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Ming Dynasty

The Ming Dynasty (明朝 1368-1644) followed the Yuan Dynasty and preceded the Qing Dynasty in China. The dynasty was founded by the Zhu[?] family.

Among the populace there were strong feelings against the rule of "the foreigners", which finally led to a peasant revolt that pushed the Yuan dynasty back to the Mongolian steppes and established the Ming Dynasty in 1368. This dynasty started out as a time of renewed cultural blossom: Arts, especially the porcelain industry, reached an unprecedented height; Chinese merchants explored all of the Indian Ocean, reaching Africa with the voyages of Zheng He (Cheng Ho). A vast navy was built, including 4 masted ships displacing 1,500 tons; there was a standing army of 1 million troops. Over 100,000 tons of iron per year were produced in North China. Many books were printed using movable type. Some would argue that Early Ming China was the most advanced nation on Earth.

Founding of the Ming Dynasty:

Led by Hongwu's peasant rebellion, the Chinese pushed the Yuan dynasty back to the Mongolian steppes and established the Ming Dynasty in 1368. Hongwu, the founder of the Ming Dynasty, was one of the only two dynasty founders who emerged from the peasant class. The other one was Han Gao Zu of the Han Dynasty. Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping are the two other peasant revolutionaries to have ruled the world's most populated nation.

Orphaned as a teenager, young Zhu (later Hongwu Emperor) entered a Buddhist monastery to avoid starvation. Later, as a strongwilled rebel leader, he came in contact with the well-educated gentry Confucian scholar gentry from whom he received an education in state affairs. No longer a Buddhist, he positioned himself as defender of Confucianism and neo-Confucian conventions and not as a popular rebel. Despite his humble origins, he emerged as a national leader against the collapsing Yuan Dynasty. Defeating rival national leaders, he proclaimed himself emperor in 1368, establishing his capital at Nanjing and adopting Hongwu as his reign title.

Having fought off the calamities of the Mongol invasion, and given the realistic threat to China still posed by the Mongols, Hongwu reassessed the orthodox Confucian view regarding the military as an inferior class to be subordinated by the scholar bureaucracy. Simply put, maintaining a strong military was essential since the Mongols were still a threat. As an aside, the name Hongwu means "Vast Military" and reflects the increased prestige of the military.

With a Confucian aversion to trade, Hongwu also supported the creation of self-supporting agricultural communities. Neo-feudal land-tenure developments of late Sung (see Sung Dynasty)and Yuan (see Yuan Dynasty) times were expropriated with the establishment of the Ming dynasty. Great landed estates were confiscated by the government, fragmented, and rented out; and private slavery was forbidden. Consequently, after the death of Yung-lo Emperor, independent peasant landholders predominated in Chinese agriculture.

Under Hongwu, the Mongol bureaucrats who had dominated the government for nearly a century under the Yuan dynasty were replaced by the Chinese. The traditional Confucian examination system that selected state bureaucrats or civil servants on the basis of merit and knowledge of literature and philosophy was revamped. Candidates for posts in the civil service or the officer corps of the 80,000-man army, once again, had to pass the traditional competitive examinations in the Classics. The Confucian scholar gentry, marginalized under the Yuan for nearly a century once again assumed its predominant role in the Chinese state.

Hongwu attempted to, and largely succeeded in, consolidating control all aspects of government so that no other group could gain enough power to overthrow him and to buttress the country's defenses against the Mongols. As emperor, Hongwu increasingly concentrated power in his own hands and abolished the Imperial Secretariat, which had been the main central administrative body under past dynasties, after suppressing a plot for which he had blamed his chief minister. When the emperorship became hereditary, the Chinese recognized this and established the office of prime or chief minister. While incompetent emperors could come and go, the prime minister could guarantee a level of continuity and competence in the government. Hongwu, wishing to concentrate absolute authority in his own hands, abolished the office of prime minister and so removed the only insurance against incompetent emperors. Hongwu was succeeded by his grandson, but he son was soon usurped by his uncle Cheng-tsu[?], a younger son of Hongwu, who ruled as the Emperor Yung-lo from 1403 to 1424 (Yung-lo was responsible for moving the capital back to Beijing).

Hongwu noted the destructive role of court eunuchs under the Sung, drastically reducing their numbers, forbidding them to handle documents, insisting that they remained illiterate, and liquidating those who commented on state affairs. Hongwu had a strong aversion to the imperial eunuchs (a castrated court of servants for the emperor), capsized by a tablet in his palace stipulating: "Eunuchs must have nothing to do with the administration". Under his successor, however, they began regaining their old influence.

