Thursday, September 4, 2008

Ming Dynasty

The Ming dynasty began in 1368, and lasted until 1644 A.D. Its founder was a peasant, the third of only three peasants ever to become an emperor in China. He is known as Hongwu Emperor, and led the revolt against the Mongols and the Yuan Dynasty. He was constantly worried about conspiracies against himself, and despite the many moral homilies he gave, favored violence in dealing with any one suspected of plotting against him or associated with the conspirators. The capital was originally located in Nanjing but the third emperor moved the capital to Beijing.

The Ming Dynasty , or Empire of the Great Ming , was the ruling of China from 1368 to 1644, following the collapse of the Mongol-led Yuan Dynasty. The Ming was the last dynasty in China ruled by ethnic s , before falling to the rebellion led in part by Li Zicheng and soon after replaced by the Manchu-led Qing Dynasty. Although the Ming capital Beijing fell in 1644, remnants of the Ming throne and power survived until 1662.

Ming rule saw the construction of a vast and a standing army of one million troops. Although private maritime trade and official tribute missions from China had taken place in previous dynasties, the tributary fleet under the Muslim eunuch admiral Zheng He in the 15th century surpassed all others in sheer size. There were enormous projects of construction, including the restoration of the and the and the establishment of the Forbidden City in Beijing during the first quarter of the 15th century. Estimates for the population in the late Ming era vary from 160 to 200 million. The University of Calgary states that "the Ming created one of the greatest eras of orderly government and social stability in human history."

attempted to create a society of self-sufficient rural communities in a rigid, immobile system that would have no need to engage with the commercial life and trade of urban centers. His rebuilding of China's agricultural base and strengthening of communication routes through the militarized courier system had the unintended effect of creating a vast agricultural surplus that could be sold at burgeoning markets located along courier routes. Rural culture and commerce became influenced by urban trends. The upper echelons of society embodied in the were also affected by this new consumption-based culture. In a departure from tradition, merchant families began to produce examination candidates to become and adopted cultural traits and practices typical of the gentry class. Parallel to this trend involving social class and commercial consumption were changes in social and political philosophy, bureaucracy and governmental institution, and even arts and literature.

By the 16th century the Ming economy was stimulated by maritime trade with the , , and . China became involved in a new global trade of goods, plants, animals, and food crops known as the Columbian Exchange. Trade with and the Japanese brought in massive amounts of silver, which then replaced copper and paper banknotes as the common medium of exchange in China. During the last decades of the Ming the flow of silver into China was greatly diminished, thereby undermining state revenues and indeed the entire Ming economy. This damage to the economy was compounded by the effects on agriculture of the incipient Little Ice Age, natural calamities, crop failure, and sudden epidemics. The ensuing breakdown of authority and people's livelihoods allowed rebel leaders such as Li Zicheng to challenge Ming authority.



Revolt and rebel rivalry

The -led Yuan Dynasty ruled before the establishment of the Ming Dynasty. Alongside institutionalized ethnic discrimination against Han Chinese that stirred resentment and rebellion, other explanations for the Yuan's demise included overtaxing areas hard-hit by crop failure, inflation, and massive flooding of the Yellow River as a result of the abandonment of irrigation projects.

A number of Han Chinese groups revolted, including the in 1351. The Red Turbans were affiliated with the White Lotus, a secret society. Zhu Yuanzhang was a penniless peasant and Buddhist monk who joined the Red Turbans in 1352, but soon gained a reputation after marrying the foster daughter of a rebel commander. In 1356 Zhu's rebel force captured the city of Nanjing, which he would later establish as the capital of the Ming Dynasty.

Zhu Yuanzhang cemented his power in the south by eliminating his arch rival and rebel leader Chen Youliang in the Battle of Lake Poyang in 1363. After the dynastic head of the Red Turbans suspiciously died in 1367 while hosted as a guest of Zhu, the latter made his imperial ambitions known by sending an army toward the Yuan capital in 1368. The last Yuan emperor fled north to Shangdu and Zhu declared the founding of the Ming Dynasty after razing the Yuan palaces of Khanbaliq to the ground.

Reign of the Hongwu Emperor

Hongwu immediately set to rebuilding state infrastructure. He built a 48 km long , as well as new palaces and government halls. Hongwu organized a military system known as the ''weisuo'', which was similar to the of the Tang Dynasty . The goal was to have soldiers become self-reliant farmers in order to sustain themselves while not fighting or training. The system of the self-sufficient agricultural soldier, however, was largely a farce; infrequent rations and awards were not enough to sustain the troops, and many deserted their ranks if they weren't located in the heavily-supplied frontier. He halted the in 1373 after complaining that the 120 scholar-officials who obtained a ''jinshi'' degree were incompetent ministers. After the examinations were reinstated in 1384, With a growing suspicion of his ministers and subjects, Hongwu established the Jinyi Wei, a network of secret police drawn from his own palace guard. They were partly responsible for the loss of 100,000 lives in several purges over three decades of his rule.

South-Western Frontier

In 1381, the Ming Dynasty annexed the areas of the southwest that had once been part of the Kingdom of Dali. By the end of the 14th century, some 200,000 military colonists settled some 2,000,000 ''mu'' of land in what is now Yunnan and Guizhou. Roughly half a million more Chinese settlers came in later periods; these migrations caused a major shift in the ethnic make-up of the region, since more than half of the roughly 3,000,000 inhabitants at the beginning of the Ming Dynasty were non-Han peoples. After the scholar and philosopher Wang Yangming suppressed another rebellion in the region, he advocated joint administration of Chinese and local ethnic groups in order to bring about in the local peoples' culture. and in return granted Tibetan tribute-bearers with gifts.]]

