese pirates.

Indigenous peoples in what is now southern China resisted colonization by Han Chinese other peoples and were sometimes joined by descendants of earlier waves of settlers. Norma Diamond wrote in the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “The Ming histories record 218 “tribal" uprisings in Guangxi alone, 91 in Guizhou (which included portions of Yunnan), and 52 in Guangdong. The peoples of that area (ancestral to the present-day Yao, Miao, Zhuang, Gelao, and a number of smaller groups) were either assimilated, decimated, or forced to retreat to higher elevations or westward; some populations began the migration to present-day Vietnam and Thailand. The Han-settled areas were organized into the same administrative units as prevailed elsewhere in China, governed by appointed bureaucrats. The surviving non-Han peoples were uneasily brought into that structure or, in areas where they still outnumbered the Han, were controlled by indirect rule under hereditary landed officials (tumu or tusi) initially drawn from the indigenous elites. As long as the rulers of these quasi-fiefdoms kept the peace and paid taxes and tribute to the state, they had a free hand in administering local law and exacting rents and labor service for their own advancement.[Source: “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994 |~|]

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]

Expansion and Exploration 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]

Wolfram Eberhard wrote in “A History of China”: “The Ming had to keep a large army along the northern frontiers. But they also had to keep armies in south China, especially in Yunnan. Here, the Mongol invasions of Burma and Thailand had brought unrest among the tribes, especially the Shan. The Ming did not hold Burma but kept it in a loose dependency as "tributary nation". In order to supply armies so far away from all agricultural surplus centres, the Ming resorted to the old system of "military colonies" which seems to have been invented in the second century B.C. and is still used even today (in Xinjiang). Soldiers were settled in camps called ying, and therefore there are so many place names ending with ying in the outlying areas of China. They worked as state farmers and accumulated surplusses which were used in case of war in which these same farmers turned soldiers again. Many criminals were sent to these state farms, too. This system, especially in south China, transformed territories formerly inhabited by native tribes or uninhabited, into solidly Chinese areas. In addition to these military colonies, a steady stream of settlers from Central China and the coast continued to move into Guangdong and Hunan provinces. They felt protected by the army against attacks by natives. Yet Ming texts are full of reports on major and minor clashes with the natives, from Jiangxi and Fujian to Guangdong and Guangxi. [Source: “A History of China” by Wolfram Eberhard, 1951, University of California, Berkeley]

“But the production of military colonies was still not enough to feed the armies, and the government in Zhu's time resorted to a new design. It promised to give merchants who transported grain from Central China to the borders, government salt certificates. Upon the receipt, the merchants could acquire a certain amount of salt and sell it with high profits. Soon, these merchants began to invest some of their capital in local land which was naturally cheap. They then attracted farmers from their home countries as tenants. The rent of the tenants, paid in form of grain, was then sold to the army, and the merchant's gains increased. Tenants could easily be found: the density of population in the Yangtze plains had further increased since the Song time. This system of merchant colonization did not last long, because soon, in order to curb the profits of the merchants, money was given instead of salt certificates, and the merchants lost interest in grain transports. Thus, grain prices along the frontiers rose and the effectiveness of the armies was diminished.

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.

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

Eunuchs were in the immediate entourage of the emperor. A good many members of the middle class, nobility and scholar class had themselves castrated after they had passed their state examination. 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.

Wolfram Eberhard wrote in “A History of China”: Originally eunuchs were forbidden to acquire education. But soon the Ming emperors used the eunuchs as a tool to counteract the power of gentry cliques and thus to strengthen their personal power. When, later, eunuchs controlled appointments to government posts, long established practices of bureaucratic administration were eliminated and the court, i.e. the emperor and his tools, the eunuchs, could create a rule by way of arbitrary decisions, a despotic rule. For such purposes, eunuchs had to have education, and these new educated eunuchs, when they had once secured a position, were able to gain great influence in the immediate entourage of the emperor; later such educated eunuchs were preferred, especially as many offices were created which were only filled by eunuchs and for which educated eunuchs were needed. Whole departments of eunuchs came into existence at court, and these were soon made use of for confidential business of the emperor's outside the palace. [Source: “A History of China” by Wolfram Eberhard, 1951, University of California, Berkeley]

“These eunuchs worked, of course, in the interest of their families. On the other hand, they were very ready to accept large bribes from the gentry for placing the desires of people of the gentry before the emperor and gaining his consent. Thus the eunuchs generally accumulated great wealth, which they shared with their small gentry relatives. The rise of the small gentry class was therefore connected with the increased influence of the eunuchs at court.

Powerful and Corrupt Eunuch Liu Jin

Wolfram Eberhard wrote in “A History of China”:“In 1505 Wuzong came to the throne, an inexperienced youth of fifteen who was entirely controlled by the eunuchs who had brought him up. The leader of the eunuchs was Liu Jin, who had the support of a group of people of the gentry and the middle class. Liu Jin succeeded within a year in getting rid of the eunuchs at court who belonged to other cliques and were working against him. After that he proceeded to establish his power. He secured in entirely official form the emperor's permission for him to issue all commands himself; the emperor devoted himself only to his pleasures, and care was taken that they should keep him sufficiently occupied to have no chance to notice what was going on in the country. The first important decree issued by Liu Jin resulted in the removal from office or the punishment or murder of over three hundred prominent persons, the leaders of the cliques opposed to him. He filled their posts with his own supporters, until all the higher posts in every department were in the hands of members of his group. [Source: “A History of China” by Wolfram Eberhard, 1951, University of California, Berkeley]

He collected large sums of money which he quite openly extracted from the provinces as a special tax for his own benefit. When later his house was searched there were found 240,000 bars and 57,800 pieces of gold (a bar was equivalent of ten pieces), 791,800 ounces and 5,000,000 bars of silver (a bar was five ounces), three bushels of precious stones, two gold cuirasses, 3,000 gold rings, and much else—of a total value exceeding the annual budget of the state! The treasure was to have been used to finance a revolt planned by Liu Jin and his supporters.

“Among the people whom Liu Jin had punished were several members of the former clique of the Yang, and also the philosopher Wang Yangming, who later became so famous, a member of the Wang family which was allied to the Yang. In 1510 the Yang won over one of the eunuchs in the palace and so became acquainted with Liu Chin's plans. When a revolt broke out in western China, this eunuch (whose political allegiance was, of course, unknown to Liu Chin) secured appointment as army commander. With the army intended for the crushing of the revolt, Liu Chin's palace was attacked when he was asleep, and he and all his supporters were arrested. Thus the other group came into power in the palace, including the philosopher Wang Yangming (1473-1529). Liu Chin's rule had done great harm to the country, as enormous taxation had been expended for the private benefit of his clique. On top of this had been the young emperor's extravagance: his latest pleasures had been the building of palaces and the carrying out of military games; he constantly assumed new military titles and was burning to go to war.

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."

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, 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."

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ; 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 ; \=/ 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 August 2021

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