china’s great ming dynasty – 6/15/21

Today's selection -- from Imperial China by DK. The beginnings of an era of great achievement in China--the Ming Dynasty, which lasted from 1368 to 1644:

"Zhu Yuanzhang, who took the title of the Hongwu Emperor in 1368, was born a poor peasant and lived his early life as an itinerant Buddhist monk. Amid the chaos of the declining years of the Yuan dynasty ... he joined the Red Turban rebels and, rising through a mixture of competence and cunning, made himself leader of a guerrilla army. By 1356, he had seized control of the city of Nanjing. There he established the basis of his future dynasty, winning the support of the educated elite by promising to restore Han Chinese rule and Confucian values. In a series of lengthy campaigns, he extended his control over southern China before striking northward to capture the Yuan capital at Beijing.

"It was not until he had put the Mongols to flight that he officially declared himself emperor, asserting a convincing claim to the Mandate of Heaven. The new emperor was brutal and ruthless but also proved himself to be shrewd and effective. Keeping his capital at Nanjing, he created a court modeled on that of his Song dynasty predecessors -- one staffed by scholar -- officials recruited through a restored Confucian examination system -- and tried to curb the power of palace eunuchs. Having come to power through force, he focused on military matters, building China's navy into the world's largest and creating an army of more than one million men. It was strictly organized into units composed of five battalions and 10 companies. Soldiers were allocated land to farm, and their jobs were made hereditary.

"These reforms helped sustain the forces needed to secure and maintain the country's borders. Still fearing a Mongol invasion, Hongwu made his 25 sons princes in the border areas, allowing him to closely monitor the foreign threat. Through a major military effort completed in 1381, he brought the southwestern provinces of Yunnan and Guizhou fully under imperial control for the first time. Hongwu maintained many of the attitudes of his peasant origins. He was instinctively hostile to the wealthy merchants of southern China as he was to the educated elite, despite depending on them to administer his empire. He shifted the main burden of taxation from the peasantry to merchants and officials and broke up large estates to provide land for peasants. The efficiency of food production, grain distribution, and tax collection improved, but the population was strictly controlled, with many peasants forced to relocate to farm virgin soil. A new legal code based on Confucian principles was enforced by brutal punishments.

"Paranoia and punishment Hongwu's cruelty and paranoia made him a dangerous master; any suspicion of disloyalty could lead to torture and execution. In 1380, convinced that his chancellor Hu Weiyong was plotting to usurp power, the emperor launched a purge that eliminated not only the chancellor's entire clan but numerous other officials and their extended families, considered guilty by association. By the time this bloodbath had subsided, some 30,000 people had been put to death. The emperor henceforth dispensed with a chancellor, ruling directly through his ministries with the aid of a group of officials called the Grand Secretariat. He established the Jinyiwei, or Embroidered Uniform Guard, as a secret police force with special powers to crush dissent.

"In 1392, the aging Hongwu Emperor's plans for the succession were thrown into disarray by the death of his eldest son, crown prince Zhu Biao, at the age of 36. The emperor designated his young grandson Zhu Yunwen (the son of Zhu Biao) as his successor. In doing so, however, he aroused the jealousy of his other sons, who had their own imperial ambitions. The Hongwu Emperor died in 1398, and Zhu Yunwen briefly took the throne. Four years later, however, Hongwu's son Prince Zhu Di seized the throne as the Yongle Emperor, beginning what is known as the 'second founding' of the Ming."





Imperial China


Penguin Random House


First American Edition, 2020


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