Scholarship outside China generally regards Tibet as having been independent during the Ming Dynasty, whereas historians in China today take an opposing point of view. The ''''— the official history of the Ming Dynasty compiled much later in 1739—states that the Ming established itinerant commanderies overseeing Tibetan administration while also renewing titles of ex-Yuan Dynasty officials from Tibet and conferring new princely titles on leaders of . However, Turrell V. Wylie states that censorship in the ''Mingshi'' in favor of bolstering the Ming emperor's prestige and reputation at all costs obfuscates the nuanced history of Sino-Tibetan relations during the Ming era. Helmut Hoffman states that the Ming upheld the facade of rule over Tibet through periodic missions of "tribute emissaries" to the Ming court and by granting nominal titles to ruling lamas, but did not actually interfere in Tibetan governance. Wang Jiawei and Nyima Gyaincain disagree, stating that Ming China had sovereignty over Tibetans who did not inherit Ming titles, but were forced to travel to Beijing to renew them. Melvyn C. Goldstein writes that the Ming had no real administrative authority over Tibet since the various titles given to Tibetan leaders already in power did not confer authority as earlier Mongol Yuan titles had; according to him, "the Ming emperors merely recognized political reality." Some scholars argue that the significant religious nature of the relationship of the Ming court with Tibetan lamas is underrepresented in modern scholarship. Others underscore the commercial aspect of the relationship, noting the Ming Dynasty's insufficient amount of horses and the need to maintain the with Tibet. Scholars also debate on how much power and influence—if any—the Ming Dynasty court had over the ''de facto'' successive ruling families of Tibet, the Phagmodru , Rinbung , and Tsangpa .

The Ming initiated sporadic armed intervention in Tibet during the 14th century, while at times the Tibetans also used successful armed resistance against Ming forays. Patricia Ebrey, Thomas Laird, Wang Jiawei, and Nyima Gyaincain all point out that the Ming Dynasty did not garrison permanent troops in Tibet, unlike the former Mongol Yuan Dynasty. By the late 16th century, the Mongols proved to be successful armed protectors of the Yellow Hat Dalai Lama after their increasing presence in the Amdo region, culminating in Güshi Khan's .

Reversal of Hongwu's policies

Imposing standards and relocations

According to historian Timothy Brook, the Hongwu Emperor attempted to immobilize society by creating rigid, state-regulated boundaries between villages and larger townships, discouraging trade and travel in society not permitted by the government. Hongwu attempted to instill austere values by imposing uniform dress codes, standard methods of speech, and standard style of writing that did not flaunt the skills of the highly educated. His suspicion for the educated elite matched his disdain for the commercial elites, imposing inordinately high taxes upon the hotbed of powerful merchant families in the region of Suzhou in Jiangsu. To keep track of the merchants' activities, Hongwu forced them to register all of their goods once a month. One of his main goals as ruler was to permanently curb the influence of merchants and landlords, yet several of his policies would eventually encourage them to amass more wealth.

Hongwu's oppressive system of massive relocation and the desire to escape his harsh taxes encouraged many to become itinerant retailers, peddlers, or migrant workers finding tenant landowners who would rent them space to farm and labor on. By the mid Ming era, emperors had abandoned Hongwu's relocation scheme and instead trusted local officials to document migrant workers in order to bring in more revenue.

Self-sufficient agriculture, surplus, and urban trends

Hongwu revived the agricultural sector to create self-sufficient communities that would not rely on commerce, which he assumed would remain only in urban areas. Yet the surplus created from this revival encouraged rural farmers to make profits by first selling their goods at thoroughfares; by the mid Ming era they began selling their goods in regional urban markets. As the countryside and urban areas became more connected through commerce, households in rural areas began taking on traditionally urban specializations, such as production of silk and cotton textiles. By the late Ming there was a growing concern amongst conservative Confucians that the metaphorical delicate fabric holding together the communal social order was being undermined by country rustics accepting every manner of urban life and decadence.

The rural farmer was not the only social group affected by growing commercialization of Chinese society; it also heavily influenced the landholding gentry that traditionally produced scholar-officials for civil service. The scholar-officials were traditionally held as frugal individuals who deterred themselves from arrogance in the wealth garnered from a prestigious career; they were known even to walk from their country homes into the city where they were employed. By the time of the Zhengde Emperor , officials chose to be hauled around in luxurious and began purchasing lavish homes in affluent urban neighborhoods instead of living in the countryside.

Fusion of the merchant and gentry classes

In the first half of the Ming era, scholar-officials would rarely mention the contribution of merchants in society while writing their local gazetteer; officials were certainly capable of funding their own public works projects, a symbol of their virtuous political leadership. However, by the second half of the Ming era it became common for officials to solicit money from merchants in order to fund their various projects, such as building bridges or establishing new schools of Confucian learning for the betterment of the gentry. From that point on the gazetteers began mentioning merchants and often in high esteem, since the wealth produced by their economic activity produced resources for the state as well as increased production of books needed for the education of the gentry. Merchants began taking on the highly-cultured, connoisseur's attitude and cultivated traits of the gentry class, blurring the lines between merchant and gentry and paving the way for merchant families to produce scholar-officials. The roots of this social transformation and class indistinction , but it became much more pronounced in the Ming. Writings of family instructions for lineage groups in the late Ming period display the fact that one no longer inherited his position in the categorization of the four occupations : , , , and .

Courier network and commercial growth

Hongwu believed that only government couriers and lowly retail merchants should have the right to travel far outside their home town. The shipwrecked Korean Choe Bu remarked in 1488 how the locals along the eastern coasts of China did not know the exact distances between certain places, which was virtually exclusive knowledge of the and courier agents. This was in stark contrast to the late Ming period, when merchants not only traveled further distances to convey their goods, but also bribed courier officials to use their routes and even had printed geographical guides of commercial routes that imitated the couriers' maps.

