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Having overthrown the oppressive Mongol rulers, Zhu Yuanzhang founded the dynasty he called "enlightened" (Ming) and ruled (1368-98) as Emperor Hongwu. His general Xu Da invaded and secured Shanxi and Shaanxi in 1369. Then the Ming army attacked the fleeing Mongols. Yuan emperor Toghon Temur died in 1370 and was succeeded by his son Ayushiridara; but as he fled to Outer Mongolia, 50,000 Mongol warriors were captured along with the Empress and his son Maidiribala. After putting a Ming commander in chains for a defeat, Xu Da overcame Koko's army, which lost a reported 84,000 soldiers as Koko fled. Emperor Hongwu gave hereditary titles to 34 generals, nine of whom were enemy generals who had surrendered. His oldest son was heir apparent, and his next nine sons were given princely estates. Sichuan refused to surrender in 1369 and was conquered in 1371. However, the next year Koko Temur's army ambushed Xu Da's large cavalry force of 100,000, inflicting a disastrous defeat. Tribute came from Korea, Annam, Champa, Japan, Cambodia, and Siam by 1371 and even as far away as from Borneo, Java, Sumatra, the Malay peninsula, and the southeast coast of India in the next few years. Ming armies invaded Mongolia, took over northwestern and southwestern territory, fighting Koko until he died in 1375.
In 1370 civil service examinations began again; discourses and political analysis were added along with tests on archery, horsemanship, calligraphy, arithmetic, and the law code. Grain was distributed to the impoverished region of Shanxi. During a drought the Emperor exposed himself to the sun, and five days later it rained. Although and perhaps because secret Buddhist societies, like the White Lotus, had enabled him to overthrow the previous regime, Hongwu banned them by decree. Only the Emperor was permitted to make sacrifices to Heaven and Earth; but religion was encouraged. In 1373 he ruled that those ordained as Buddhist priests had to pass an examination on the scriptures, and 96,328 Buddhist and Daoist monks and nuns were ordained. The Emperor restricted the roles of the empress and other palace women. To educate his heir he had officials give their memorials to him for decisions; but Hongwu disliked the results and soon canceled the policy. In 1373 he abolished the examination system and had officials appointed based on recommendations. Hongwu promulgated the Ancestral Injunctions outlining the powers and responsibilities of the princes; although nobles were not punished for taking land unfairly the first time, by the fourth violation the penalty was death. An imperial school system was established in 1375 for qualified students. During the 30-year reign of Hongwu 871 degrees were awarded, 472 of them in 1385.
Emperor Hongwu wrote a commentary on Lao-zi's Dao De Jing in 1375, and he thought maybe he should not put to death so many people; but the next year he had hundreds of officials executed for pre-stamping fiscal documents as a convenience. The minister Yeh Bozhu, who criticized the enfeoffment of princes, harsh punishments, and arbitrary rule, was imprisoned and died of starvation. Yet Yeh's prediction that the Prince of Yan would usurp power eventually came true. Maidiribala had been sent back to the Mongol court in 1374; but when Ayushiridara died in 1378, he was succeeded by his younger son Toghus Temur. The Ming army had invaded Tibet in 1377, killing thousands and capturing more than a hundred thousand animals. Two years later Mu Ying led the Ming army into Tibet, capturing 30,000 people and 200,000 domestic animals. Hongwu named five more of his sons princes in 1378, and he would name ten more in 1391.
Hu Weiyong was prime minister from 1373; but when he failed to inform the Emperor about tributary envoys from Champa arriving at the capital of Nanjing in late 1379, Hongwu took power into his own hands by putting Hu Weiyong on trial for treason in 1380. Hu Weiyong and 15,000 people were executed, and the position of prime minister was eliminated. Eight years later Hongwu published his account of the conspiracy he believed threatened to overthrow him with military power and Japanese assistance. The Ming emperor threatened to invade Japan in letters he sent in 1374, 1376, 1380, and 1381. In 1381 the Emperor sent Fu Yude with 300,000 troops to conquer Yunnan in the southwest, killing or capturing 100,000 men before they capitulated the next year.
In 1380 Hongwu abolished the office of prime minister and created a grand secretariat that distributed and departmentalized power under the direct control of the Emperor into the six ministries of Personnel, Revenue, Rites, War, Justice, and Works. Rites included regulation of Buddhist and Daoist priests as well as imperial entertainment. The Works ministry had bureaus of construction, forestry and crafts, irrigation and transportation, and state farms. Additional service agencies were the directorates of astronomy (overseeing the calendar and weather forecasts), imperial parks, and education. Counties were the basic units of administration with magistrates responsible for tax collection, labor services, care of the aged and indigent, local ceremonies, keeping peace, and administering justice. Taxes were low and only took about three percent of the total produce and usually were collected in grain. The administrative community (lijia) system was promulgated in 1381. A li contained 110 households-ten jia of ten households plus the ten leading (usually the wealthiest) families, who provided the headmen responsible for collecting the taxes and service labor while providing services such as education. The first land survey was done in 1387.
In 1382 the central authority of Emperor Hongwu organized a secret police force. Censors were organized into new agencies in each of the twelve provinces and investigated. This surveillance bureau was the only department that was given unified central control. Also in 1382 the examinations were held again after being suspended for a decade. An edict was issued defining three kinds of Buddhist monks as devoted to meditation, scriptural exposition, and ritual Buddhism, which meant teaching or yoga. When Li Shilu complained that Hongwu favored Buddhism and Daoism, the Emperor had him beaten to death on the palace steps.
Hongwu banned eunuchs from politics in 1384 though they still served in the bureaucracy. Scholars criticized the Emperor for harsh methods; but in 1385 Hongwu had his vice-minister of revenue and hundreds of others executed for embezzling, and the minister of personnel was accused of slandering the head of the National University and was put to death. In 1387 the Emperor had a change of heart and ordered his bodyguards to burn their instruments of torture. That year Feng Shang was sent with an army of 100,000 to suppress the Lolo revolt in Yunnan. The Eastern Mongol leader Naghachu surrendered to him; but Feng Shang was dismissed and lost his estate in Henan. In 1388 General Lan Yu led an army of 150,000 across the Gobi Desert to attack the Mongols; 77,000 people were captured including 3,000 princes and one hundred from the ruling family and its entourage along with 150,000 animals. Hongwu had reunified all of China.
From 1385 to 1387 Hongwu promulgated three Grand Pronouncements. In the first village elders were given the right to appeal to the Emperor when local officials were corrupt or incompetent. Bribery was the biggest problem, and both parties were to be punished severely. Schools were to teach the laws, and defendants who could recite them were to get reduced punishments. The second proclamation concerned corruption of security forces and government officials; the Emperor lamented that if he is lenient, the law is ruined; but if he is harsh, he is called a tyrant. In the third proclamation he gave the death penalty to 68 metropolitan degree holders and 53 students and said he would put to death any talented man who refused to serve the government. This put scholars in a terrible dilemma and led to further purges.
In 1390 Prince Zhu Zi committed suicide as the Hu Weiyong purge claimed more victims from trumped-up charges. The Emperor's heir Zhu Biao died of illness in 1392. Koreans let Emperor Hongwu choose the old Chinese name of Choson for its new state. Hongwu merged the tributary gifts with the trading system and required government supervision of trade. After Lan Yu's victory over Orlug Temur, the Emperor assigned him, Feng Sheng, and Fu Yude to the staff of the young crown prince Zhu Jianwen, Zhu Biao's son. Hongwu had established the succession principle of primogeniture. In 1393 four more princes were given fiefs in the north. Lan Yu was tried for mutiny and publicly dismembered. The Emperor granted an amnesty in September 1393 but acknowledged that 15,000 had been executed in this purge. Ten princes were called to the capital for consultation, and the generals Fu Yude, Wang Bi, and Feng Sheng died in the next two years. The Emperor tried to restrict the princes' recruiting, but they gained control of their military forces. Contrary to Confucian tradition, Hongwu began the custom of inflicting corporal punishment on government officials; some were beaten to death, though this did discourage bribery and corruption. Between 1378 and 1395 Hongwu sent seventeen of his sons to princely fiefs.
The Ming code of laws of Hongwu was developed over thirty years and was completed in 1397. The young scholar Xie Jin criticized the Emperor for changing the laws too often. He wrote that this causes doubt and cynicism, and he recommended ending extralegal punishments and collective responsibility for criminal acts. Punishment had five levels of severity-beating with a light stick (10 to 50 strokes), beating with a heavy stick (60-100 strokes), penal servitude (1-3 years with 60-100 blows), banishment (to varying distances with 100 blows), and death (by strangulation or decapitation). The Ming code allowed for the paying of fines in place of any of these punishments, especially for nominal capital crimes. Women were remanded to the custody of their husbands, except in sexual and capital crimes, because of the danger of rape in prison. Killing for adultery was justified if done by the husband when the couple was caught in the act. If the wife survived, the husband could sell her as a concubine. In the Ming code the man's family was no longer exempt from punishment for breaking a marriage agreement. Driving a person to commit suicide was punished by a hundred blows or by death if aggravated by other crimes. Economic reconstruction of land, dikes, and canals revived the economy. A rational and comprehensive system of taxation and labor service was instituted. Paper money was issued; but after it was no longer convertible to metal currency, it had to be abandoned by the mid-15th century.
In 1392 families in Anhui were directed to plant 200 mulberry trees, 200 jujube trees, and 200 persimmon trees. Scholars estimate that in this decade about one billion trees were planted in China. In 1395 they repaired or built 40,987 reservoirs in China. That year Emperor Hongwu issued a list of regions not to be invaded by the Ming, and tributary relations were limited to Ryuku Island (Japan), Cambodia, and Siam. Imperial commands posted in all villages urged the "six injunctions" which were to be filial to parents, respect elders and superiors, maintain harmonious relations with neighbors, teach and discipline their sons, peacefully pursue their livelihoods, and do not commit wrongful actions. Tax captains were responsible for registering property and collecting taxes and labor services. Crimes were prosecuted locally, but serious offenders were sent to the capital. In 1395 the Emperor decreed that all Buddhist and Daoist monks must go to the capital and pass an examination, and those failing were to return to a lay life. After learning that no one from the north had passed the examinations in 1397, Hongwu read the papers himself and awarded degrees to 61 northerners.
Although the Emperor hated Mongol customs that violated Chinese ethics, after his death on June 24, 1398 all but two of his forty concubines took their lives in the traditional Mongol way. The empress of his successor complied in 1405, encouraging self-immolation, and thirty concubines committed suicide at Yongle's death in 1424. Also ten concubines were buried with Emperor Xuande in 1436. However, the practice of suicide by imperial concubines was curtailed after 1464. During the Ming era widows were encouraged to be faithful and not marry a second husband.