The emperor's role this became even more autocratic, although Hongwu necessarily continued to use what he called the Grand Secretaries to assist with the immense paperwork of the bureaucracy, which included memorials (petitions and recommendations to the throne), imperial edicts in reply, reports of various kinds, and tax records.

During Hung-wu's reign, these laws might have paved the way to social harmony and removed the worst of the poverty of the Mongol era. During Hongwu's regin, however, the early Ming dynasty was characterized by rapid and dramatic population growth, largely due to the increased food supply and Hongwu's agricultural reforms. Population probably rose by at least 50 percent by the end of the Ming dynasty, stimulated by major improvements in agricultural technology promoted by the pro-agrarian state, which came to power in midst of a pro-Confucian peasant's rebellion.

Ming exploration to isolation:

Between 1405 and 1433, Ming emperors sent seven maritime expeditions probing down into the South Seas and across the Indian Ocean. The era's xenophobia and intellectual introspection characteristic of the era's increasingly popular new school of neo-Confucianism, thus did not lead to the physical isolation of China. Contacts with the outside world, particularly with Japan, and foreign trade increased considerably. Yung-lo Emperor strenuously tried to extend China's influence beyond her borders by encouraging other rulers to send ambassadors to China to present tribute. The Chinese armies reconquered Annam and blocked Mongol expansionism, while the Chinese fleet sailed the China seas and the Indian Ocean, cruising as far as the east coast of Africa. The Chinese gained a certain influence over Turkestan. 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.

The most extraordinary venture, however, during this stage was the dispatch Cheng-hos seven naval expeditions, which traversed the Indian Ocean and the Southeast Asian archipelago. An ambitious Muslim eunuch of Mongol descent, a quintessential outsider in the establishment of Confucian scholar elites, Cheng-ho led seven expeditions from 1405 to 1433 with six of them under the auspices of Yung-lo, traversing perhaps as far as the Cape of Good Hope. His appointment in 1403 to lead a sea-faring task force was a triumph the commercial lobbies seeking to stimulate conventional trade, not mercantilism. The interests of the commercial lobbies and those of the religious lobbies were also linked. Both offensive of the neo-Confucian sensibilities of the scholarly elite, religious lobbies encouraged commercialism and exploration to divert state funds from the anti-clerical efforts of the Confucian scholar gentry. The first expedition in 1405 consisted of 62 ships and 28,000 men--then the largest naval expedition in history. Cheng Ho's multi-decked ships carried up to 500 troops but also cargoes of export goods, mainly silks and porcelains, and brought back foreign luxuries such as spices and tropical woods.

The economic motive for these huge ventures may have been important, and many of the ships had large private cabins for merchants. But the chief aim was probably political, to enroll further states as tributaries and mark the reemergence of the Chinese Empire following nearly a century of barbarian role. The political character of Cheng-ho's voyages indicates the primacy of the political elites. Despite their formidable and unprecedented strength, Cheng Ho's voyages, unlike European voyages of exploration later in the fifteenth century, were not intended to extend Chinese sovereignty overseas. Indicative of the competition among elites, these excursions had also become politically controversial. Cheng-ho's voyages had been supported by his fellow low eunuchs at court and strongly opposed by the Confucian scholar officials. Their antagonism was in fact so great that they tried to suppress any mention of the naval expeditions in the official imperial record. A compromise interpretation realizes that the Mongol raids tilted the balance in the favor of the Confucian elites.

By the end of the fifteenth century, Chinese imperial subjects were forbidden from either building oceangoing ships or leaving the country. The consensus among historians of the early 21st century is that this measure was taken in response to piracy and in any case restrictions on emigration and ship building were largely lifted by the mid-17th century.

Historians of the 1960s, such as John Fairbank[?] and Joseph Levinson[?] have argued that this renovation turned into stagnation, and that science and philosophy were caught in a tight net of traditions smothering any attempt to venture something new. Historians who held to this view argue that in the 15th century, by imperial decree the great navy was decommissioned; construction of seagoing ships was forbidden; the iron industry gradually declined

Decline of the Ming, the aborted commerical revolution:

Historians debate the relatively slower "progression" of European-style mercantilism and industrialization in China since the Ming. This question is particularly poignant, considering the parallels between the commercialization of the Ming economy, the so-called age of "incipient capitalism" in China, and the rise of commercial capitalism in the West. Historians have thus been trying to understand why China did not "progress" in a similar pattern since the last century of the Ming dynasty. In the early 21st century, however, some of the premises of the debate have come under attack. Economic historians such as Kenneth Pomeranz[?] have begun to argue that China was technologically and economically equal to Europe until the 1750's and that the divergence was due to local conditions such as access to natural resources from the new world.

