Chinese History Chinese History

   Dragon Wing Chun Kung Fu School ~
    January 23, 2012 Chinese New Year of the Dragon James Fell

 

Chinese History

The Ming Dynasty

           Ming Dynasty

The Chongzhen Emperor: Chóngzhen Dì; 6 February 1611 – 25 April 1644), personal name Zhu Youjian, courtesy name Deyue, was the 17th and last Emperor of the Ming dynasty. He reigned from 1627 to 1644. "Chongzhen," the era name of his reign, means "honorable and auspicious." Zhu Youjian was son of the Taichang Emperor and younger brother of the Tianqi Emperor, whom he succeeded to the throne in 1627. He battled peasant rebellions and was not able to defend the northern frontier against the Manchu. When rebels under Li Zicheng reached the capital Beijing in 1644, he committed suicide, ending the Ming dynasty. The Manchu formed the succeeding Qing dynasty. In 1645, Zhu Yousong, who had proclaimed himself the Hongguang Emperor of the Southern Ming, gave the Chongzhen Emperor the temple name "Sizong". In historical texts, "Sizong" is the most common temple name of the Chongzhen Emperor, even though the Southern Ming rulers had changed "Sizong" to "Yizong" and then to "Weizong" . During the Qing dynasty, the Chongzhen Emperor's temple name was changed to "Huaizong".

The Ming dynasty ruled China from 1368 to 1644 CE and replaced the Mongol Yuan dynasty which had been in place since the 13th century CE. Despite challenges from abroad and within, the dynasty oversaw an unprecedented growth in China's population and general economic prosperity. The Ming were succeeded by the Qing dynasty (1644-1911 CE).

Notable achievements of Ming China included the construction of the Forbidden City - the imperial residence in Beijing, a blossoming of literature and the arts, the far-flung explorations of Zheng He, and the production of the timeless blue-and-white Ming porcelains. Eventually, though, the same old problems that had beset previous regimes bedevilled the Ming emperors: court factions, infighting, and corruption, along with government overspending and a disenchanted peasantry which fuelled rebellions. As a consequence, the economically, politically (and some would say morally) impoverished Ming could not resist the invasion of the Manchus who established the Qing dynasty from 1644 CE.

Historical Overview

The Ming dynasty was established following the collapse of the Mongol rule of China, known as the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368 CE). The Yuan had been beset by famines, plagues, floods, widespread banditry, and peasant uprisings. The Mongol rulers also squabbled amongst themselves for power and failed to quash numerous rebellions, including that perpetrated by a group known as the Red Turban Movement led by a peasant called Zhu Yuanzhang (1328-1398 CE). The Red Turban Movement, an offshoot of the radical Buddhist White Lotus Movement and initially reacting against forced labour on government construction projects, was most active in northern China, and Zhu took over their leadership in 1355 CE. Zhu also replaced the Red Turban's traditional policy aim of reinstating the old Song dynasty (960-1279 CE) with his own personal ambitions to rule and gained wider support by ditching the anti-Confucian policies which had alienated the educated classes. Alone amongst the many rebel leaders of the period, Zhu understood that to establish a stable government he needed administrators not just warriors out for loot.

ZHU YUANZHANG'S FIRST MAJOR COUP HAD BEEN THE CAPTURE OF NANJING IN 1356 CE.

Zhu Yuanzhang's first major coup had been the capture of Nanjing in 1356 CE. Zhu's successes continued, and he defeated his two main rival rebel leaders and their armies, first Chen Youliang at the battle of Poyang Lake (1363 CE) and then Zhang Shicheng in 1367 CE. When Han Lin'er died - he who had claimed to be the rightful heir to the line of Song emperors - Zhu was left the most powerful leader in China, and he declared himself emperor in January 1368 CE. Zhu would take the reign name Hongwu (meaning 'abundantly marital') and the dynasty he founded Ming (meaning 'bright' or 'light'). The Hongwu Emperor (aka Ming Taizu) would reign until 1398 CE, and his successors continued his efforts to unify China through a strong centralised government and so consolidate the Ming dynasty's grip on power. A new and draconian law code was compiled (the Da Ming lü or Grand Pronouncements); dissenting officials were ruthlessly punished or executed; the Secretariat, which had acted as a bureaucratic limit on an emperor's power, was abolished; land and tax obligations were meticulously registered; provincial governments were reorganised with imperial family members placed at their heads; hereditary military service was imposed on the peasantry in threatened regions; international trade was curbed as all things foreign were considered a threat to the regime; and the old tribute system required of neighbouring states was revived.