The second Ming emperor Zhu Jianwen was twenty years old when he succeeded his grandfather Hongwu. He proclaimed a general amnesty, put three Confucian tutors in influential positions, and tried to make Ming government more benevolent. The six chief ministers were elevated in rank over the military commissioners. Hanlin scholars instructed the princes in Confucian policies, and the princes were also ordered not to interfere in civil and military matters. Jianwen canceled many of the harsh pronouncements and notices that had been made by Hongwu. Excessive land taxes in the Jiangnan region were reduced, and restrictions were put on the tax-exempt lands of the Buddhists and Daoists. Failing to control the princes, Jianwen decided to abolish their fiefdoms, and five of them were eliminated.
Zhu Di of Yan was Hongwu's fourth son; his mother was probably a lesser consort, but he later claimed he was the son of Empress Ma. He was born on May 2, 1360 and married the daughter of General Xu Da in 1376. He did not take up his Yan fiefdom at Beijing until 1380. Zhu Di was ordered to patrol Daning in 1396 and captured Bolin Temur. By 1398 he had become the dominant power in the north. After the five strategic princedoms were abolished, Zhu Di feared he was the next target; but his three sons were hostages at the court in Nanjing until Jianwen consented to their return in June 1399. After two of his officials were executed for sedition the next month, Zhu Di attacked neighboring counties. The Prince of Yan claimed that he was upholding the laws of Hongwu and blamed the three Confucian advisors for persecuting the princes.
In the civil war Emperor Jianwen began with larger forces, but his army of 130,000 sent to attack Beijing was defeated. A siege of Beijing also failed. In May 1400 about 600,000 men fought near Baoding. The southern army used explosive weapons but suffered heavy losses and retreated. Prince Zhu Di was nearly captured but was relieved by reinforcements. He attacked again at Dezhou; but in 1401 after losing tens of thousands of troops, he decided to use guerrilla tactics in a war of attrition. By 1402 the Prince of Yan was able to attack the capital at Nanjing. He refused to negotiate, and Jianwen's generals opened the city gates. The imperial palace was set on fire, and burned bodies were claimed to be those of Jianwen, Empress Ma, and Jianwen's eldest son. On July 17, 1402 Zhu Di claimed that he was succeeding Hongwu and proclaimed himself Emperor Yongle. The three Confucian advisors refused to serve the new Emperor and were executed with many others. Eventually tens of thousands were executed, incarcerated, or banished. Military power of an autocratic prince had overcome the civil government of Confucian liberalism. Legends were passed on that Jianwen had escaped and continued to live as a monk, and this tragic hero became a popular literary motif.
Emperor Yongle (r. 1403-24) awarded noble titles to officers who helped him, establishing a hereditary military aristocracy; but he also appointed seven scholars to the Hanlin Academy and used them as his principal advisors, even taking some of them on his military expeditions. Examinations were revived but were postponed for five years during Yongle's Mongolian campaigns. After 1412 they were held regularly, and 1,833 metropolitan degrees were awarded during his reign. The Emperor made use of eunuchs, who served him with complete loyalty, and they were given a palace school. Yongle's first academic project was to have scholars revise the historical records to his advantage while portraying Jianwen as a corrupt usurper. By 1407 the Yongle Encyclopedia of 11,095 volumes on all subjects was compiled by 2,169 scholars, but it was too long to be printed. In 1409 the Emperor published a treatise on how mind and heart learn according to the wisdom of the Neo-Confucian sages. The ruler should exemplify and encourage the learning of virtues such as conforming to principle, restraining desires, practicing reverence, and rectifying the mind. Ministers were to advise the Emperor, but loyalty was most important. The Song dynasty commentaries on the five classics and four Confucian books were published in 1415, and the examinations were based on these.
Yongle's empress Xu (1362-1407) had received a sutra in a visionary dream in 1398 that instructed her to chant in times of trouble which helped her during the civil war. The sutra declared that the mind and nature of the Buddha is possessed by all sentient beings and that purity could be found in true emptiness. The number of Buddhist and Daoist clergy that could be ordained was limited to twenty per district in 1418. Two years later a visionary claiming to be the mother of the Buddha led an insurrection in Shandong.
During a struggle for power in Annam (northern Vietnam) a Ming army of 215,000 invaded in 1406, and it was declared a Chinese province; but a liberation movement began in 1408, accelerated in 1418, and was a problem Yongle left to his successors. Korea sent horses and oxen occasionally as tribute starting in 1403, but the heaviest burden was the 150 ounces of gold and 700 ounces of silver sent annually. Breeding and purchases as well as tribute made the number of horses in China go from only 38,000 in 1403 to more than 1,500,000 in 1423. China reopened trade relations in 1403 with Japan's Shogun Yoshimitsu; his successor Yoshimochi refused to have official trade relations with the Ming court, though private trade continued.
Yongle sent an army against the Mongols in 1409 to retaliate for Eastern Mongol khan Bunyashiri killing a Chinese envoy. After the Mongol chief minister Arughtai defeated the Ming army, Yongle led 300,000 (some say 500,000) men in 1410 and drove Arughtai east and defeated him. The Oirat Mongol chief Mahmud had been invested as a Ming prince in 1409 and killed Bunyashiri in 1412 while retreating from the Chinese. The Ming made Arughtai prince of Honing, but he warned them Mahmud's forces were coming. Emperor Yongle launched his second campaign in 1414, using cannons to force Mahmud to flee, and his death two years later ended the Oirat Mongol threat. Arughtai stopped sending tribute in 1421 and let Mongols raid across the border. Two officials, who argued against Yongle's next campaign, were imprisoned and committed suicide. Arughtai retreated in 1422; but Yongle launched campaigns in 1423 and 1424, and he died of illness while returning from the north. These northern campaigns strained the economy of the Chinese empire and damaged military morale.
In 1405 the Muslim eunuch Zheng He (Cheng Ho) commanded a fleet of 62 ships and 27,870 men on an expedition to seek treasure that visited Champa, Java, Sumatra, Malacca, Sri Lanka, and even reached Calicut on the west coast of India; at Palembang on Sumatra they killed 5,000 men of the pirate Chen Ziyi, who was taken back to Nanjing and executed. On the second voyage in 1408 Zheng He intervened in a war between Siam and Java. On his third voyage they were attacked by the Sinhalese of Sri Lanka in 1411, and Zheng He brought back their king Alaghkkonara (Vira Alakasvera) as a prisoner. The fourth expedition reached the Persian Gulf in 1414, and the fifth visited east Africa before returning in 1419. The fleet divided up to explore many areas (some possibly in America) on the sixth voyage that returned in 1422. After Yongle died, Zheng He became garrison commander at Nanjing for seven years. These voyages brought back many spices and exotic animals to the capital and for a time demonstrated the glory of Chinese culture; but long-term trade links were not established.
Preparations for moving the Ming capital from Nanjing to Beijing went on for years but little was accomplished until completion of the Grand Canal in 1415 allowed large shipments of grain and building supplies. Yongle left Nanjing for the last time in 1417, and Beijing was officially designated the Ming capital in 1420. After a fire destroyed three halls in the forbidden city, the Emperor had to listen to criticism; but this evaporated after a secretary complaining about the move was executed. The costs of moving the capital had increased land taxes about ten percent. Knowing how he came to power, Yongle disbanded princely guards and removed the military commands from his sons. A large military establishment of more than two million was maintained and put a strain on the imperial economy. Firearms were improved after they captured an Annamese expert on muskets and artillery. Yongle suffered ill health and took an elixir that contained arsenic, lead, and other metals, which may partially account for erratic behavior and his death in 1424.
Yongle's eldest son Zhu Gaozhi was born August 16, 1378 and was educated by prominent Confucian tutors. He often acted as regent at Nanjing or at Beijing during his father's northern military campaigns. As soon as he became Emperor Hongxi in September 1424, he canceled Zheng He's maritime expeditions and abolished frontier trade of tea for horses as well as missions for gold and pearls to Yunnan and Annam. He restored disgraced Confucian officials and reorganized the administration to give high ranks to his close advisors. Hanlin academicians became grand secretaries, and they dismantled his father's unpopular militaristic policies to restore civil government. Hongxi improved finances by canceling requisitions for lumber, gold, and silver. Taxes were remitted so that vagrant farmers could return home, especially in the overburdened Yangzi delta. Hongxi appointed a commission to investigate taxes. He overruled his secretaries by ordering grain sent immediately to relieve areas of disaster. He ordered the capital be moved back to Nanjing; but Emperor Hongxi died, probably of a heart attack, a month later in May 1425. His son had been declared heir apparent and became Emperor Xuande at age 26. Although Hongxi had a short reign, he is credited with reforms that made lasting improvements, and his liberal policies were carried on by his son.
Emperor Xuande (r. 1426-35) decided to keep Beijing as the capital. His uncle Zhu Gaoxu had been a favorite of Yongle for his military successes; but he disobeyed imperial instructions and in 1417 had been exiled to the small fief of Loan in Shandong. When Zhu Gaoxu revolted, the new emperor Xuande took 20,000 soldiers and attacked him at Loan. Zhu Gaoxu was reduced to a commoner and died from torture. Six hundred rebelling officials were executed, and 2200 were banished.
Emperor Xuande wanted to withdraw his troops from Annam, but some of his advisors disagreed. After Chinese garrisons suffered heavy casualties, the Emperor sent Liu Sheng with an army; but they were badly defeated by the Annamese, losing 70,000 men in 1427. The Chinese forces withdrew, and Xuande eventually recognized the independence of Annam. In the north Xuande was inspecting the border with 3,000 cavalry in 1428 and was able to punish a raid by Uriyangkhad Mongols. The Chinese let Arughtai's Eastern Mongols battle with Toghon's Oirat tribes of the west. Beijing received horses annually from Arughtai; but he was defeated by the Oirats in 1431 and was killed in 1434 when Toghon took over eastern Mongolia. The Ming court then maintained friendly relations with the Oirats. China's diplomatic relations with Japan improved in 1432. Relations with Korea were good except they resented having to send virgins occasionally to the Ming court's harem. Xuande allowed Zheng He to make one more voyage; but such maritime expeditions by eunuch captains ended in 1434.