Much of the debate nonetheless centers on contrast in political and economic systems between East and West. Given the causal premise that economic transformations induce social changes, which in turn have political consequences, one can understand why the rise of capitalism, an economic system in which capital is put to work to produce more capital, was somewhat of a driving force behind the rise of modern Europe. Capitalism after all can be traced in several distinct stages in Western history. Commercial capitalism was the first stage, and was associated with historical trends evident in Ming China, such as geographical discoveries, colonization, scientific innovation, and the increase in overseas trade. But in Europe, governments often protected and encouraged the burgeoning capitalist class, predominately consisting of merchants, through governmental controls, subsidies, and monopolies, such as British East India Company. The absolutist states of the era often saw the growing potential to excise bourgeois profits to support their expanding, centralizing nation-states.

This question is even more of an anomaly considering that during the last century of the Ming dynasty a genuine money economy emerged along with relatively large-scale mercantile and industrial enterprises under private as well as state ownership, such as the great textile centers of the southeast. In some respects, this question is at the center of debates pertaining to the relative decline of China in comparison with the modern West at least until the Communist revolution. Chinese Marxist historians, especially during the 1970s identified the Ming age one of "incipient capitalism", a description that seems quite reasonable, but one that does not quite explain the official downgrading of trade and increased state regulation of commerce during the Ming era. Marxian historians thus postulate that European-style mercantilism and industrialization might have evolved had it not been for the Manchu conquest and expanding European imperialism, especially after the Opium Wars.

Post-modernist scholarship on China, however argues that this view is simplistic and at worst, flat out wrong. The ban on ocean going ships, it is pointed out, was intended to curb piracy and was lifted in the Mid-Ming at the strong urging of the bureaucracy who pointed out the harmful effects it was having on coastal economies. These historians, who include Jonathan Spence[?], Kenneth Pomeranz[?], and Joanna Waley-Cohen[?] deny that China "turned inward" at all and point out that this view of the Ming Dynasty is inconsistent with the growing volume of trade and commerce that was occurring between China and southeast Asia. When the Portuguese reached India, they found a booming trade network which they then followed to China. In the 16th century Europeans started to appear on the eastern shores and founded Macao, the first European settlement in China.

Other historians usually link the "premature" development of European-style mercantilism and industrialization to the decline of the Ming dynasty.

The role of state support is the focus of much of this debate on the official downgrading of commerce. During the early years of the Ming Dynasty, Hongwu laid the foundations for a state disinterested in commerce and more interested in extracting revenues from the agricultural sector. With little understanding of economic processes of markets, Hongwu, backed by the Confucian scholar gentry, just accepted the Confucian viewpoint offhand that merchants were soley parasitic. In a typically Confucian viewpoint, Hongwu felt that agriculture should be the country's source of wealth and that trade was ignoble and parasitic. Perhaps this view was accentuated because of his background as a peasant. As a result, the Ming economic system emphasized agriculture, unlike that of the Sung dynasty, which had preceded the Mongols and relied on traders and merchant for revenues. The laws against the merchants and the restrictions under which the craftsmen worked, remained essentially as they had been under the Sung, but now the remaining foreign merchants of Mongol time also fell under these new laws, and their influence quickly dwindled.

Although the late Ming, following contacts with the Europeans, saw the emergence of a genuine silver money economy (due, in large part, to trade with the New World via the Spanish and Portuguese), due to the attendant development of relatively large-scale mercantile and industrial enterprises under private as well as state ownership (most notably the great textile centers of the southeast), the Ming age was probably not one of "incipient capitalism" due to the predominance of the political realm over the economic. As mentioned, Hung-wu laid the foundations for a state disinterested in commerce and more interested in extracting revenues from the agricultural sector. The state extracted most of its revenues from agribulture, not commerce, providing it little incentive to stimulate commerce. Although commerce was stimulated by the flow of silver from the New World, used to pay for Chinese exports of tea, silk, and ceramics, and although Chinese businessmen devised a way of mass-producing cheaper types of porcelain to satisfy European markets, comparing economic patterns to the those in Europe during the genesis of capitalism illustrate why state backing of capitalism was crucial. In Europe these early capitalists, who generated most of their profits from the buying and selling of goods, were protected and encouraged by governmental controls, subsidies, and monopolies. The bourgeoisie, after all, were a viable new taxbase for the crown in Europe but not to the same extent in China.

Although Hongwu's rule saw the introduction of paper currency, capitalist development would be stifled from the beginning or at least limited from reaching its true potential. Not understanding inflation, Hongwu gave out so much paper money as rewards that by 1425 the state was forced to reintroduce copper coins given that the currency was worth 1/70 of its original value.