The Hongwu Emperor

In the early 15th century CE the Mongols experienced a resurgence on China's borders and so Emperor Yongle (aka Chengzu, r. 1403-1424 CE, the second son of Hongwu who had taken the throne after a three-year civil war) moved the capital from Nanjing to Beijing in 1421 CE to be better placed to deal with any foreign threat. At huge expense, Beijing was enlarged and surrounded by a 10-metre high circuit wall measuring some 15 kilometres in total length. Such was the city's need for food, the Grand Canal was deepened and widened so that grain ships could easily reach the capital. The Great Wall of China was also repaired to better defend the northern frontier. The Ming, though, would greatly benefit from the divisions within the Mongol state - generally split into six competing groups which limited attacks to sporadic and half-hearted invasions rather than a concerted effort to restore China to the position it found itself under the Yuan. The Mongols did briefly besiege Beijing in 1449 CE but the city stood firm and the invaders withdrew back to the steppe.

The stability of the Ming regime and agricultural reforms allowed significant economic growth and an increase in international trade (now promoted again), especially from the 16th century CE. The emperors were initially a little old-fashioned in their trade policies, insisting that certain countries only use certain ports at certain times, but eventually these rules were relaxed, and East Asia became a melting pot of trading neighbours as well as attracting the Spanish, Dutch, and Portuguese. Vast quantities of silver, in particular, came into China via Manila from European-controlled Peru and Mexico. In 1557 CE the Portuguese were even permitted a trading base of their own at Portguese Macao. This opening up of trade also helped deal with the rampant piracy that had been plaguing Chinese waters, now that the Ming invested in a naval fleet.  

There were brand new products coming in from the New World, exotica like sweet potatoes, maize, tomatoes, peanuts and tobacco, some of which would be cultivated in areas of China not suitable for homegrown crops, thus greatly expanding food production and so, in turn, the population. Over the course of the dynasty's reign, the population of China would rise from 60-80 million to 150-200 million. As urban centres grew so women amongst the wealthier classes began to enjoy more freedom than previously. They were able to own businesses in their own right, trade as merchants, and make an independent living as an artist or dancer. Conversely, changes in inheritance laws meant women's right went backwards in that area. Widows, for example, could no longer inherit their husband's land and they were expected not to remarry.

The economic prosperity in Ming China would, in turn, create a boom in the arts as a richer class of gentry developed who had money to spend and a great desire to show off their appreciation of fine art to any visitors to their homes. Aesthetic tastes were not limited to the classical arts either as gardens became a popular way for the well-off to entertain guests and display one's culture. The walled gardens of Suzhou became particularly famous where specially chosen rocks, tended pine trees and bamboo, pavilions, and walkways were all arranged to create a harmonious imitation of the scenes seen in landscape paintings by such renowned artists as Shen Zhou (1427-1509 CE) and Dong Qichang (1555-1636 CE).

THE YONGLE EMPEROR SENT ZHENG ON SEVEN FAR-FLUNG DIPLOMATIC VOYAGES BETWEEN 1405 & 1433 CE.

The Ming dynasty, despite its political success in the first half of the reign, eventually began to suffer the age-old problems that had beset every other regime in China through the ages. Intrigues perpetrated by the court eunuchs; abuses of power, and especially executions of those deemed guilty and their extended families, all usually carried out on a whim; a long line of talentless, ineffective, and often erratic rulers who spent more than they should have on grandiose building projects; factional fighting between ruling families; the ballooning of a parallel eunuch and civil service apparatus with each branch despising the other; and peasant revolts against incessant taxes and the harsh rule of often distant landowners all took their toll and weakened the Ming emperors' hold on power.

The dynasty was already in decline in the 16th century CE under Emperor Wanli (r. 1573-1620 CE), especially when he withdrew from court affairs in 1582 CE following the death of his talented Grand Secretary Zhang Juzheng, who had, more or less single-handedly, made the country's economic apparatus much more efficient and corruption-free. The power vacuum was willingly filled by the court eunuchs, and the economy took a nose dive following several hugely expensive wars against the Mongols and Japanese in Korea. In the 1620s CE a drop in average temperatures seriously affected crops, on top of which there was a wave of floods, then droughts, and widespread famine as a consequence.

In 1644 CE a rebel army led by Li Zicheng (1605-1645 CE) attacked Beijing and, entering the city on 15 April, the last Ming emperor, Chongzhen (r. 1628-1644 CE), hanged himself rather than be captured. On hearing the news of the capital's fall, the army commander Wu Sangui, stationed at Liaodong in north-east China, decided to allow a Manchu army - which had already fought Ming forces on several occasions in the past and was just then threatening to invade again - into China unimpeded in the hope they would put down the rebellion. As it turned out, despite some pockets of resistance from Ming loyalists, the Manchus established their own dynasty, the Qing dynasty and Li Zicheng was killed by peasants in 1645 CE.