Merchants, an open market, and silver

only surviving piece of furniture from the "Orchard Factory" set up in Beijing in the early Ming Dynasty. Decorated in dragons and , it was made during the era . The imperial workshops in the Ming era were overseen by a eunuch bureau. The government followed this guideline by the mid Ming era when it allowed merchants to take over the state monopoly of salt production. This was a gradual process where the state supplied northern frontier armies with enough grain by granting merchants licenses to trade in salt in return for their shipping services. The state realized that merchants could buy salt licenses with silver and in turn boost state revenues to the point where buying grain was not an issue. Hongwu was unaware of economic inflation even as he continued to hand out multitudes of banknotes as awards; by 1425, paper currency was worth only 0.025% to 0.014% its original value in the 14th century. The value of standard copper coinage dropped significantly as well due to counterfeit minting; by the 16th century, new maritime trade contacts with Europe provided massive amounts of imported silver, which increasingly became the common medium of exchange. As far back as 1436, the southern grain tax had been partially commuted to payments in silver. In 1581 the Single Whip Reform installed by Grand Secretary Zhang Juzheng finally assessed taxes on the amount of land paid entirely in silver.

Reign of the Yongle Emperor

Rise to power

Hongwu's grandson Zhu Yunwen assumed the throne as the Jianwen Emperor after Hongwu's death in 1398. In a prelude to a three-year-long civil war beginning in 1399, Jianwen became engaged in a political showdown with his uncle Zhu Di, the Prince of Yan. Jianwen was aware of the ambitions of his princely uncles, establishing measures to limit their authority. The militant Zhu Di, given charge over the area encompassing Beijing to watch the Mongols on the frontier, was the most feared of these princes. After Jianwen arrested many of Zhu Di's associates, Zhu Di plotted a rebellion. Under the guise of rescuing the young Jianwen from corrupting officials, Zhu Di personally led forces in the revolt; the palace in Nanjing was burned to the ground, along with Zhu Di's nephew Jianwen, his wife, mother, and courtiers. Zhu Di assumed the throne as the Yongle Emperor ; his reign is universally viewed by scholars as a "second founding" of the Ming Dynasty since he reversed many of his father's policies.

New capital and a restored canal

Yongle demoted Nanjing to a secondary capital and in 1403 announced the new capital of China was to be at his power base in Beijing. Construction of a new city there lasted from 1407 to 1420, employing hundreds of thousands of workers daily.

After laying dormant and dilapidated for decades, the was restored under Yongle from 1411–1415. The impetus for restoring the canal was to solve the perennial problem of shipping grain north to Beijing. Shipping the annual 4,000,000 ''shi'' was made difficult with an inefficient system of shipping grain through the East China Sea or by several different inland canals that necessitated the transferring of grain onto several different barge types in the process, including shallow and deep water barges. Yongle commissioned some 165,000 workers to dredge the canal bed in western Shandong and built a series of fifteen canal locks. The reopening of the Grand Canal had implications for Nanjing as well, as it was surpassed by the well-positioned city of Suzhou as the paramount commercial center of China.

Although Yongle ordered episodes of bloody purges like his father—including the execution of Fang Xiaoru who refused to draft the proclamation of his succession—Yongle had a different attitude about the scholar-officials. He had a selection of texts compiled from the - school of Confucianism—or Neo-Confucianism—in order to assist those who studied for the civil service examinations. This was opposed by the Confucian establishment while it served to bolster the importance of eunuchs and military officers whose power depended upon the emperor's favor. The first voyage from 1405 to 1407 contained 317 vessels with a staff of 70 eunuchs, 180 medical personnel, 5 astrologers, and 300 military officers commanding a total estimated force of 26,800 men.

The enormous tributary missions were discontinued after the death of Zheng He, yet his death was only one of many culminating factors which brought the missions to an end. Yongle had in 1407, but Ming troops were pushed out in 1428 with significant costs to the Ming treasury; in 1431 the new Lê Dynasty of Vietnam was recognized as an independent tribute state. Yongle's moving of the capital from Nanjing to Beijing was largely in response to the court's need of keeping a closer eye on the Mongol threat in the north. Scholar-officials also associated the lavish expense of the fleets with eunuch power at court, and so halted funding for these ventures as a means to curtail further eunuch influence.

Tumu Crisis and the Ming Mongols

The Mongol leader Esen Tayisi launched an invasion into Ming China in July of 1449. The chief eunuch encouraged to personally lead a force to face the Mongols after a recent Ming defeat; marching off with 50,000 troops, Zhengtong left the capital and put his half-brother Zhu Qiyu in charge of affairs as temporary regent. In the battle that ensued on September 8, his force of 50,000 troops were decimated by Esen's army and Zhengtong was captured and held in captivity by the Mongols—an event known as the Tumu Crisis. After Zhengtong's capture, Esen's forces plundered their way across the countryside and all the way to the suburbs of Beijing. Following this was another plundering of the Beijing suburbs in November of that year by local bandits and Ming Dynasty soldiers of Mongol descent who dressed as invading Mongols. Many Han Chinese also took to brigandage soon after the Tumu incident.

The Mongols held the Zhengtong Emperor for ransom. However, this scheme was foiled once Zhengtong's younger brother assumed the throne as the Jingtai Emperor ; the Mongols were also repelled once Jingtai's confidant and defense minister Yu Qian gained control of the Ming armed forces. Holding Zhengtong in captivity was a useless bargaining chip for the Mongols as long as another sat on his throne, so they released him back into Ming China. Zhengtong retook the throne as the Tianshun Emperor .