A privy council of eunuchs strengthened centralized power by controlling the secret police, and their influence would continue to grow. In 1428 the notorious censor Liu Guan was sentenced to penal servitude and replaced by the incorruptible Gu Zuo (d. 1446), who dismissed 43 members of the Beijing and Nanjing censorates for incompetence. Some censors were demoted, imprisoned, and banished, but none were executed. Replacements were put on probation as the censorate investigated the entire Ming administration including the military. The same year the Emperor reformed the rules governing military conscription and the treatment of deserters. Yet the hereditary military continued to be inefficient with poor morale. Huge inequalities in tax burdens had caused most in some areas to leave their farms in the past forty years. In 1430 Emperor Xuande ordered tax reductions on all imperial lands and sent out "touring pacifiers" to coordinate provincial administration, exercising civilian control over the military. They attempted to eliminate the irregularities and the corruption of the revenue collectors. Xuande often ordered retrials that allowed thousands of innocent people to be released. Xuande died of illness after ruling ten years; but his reign has been considered the Ming dynasty's golden era.
Since Xuande's successor Yingzong (r. 1435-49) was only eight years old, the government was supervised by the grand Empress dowager Lady Zhang. After she died in 1442, the young Emperor's eunuch tutor Wang Zhen dominated him and the government; he intimidated the highest officials by jailing some and executing others. Numerous famines and epidemics caused by droughts and floods from 1434 to 1448 stimulated a rebellion led by former regional official Ye Zongliu supported by silver miners resenting rich landowners in Fujian and Zhejiang which began in 1444 and broke into open insurrection three years later. Non-Chinese people, such as the Thais, Tibeto-Burmese, Miao, and Yao, had rebelled occasionally in the southwest, and a big rebellion of Maoqi joined the miners; but they were severely defeated at Jianyang in 1449, though some mining reforms were achieved in the next few years. Rural people were exempted from corvée labor for three years; output quotas were lowered, and the death penalty for stealing silver was abolished. In the southwest General Wang Zhi made a treaty with the Shan chiefs making the Irrawaddy River the border. Wang Zhen has been criticized by some historians for instigating the war in the southwest for his own personal aggrandizement.
Great walls had been built in the north between 1403 and 1435, but gaps remained. After Oirat chief Toghon died, his son Esen began invading Ming territory; by 1448 he controlled Hami. Increasing numbers of Mongols came to the border markets to barter horses for tea, grain, iron, and other goods. In 1448 they demanded too much, and Wang Zhen refused to pay. So Esen invaded China with three armies the next summer. Because of desertions and corruption, Ming armies had deteriorated to half their size, though the empire still had about 1,250,000 soldiers. Because of the incursions the buffer zone on the frontier had been abandoned; but the walls around Beijing had been completed in 1445. Wang Zhen persuaded Emperor Yingzong to lead the Ming army to Datong about 270 kilometers west of Beijing; but on their return Mongol cavalry wiped out their rearguard, and at Tumu the Ming army was surrounded. A Mongol attack on September 3, 1449 panicked the Chinese troops, and the army was destroyed, losing half its men and most of its arms and equipment. Wang Zhen, whose advice had allowed the trap, was reported killed by his own men, and Emperor Yingzong was captured.
The Emperor's mother and wife sent jewels for his ransom. His younger brother Zhu Qiyu, the Prince of Cheng, was made regent, and officials beat some of Wang Zhen's associates to death. Esen planned to marry Yingzong to his sister and put him on the throne in Beijing. So the Prince of Cheng was proclaimed Emperor Jingtai on September 23, 1449. War minister Yuqian defended Beijing with cannons and 220,000 troops, and Esen's army of 70,000 had to withdraw. The next year when Esen sent his Chinese advisor Xi Ning as an envoy, he was executed for treason. Esen agreed to release Yingzong for the resumption of trade, and Yingzong returned to Beijing in September 1450; but Jingtai remained Emperor. Esen proclaimed himself khan of the Mongols in 1453 but was opposed and killed two years later.
Damage from the great flood of 1448 was repaired, and new sections were added to the Grand Canal so that by 1456 a major flood did little damage. During the reign (1449-57) of Jingtai several uprisings around the empire had to be suppressed. Jingtai appointed his son heir apparent; but he died. Some officials suggested the previous heir apparent be named, but Jingtai had them flogged. When Emperor Jingtai fell ill in 1457, a conspiracy of eunuchs and high officials "forced the palace gate" and restored Yingzong to the throne. Jingtai died; some reports indicated he was strangled by a palace eunuch. The leadership of the previous reign was purged; even Yuqian, who had saved the capital, was beheaded along with four chief eunuchs and several top officials. Even the leaders of the coup had been replaced by 1461 as Emperor Yingzong worked to establish a stable administration of the empire. Yingzong died in 1464 and was succeeded by his son.
The Chinese had been manufacturing guns since the 13th century, about fifty years before the Europeans did. The Chinese had also been casting iron many centuries before Europe, and they invented cannons. Gun carriages were made to make the cannons mobile, and in 1462 the Ming made 1200 carriages. In 1465 they manufactured 300 cannons and 500 gun carriages. At this time a Chinese battalion was supplied with forty cannon batteries, 160 general cannons, 528 continuous bullet cannons, 624 hand guns, 300 grenades, seven tons of gunpowder, and more than a million bullets.
Emperor Xianzong (r. 1464-87) was born on December 9, 1447. He was dominated by his favorite consort Lady Wan, who was 35 years old when he became Emperor. He married Empress Wu, and she had Lady Wan flogged; but within a month Xianzong deposed Empress Wu. Empress Wang was installed but deferred to Lady Wan, who gave favors and bypassed the usual administration. Lady Wan's son died within a year, and she did not become pregnant again. She sent eunuchs to make sure other pregnancies by Xianzong were aborted; but Empress Wu helped the son born in 1470 to the aborigine Lady Zhi to survive, and in 1475 Xianzong learned he had a son. Lady Wan caused lands to be confiscated and farmers to become tenants on imperial estates. She also had officers appointed without the usual procedures; many offices, ranks, and privileges were gained by bribery. About 10,000 eunuchs served in the bureaucracy, though officially they could not hold the highest ranks. Officials futilely submitted memorials to punish abetting castration, often imposed by parents hoping for tax exemptions and money from the palace jobs.
In 1464 special examinations for selecting military officers were devised. Rewards and advancements in the army were often based on how many men were killed, and heads were collected as proof. Confucians criticized this policy because innocent civilians were killed to increase the numbers. Heads of enemies usually had more value than those of Chinese bandits and rebels. A large uprising of Guangxi rebels was suppressed by a Ming army in 1467; thousands of Miao were killed. They rebelled again in 1475, and thousands more were killed in 1476. The junior minister of rites, Zhou Hongmo, suggested that they establish native chiefs to govern their own tribes under Chinese authority. He argued that great resentment had been caused when 270 native chiefs had been treacherously executed in 1473. His advice was ignored. The next year Zhou Hongmo commented on the largest rebellion of the era when he suggested that refugees be given land in the Jing-Xiang region. In fact in 1476 Yuan Qie had allowed 113,000 households to claim vacant lands with tax reductions until the land produced. Additions were made to the Great Wall to keep the Ordos in the north and to protect the Shaanxi and Shanxi borders in the northwest.
Corruption entered Buddhist ordinations when 10,000 blank certificates were sold for grain in 1484 to relieve a famine, and two months later 60,000 ordination certificates were sold for silver in all thirteen provinces. Emperor Xianzong ignored his secretaries and relied on the eunuchs Wang Zhi and Liang Fang and others patronized by Lady Wan. She died in 1487, and Emperor Xianzong passed away from illness six months later.
When Xianzong's son Xiaozong (r. 1487-1505) became Emperor, Lady Wan's eunuch collaborators were dismissed from office; but only a few of the worst criminals were executed. Two thousand improperly appointed officials were dismissed along with nearly a thousand Buddhist and Daoist clerics. Xiaozong married Lady Zhang and was the only Ming Emperor who was monogamous without any other consorts. He was dedicated to Confucian ethics and sponsored work on the law code and precedents. He reduced court luxuries and eliminated eunuch procurements. However, many Zhang relatives were given court opportunities for corruption. In 1493 Liu Daxia was appointed to oversee the work of 120,000 men, who altered the course of the Yellow River south of the Shandong peninsula into the Huai River, a change that lasted until the 19th century. Liu Daxia was the Emperor's closest advisor and became minister of war in 1501. The Chinese used an embargo of the silk road in 1497 to restrain the Turfanese. Most foreign trade was usually managed by the eunuchs for their private benefit. A Lolo rebellion on the border of Yunnan lasted three years and was led by a woman but was suppressed by an imperial army from four provinces in 1502. The Li tribe on the island of Hainan also rebelled for three years, and Chinese and Mongol soldiers killed many of them in 1503.
Xiaozong was succeeded by his 13-year-old son, who became Emperor Zhengde or Wuzong (r. 1505-21). He had been raised by eunuchs and liked to cavort with them, often getting drunk. Zhengde ignored the elderly grand secretaries and let the eunuch Liu Qin raise money for his personal extravagances. In 1506 the revenue minister Han Wen submitted a petition that the eight powerful eunuchs be executed, instead of just Liu Qin; but they persuaded the Emperor to get rid of their enemies instead, and all the grand secretaries but one resigned. Complaining officials were beaten and reduced to commoners. In 1507 Liu Qin spent 350,000 ounces of silver on the Emperor's favorite lantern festival. Zhengde also ordered expensive building for a private palace and an imperial park. In 1508 silver mine quotas were increased even though the ore was diminishing; Liu Qin's agents sold salt beyond the quotas of the government monopoly; Liu Qin began selling military commissions for grain; and heavy fines were imposed on officials displeasing Liu Qin. Resisting eunuchs were investigated and banished to Nanjing. Hundreds of border officials were fined in 1509 as were salt administrators.
In 1510 the Prince of Anhua revolted against Liu Qin and was taken to the capital by supreme commander Yang Yiqing and the eunuch army inspector Zhang Yong. Yang had been previously forced out of office by Liu Qin and persuaded Zhang that Liu Qin was plotting to assassinate the Emperor. The drunk Zhengde found Liu Qin's hoard of gold and silver and had Liu Qin killed by slicing over three days. His partisans were executed or dismissed, and confiscation of his wealth temporarily supplied the Emperor's treasury. Liu Qin's vile policies had caused desertions and banditry. By 1511 they were numerous enough to be attacking administrative cities, and more than a thousand imperial grain barges were burned that year; but in 1512 they were surrounded by imperial armies and slaughtered. A heroic archer named Jiang Bin became Emperor Zhengde's boon companion and was put in charge of the capital garrisons. During an extravagant lantern festival in 1514 gunpowder accidentally exploded and burned the palaces and audience halls. Rebuilding would cost a million ounces of silver, and a 20% surtax was charged for five years. Imperial business was carried on by eunuchs. A costly trip to bring back a "living Buddha" from Tibet ended in disaster. The Portuguese reached the China coast in 1514; but after the Emperor died in 1521, they were ordered to leave China.