State control (but not necessarily support) of the Chinese economy and for that matter, of society in all its aspects, remained the dominant characteristic of Chinese life in Ming times as earlier. Concentrating power would also have disastrous implications if the emperor were incompetent or disinterested in government. The key issue in this decline was the Ming political innovation of concentrating all power in the hands of the emperor. Western historians also argue that the quality of the emperors declined and this was exacerbated by the centralization of authority.

As mentioned, since the era of Hongwu the emperor's role this became even more autocratic, although Hung-wu necessarily continued to use what he called the Grand Secretaries to assist with the immense paperwork of the bureaucracy, which included memorials (petitions and recommendations to the throne), imperial edicts in reply, reports of various kinds, and tax records.

Hung-wu increasingly concentrated power in his own hands and in 1380 abolished the Imperial Secretariat, which had been the main central administrative body under past dynasties, after suppressing a plot for which he had blamed his chief minister. When the emperorship became hereditary, the Chinese recognized this and established the office of prime or chief minister. While incompetent emperors could come and go, the prime minister could guarantee a level of continuity and competence in the government. Hung-wu, wishing to concentrate absolute authority in his own hands, abolished the office of prime minister and so removed the only insurance against incompetent emperors. Hung-wu was succeeded by his son[?], but the latter was soon usurped by Cheng-tsu, who ruled as the Emperor Yung-lo from 1403 to 1424 and responsible for moving the capital to Beijing).

Yung-lo was also very active and very competent as an administrator, but an array of bad precedents was established. First, although Hung-wu maintained some Mongol practices, such as corporal punishment, to the consternation of the scholar elite and their insistence on rule by virtue, Yung-lo exceeded these bounds, executing the families of his political opponents, murdering thousands arbitrarily. Second, despite Hung-wu's strong aversion to the eunuchs, capsized by a tablet in his palace stipulating: "Eunuchs must have nothing to do with the administration", his successors revamped their informal role in the governing process. Hung-wu, unlike his successors, noted the destructive role of court eunuchs under the Sung, drastically reducing their numbers, forbidding them to handle documents, insisting that they remained illiterate, and liquidating those who commented on state affairs. Third, Yung-lo's cabinet or Grand Secretariat, would become a sort of rigidifying instrument of consolidation that became an instrument of decline. Earlier, however, more competent emperors time supervised or approved all the decisions of this council. Hung-wu himself was generally regarded as a strong emperor who ushered in a energy of imperial power and effectiveness that lasted far beyond his reign, but the centralization of authority would prove detrimental under less competemnt rulers.