Tianshun's reign was a troubled one and Mongol forces within the Ming military structure continued to be problematic. On August 7, 1461, the Chinese general Cao Qin and his Ming troops of Mongol descent out of fear of being next on his purge-list of those who aided Jingtai's succession. Mongols serving the Ming military also became increasingly circumspect as the Chinese began to heavily distrust their Mongol subjects after the Tumu Crisis. Cao's rebel force managed to set fire to the western and eastern gates of the and killed several leading ministers before his forces were finally cornered and he was forced to commit suicide.

The Mongol threat to China was at its greatest level in the 15th century, although periodic raiding continued throughout the dynasty. Like in the Tumu Crisis, the Mongol leader Altan Khan invaded China and raided as far as the outskirts of Beijing. Interestingly enough, the Ming employed troops of Mongol descent to fight back Altan Khan's invasion, as well as Mongol military officers against Cao Qin's abortive coup. The Mongol incursions prompted the Ming authorities to construct the Great Wall from the late 15th century to the 16th century; John Fairbank notes that "it proved to be a futile military gesture but vividly expressed China's siege mentality."

Isolation to globalization

Illegal trade, piracy, and war with Japan

In 1479, the vice president of the Ministry of War burned the court records documenting Zheng He's voyages; it was one of many events signalling China's shift to an inward foreign policy. Shipbuilding laws were implemented that restricted vessels to a small size; the concurrent decline of the Ming navy allowed the growth of piracy along China's coasts.

Trade and contact with Europe

Although Jorge & was the first to land on Lintin Island in the Pearl River Delta in May of 1513, it was Rafael Perestrello—a cousin of the famed Christopher Columbus—who became the first European explorer to land on the southern coast of mainland China and trade in Guangzhou in 1516, commanding a vessel with a crew from a Malaysian junk that had sailed from Malacca. The Portuguese sent a large subsequent expedition in 1517 to enter port at Guangzhou and open formal trade relations with Chinese authorities. During this expedition the Portuguese attempted to send an inland delegation in the name of Manuel I of Portugal to the court of the Ming emperor Zhengde; instead the diplomatic mission languished in a Chinese jail and died there. Simão de Andrade, brother to ambassador Fern&, had also stirred Chinese speculation that the Portuguese were kidnapping Chinese children to eat them; Simão had purchased kidnapped children as slaves who were later found in Diu, India. In 1521, Ming Dynasty naval forces fought and repulsed Portuguese ships at Tuen Mun, where some of the first culverins were introduced to China. Despite initial hostilities, by 1549 the Portuguese were sending annual trade missions to Shangchuan Island.

From China the major exports were silk and porcelain. The Dutch East India Company alone handled the trade of 6 million porcelain items from China to Europe between the years 1602 to 1682. Antonio de Morga , a official in Manila, listed an extensive inventory of goods that were traded by Ming China at the turn of the 17th century, noting there were "rarities which, did I refer to them all, I would never finish, nor have sufficient paper for it". After noting the variety of silk goods traded to Europeans, Ebrey writes of the considerable size of commercial transactions:

After the Chinese had banned direct trade by Chinese merchants with Japan, the Portuguese filled this commercial vacuum as intermediaries between China and Japan. The Portuguese bought Chinese silk and sold it to the Japanese in return for Japanese-mined silver; since silver was more highly valued in China, the Portuguese could then use Japanese silver to buy even larger stocks of Chinese silk.

Although the bulk of imports to China were silver, the Chinese also purchased New World crops from the Spanish Empire. This included sweet potatoes, maize, and peanuts, foods that could be cultivated in lands where traditional Chinese staple crops—wheat, millet, and rice—couldn't grow, hence facilitating a rise in the population of China. In the Song Dynasty , rice had become the major staple crop of the poor; after sweet potatoes were introduced to China around 1560, it gradually became the traditional food of the lower classes.


Reign of the Wanli Emperor

The financial drain of the Imjin War in Korea against the Japanese was one of the many problems—fiscal or other—facing Ming China during the reign of the Wanli Emperor . In the beginning of his reign, Wanli surrounded himself with able advisors and made a conscientious effort to handle state affairs. His Grand Secretary Zhang Juzheng built up an effective network of alliances with senior officials. However, there was no one after him skilled enough to maintain the stability of these alliances;

Officials aggravated Wanli about which of his sons should succeed to the throne; he also grew equally disgusted with senior advisors constantly bickering about how to manage the state. Annoyed by all of this, Wanli began neglecting his duties, remaining absent from court audiences to discuss politics, lost interest in studying the , refused to read petitions and other state papers, and stopped filling the recurrent vacancies of vital upper level administrative posts.

The eunuch Wei Zhongxian dominated the court of the Tianqi Emperor and had his political rivals tortured to death, mostly the vocal critics from the faction of the "". He ordered temples built in his honor throughout the Ming Empire, Meanwhile, Philip IV of Spain began cracking down on illegal smuggling of silver from and across the towards China, in favor of shipping American-mined silver directly from Spain to Manila. In 1639, the new regime of Japan shut down most of its foreign trade with European powers, causing a halt of yet another source of silver coming into China. However, the greatest stunt to the flow of silver came from the Americas, while Japanese silver still came into China in limited amounts. Some scholars even assert that the price of silver rose in the 17th century due to a falling demand for goods, not declining silver stocks.

These events occurring at roughly the same time caused a dramatic spike in the value of silver and made paying taxes nearly impossible for most provinces. People began hoarding precious silver as there was progressively less of it, forcing the ratio of the value of copper to silver into a steep decline.

In this early half of the 17th century, famines became common in northern China because of unusual dry and cold weather that shortened the growing season; these were effects of a larger ecological event now known as the Little Ice Age. Famine, alongside tax increases, widespread military desertions, a declining relief system, and natural disasters such as flooding and inability of the government to properly manage irrigation and flood-control projects caused widespread loss of life and normal civility.