Emperor Zhengde began traveling in 1517, neglecting his ceremonial duties. He loved hunting and military adventures, and he fought against the Mongol chief Batu Mongke while demanding more silver than was in the treasury. In 1518 officials were not allowed to leave Beijing except when they had to wait for him in the mud. The Emperor called himself General Zhu Shou and issued orders as military commands. When he intended to visit Nanjing, protesting officials were beaten; twelve died. Then the Emperor changed his mind. Zhu Chenhao, the Prince of Ning, had been plotting to increase his power and maybe take over the throne since 1514. He protected brigands and used them for his own purposes while driving others to become outlaws because of his expropriating property and interfering in commerce. In 1517 the Prince of Ning sent spies to Beijing, and the next year bandits attacked the Prince's nemesis Fei Hong. The Prince of Ning got Qian Ning to let the Prince's son participate in the sacrifices at the Ancestral Temple. Qian Ning was a rival of Jiang Bin, who finally in 1519 made Emperor Zhengde aware of the danger. The actual uprising by the Prince of Ning only lasted 43 days, as the philosopher Wang Yangming (Wang Shouren) led an imperial army that ambushed the rebels and defeated them at Nanchang in August 1519.
This gave Zhengde an excuse to tour the south the next month, and the Emperor spent eight months at Nanjing in 1520. For three years the Emperor had been outraging many by taking women from private households for his harem and redeeming some for high prices or accepting bribes to leave them alone. Hundreds of women ended up at the palace laundry in Beijing, where women from the palace were disciplined or retired. So many were there now that officials complained they were dying of starvation. Jiang Bin wanted to let the Emperor pretend to capture the Prince of Ning in a mock battle; but Wang Yangming, who had captured the Prince, refused to agree to this and brought him to Nanjing. Wang warned that border troops would make the situation in Jiangxi worse; but Jiang Bin invaded with imperial troops anyway to wipe out the rest of the Prince's rebels. Wang returned to Jiangxi as governor and gained such respect that Jiang Bin soon returned to Nanjing. Yet the Emperor forced Wang to report that Jiang Bin had captured the Prince. Wang Yangming destroyed evidence so that not so many would be purged by the Emperor. Qian Ning was executed by slicing, but the Prince of Ning was allowed to commit suicide.
After nearly drowning in a boating accident, Emperor Zhengde became very ill but did not name an heir. When he died in April 1521, the chief grand secretary Yang Tinghe got the Empress dowager to approve an edict naming the grandson of Emperor Xianzong to succeed. Yang Tinghe governed for 35 days removing from court those appointed by the late Emperor.
The new Emperor had been born on September 16, 1507 but had succeeded his father as prince at Anlu in 1519. A delegation hailed him as Emperor, and he traveled to Beijing and entered the palace as Emperor Jiajing or Shizong (r. 1521-66). He sent for his mother and refused to refer to her as his aunt to please his adopting mother, the Empress dowager, who issued an edict giving imperial titles to his natural parents. Yang Tinghe tried to correct the recent abuses by returning property to the tax registers that had been seized as imperial estates, dismissing unnecessary imperial bodyguards, suppressing unorthodox teaching from imperial schools, and curbing the influence of eunuchs. However, the Emperor brought his own eunuchs and disagreed with Yang on rituals and respect for his grandmother when she died in December 1522. Emperor Jiajing gained support for his position from a governor's memorial and philosopher Wang Yangming. Having lost influence, Yang Tinghe retired in May 1524. A bitter debate ensued over whether Emperor Jiajing owed his primary reverence to the late Emperor or his natural parents. He ordered protesting officials put in prison, and 180 leaders were beaten at court; 17 died, and those recovering were banished. The next day the Emperor gave his father an imperial title.
Emperor Jiajing had approved a hostile policy toward Mansur, the Mongol sultan of Turfan, killing his agent Sayyid Husain in 1521 and detaining his envoys in Beijing. Raids and battles with the Ming army went on from 1524 until the Ming court acknowledged Mansur's control of Hami in 1528. In August 1524 garrison soldiers, rejecting a transfer of troops, murdered the Datong governor and set fire to official buildings. When imperial troops in the area were suspected of a punitive expedition, the mutineers took over the city. Rebel leaders were trapped and executed the next year; but soldiers were placated with a pardon and three ounces of silver. A force of 60,000 Mongol cavalry raided the region in 1531, and two years later the Datong garrison revolted again. In 1535 several garrisons in the northeast rebelled. Once again leaders were executed, and the rest were pardoned.
A treason case in 1527 was used to purge the officials associated with Yang Tinghe and his Hanlin Academy clique. Zhang Cong replaced Fei Hong as grand secretary. A group of officials was dismissed for falsely claiming that Mansur had been killed, and Guei O, who accused them, became a grand secretary in 1529. He and Zhang Cong were dismissed but won a struggle for power against Yang Yiching. In 1531 Zhang refused to carry out the changes the Emperor demanded in court ceremony and lost influence to Xia Yan. Like his English contemporary Henry VIII, Emperor Jiajing had trouble producing an heir and had a series of wives; in 1531 he chose nine special consorts. Only two of the Emperor's sons reached maturity. After the influential philosopher Wang Yangming died in 1529, his teachings spread as new academies were founded. In 1534 a lecture hall was built in honor of Wang Yangming. Xia Yan and Yan Song were opposed to this faction, and in 1537 many academies were prohibited.
After 1534 the Emperor rarely had court audiences but relied on close advisors. In 1540 Jiajing announced he was going into seclusion to pursue immortality with Daoist aphrodisiacs and elixirs; an official who warned that they were dangerous was tortured to death. In 1542 the drunk Jiajing was nearly strangled to death by women in his harem; but he survived and had all the women involved executed. That year Xia Yan refused to wear a Daoist cap and gown and was pushed into retirement as Yan Song gained control of the grand secretariat. He got a censor beaten to death who had previously accused him of taking bribes. Building programs and military expenditures strained the treasury, but in 1543 the Emperor agreed to give up some of his private revenues to pay for defense.
During a famine in 1541 Mongol Prince Altan was denied trading because of annual raiding, and grain was sent to the garrisons at Datong and Xuanfu. After Altan learned that a Ming subject he sent as an envoy had been executed as a traitor, he invaded Shanxi. About 30,000 Ming cavalry could not stop them. In one month in 1542 Altan's Mongols killed or captured 200,000 men and took a million head of cattle and horses, burning thousands of dwellings and devastating farmland. Under Weng Wanda from 1542 to 1550 the Datong region was well defended by the building of walls, military discipline, and spying among the Mongols to gain intelligence, though there was raiding. In 1548 the Mongols attacked and defeated the imperial army at Xuanfu, and that year in a controversy on whether to invade the Ordos region Yan Song got Xia Yan put to death for insubordination.
In October 1550 Altan's Mongols besieged Beijing and looted the suburbs. Emperor Jiajing held his first audience since 1539, and the minister of war was executed. In April 1551 Prince Altan sent his adopted son Toghto, and they agreed to stop raiding for two annual horse fairs; but later when they were not allowed to trade cattle and sheep for beans and grain, the raiding resumed. Chinese rebels helped Altan take part of Shanxi in 1552. Construction of a wall to protect the suburbs of Beijing was begun in 1553. For the next two decades raids were made annually along the northern border. Altan Khan invaded Zinghai in 1559, but he made a peace treaty with the Ming court in 1570 that was effective after 1573. Altan conquered the Kirghis and Kazakhs in 1572, and he invaded Tibet for five years beginning in 1573. The third Grand Lama of the Yellow Sect visited Altan Khan in 1578 and called upon the Mongols to give up their shamanism for Lamaism, and Altan Khan was the one who gave him the title Dalai Lama from the Mongol word dalai meaning "ocean."
In 1549 influence had been concentrated in the director of ceremonial, and in 1552 a palace army was established under his jurisdiction. The Emperor's Daoist advisor, Tao Zhongwen, kept him from dismissing Yan Song. In 1552 Emperor Jiajing had 800 girls under the age of fourteen selected so that he could have intercourse with them at the first instance of menses in order to absorb the yang (male energy) from their yin (female energy). In 1555 he selected another 180 under the age of ten to experiment with the elixir. These experiments were practiced by other wealthy men, especially in the south, but not on this scale.
The Ming court officially allowed Japanese tribute (trade) only once per decade; but after Wang Zhi led a major mission to Japan in 1545, illicit private trade became common. In 1547 Zhu Wan was sent to stop overseas trade as the cause of piracy, and in 1549 he attacked a large merchant fleet off Fujian and executed 96 captives but was dismissed that year. In 1551 even fishing boats were forbidden to go out to sea. The next year Shandong governor Wang Yu was put in charge and released Zhu Wan's imprisoned commanders; but his army was often defeated as raiders took over twenty cities and garrisons. In 1555 Hangzhou was attacked, and thousands were massacred in the countryside while Nanjing minister of war Zhang Jing was raising an army of aborigines. That May, Zhang's imperial army took 1900 heads of marauders. Zhao Wenhua opposed this policy, and Yan Song got the Emperor to behead Zhang Jing in November 1555.
Wang Zhi offered to wipe out the pirates in exchange for a pardon and permission to trade; but he was ignored. The aborigines, which Zhang had recruited, pillaged and attacked imperial troops. Hu Zongxian was given supreme command and promised the rebel Xu Hai a pardon for surrendering, and Xu Hai's forces began campaigning against pirates. Zhao Wenhua repudiated Hu's policy of appeasement and forced Xu Hai to surrender; Xu Hai escaped but drowned in a battle. Yan Song got Zhao dismissed but could not get Wang Zhi pardoned even after Wang surrendered to Hu. The Emperor had Wang executed in 1559. The war against the pirates receded when their last base on the Fujian coast was taken in 1563.
A fiscal deficit caused Emperor Jiajing in 1552 to impose a surtax of two million ounces of silver on the wealthy prefectures of the Yangzi delta. The next year drought and flooding caused thousands of people to flock to Beijing for food; but the price of rice had doubled, and decaying bodies of starved people in the streets caused an epidemic in 1554. When ceremonial buildings in the Forbidden City burned down in 1557, much money was used to rebuild them. This construction had not yet been completed when the drunken Emperor carelessly caused his own palace to burn down in 1561. The price of rice had risen so high in Nanjing that soldiers learning their supplemental rations had been cut in 1560 rioted. Stipends for imperial clansmen fell behind, and in 1564 the Emperor solved the problem by reducing them all to commoners. Yan Song turned eighty in 1560 and became so feeble that he was dismissed in 1562. Emperor Jiajing suffered insomnia and varying moods because of the poisons in the elixirs he took. His mental abilities decreased in 1565, and after a long decline he finally died in January 1567. His banning of maritime trade had caused piracy and rebellions, and the failure to obtain revenue from commercial taxes strained the economy of the empire, placing extra burdens on the farmers and resulting in famines.