Sovereigns of Ming Dynasty 1368-1644
Temple Names ( Miao Hao 廟號 miao4 hao4) Posthumous Names ( Shi Hao 諡號 ) Born Names Period of Reigns Era Names (Nian Hao 年號) and their according range of years Convention
Convention: use era names + Di or Emperor. For example, Hongwu Emperor|洪武帝 hong2 wu3 di4.
Ming Tai Zu太祖 tai4 zu3 Too tedious thus not used when referring to this sovereign Zhu Yuan Zheng|朱元璋 zhu1 yuan2 zhang1 1368-1398 Hongwu 洪武 hong2 wu3 1368-1398
Hongwu
Did not exist Ming Hui Di 惠帝 hui4 di4[?] Zhu Yun Wen|朱允炆 zhu1 yun3 wen2 1399-1402 Jianwen 建文 jian4 wen2 1399-1402
Jianwen[?]
Ming Cheng Zu 成祖 cheng2 zu3 Too tedious thus not used when referring to this sovereign Zhu Di|朱棣 zhu1 di4 1403-1424 Yongle 永樂 yong3 le4 1403-1424
Yongle
Ming Ren Zong 仁宗 ren2 zong1[?] Too tedious thus not used when referring to this sovereign Zhu Gao Chi|朱高熾 zhu1 gao1 chi4 1425 Hongxi 洪熙 hong2 xi1 1425
Hongxi[?]
Ming Xuan Zong 宣宗 xuan1 zong1[?] Too tedious thus not used when referring to this sovereign Zhu Zhan Ji|朱瞻基 zhu1 zhan1 ji1 1426-1435 Xuande 宣德 xuan1 de2 1426-1435
Xuande[?]
Ming Ying Zong 英宗 ying1 zong1[?] Too tedious thus not used when referring to this sovereign Zhu Qi Zhen|朱祁鎮 zhu1 qi2 zhen4 1436-1449 and 1457-1464 Zhengtong 正統 zheng4 tong3 1436-1449
Tianshun 天順 tian1 shun4 1457-1464
Zhengtong[?]
Note: Ying Zong is often referred as Ming Zheng Tong Di|明正統帝 ming2 zheng4 tong3 di4 though his second era name was Tianshun.
Dai Zong|代宗 dai4 zong1 Jing Di|景帝 jing3 di4 Zhu Qi Yu|朱祁鈺 zhu1 qi2 yu4 1450-1457 Jingtai 景泰 jing3 tai4 1450-1457
Jingtai[?]
Xian Zong|憲宗 xian4 zong1 Too tedious thus not used when referring to this sovereign Zhu Jian Shen|朱見深 zhu1 jian4 shen1 1465-1487 Chenghua|成化 cheng2 hua4 1465-1487
Chenghua[?]
Xiao Zong|孝宗 xiao4 zong1 Too tedious thus not used when referring to this sovereign Zhu You Tang|朱祐樘 zhu1 you4 tang2 1488-1505 Hongzhi 弘治 hong2 zhi4 1488-1505
Hongzhi[?]
Wu Zong|武宗 wu3 zong1 Too tedious thus not used when referring to this sovereign Zhu Hou Zhao|朱厚照 zhu1 hou4 zhao4 1506-1521 Zhengde 正德 zheng4 de2 1506-1521
Zhengde[?]
Shi Zong|世宗 shi4 zong1 Too tedious thus not used when referring to this sovereign Zhu Hou Cong|朱厚熜 zhu1 hou4 cong1 1522-1566 Jiajing 嘉靖 jia1 jing4 1522-1566
Jiajing[?]
Mu Zong|穆宗 mu4 zong1 Too tedious thus not used when referring to this sovereign Zhu Zai Gou|朱栽垢 zhu1 zai1 gou4 1567-1572 Longqing 隆慶 long2 qing4 1567-1572
Longqing[?]
Shen Zong|神宗 shen2 zong1 Too tedious thus not used when referring to this sovereign Zhu Yi Jun|朱翊鈞 zhu1 yi4 jun1 1573-1620 Wanli 萬歷 wan4 li4 1573-1620
Wanli[?]
Guang Zong|光宗 guang1 zong1 Too tedious thus not used when referring to this sovereign Zhu Chang Luo|朱常洛 zhu1 chang2 luo4 1620 Taichang 泰昌 tai4 chang1 1620
Taichang[?]
Xi Zong|熹宗 xi1 zong1 Too tedious thus not used when referring to this sovereign Zhu You Xiao|朱由校 zhu1 you2 xiao4 1621-1627 Tianqi 天啟 tian1 qi3 1621-1627
Tianqi[?]
Si Zong|思宗 si1 zong1 Too tedious thus not used when referring to this sovereign Zhu You Jian|朱由檢 zhu1 you2 jian3 1628-1644 Chongzhen 崇禎 chong2 zhen1 1628-1644
Chongzhen[?]



Southern Ming (南明 nan2 ming2 1644-1662)
Temple Names ( Miao Hao 廟號 miao4 hao4) Posthumous Names ( Shi Hao 諡號 ) Born Names Period of Reigns Era Names (Nian Hao 年號) and their according range of years Convention
Convention: use "Southern Ming" + era names or pothumous name. For example, Southern Ming Yong Li Emperor|南明永曆帝 nan2 ming2 yong3 li4 di4.
? Prince of Fu (福王 fu2 wang2) Zhu You Song|朱由崧 zhu1 you2 song1 1644 Hongguang 弘光 hong3 guang1 1644 Hongguang Emperor[?] or Prince of Fu
? Prince of Lu (魯王 lu3 wang2) Zhu Yi Hai|朱以海 zhu1 yi3 hai3 1645-1653 Did not exist ?
? Prince of Tang (唐王 tang2 wang2) Zhu Yu Jian|朱聿鍵 zhu1 yu4 jian4 1645-1646 Longwu 隆武 long2 wu3 1645-1646 Longwu Emperor[?]
? Prince of Tang (唐王 tang2 wang2) Zhu Yu Yue|朱聿金+粵 zhu1 yu4 yue4 1646 Shaowu 紹武 shao4 wu3 1646 Shaowu Emperor[?]
Did not exit Prince of Gui (桂王 gui4 wang2) Zhu You Lang|朱由榔 zhu1 you2 lang2 1646-1662 Yongli 永曆 yong3 li4 Yongli Emperor[?]


See also: Chinese history, Chinese sovereign, Mongols, Timur, Japan, Korea, Zheng He



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