Fall of the Dynasty

Rise of the Manchu

A remarkable tribal leader named Nurhaci , starting with just a small tribe, rapidly gained control over all the Manchurian tribes. During the Imjin War he offered to lead his tribes in support of the Ming and Joseon army. This offer was declined, but he was granted honorific Ming titles for his gesture. Recognizing the weakness in the Ming authority north of their border, he took control over all of the other unrelated tribes surrounding his homeland. Succeeding generals proved unable to eliminate the Manchu threat.

Unable to attack the heart of Ming directly, the Manchu instead bided their time, developing their own artillery and gathering allies. They were able to enlist Ming government officials and generals as their strategic advisors. A large part of the Ming Army deserted to the Manchu banner. In 1632, they had conquered much of Inner Mongolia, Huang Taiji also adopted the Chinese imperial title '''' instead of , took the Imperial title , and changed the ethnic name of his people from Jurchen to Manchu. The agreement soon broke down when a local magistrate had thirty-six of his fellow rebels executed; Li's troops retaliated by killing the officials and continued to lead a rebellion based in Rongyang, central Henan province by 1635. By the 1640s, an ex-soldier and rival to Li—Zhang Xianzhong —had created a firm rebel base in Chengdu, Sichuan, while Li's center of power was in Hubei with extended influence over Shaanxi and Henan.

Seizing opportunity, the Manchus crossed the Great Wall after the Ming border general Wu Sangui opened the gates at Shanhai Pass. This occurred shortly after he learned about the fate of the capital and an army of Li Zicheng marching towards him; weighing his options of alliance, he decided to side with the Manchus. The Manchu army under the Manchu Prince Dorgon and Wu Sangui approached Beijing after the army sent by Li was destroyed at Shanhaiguan; the Prince of Shun's army fled the capital on the fourth of June. On June 6 the Manchus and Wu entered the capital and proclaimed the young Shunzhi Emperor ruler of China.

Scattered Ming remnants still existed after 1644, including those of Koxinga. Despite the loss of Beijing and the death of the emperor, Ming power was by no means totally destroyed. Nanjing, Fujian, Guangdong, Shanxi, and Yunnan were all strongholds of Ming resistance. However, there were several pretenders for the Ming throne, and their forces were divided. Each bastion of resistance was individually defeated by the Qing until 1662, when the last real hopes of a Ming revival died with the Yongli emperor, . Despite the Ming defeat, smaller loyalist movements continued until the proclamation of the Republic of China.


Province, prefecture, subprefecture, county

The Ming emperors took over the provincial administration system of the Yuan Dynasty, and the thirteen Ming provinces are the precursors of the modern provinces. Throughout the Song Dynasty, the largest political division was the . However, after the in 1127, the Song court established four semi-autonomous regional command systems based on territorial and military units, with a detached service secretariat that would become the provincial administrations of the Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties. At the provincial level, the Yuan central government structure was copied by the Ming; the bureaucracy contained three provincial commissions: one civil, one military, and one for surveillance. Below the level of the were operating under a prefect, followed by under a subprefect. Finally, the lowest unit was the overseen by a magistrate. Thus a whole level of administration was cut out and only partially rebuilt by subsequent rulers. By 1430 these ''xunfu'' assignments became institutionalized. By the late Ming Dynasty, there were central government officials delegated to two or more provinces as supreme commanders and viceroys, a system which reigned in the power and influence of the military by the civil establishment. The Grand Secretariat drew its members from the Hanlin Academy and were considered part of the imperial authority, not the ministerial one . The Secretariat was a coordinating agency, whereas the Six Ministries—which were Personnel, Revenue, Rites, War, Justice, and Public Works—were direct administrative organs of the state. The Ministry of Personnel was in charge of appointments, merit ratings, promotions, and demotions of officials, as well as granting of honorific titles. The Ministry of Revenue was in charge of gathering census data, collecting taxes, and handling state revenues, while there were two offices of currency that were subordinate to it. The Ministry of Rites was in charge of state ceremonies, rituals, and sacrifices; it also oversaw registers for Buddhist and Daoist priesthoods and even the reception of envoys from tributary states. The Ministry of War was in charge of the appointments, promotions, and demotions of military officers, the maintenance of military installations, equipment, and weapons, as well as the courier system. The Ministry of Justice was in charge of judicial and penal processes, but had no supervisory role over the Censorate or the Grand Court of Revision. The Ministry of Works was in charge of government construction projects, hiring of artisans and laborers for temporary service, manufacturing government equipment, the maintenance of roads and canals, standardization of weights and measures, and the gathering of resources from the countryside. Female servants were organized into the Bureau of Palace Attendance, Bureau of Ceremonies, Bureau of Apparel, Bureau of Foodstuffs, Bureau of the Bedchamber, Bureau of Handicrafts, and Office of Staff Surveillance. The offices were in charge of providing fuel, music, paper, and baths. There were also civil service offices to oversee the affairs of imperial princes.



After the reign of Hongwu—who from 1373 to 1384 staffed his bureaus with officials gathered through recommendations only—the scholar-officials who populated the many ranks of bureaucracy were recruited through a rigorous that was first established by the Sui Dynasty . Theoretically the system of exams allowed anyone to join the ranks of imperial officials ; in reality the time and funding needed to support the study in preparation for the exam generally limited participants to those already coming from the landholding class. However, the government did exact provincial quotas while drafting officials. The expansion of the enhanced the spread of knowledge and number of potential exam candidates throughout the provinces. For young schoolchildren there were printed multiplication tables and primers for elementary vocabulary; for adult examination candidates there were mass-produced, inexpensive volumes of Confucian classics and successful examination answers.