Emperor Longqing (r. 1567-72) presided over a tranquil period and was more concerned with spectacular ceremonies than politics. His young son Emperor Wanli or Shenzong (r. 1572-1620) was influenced by his Buddhist mother not to inflict the death penalty except in extreme cases. For a decade his tutor and grand secretary, Zhang Juzheng, governed with great skill, increasing the imperial treasury and maintaining an armed peace on the borders. Unnecessary government programs were suspended, and provincial officials were ordered to reduce greatly their labor service requirements. Back taxes were collected as tax delinquents were prosecuted. A variety of separate taxes were combined together into a single tax. Magistrates, wanting to be promoted, had to make sure taxes were collected and bandits were caught.
When Zhang Juzheng's father died in 1577, Confucian tradition called for him to take off 27 months for mourning; but he got the 14-year-old Emperor to give him leave from this mourning. This caused a storm of protest over this religious issue. Zhang hated philosophical discussions; in 1579 after a local prefect collected money wrongfully for an independent academy, he had many academies closed down. In the next two years 64 academies in the south had been reported changed or abolished, but five remained. In 1580 Zhang ordered an imperial land survey, but he died before it was completed. After his death, Zhang was accused of living in luxury, taking bribes, granting his sons favors, silencing public opinion, deceiving the Emperor, and even conspiring with eunuch Feng Bao to take over the throne. All this made Wanli become cynical about politicians' hypocrisy.
The Ming court did end the ban on foreign trade in 1567. The Portuguese had been at Macao since 1557; China tried to keep them insulated by building a wall there in 1574. The Portuguese were allowed to buy goods at Guangzhou (Canton) after 1578. In 1582 Liu Ting led a punitive campaign into Burma and defeated them again two years later; but in the next decade the Burmans would invade Yunnan. In 1592 a small revolt led by the Mongol Pubei and his son, a Chinese officer, resulted in their deaths. The Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) arrived at Zhaoqing in the Guangdong province in 1583, made it to Nanjing by 1595, and in 1601 settled at Beijing. He learned Chinese and dressed like a Buddhist monk but then changed to the habit of a Confucian scholar. In his journal Ricci observed that upper class Chinese sought enlightenment rather than faith, while the peasants worshiped idols and were superstitious. Ricci taught the Chinese the latest discoveries in world geography and astronomy. He wrote books in Chinese, and in 1603 he published his Christian explanation of God as The True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven. He became the Chinese tutelary deity for the clocks the Jesuits introduced. Ricci opposed the Buddhist theory of reincarnation and disagreed with Zhuhong's vegetarianism, arguing that animals were created for the benefit of humans.
In 1592 the Japanese invaded the Korean peninsula and marching north took Seoul and Pyongyang. A small Chinese force of 5,000 was sent and was defeated but gained a truce. The next year a Ming army of 43,000 crossed the Yalu River and drove the Japanese army out of Pyongyang but was defeated outside of Seoul. They agreed upon another truce, and the Chinese left a force of 16,000 men. In 1597 the Japanese army pushed forward, and China sent a force of perhaps 100,000. Once again the battlefront stabilized before the Japanese retreated south for the winter. The Koreans and Chinese had raised powerful navies, and in 1598 the Japanese withdrew except for some fierce Satsuma warriors. When Emperor Wanli learned that Shogun Hideyoshi Toyotomi had died, both sides withdrew from the war that cost China 10,000,000 taels (tael = 1.75 ounces of silver). In 1603 eunuch envoys went searching for gold in the Philippines; but after they left, fears of an invasion led to armed conflict in which Spaniards and Filipino natives massacred 23,000 Chinese. Silver taken by the Spaniards from mines in America had become so plentiful in China that it became the main currency.
Criticized after 1585 for his negligence and impropriety, Emperor Wanli had the protesting and informing officials beaten. About 2,000 eunuchs and 3,000 women served on the palace staff, and the imperial civil service had about 16,000 eunuchs. In 1587 some 3,000 peasants in Shandong had become bandits. Bureaucrats were further alienated when Wanli sent out eunuchs in 1596 as tax collectors and mining commissioners. Rioters killed a eunuch superintendent of mining in Yunnan province in 1606; though they lost good will, the mining revenues supplied the treasury. The Emperor usually responded to criticism by not cooperating. He left many departments understaffed, except those for collecting revenue. By 1604 about half the magistracies and ministerial positions were vacant. Wanli also managed to increase his private treasury at the expense of the government. He spent 12,000,000 taels supporting princes and 9,000,000 taels rebuilding palaces. Wanli's marriage ceremony alone cost 90,000 taels. Wanli's tomb took six years to build and was completed in 1590, costing about 3,000,000 taels. The Jia canal project was begun in 1593 but was not completed until 1609. Eunuch tax collectors used hoodlums to shake down people in Suzhou so badly that the silk workers formed two groups and went around beating tax collectors to death in July 1601. Ge Xian volunteered to take responsibility for starting the riot and after a trial was sent to prison.
The disregard of the Emperor allowed factionalism to increase in the Ming court. A group of former officials and scholars not in offices concerned about moral Confucian traditions founded the Donglin Academy in 1604. They believed that the techniques of bureaucratic tinkering could no longer bring the needed improvements that they hoped fresh moral evaluations could. Evaluations of officials took place every six years, and by 1611 many of the anti-Donglin advocates were being removed.
The Buddhist Yuan Liaofan (1533-1606) popularized the Daoist idea of merits and demerits in his book Record of Silent Recompense, published in 1602. Based on the principle of karma, this was intended to encourage people to be loving, respectful, sympathetic, helpful, charitable, self-sacrificing to help others, and to set a good example. The Buddhist monk Zhuhong (1535-1615) analyzed all deeds with a system of merits and demerits into categories with points. For example, under altruistic and compassionate deeds rescuing a person from the death penalty was worth 100 merits; helping a sick person on the road return home or saving the life of a domesticated animal was 20; rescuing one from bambooing was 15; helping one recover from a serious illness was 10, from a slight illness 5; and offering medicine or saving a small animal was one merit. Not helping a sick person was 2 demerits, and killing a person was 100 demerits. The idea that the children would suffer if a person's demerits were more than their merits was a Daoist concept, because the Buddhist idea of karma only affects oneself. Some believed that if their merits reached 10,000, their wishes would be fulfilled. Other Buddhists criticized that this mechanical system went against the bodhisattva ideal of helping for its own sake.
Zhuhong was also a leader in harmonizing the different Buddhist schools, especially the popular Pure Land and Chan (Zen), and he helped to develop the lay movement in Buddhism that encouraged many people to practice Buddhist teachings without becoming priests or monks. During the Ming era many Confucians were influenced by Buddhism and Daoism as people became more eclectic in their spirituality. Zhuhong was the friend and teacher of the poet Yuan Hongdao and his brothers. Their clubs for releasing life would purchase animals from butchers and free them to gain merit.
The population of China was counted at about 60 million in
1393 but grew to about 230 million in 1600 as prosperity gradually
increased. More families had joined the middle class as industry
and commerce developed along with agriculture. Their sons could
be educated and hope to pass examinations for civil service employment,
which became the usual path to a political career. One could work
up from the lower ranks of the civil service; but this became
less likely as education spread after 1440. Yet this growing landed
class tended to manipulate the complicated tax system to their
advantage, leaving the heaviest burdens on the poor peasants,
who became increasingly subservient to the landlords. Often people
just moved to avoid the heavy taxes, and much of the population
shifted from the south to the north, which became so deforested
that wood had to be imported from other regions. The north was
also dependent on the south for food transported up the Grand
Canal. Large industries developed in cotton and silk weaving and
in iron and steel production. The Ming dynasty is famous for the
high quality of its porcelain. By the end of the 16th century
Jiangxi alone had thirty paper factories with 50,000 workers.
Tea was another important export that helped the balance of trade.
The Manchu leader Nurhaci was born in 1559 in the Jianzhou tribe among the Jurchens. His father and grandfather secretly cooperated with the Chinese before the invasion of Atai in 1582, but they were mistakenly killed during the assault. To gain revenge Nurhaci championed the Manchu cause and was attacked by the Liaodong governor in 1587. Nurhaci made alliances with other Jurchens by marrying two of their princesses. After he rescued some kidnapped Chinese and returned them in 1589, Emperor Wanli granted him a title. He took tribute to Beijing four times. Nurhaci gained a monopoly over the Chinese trade of pearls, sable, and ginseng. By the time of the campaign against Japan in 1592, he led an army of about 35,000 cavalry and 45,000 infantry. In 1599 he had scholars replace the Mongolian script with the Jurchen alphabet. Nurhaci organized the Jurchen people into companies of three hundred households and four banners of fifty companies. Eventually there would be eight Manchu banners, eight Mongol banners, and eight Chinese banners. He made an agreement with Ming generals in Liaodong on their boundaries in 1603, and Manchu territory was closed to Chinese immigration. Nurhaci executed his brother Surhaci in 1611 and his son Cuyen in 1613.
Nurhaci sent his last tribute payment to Beijing in 1615. He annexed all the Manchu tribes except the Yehe and Haixi, and in 1618 he announced his seven grievances, which included his father's death, Ming aid to his tribal rivals, and encroachment by Chinese settlers. He demanded that territory be ceded and annual tribute be paid in gold, silver, and silk. The Ming court could not accept this and appointed Yang Hao as supreme commander of a campaign in 1619. The Chinese army was larger but was divided into four parts. Du Song led 25,000 men through the Fushun Pass, but they were ambushed and defeated by 30,000 Mongols. Nurhaci won a series of victories, captured Kaiyuan, and killed Ma Lin. He entered Tieling and annexed the remaining Jurchen tribes. By 1621 he was ruling a million Chinese, but two years later they started fires, tried to poison Manchu water and food, and then revolted. This caused the Manchus to stop treating the Chinese as equals. The Chinese got cannons from the Portuguese to defend their garrisons outside the Great Wall, while the Manchus lacked firearms. In 1625 the Chinese revolted again, and the Manchus raised taxes on the Chinese from 13 percent of the harvest to 20 percent. Manchus were required to carry weapons, and the Chinese were forbidden to do so. Using cannons, the Ming army inflicted a major defeat on the Manchus in 1626; Nurhaci was wounded in battle and died at Shenyang, which he had renamed Mukden and made his capital. Economic hardship resulted in famine for the next two years.
