Ming Dynasty

Of all the Chinese dynasties, I have two favorites - the Song Dynasty and the Ming Dynasty. But why do I like these two dynasties and not the famed, glorious, powerful, and Golden Tang dynasty? Why not the Han? Since I've already covered the Song Dynasty, I'll explain why the Ming are among my favorites.

The Ming Dynasty - thank you, Wikipedia

You see, the Ming Dynasty is the martyred dynasty of China. The Ming dynasty is the last Han Chinese dynasty. The Ming dynasty is one of the first Chinese authoritarian dynasty (I would say that it is the first truly authoritarian). The Ming Dynasty had the famed voyages of Chinese admiral Zheng He.

This post seeks to explain the mysteries behind the Ming Dynasty.

  • They're the martyred dynasty - and they're Han Chinese.
Technically, you could claim the same for the Song, but the Ming were especially famous for this. For decades, if not centuries, the Qing Dynasty would suffer from revolts that popped up in random parts of the nation, led by a person who claimed to be a descendant of the Ming. That shows how popular they were - after their downfall.

For centuries, people would mourn the death of the Ming - poets, officials, and the common people. Here's a poem by famed late Ming and early Qing poet, Qian Qianyi:
As autumn grows old, Mount Zhong’s ten thousand trees become sparser. 
秋老鐘山萬木稀 | 秋老钟山万木稀  
It withers, shrivels, turns to dust, and flies away. 
凋傷總屬劫塵飛 | 凋伤总署劫尘飞 
I do not know whether it was because of the rustle of the frigid wind on the jade-like dew 
不知玉露涼風急 | 不知玉露凉风急 
But they only say it was not the dynastic potent in Jinling (金陵).
秖道金陵王氣非 | 祇道金陵王气非 
 Leaning on the moon is Su’e, sitting idly with a tree 
倚月素娥徒有樹 | 倚月素娥徒有树 
Stepping onto frost is the Blue Maiden, standing upright without clothing. 
履霜青女正無衣 | 履霜青女正无衣 
The splendorous forest is miserable and wretched like the desert. 
華林慘淡如沙漠 | 华林惨淡如沙漠 
For ten thousand li, it is cold and empty with only one wild goose returning home.
 | 万里寒空一雁归
Qian Qianyi is a famous poet and government official. He was implicated in a plot to lead a rebellion and eventually died. This poem is called "Sheng Jitao" (盛集陶) - for more information, Kuiwon provides a good blog about classical Chinese poetry.

As you can see from this poem, Qian Qianyi clearly misses something. For years, poems in the Qing dynasty would surreptitiously reference a "longing" for something to mourn the Ming dynasty.

Also, Chinese writers would talk about ritual suicide in two different ways.

1. They would praise it and talk about the weakness of the human soul. In other words, they wanted to commit suicide to mourn the end of the Ming dynasty - but they were too weak to do it.

2. They would criticize it in an attempt to justify why they didn't commit suicide. In our modern society, this sounds really dumb because people who commit suicide are the ones attempting to justify it. But back then, the end of the Ming was a really big thing.
  • They're the first truly authoritarian Chinese dynasty.
I know a lot of you out there might deny this. You might say, "Wait, but the Qin made a ton of laws to try to control everything!"

But that's the difference. They tried to control everything. And they failed. The Ming, on the other hand, didn't fail (at least in the beginning).

So let's define authoritarian:
Wikipedia says that it is "a form of government characterized by strong central power and limited political freedoms".
Let's talk about this for a moment. The Ming actually had a secret police force that specialized in torturing people, created by the first emperor. This force was called the "Jinyiwei" (锦衣卫).

The third emperor, the Yongle emperor, had stolen the throne from his nephew. Most of the government officials didn't like this - so the Yongle emperor then created another force made of eunuchs (people who cut off their genitals, which somehow made themselves more favorable to rulers). This was the Eastern Depot (Dong Chang, or 东厂). It used the Jinyiwei to weed out any opposition forces. #overkill much?

In the end, they fully deserved their deaths. The last three or four emperors were all either really bad people or really paranoid people who loved executing people. They all treated the role of emperor as a game - which it was to them, until the game swallowed them alive.

The Ming Dynasty ended in 1644 with the death of the Chongzhen Emperor. Its demise teaches us two things.
  1. Never be too arrogant. Always know that there is somebody better than you that you can learn from. The Ming dynasty ended up rejecting foreign trade by restricting it to the Canton System, in which Europeans could only trade with China through Guangdong. It was a bad system that the Qing Dynasty also adopted that led to the Opium Wars.
  2. Don't kill successful people who work for you. Actually, don't even kill people at all. You'll get arrested if you do, and it's definitely not the right thing to do. The Chongzhen Emperor kept killing generals that were successful against the Qing - and he did it because he was really paranoid.
  3. Be nice to everybody. You can't guarantee that they'll be nice to you, but at least make an effort. The Ming dynasty systematically oppressed peasants by forcing them into a variety of taxes and punishments, which allowed the Shun dynasty to form. In addition, the Ming dynasty continually stirred up war in Manchuria - which backfired when the Manchus united and formed the Qing dynasty.

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