As in earlier periods, the focus of the examination was classical Confucian texts, while the bulk of test material centered on the Four Books outlined by Zhu Xi in the 12th century. Ming era examinations were perhaps more difficult to pass since the 1487 requirement of completing the "eight-legged essay", a departure from basing essays off progressing literary trends. While provincial graduates who were appointed to office were immediately assigned to low-ranking posts like the county graduates, those who passed the palace examination were awarded a ''jinshi'' degree and assured a high-level position. In 276 years of Ming rule and ninety palace examinations, the number of doctoral degrees granted by passing the palace examinations was 24,874. If they were graded as superior then they were promoted, if graded adequate then they retained their ranks, and if graded inadequate they were demoted one rank. In extreme cases, officials would be dismissed or punished. The Chief Instructor on the prefectural level was classified as equal to a second-grade county graduate. They outnumbered officials by four to one; Charles Hucker estimates that they were perhaps as many as 100,000 throughout the empire.

Eunuchs, princes and generals

Eunuchs during the Ming Dynasty gained unprecedented power over state affairs. One of the most effective means of control was the secret service stationed in what was called the Eastern Depot at the beginning of the dynasty, later the Western Depot.

Princes and descendants of the first Ming emperor were given nominal military commands and large land estates without title. These estates were not feudatories, the princes did not serve any administrative function, and it was only during the reign of the first two emperors that they partook in military affairs. By contrast, princes in the Han and Jin Dynasties had been installed as local kings. Although princes served no organ of state administration, princes, consorts of imperial princesses, and ennobled relatives did staff the Imperial Clan Court, which took care of the imperial genealogy. However, military officers had less prestige than officials. This was due to their hereditary service and Confucian values that dictated those who chose the profession of violence over the cultured pursuits of knowledge . Although seen as less prestigious, military officers were not excluded from taking civil service examinations and after 1478 the military even held their own examinations to test military skills. In addition to taking over the established bureaucratic structure from the Yuan period, the Ming emperors established the new post of the travelling military inspector. In the early half of the dynasty, men of noble lineage dominated the higher ranks of military office; this trend was reversed during the latter half of the dynasty as men from more humble origins eventually displaced them.

Society and culture

Literature and arts

As in earlier dynasties, the Ming Dynasty saw a flourishing in the arts, whether it was , , , , or . Carved designs in lacquerwares and designs glazed onto porcelain wares displayed intricate scenes similar in complexity to those in painting. These items could be found in the homes of the wealthy, alongside embroidered silks and wares in , ivory, and cloisonné. The houses of the rich were also furnished with rosewood furniture and feathery latticework. The writing materials in a scholar's private study, including elaborately carved brush holders made of stone or wood, were all designed and arranged ritually to give an aesthetic appeal. However, there were guides to help the wary new connoisseur; in Liu Tong's book printed in 1635, he told his readers various ways to spot a fake and authentic pieces of art. He revealed that a bronzework could be authenticated if one knew how to judge its sheen; porcelain wares from the Yongle era could be judged authentic by their thickness.

There was a great amount of literary achievement in the Ming Dynasty. The travel literature author Xu Xiake published his ''Travel Diaries'' in 404,000 written , with information on everything from local to mineralogy. The first reference to the publishing of private newspapers in Beijing was in 1582; by 1638 the Beijing Gazette switched from using to movable type printing. The new literary field of the moral guide to business ethics was developed by the late Ming period, for the readership of the merchant class. Although short story fiction was popular as far back as the Tang Dynasty , and the work of contemporaneous authors such as Xu Guangqi, Xu Xiake, and Song Yingxing were often technical and encyclopedic, the Ming era witnessed the development of the fictional novel. While the gentry elite were educated enough to fully comprehend the language of Classical Chinese, those with rudimentary education—such as women in educated families, merchants, and shop clerks—became a large, potential audience for literature and performing arts that employed Vernacular Chinese. The ''Jin Ping Mei''—published in 1610—is considered by some to be the fifth great novel of pre-modern China, in reference to the Four Great Classical Novels. Two of these novels, the ''Water Margin'' and ''Journey to the West'' were products of the Ming Dynasty. To complement the work of fictional novels, the theater scripts of playwrights were equally imaginative. One of the most famous plays in Chinese history, ''The Peony Pavilion'', was written by the Ming playwright Tang Xianzu , with its first performance at the Pavilion of Prince Teng in 1598.

In contrast to Xu Xiake, who focused on technical aspects in his travel literature, the Chinese poet and official Yuan Hongdao used travel literature to express his desires for individualism as well as autonomy from and frustration with Confucian court politics. Yuan desired to free himself from the ethical compromises which were inseparable from the career of a scholar-official. Yuan Hongdao and his two brothers—Yuan Zongdao and Yuan Zhongdao —were the founders of the Gong'an School of letters. This highly individualistic school of poetry and prose was criticized by the Confucian establishment for its association with intense sensual lyricism, which was also apparent in Ming vernacular novels such as the ''Jin Ping Mei''.

There were many famous visual artists in the Ming period, including Ni Zan, Shen Zhou, Tang Yin, Wen Zhengming, Qiu Ying, Dong Qichang, and many others. They drew upon the techniques, styles, and complexity in painting achieved by their Song and Yuan predecessors, but added some new techniques and styles. Well-known Ming artists could make a living simply by painting, due to the high costs they demanded for their artworks and the great demand by the highly cultured community to collect precious works of art. The artist Qiu Ying was once paid 2.8 kg of silver to paint a long handscroll for the occasion of an eightieth birthday celebration for the mother of a wealthy patron.