In 1620 thousands deserted the Chinese army, and the Ming court raised taxes. The influx of silver from Japan and the Philippines' trade with Mexico and Peru had enabled them to collect taxes in silver instead of by land taxes and labor service, but Ming spending increased even more. While the Manchus were raiding Chinese settlements in Liaodong, Wanli died in August 1620. Zhu Changle became emperor for the brief Taichang era and released two million taels for border defense. In September he appointed several reformers from the Donglin Academy movement, but he soon fell ill and died from suspicious medical treatment.
In October 1620 Zhu Yuzhao became Emperor Tianqi, though his reign did not officially begin until January. This young Emperor was obsessed by his hobby of carpentry and let others run the government. His nurse, the Lady Ko, got the eunuch Wei Zhongxian appointed to the office of rites, and in 1621 censor Wang Xini protested the gifts and honors the Emperor conferred upon these two. That summer the eunuch Wang An, a Donglin supporter, was murdered, and others close to him were dismissed. Wei Zhongxian needed to pay gambling debts and accepted bribes. He extorted taxes from the provinces and dismissed patriotic generals. In 1622 the Emperor closed the Donglin Academy; even the moderate Zuo Yuanbiao had to resign because he had promoted philosophical discussions. This led to conflicts between the extremes of both factions. In 1624 Donglin leader Yang Lian accused Wei of murders, usurping imperial authority, intriguing against ministers, and forcing the Empress to have an abortion. Wei reacted by proscribing seven hundred in the Donglin movement, and some were imprisoned, tortured, and executed, including Yang Lian and five others who became known as heroic martyrs.
A decrease in silver imports from America reduced Chinese trade with Manila and depressed Fujian's economy. A White Lotus uprising began in 1622 and was led by Xu Hongru. He blocked the Grand Canal and captured fifty imperial grain barges headed toward Beijing, but by November the imperial forces had regained the cities taken by the rebels; Xu Hongru and other leaders were executed. Also in 1622 a Dutch fleet of eight ships attacked the Portuguese colony at Macao and then withdrew to the Pescadores Islands in the Taiwan Strait. The Dutch sent an envoy to ask for trading privileges and threatened to disrupt Chinese trade with the Spaniards and Portuguese, but the Fujian governor ordered them to dismantle their fort and leave. The Chinese attacked them in 1624, and the Dutch retreated to Taiwan.
After Tianqi died in 1627, his 16-year-old brother became Emperor Chongzhen. The eunuch Wei Zhongxian was denounced and demoted. Learning he was to be arrested and investigated, Wei hanged himself. Two dozen people, including Lady Ko and her relatives, were executed or committed suicide. Han Kuang returned as chief grand secretary, and other Donglin ministers published a blacklist of Wei's associates. In 1628 the leading smuggler, Zheng Zhilong surrendered and helped rid the Fujian and Zhejiang coasts of pirates. Trade resumed, and in 1632 the silver coming into China from Manila surpassed two million pesos. In the northwest the Shaanxi province suffered famine in 1628, and three years later Li Zicheng joined the bandits and began raiding the Henan and Sichuan provinces.
Surhaci's son Amin led the Manchu invasion of Korea in 1627 and allowed his forces to pillage the countryside despite the decision of the other leaders. Nurhaci was succeeded by his eighth son, Abahai (Hong Taiji), in December 1629, and the next month the Manchus took over Guan near Beijing. Amin disobeyed the khan by massacring the population of Yongping, for which he was imprisoned. In 1631 Abahai's forces surrounded the Dalinghe fort, which was starved into surrendering. Abahai imitated Ming administration and recruited Chinese officials, and in 1632 he abolished the law that required people to report misconduct by their own family. After the Wuqiao revolt, Kong Youde's regiment surrendered to the Manchus, who gained the firearms and experts that they turned to their advantage. In 1633 Abahai allowed Chinese, Manchus, and Mongols to take civil service examinations in their own languages. By 1635 the Manchus had made the tribes of Inner Mongolia their vassals under Mongol banners.
Ming military defeats caused turmoil at court, and Zhou Yenru and Wen Tiren removed some of the Donglin partisans. Once again unpopular eunuchs were sent out to inspect the provinces. Drought and famine led to rebellions in northern and central China. Increased military costs brought higher taxes, and many farmers could not pay in silver. Spain sharply reduced the silver exports from America. The influence of Wen Tiren grew until 1637 when he tried to arrest Qian Qiani on false charges; but the Donglin faction got him dismissed. Ming commander Yang He had been removed in 1631 and died four years later. After the mourning period, in 1637 his son Yang Sichang became minister of war. In 1636 Abahai had overcome his political rivals and at Mukden named the Manchu dynasty Qing, meaning "pure." He invaded Korea, which capitulated to the Manchus in early 1637. The next year the Manchu armies ravaged Bei Zhili and Shandong, attacking sixty cities and returning with 400,000 captives. Abahai founded Office of Border Affairs for dealing with other nations. Chinese troops in the Manchu army were organized under their first banner in 1630; by 1639 they had four banners and reached eight in 1642 when one out of three Chinese was a soldier. Devastating war destroyed grain and prevented Korea from being able to send its tribute; by 1640 it could only pay one-tenth its quota.
After the Henan drought in 1639, scholars helped Li Zicheng spread songs and stories, distribute food to the hungry, and appoint officials to run a government. Li's rival Zhang Xianzhong had been raiding in northern China since 1630, and in 1638 he negotiated with the Ming commander Xiong Wencan; but the next year Zhang repudiated his agreement and defeated imperial forces. Famine brought more recruits to Li Zicheng, who captured Luoyang in 1641. Meanwhile Zhang defeated Yang Sichang, who committed suicide. Factions at court agreed on the return of Zhou Yenru as chief grand secretary. In the 1640s China's trade with the Philippines stopped, and 20,000 Chinese died in violent conflicts there. Rice was for sale in southeastern China; but many starved because it was too expensive. Li Zicheng besieged Kaifeng three times, and in 1642 starvation, disease, and a flood killed several hundred thousand people. That year Ming defenses north of the Great Wall collapsed. In 1643 Li made Xiangyang his capital and governed much of Hubei, Henan, and Shaanxi. After Abahai died in 1643, a Manchu succession struggle resulted in his five-year-old son becoming emperor with the boy's uncles Dorgon and Jirgalang as regents.
Zhou Yenru left Beijing and claimed he drove away the Manchus, who had withdrawn north of the Great Wall; Zhou Yenru was arrested, charged with corruption, and committed suicide in January 1644. Li Zicheng invaded Shanxi and in April occupied Beijing, as the last Ming emperor Chongzhen hanged himself. The Ming army had not been paid for five months, and the granaries were nearly empty. Li disciplined his troops by executing looters. However, Ming officials were tortured until Li stopped this. Eventually his soldiers went after the merchants and looted shops and homes. The Chinese general Wu Sangui joined the Manchus and helped them defeat the forces of Li on May 29. Li proclaimed himself Shun emperor on June 3 but left before Dorgon's Manchu army entered Beijing two days later. The new Qing dynasty immediately announced a general amnesty for former officials and scholars. Li Zicheng fled and was killed by peasants a year later. In 1644 Zhang Xianzhong invaded Sichuan with about 100,000 men, taking Zhongging and Chengdu and establishing a government under military authority. His plundering caused a slave uprising. However, his army slaughtered so many people that they lost support, and the Manchus killed Zhang in 1647.
Some Confucians during the Yuan dynasty disdained serving the Mongol empire and retired to reclusive lives of scholarship and private teaching. In the early Ming period Neo-Confucians served the administration, and they were still strongly influenced by the great Song Confucians Cheng Yi and Zhu Xi. Xue Xuan (1389-1464) won the highest degree in 1421 and became an official; he was almost executed by a eunuch in 1443. Xue Xuan promoted the teachings of Zhu Xi because he believed that all that was necessary now was to put those teachings into practice. Wu Yubi (1391-1469) refused to serve the imperial administration even though he was asked to tutor the crown prince. Wu Yubi wanted to spend the rest of his life studying the Book of Changes (Yi Jing). Hu Juren (1434-84) considered Cheng's emphasis on reverence most important. He believed that reverence purified and illuminated the mind, helping it to exercise control and that it included both movement and stillness, the inner and the outer.
Zhan Ruoshui (1463-1557) followed the line of teaching that
came from Zhu Xi through Wu Yubi. He served as an official from
1505 to 1540 and attained high positions in the ministries of
rites, military, and personnel. He opened a school in 1517 and
taught by the methods of reading the classics, group study, and
sitting meditation. He wrote that the conditioned mind could be
melted away, because its habits are only the result of external
circumstances. As gold is smelted a hundred times before it is
pure, so the mind must be refined a hundred times before it is
illuminated. Liu Nan (1479-1542) took first place in the highest
exams of 1501. He was removed from office three times because
of his moral stands, but he was able to keep his mentor Zhan Ruoshui
from being persecuted and stopped attempts to ban the writings
of Wang Yangming. He wrote that people may lose their minds because
of wealth and profit or food and drink or fine clothing or luxurious
houses or power and position. To regain their minds they must
go back to where they lost them. Xia Shangpu attained the highest
degree in 1511 and rose to a high position in the government.
Yet he warned that craving high rank and wealth could separate
one from humanity. He complained that too many people sought only
profit and made fun of humanity and justice; but he argued that
being devoted to humanity and justice instead of profit is most
The philosopher Wang Yangming, whose private name was Wang Shouren, was born in 1472. His father was a scholar and minister of civil personnel in Nanjing. When the boy was eleven, they moved to Beijing and lived there five years. Wang's mother died when he was 13. He married when he was 17, though he considered going to a Daoist retreat to seek immortality. Wang passed the second degree exams when he was 21; but he tried twice and failed to attain the highest degree before he ranked second in the exams of 1499. He was employed in the public works department. Wang wrote a memorial suggesting eight means of defense against nomadic aggression in the northwest. His memo began as follows:
I respectfully submit eight emergency measures
for your consideration, namely:
building up a reservoir of personnel for emergency use,
overlooking defects and utilizing excellences,
reducing the army to save expenses,
carrying on military farming to provide sufficient food,
enforcing the law to inspire awe toward the government,
showing imperial kindness
to arouse indignation against the enemy,
sacrificing the small in order to preserve the great,
and using a strong defense
in order to take advantage of the enemy's defects.1
Wang's ideas made him well known, and he was appointed to the department of justice in Yunnan, where he investigated and reversed many convictions. Practical experience made him realize the folly of his previous flowery rhetoric and of some errors in Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism. When the eunuch Liu Qin usurped power in 1506 and put protesting officials in prison, Wang wrote a memo in their defense. For this he was given forty strokes and banished to Longchang, where Miao tribes lived. On the way there Wang visited his father and had to throw away his clothes to suggest suicide in order to escape Liu Qin's assassins.