 

The Qing Dynasty

           Qing DynastyEmpress Dowager Cixi (Chinese: Cíxi Tàihòu; Manchu: Tsysi taiheo; formerly romanised as Empress Dowager T'zu-hsi; 29 November 1835 – 15 November 1908), of the Manchu Yehe Nara clan, was a Chinese noblewoman, concubine and later regent who effectively controlled the Chinese government in the late Qing dynasty for 47 years, from 1861 until her death in 1908. Selected as a concubine of the Xianfeng Emperor in her adolescence, she gave birth to a son, Zaichun, in 1856. After the Xianfeng Emperor's death in 1861, the young boy became the Tongzhi Emperor, and she assumed the role of co-empress dowager, alongside the Emperor's widow, Empress Dowager Ci'an. Cixi ousted a group of regents appointed by the late emperor and assumed the regency along with Ci'an, who later mysteriously died. Cixi then consolidated control over the dynasty when she installed her nephew as the Guangxu Emperor at the death of her son, the Tongzhi Emperor, in 1875. This was contrary to the traditional rules of succession of the Qing dynasty that had ruled China since 1644. Cixi supervised the Tongzhi Restoration, a series of moderate reforms that helped the regime survive until 1911. Although Cixi refused to adopt Western models of government, she supported technological and military reforms and the Self-Strengthening Movement. She supported the principles of the Hundred Days' Reforms of 1898, but feared that sudden implementation, without bureaucratic support, would be disruptive and that the Japanese and other foreign powers would take advantage of any weakness. She placed the Guangxu Emperor, who, she thought, had tried to assassinate her, under virtual house arrest for supporting radical reformers, publicly executing the main reformers. After the Boxer Rebellion led to invasion by Allied armies, Cixi initially backed the Boxer groups and declared war on the invaders. The ensuing defeat was a stunning humiliation. When Cixi returned to Beijing from Xi'an, where she had taken the emperor, she became friendly to foreigners in the capital and began to implement fiscal and institutional reforms aimed to turn China into a constitutional monarchy. The deaths of both Cixi and the Guangxu Emperor in November 1908 left the court in hands of Manchu conservatives, a child, Puyi, on the throne, and a restless, deeply divided society. Historians both in China and abroad have debated her legacy. Conventionally denounced as a ruthless despot whose reactionary policies – although successfully self-serving in prolonging the ailing Qing dynasty – led to its humiliation and utter downfall in the Wuchang Uprising. Revisionists suggested that Nationalist and Communist revolutionaries scapegoated her for deep-rooted problems beyond salvage, and lauded her maintenance of political order. She was responsible for numerous effective, if belated reforms – including the abolition of slavery, ancient torturous punishments and the ancient examination system in her ailing years. The latter was supplanted by institutions including the new Peking University.

The Qing Dynasty was the final imperial dynasty in China, lasting from 1644 to 1912. It was an era noted for its initial prosperity and tumultuous final years, and for being only the second time that China was not ruled by the Han people.

Fall of the Ming Dynasty

Near the end of the Ming Dynasty in 1616, Manchurian forces from northeastern Asia defeated the Ming army and occupied several cities on China's northern border.

A full-scale invasion followed. China was defeated in 1644, with Emperor Shunzhi establishing the Qing Dynasty.

Many of the new Han subjects faced discrimination. Han men were required to cut their hair in Mongolian fashion or face execution. Han intellectuals attempted to criticize the rulers through literature; many were rounded up and beheaded. Han people were also relocated from the power centers of Beijing.

Emperor Kangxi

Kangxi ruled for 61 years, from 1662 to 1722, the longest of any Chinese emperor.

He oversaw several cultural leaps, including the creation of a dictionary considered the best standardization of the Han language and the funding of surveys to create the most extensive maps of China up to that time. Kangxi also reduced taxes and stifled corruption and governmental excess. He enacted policies that were favorable to farmers and stopped land seizures. He trimmed his own staff and expenditures significantly.

Kangxi also squashed military threats, pushing back three Han rebellions and seizing Taiwan. Kangxi also stopped continuous invasion attempts by Tsarist Russia and brokered the Treaty of Nerchinsk in 1689, which brought a vast area of Siberia into Chinese control and allowed him to stifle rebellion in Mongolia.

Potatoes and cornóplants native to the Americasówere introduced as crops during Kangxi's reign, and food was considered plentiful during that time. Additionally, Kangxi oversaw an explosion in exports, particularly that of cotton, silk, tea and ceramics.

Emperor Qianlong

Qianlong ascended to the throne in 1735 and spent 60 years ruling China. Not a dynamic ruler, Qianlong's later reign was characterized by his own disinterest in ruling.

Qianlong was more preoccupied with artistic pursuits. He published over 42,000 poems, and added his poetry by hand to hundreds of pieces of historical artwork in the palace, though he wasn't considered very talented.