For thousands of years the beliefs in ancestor worship and practices of the ancestral cult were key features of Chinese civilization. The Chinese believed in a host of deities in what is termed as Chinese folk religion. Other religious denominations in the Ming included the ancient native ideology of Daoism and foreign originated Buddhism, although distinct Chinese Buddhism had long since developed.

Christianity had existed in China since at least the Tang Dynasty , yet the late Ming period saw the first arrival of from Europe such as Matteo Ricci and Nicolas Trigault. There were also other denominations including the and Franciscans.

Ricci worked with the Chinese mathematician, astronomer, and agronomist Xu Guangqi to translate the Greek mathematical work ''Euclid's Elements'' into Chinese for the first time in 1607. The Chinese were impressed with European knowledge in astronomy, calendrical science, mathematics, hydraulics, and geography. Most European monks presented themselves more as educated elites than religious figures, in an effort to gain trust and admiration from the Chinese. However, most Chinese were suspicious and even outright critical of Christianity due to Chinese beliefs and practices that did not coincide with the Christian faith.

Besides Christianity, the Kaifeng Jews had a long history in China; Ricci discovered this when he was contacted by one of them in Beijing and learned of . Islam in China had existed since the early 7th century ; there were several prominent figures—including Zheng He—who were Muslim. The Hongwu Emperor also employed Muslim commanders in his army, such as Chang Yuqun, Lan Yu, Ding Dexing, and Mu Ying.


Wang Yangming's Confucianism

During the Ming Dynasty, the doctrines of the Song Dynasty scholar-official Zhu Xi and Neo-Confucianism were embraced by the court and the Chinese literati at large. However, total conformity to a single mode of thought was never a reality in the intellectual sphere of society. There were some in the Ming who—like Su Shi of the Song—were rebels at heart and were not abashed to criticize the mainstream dogmatic modes of thought. Leading a new strand of Confucian teaching and philosophy was the scholar-official Wang Yangming , whose critics said that his teachings were contaminated by .

In analyzing Zhu Xi's concept of "the extension of knowledge" , Wang realized that universal principles were concepts espoused in the minds of all. Breaking from the mold, Wang said that anyone, no matter what socioeconomic status or background, could become as wise as the ancient sages Confucius and Mencius, and that the writings of the latter two were not the source of truth, but merely guides that could have flaws if carefully examined. In Wang's mind, a peasant who had many experiences and drew natural truths from these was more wise than an official who had carefully studied the Classics but had not experienced the real world in order to observe what was true. Yet these "dangerous ideas" of educating women had long been embraced with mothers giving their children primary education, as well as courtesans who were as literate and similarly trained in calligraphy, painting, and poetry as their male hosts.

In opposition to the liberal views of Wang Yangming were the conservative officials in the censorate—a governmental institution with the right and responsibility to speak out against malfeasance and abuse of power—and the senior officials of the Donglin Academy, which was reestablished in 1604. These conservatives wanted a revival of orthodox Confucian ethics. Conservatives such as Gu Xiancheng argued against Wang Yangming's idea of innate moral knowledge, stating that this was simply a legitimization for unscrupulous behavior such as greedy pursuits and personal gain. Schools, descent groups, religious associations, and other local voluntary organizations were increasing in number and allowing more contact between educated men and local villagers. Not only was the blurring of town and country evident, but also of socioeconomic class in the traditional four occupations, since artisans sometimes worked on farms in peak periods and farmers often traveled into the city to find work during times of dearth. Male catamites fetched a higher price than female concubines since pederasty with a teenage boy was seen as a mark of elite status, regardless of sodomy being repugnant to sexual norms. Public bathing became much more common than in earlier periods. Urban shops and retailers sold a variety of goods such as to burn at ancestral sacrifices, specialized luxury goods, headgear, fine cloth, teas, and others. In the north traveling by horse and carriage was most common, while in the south the myriad of rivers, canals, and lakes provided cheap and easy water transport. Although the south had the characteristic of the wealthy landlord and tenant farmers, there were on average many more owner-cultivators north of the Huai River due to harsher climate, living not far above subsistence level.

Science and technology

Compared to the flourishing of , the Ming Dynasty perhaps saw fewer advancements in science and technology compared to the pace of discovery in the Western world. In fact, key advances in Chinese science in the late Ming were spurred by contact with Europe. In 1626 Johann Adam Schall von Bell wrote the first Chinese treatise on the telescope, the ''Yuanjingshuo'' ; in 1634 the last Ming acquired the telescope of the late Johann Schreck . The model of the solar system was rejected by the Catholic missionaries in China, but Johannes Kepler and Galileo Galilei's ideas slowly trickled into China starting with the Polish Jesuit Michael Boym in 1627, Adam Schall von Bell's treatise in 1640, and finally Joseph Edkins, Alex Wylie, and John Fryer in the 19th century. Catholic Jesuits in China would promote theory at court, yet at the same time embrace the system in their writing; it was not until 1865 that Catholic missionaries in China sponsored the heliocentric model as their Protestant peers did. Although Shen Kuo and Guo Shoujing had laid the basis for in China, another important work in Chinese trigonometry would not be published again until 1607 with the efforts of Xu Guangqi and Matteo Ricci. Ironically, some inventions which had their origins in ancient China were reintroduced to China from Europe during the late Ming; for example, the .