In exile in 1509, Wang Yangming declared his doctrine of the unity of knowledge and action. The next year he was transferred to be a magistrate and was promoted to the justice department in Nanjing and from there to higher positions in personnel at Beijing. In 1512 he went back to Nanjing as junior lord of imperial stables, and two years later he was made senior lord of ceremonies. Wang's fame spread, and he gained disciples. In 1516 Wang was named senior censor and was assigned to govern the region bordering Guangdong, Jiangxi, and Fujian, where bandits and rebels were flourishing. He implemented a detailed ten-family registration system so that outlaws could not hide in people's homes. He reorganized the armed forces and restored social order, putting down the rebellions so that he could establish primary schools in Jiangxi by 1518. He exhorted people to do good and help each other, and he warned against the troubles of litigation. The elders should teach the young, and he sent gifts of cloth to elders and leaders. In one area he petitioned to form a new county.
Wang wrote a detailed plan for a community compact to help people become united in harmony. They were to elect a chief and assistants. A record book should display good deeds, and in another book bad deeds could be reported but in obscure and gentle language. Violators should be urged to reform; only when they fail to reform should they be punished. Poor debtors who cannot repay should be treated liberally, and interest should not be compounded.
Wang Yangming was promoted to right assistant censor and instituted his community compact. On his way to suppress a rebellion in Fujian in the summer of 1519, Prince Ning rebelled. Wang managed to capture the Prince after ten days of fighting, and he was made governor of Jiangxi, where he implemented more reforms. Wang's earlier registration system may not have been effective, because in 1520 he issued instructions that emphasized persuasion more than restrictions. He was unpopular at the court of Emperor Zhengde, because they wanted credit for capturing the Prince. When Jiajing became Emperor, Wang was appointed minister of military affairs at Nanjing, though he still had enemies. He was given honors and titles but actually lived in retirement and was used only for advice and planning. His father died in 1522, and he stayed home mourning. His philosophy of extending innate knowledge won over many followers, though his teachings were sometimes prohibited. In 1527 Wang was summoned as left censor to help suppress rebellions in Guangxi. In 1528 he restored order and established schools. His health was declining, and Wang Yangming died on January 10, 1529.
After his death Wang Yangming's hereditary privileges were revoked, and he was condemned for not respecting ancient traditions and for putting forth strange ideas, particularly for opposing Zhu Xi's theory on investigating things. Some scholars who protested were dismissed or banished. Only when the next Emperor came to power in 1567 were his titles and honors reinstated, and in 1584 imperial decree allowed the rare honor of sacrifices to Wang Yangming in the Confucian temple. His followers spread all over China, and his philosophy was the most influential until the end of the Ming dynasty.
The longest work of Wang Yangming's teachings, Instructions for Practical Living, was published in 1524 and presents dialogs between his students and Wang, the teacher. Wang Yangming's philosophy is idealistic. He taught that the highest good is the original substance of the mind which manifests clear character by refinement and singleness of mind. As an idealist he did not separate the mind from events and things. The mind is principle, and there is nothing in the world that is outside of the mind. When the mind is freed of selfish desires, then it embodies the principle of heaven (nature). From this comes ethical action.
When the mind is free from the obscuration of selfish desires,
it is the embodiment of the principle of nature (heaven),
which requires not an iota added from the outside.
When this mind, which has become
completely identical with the principle of nature (heaven),
is applied and arises to serve parents, there is filial piety;
when it arises to serve the ruler, there is loyalty;
when it arises to deal with friends or to govern the people,
there are faithfulness and humanity.
The main thing is for the mind to make an effort
to get rid of selfish human desires
and preserve the principle of nature (heaven).2
Wang Yangming accepted that knowledge could be separated from action by selfish desires; but there have never been those who truly know and do not act, for those who think they know and do not act do not really know. He argued that knowledge is the direction of action, and action is the effort of knowledge. Knowledge is the beginning, and action is the completion. Those who act blindly or erroneously obviously do not know, while those with vague theories often are not willing to practice them. Wang believed that our nature is the basis of the mind, and heaven is the source of our nature. We develop our nature by exerting our mind. Unlike Zhu Xi, Wang Yangming believed that sincerity of will is more important than investigating things, because the sincerity of will is what corrects the investigation of things. Wang taught that to investigate is to rectify. He found that disorder in the world is the result of popular literature and the declining practice of moral values. He taught that the principle of history is to distinguish good from evil so that instructions can be given for doing good and warnings for avoiding evil. Wang found activity and tranquility both useful. The actual affairs of life are what train and polish us so that we can stand firm and remain calm.
To eliminate selfish desires Wang Yangming recommended sitting in meditation to stop those thoughts and practicing self-examination and self-mastery to cast them out. Too much sitting in meditation he found made his students too fond of tranquility and disgusted with action and so lifeless. He developed the idea of extending innate knowledge to apply to both tranquility and action. When evil desires are eradicated, there is nothing to think about; the mind becomes clear, and the will sincere. If you eliminate all thoughts of sex, wealth, fame, and so on, there will be nothing but the original substance of the mind in equilibrium and impartial. When these selfish desires are cleaned up and wiped out, one identifies with the principle of heaven with a broad and balanced mind that is the foundation of virtue.
The mind of the sage considers heaven, earth, and all things as one body and all people of the world as brothers and children. The sage wants to secure, preserve, educate, and nourish all as forming one body with all things. This is the original nature of the mind; but it becomes obstructed by selfishness and blocked by material desires, making it small. Wang believed that the poison of success and profit has infected human minds for thousands of years and has become a second nature. People have boasted, crushed each other with power, competed for profit, and striven for superiority with skill. Those who follow this doctrine of selfishness consider sages and innate knowledge as useless. Yet the principle of heaven in the human mind can never be destroyed, and the intelligence of innate knowledge shines forever.
Wang Yangming believed that to nourish life one must have a pure heart and that the original substance of the mind is joyful. In educating the young he recommended teaching filial piety, brotherly respect, loyalty, faithfulness, propriety, justice, integrity, and a sense of shame. Children love to play and dislike restriction; they should be allowed to sprout and grow like plants so that they can develop. He complained that those emphasizing intelligence more than nourishing goodness tend to beat the students and treat them like prisoners so that pupils come to think of their school as a prison and their teachers as enemies. Thus they avoid education, deceive, and cheat to indulge in mischief. To avoid these evil results, Wang put forward his program of school regulations. Every day teachers should ask students if they have been negligent in loving their parents or respecting elders or whether their words have been deceitful and disrespectful. They must answer honestly and correct their mistakes. After examining their moral conduct, they may study their lessons. Wang recommended singing and practicing courtesy in their demeanor. Reading should emphasize learning well, not quantity. It is better to investigate every phrase thoroughly than to try to do too much.
Wang believed that all people have innate knowledge, but only the sage preserves it completely and keeps free from obscuration by being careful continuously. Wang came to think of innate knowledge as the spirit of creation. He warned against the defect of pride and believed that the selfless are naturally humble. Thus he considered humility the basis of virtue, and pride the chief vice. He criticized Buddhists for not caring about the relationships between father and son, ruler and minister, or husband and wife. Yet Confucians must learn not to be attached to these relations. Sometimes Wang noted that concepts of good and evil can perturb the mind; for things change, and sometimes a plant one thought was a weed can become useful and good. Thus one should not be attached to particular distinctions of good and evil. Yet his primary philosophy is that the principle of the highest good is what guides the mind to rectify things and benefit people. His disciples divided and formed several different sects. Some, like Wang Ji, argued that their teacher held to no distinction between good and evil, and this one-sided interpretation caused many to criticize the philosophy of Wang Yangming as corrupted by Buddhism. Wang Yangming's ideas were summarized as follows:
In the original substance of the mind
there is no distinction between good and evil.
When the will becomes active, however, such distinction exists.
The faculty of innate knowledge is to know good and evil.
The investigation of things is to do good and remove evil.3
Some consider Wang Yangming's short "Inquiry on the Great Learning" his most important work. The title of the short Confucian classic Da Xue can also be translated as Higher Education or Learning of the Great. Wang's "Inquiry" was published in 1527 before he left on his last campaign to suppress a rebellion. It summarizes his teachings. The great consider all things one body, the world one family, the country one person. Those who divide oneself from others are small persons. The functioning of the state as one body is put into operation by loving the people. Wang wrote,
The highest good is the ultimate principle
of manifesting character and loving people.
The nature endowed in us by heaven is pure and perfect.
The fact that it is intelligent, clear, and not beclouded
is evidence of the emanation and revelation of the highest good.
It is the original substance of the clear character
which is called innate knowledge of the good.
As the highest good emanates and reveals itself,
we will consider right as right and wrong as wrong.
Things of greater or less importance
and situations of grave or light character
will be responded to as they act upon us.
In all our changes and movements,
we will stick to no particular point,
but possess in ourselves the mean that is perfectly natural.4
Wang Yangming criticized some Buddhists and Daoists for not
living in the highest good but being lost in illusions of emptiness
and quietness and not participating in the work of the family,
the state, and the world. Others are not living in the highest
good because their minds sink to base and trifling things; they
are lost in scheming strategies and cunning techniques and lack
sincere humanity. People fail to realize that the highest good
is within but seek it outside in individual things. This fragments
and isolates the mind in confusion without definite direction.
Wang's concept of innate knowledge of the good is similar to the
view of Mencius that the sense of right and wrong is common to
all humans. The extension of knowledge comes from investigating
things, but for Wang this means correcting things with the sincere
will. Like modern physicists, Wang believed that the only real
things are events, but he also held that the sincere will can
shape events for the highest good.