Qianlong was also obsessed with preserving Manchu culture and enacted dictionary and genealogy projects to that end. He also believed that sorcerers were targeting Manchurians and created a system of torture to combat that, while also creating a program in which thousands of Chinese books that had even the slightest disparagement of Manchurians were destroyed.

Conservative Qing Society

Social mores became more conservative during the Qing reign, with worsened penalties for homosexuals. Increased demand for purity in women led to a mass refusal of men to accept widows as their brides.

This led to significant growth in suicides of widows, and the creation of homes for widows where interaction with men was limited.

Arts Under The Qing Dynasty

This conservative shift reflected on the arts, and there was a general turn against literature and stage plays that were deemed subversive. Books were routinely banned, and theaters shut down.

Despite this oppressive atmosphere, some creative work did gather attention, as with the poetry of Yuan Mei and Cao Xueqin's novel Dream of the Red Chamber.

Painting also managed to thrive. Former Ming clan members Zhu Da and Shi Tao became monks to escape governmental roles in Qing rule and became painters.

Zhu Da embraced silence as he wandered across China and his depictions of nature and landscapes are imbued with manic energy.

Shi Tao is considered an artistic rule-breaker, with Impressionist-style brush strokes and presentations that predated Surrealism.

Opium Wars

The 19th century featured several military confrontations between China and the western world, the Opium War of 1840 being the first. A two-year conflict, it pitted China against Great Britain.

Opium was used medicinally in China for centuries, but by the 18th century it was popular recreationally. Following its conquest of India, Britain cultivated and exported opium to China, flooding the country with the drug.

An addiction crisis followed. A ban was attempted, and smoking opium outlawed, but British traders worked with black marketers to bypass laws.

Military confrontation became likely, and soon British forces shut down Chinese ports. Among many concessions during negotiations, China was forced to give up Hong Kong to the British.

A second Opium War was waged from 1856 to 1860 against the British and the French, bringing more unequal agreements.

Christian missionaries were allowed to flood the country, and western businessmen were free to open factories there. Ports were leased to foreign powers, allowing them to operate within China according to their own laws, and opium addiction rose.

Taiping Rebellion

Internal political and military threats created further instability for the Qing Dynasty.

The White Lotus sect was suppressed after an eight-year rebellion, lasting from 1796 to 1804. The Eight Trigrams sect rose up in 1813, taking several cities and entering the Forbidden City before being defeated.

The most deadly was the Taiping Rebellion, lasting from 1850 to 1864. Put into motion by Christian religious fanatic Hong Xiuquan, the city of Nanjing was occupied by rebels for a decade and 20 million Chinese died in the conflict.

Emperor Dowager Cixi

The influence of Empress Dowager Cixi expedited the end of Imperial China.

The widow of Emperor Xianfeng, who ruled from 1851 to 1861, Cixi was regent for her infant son Tongzhi from 1862 to 1874, then for her three-year-old nephew Guangxu, who ruled for 46 years with Cixi considered the real power behind the throne.

In 1898, Guangxu tried to take on the role of reformer in an attempt to modernize China, but this effort was squashed by Cixi after several months. Guangxu sought the support of an army general who betrayed him, and he found himself under house arrest at Cixi's direction. Cixi also executed Guangxu's fellow reformers.

Boxer Rebellion

The Boxer Rebellion ignited in 1899, the work of the Harmonious Fist secret society.

The group seized the property of Christian missionaries, attracting militant followers, then moved into the cities, attacking and killing foreigners.

Western countries sent troops, but Empress Dowager sided with the Boxers, declaring war on the West. Western forces defeated the Imperial Army and the Boxers in 1901, executing government members who had supported the Boxers and imposing sanctions that weakened the Qing rule.

After the Empress Dowager died in 1908, Xuantong, known as "The Last Emperor," took the throne, but he wouldn't reign long.

Fall of the Qing Dynasty

The Qing Dynasty fell in 1911, overthrown by a revolution brewing since 1894 when western-educated revolutionary Sun Zhongshan formed the Revive China Society in Hawaii, then Hong Kong.

In 1905, Sun united various revolutionary factions into one party with Japanese help and wrote the manifesto, the Three Principles of the People.

In 1911, the Nationalist Party of China held an uprising in Wuchang, helped by Qing soldiers, and 15 provinces declared their independence from the empire. Within weeks the Qing court agreed to the creation of a republic with its top general, Yuan Shikai, as president.

Xuantog abdicated in 1912, with Sun creating a provisional constitution for the new country, which ushered in years of political unrest centered around Yuan.

In 1917, there was a brief attempt to reinstate the Qing government, with Xuantog being restored for less than two weeks during a military coup that ultimately failed.