The Chinese calendar was in need of reform since it inadequately measured the solar year at 365¼ days, giving an error of 10 min and 14 sec a year or roughly a full day every 128 years. Although the Ming had adopted Guo Shoujing's ''Shoushi'' calendar of 1281, which was just as accurate as the Gregorian Calendar, the Ming Directorate of Astronomy failed to periodically readjust it; this was perhaps due to their lack of expertise since their offices had become hereditary in the Ming and the Statutes of the Ming prohibited private involvement in astronomy. It should be noted that this was the same Zhu Zaiyu who discovered the system of tuning known as equal temperament, a discovery made simultaneously by Simon Stevin in Europe. In addition to publishing his works on music, he was able to publish his findings on the calendar in 1597. This was described in full length by the Divisional Director of the Ministry of Works, Xiao Xun, who also carefully preserved details on the architecture and layout of the Yuan Dynasty palace. However, both Ricci and Trigault were quick to point out that 16th century European clockworks were far more advanced than the common time keeping devices in China, which they listed as water clocks, incense clocks, and "other instruments...with wheels rotated by sand as if by water." Chinese records—namely the ''Yuan Shi''—describe the 'five-wheeled sand clock', a mechanism pioneered by Zhan Xiyuan which featured the scoop wheel of Su Song's earlier astronomical clock and a over which a pointer circulated, similar to European models of the time. This sand-driven wheel clock was improved upon by Zhou Shuxue who added a fourth large gear wheel, changed gear ratios, and widened the orifice for collecting sand grains since he criticized the earlier model for clogging up too often.

The Chinese were intrigued with European technology, but so were visiting Europeans of Chinese technology. In 1584, Abraham Ortelius featured in his atlas ''Theatrum Orbis Terrarum'' the peculiar Chinese innovation of , just like . also mentioned this a year later—noting even the designs of them on Chinese silken robes—while Gerardus Mercator featured them in his atlas, John Milton in one of his famous poems, and Andreas Everardus van Braam Houckgeest in the writings of his travel diary in China.

The encyclopedist Song Yingxing documented a wide array of technologies, metallurgic and industrial processes in his ''Tiangong Kaiwu'' encyclopedia of 1637. This includes mechanical and hydraulic powered devices for agriculture and irrigation, nautical technology such as vessel types and snorkeling gear for pearl divers, the annual processes of sericulture and weaving with the loom, metallurgic processes such as the crucible technique and quenching, manufacturing processes such as for roasting iron pyrite in converting sulphide to oxide in sulfur used in gunpowder compositions—illustrating how ore was piled up with coal briquettes in an earthen furnace with a still-head that sent over sulfur as vapor that would solidify and —and the use of gunpowder weapons such as a naval mine ignited by use of a rip-cord and .

Focusing on agriculture in his ''Nongzheng Quanshu'', the agronomist Xu Guangqi took an interest in irrigation, fertilizers, famine relief, economic and textile crops, and empirical observation of the elements that gave insight into early understandings of chemistry.

There were many advances and new designs in gunpowder weapons during the beginning of the dynasty, but by the mid to late Ming the Chinese began to frequently employ European-style artillery and firearms. The ''Huolongjing'', compiled by Jiao Yu and Liu Ji sometime before the latter's death on May 16, 1375 , featured many types of cutting-edge gunpowder weaponry for the time. This includes hollow, gunpowder-filled , land mines that used a complex trigger mechanism of falling weights, pins, and a steel wheellock to ignite the train of fuses, naval mines, fin-mounted winged rockets for aerodynamic control, multistage rockets propelled by booster rockets before igniting a swarm of smaller rockets issuing forth from the end of the missile , and hand cannons that had up to .

Li Shizhen —one of the most renowned and physicians —belonged to the late Ming period. In 1587, he completed the first draft of his ''Bencao Gangmu'', which detailed the usage of over 1,800 medicinal drugs. Although it purportedly was invented by a Daoist hermit from Mount Emei in the late 10th century, the process of inoculation for smallpox patients was in widespread use in China by the reign of the Longqing Emperor , long before it was applied anywhere else. In regards to oral hygiene, the ancient Egyptians had a primitive toothbrush of a twig frayed at the end, but the Chinese were the first to invent the modern in 1498, although it used stiff pig hair.


still debate the actual population figures for each era in the Ming Dynasty. The historian Timothy Brook notes that the Ming government census figures are dubious since fiscal obligations prompted many families to underreport the number of people in their households and many county officials to underreport the number of households in their jurisdiction. Children were often underreported, especially female children, as shown by skewed population statistics throughout the Ming. for example, the Daming Prefecture in reported a population of 378,167 males and 226,982 females in 1502. The government attempted to revise the census figures using estimates of the expected average number of people in each household, but this did not solve the widespread problem of tax registration.

The number of people counted in the census of 1381 was 59,873,305; however, this number dropped significantly when the government found that some 3 million people were missing from the tax census of 1391. Even though underreporting figures was made a capital crime in 1381, the need for survival pushed many to abandon the tax registration and wander from their region, where Hongwu had attempted to impose rigid immobility on the populace. The government tried to mitigate this by creating their own conservative estimate of 60,545,812 people in 1393. Brook states that the population figures gathered in the official censuses after 1393 ranged between 51 and 62 million, while the population was in fact increasing.

Xuande Emperor, ; he stated in 1428 that his populace was dwindling due to palace construction and military adventures, but in fact the population was rising under him, a fact noted by Zhou Chen—Governor of —in his 1432 report to the throne about widespread itinerant commerce. Using the gazetteers, Brook estimates that the overall population under the Chenghua Emperor was roughly 75 million, The and emperors lessened the penalties against those who had fled their home region, while the Jiajing Emperor finally had officials register migrants wherever they had moved or fled in order to bring in more revenues. Fairbank estimates that the population was perhaps 160 million in the late Ming Dynasty, while Brook estimates 175 million,

Further reading

*Huang, Ray. . ''1587, A Year of No Significance: The Ming Dynasty in Decline''. New Haven: Yale University Press.

*Source for "Fall of the Ming Dynasty":- Dupuy and Dupuy's "Collins Encyclopedia of Military History"

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