Li Zhi (1527-1602) passed the provincial exams in 1552 but declined to take the metropolitan exam and entered the civil service at a low rank. All but one of his seven children died young, two of his daughters from malnutrition probably during the rebellions and pirate wars of the 1550s when the price of grain was very high. When his father died in 1560, he resigned to mourn; he withdrew from the Imperial College in 1564 after his grandfather died. Two years later he became a secretary in the ministry of rites at Beijing. He studied Buddhism and the teachings of Wang Yangming, and during the 1570s at Nanjing he met Wang Ji. After three years as prefect of Yunnan he retired in 1580. After being a typical civil servant, Li Zhi began an extraordinary career as an eccentric writer. He lived for four years with the Geng brothers, but he criticized them and moved on. He sent his wife to her former home and moved into a Buddhist community in 1585 at Macheng. He shaved his head and dressed like a monk; but he was not ordained and kept his beard like a Confucian. He denounced the hypocrisy of Confucian bureaucrats and espoused an extreme moral relativism that encouraged every individual to follow one's own ideas of good and evil no matter how bizarre.
In 1590 Li Zhi published his letters, poems, and other writings under the title A Book to Burn, and in 1599 he published A Book to Conceal. His writings were very popular and controversial. He suggested that each person should determine one's own values and not be dependent on any outside authorities. He wrote,
Yesterday's right is today's wrong.
Today's wrong is right again tomorrow.
Even if Confucius reappeared today,
there is no means of knowing
how he would judge right and wrong,
so how can we arbitrarily judge everything
as if there were a fixed standard?"5
Li Zhi went against most Chinese philosophers when he urged individuals to follow their own desires instead of conventional moral judgments. He denied that women are inferior to men in intelligence, and he encouraged everyone to express their own ideas. He praised the courage of the reformer Zhang Juzheng, and he was upset by his downfall. Yet he accepted that if Emperor Wanli was oppressive, the people have to bear it. Li argued that ethics was only connected to food and clothing; he dismissed talk about virtue as hypocritical, and he thought devotion to ritual was a waste. The Buddhist community at Macheng was attacked in 1596, but Li was able to defend the hall as a licensed religious establishment. Then he traveled for four years before returning to Macheng.
Some have argued that Li Zhi took Wang Yangming's idea of innate moral knowing to an extreme, and he was criticized for opposing Yangming in suggesting that alcohol, sex, wealth, and anger do not block enlightenment. In 1600 a mob, angry over his radical ideas about sexuality and social mores, destroyed the Buddhist refuge where Li Zhi was staying. He fled to the north near Beijing and was taken in by a retired censor. Li was accused of slandering Confucius and of shameful personal behavior. To keep from contaminating the capital and having his books burned, Li Zhi fled again toward Fujian; but he was arrested. He was allowed to read and write, and he was going to be sent back to Fujian; but one day he requested a razor and cut his own throat, asking what else could a man over seventy do. He died two days later.
The poet Gao Qi was born at Suzhou in 1336. He became the leader of ten friends he wrote about; but during the rebellions in 1360 he apparently served Zhang Shicheng, who was grand marshal for the Mongols in Suzhou. His poetry mocked those without talent who curry favor with the powerful but fall into disgrace. However, in 1363 Zhang Shicheng declared himself a rebel. Gao Qi wrote an essay based on the ideas of Sun-zi on how to discipline and use military forces. He described four kinds of ministers who are indispensable to the state, namely, loyal officials who deter enemy states from attacking, perceptive officials who understand the secrets of cosmic balance and know appropriate policies, remonstrating officials who dare to inform the ruler of errors without fear of sycophants or a tyrannical ruler, and officials who uphold the law without serving special interests or bowing to pressure. Yet Gao Qi thought he lacked the ability for politics and took up the humble calling of a country teacher. In 1365 he moved back into the city of Suzhou, and for the next two years he could rarely leave because of Zhang Shicheng being besieged there.
As Emperor Hongwu founded the Ming dynasty, most of Gao Qi's friends were banished. He faced heavy taxes, but Gao Qi stayed in Suzhou and escaped punishment. In 1369 he was appointed by the Emperor to serve on the committee at Nanjing writing the Yuan History. Eight months later the sixteen scholars presented the 120 volumes of the Yuan dynasty history up to but not including its last emperor. Gao Qi wrote poems for such formal occasions but soon decided to resign. He declined a very high promotion to the Board of Revenue by telling the Emperor it was beyond his abilities. The poet and his family returned to Suzhou in 1370. There he read and wrote poetry, taking Lao-zi's advice to be satisfied with a humble status; but two years later he was drawn again to the heroic life and served the governor Wei Guan in rebuilding the government of Suzhou. Gao Qi wrote a poem commemorating restoration of the prefectural hall. Emperor Hongwu became suspicious of the growing power of Wei Guan and had him executed for sedition. Because of his poem, Gao Qi was charged with revealing palace secrets and was cut in half at the waist in 1374. So ended the short life of the poet considered by some the best of the Ming dynasty.
Gao Qi wrote a story about a gambler who loves cockfights. He is a bully, and neighbors follow his orders. During the Zhi Zheng period the prefect of Yuan is serving the people well and enjoying their affection. The intendant Zhang is sent on an inspection tour. When the prefect sneers at him as the pampered son of the Zhang family, the intendant looks for a way to prosecute him. A wealthy man, who resents a flogging, falsely accuses the prefect of accepting bribes. When the prefect is discharged, the people appeal to the gambler. With a group of rowdies he captures the wealthy man while he is riding his horse, strips off his rich gown, ties his arms, and parades him through town, making him confess that he falsely accused the prefect. The son raises a band of followers but can do nothing, because his father is held hostage. The gambler warns the rich man he will destroy his house and family if the rich man does not mend his ways; then he releases him. The people still complain that the prefect is out of office. So the gambler makes a banner saying "Unjust" and complains to the censor in Nanjing. After they march in protest every day, the censor finally lets the prefect resume his office and has the intendant Zhang dismissed. Gao Qi wrote this story to show how the Yuan government was confused and weak, causing social unrest among the lower classes.
The astrologer Liu Ji (1311-75) helped Zhu Yuanzhang become the first Ming emperor, and he was rewarded with an earldom; but he was falsely accused by prime minister Hu Weiyong and was poisoned. Liu Ji wrote satirical parables that criticized the Yuan government and other follies. In one an ancient nobleman turns to divination; but the augur suggests that he consider the past and wisdom within rather than yarrow stalks and a tortoise shell. Liu Ji satirized corruption in a story about a man who can keep his oranges looking good on the outside for a year, while on the inside they dry up. When asked about this, the man asks if his questioner is the only honest man and he the only cheat. Do ministers have the ancient wisdom? Wrong-doers arise, and no one subdues them; the people's misery is unrelieved; clerks are corrupt; laws decay; officials live in luxury without shame; they are gold and gems outside but dried up within. Why does this man pay no attention to these things while he is so particular about the oranges?
Liu Ji wrote how Gong Zhiqiao crafts a beautiful lute; but it is not considered precious, because it is not ancient. So Gong has artists paint it to look old and inscribe it with ancient writing. After burying it in a box for a year, he sells it to a nobleman for a hundred taels of gold. Realizing that this happens with other things also, Gong decides to flee to the mountains. When a long drought afflicts the east capital of Han emperor Min Di, a sorcerer suggests they appeal to the divine creature in the south mountain; but an elder warns that this spirit is a flood dragon that will bring future troubles. The suffering people do not care about tomorrow and have the sorcerer appeal to the flood dragon. A thunderstorm lasts three days; rivers flood, and the east capital is inundated. Then the people regret that they did not listen to the elder. Liu Ji also told how a deer escapes hunters by picking out its coveted naval; but he notes that the wealthy often die with their families.
Liu Ji told how those without virtue may also lead their friends astray, like the man who falls into a pit of manure but lets his two friends fall in too, because he does not want them laughing at him. Yet Liu Ji had Confucius commend the priest who saves a tiger from drowning even though the tiger later attacks him. The son of a beekeeper finds that his father's bees gradually leave him without this income, because he has not taken care of their hives. A merchant in a sinking boat promises a fisherman a hundred taels if he will save him; but when he does, he only gives him ten. The next time the fishermen let the merchant drown. Yu Li Zi comments that merchants care more about their profits than their lives. A monkey master trains monkeys to collect nuts in the forest and give him ten percent as tax; those not giving the tenth are beaten; but the monkeys realize they do not need to be manipulated, steal the nuts in the storeroom, and escape to the forest. Yu Li Zi points out that humans are rarely killed by stronger tigers, because they know how to work together to become a hundred times more powerful; but the man who does not use wisdom or weapons is eaten by the tiger. Thus it is said that a man who uses only his own strength and no wisdom is like a tiger.
Qu Yu (c. 1341-1427) wrote "The Spirit Land," telling how the starving Yuan decides not to kill the man who cheated him, because it would harm that man's wife and children. A Daoist explains to him that in a previous existence he was conceited in high office and did not honor the talents of others; so in this life he had to be uneducated and poor. In "The Peony Lantern" by Qu Yu a man falls in love with a seductive ghost who draws him to her coffin and death. A Daoist from the mountains is called in and gets the ghosts to confess their evil deeds. He explains that destructive ghosts can be scourges that bring about suffering, which is why in the heavenly regions messengers are sent, and courts are set up in the underworld to punish wrong-doers. Since then, cleanliness, order, peace, and contentment have reigned.
A similar theme of spiritual justice is found in Qu Yu's story of "The Donor of Riches and Honors" about a poor scholar who prays for knowledge of the future. He witnesses divine officials of the City God judging cases. A man who opened his storehouse of rice to the starving without looking for profit is granted 36 more years of life. A woman who gave her own flesh to heal her mother-in-law is blessed with two successful sons. A judge corrupted by bribery will have catastrophe fall on his family, and a district superintendent who cheated a farmer out of his land will be reborn as a bull and suffer on that very farm. The scholar is then told that the sun will bring security, the moon success, clouds decline, and lightning death, which all come to pass because of the armed rebellion that began in 1351 and killed at least 300,000. The author concluded that those who use tricks to find out their future may bring about their own downfall.
"Kingfisher" by Qu Yu tells of a poor man who marries a wealthy and educated young woman his same age named Kingfisher. They write charming poems to each other. During the fighting before the founding of the Ming dynasty a general abducts Kingfisher. After years of searching and then pretending to be her brother, they are briefly reunited before they both die and are buried together. Her father goes there and finds them living happily together but awakes to discover that this had been a dream.
Li Chang Ji (1376-1452) also wrote several stories of the struggles of romantic couples to get together including one in which the wife throws herself onto her husband's funeral pyre. About 1592 Shao Jingzhan wrote the story "Young Mr. Yao," who likes to hunt and gradually spends all his wealth on his friends until he is reduced to dire poverty. In Shao's "Priest Wu Falls into a Trance" this mystic says people create their own destinies by the law of reason, and he predicts how the adulterous Hu will be punished in hell.
Song Maocheng heard and wrote a story in 1600 that was developed into The Courtesan's Jewel Box by the writer Feng Menglong (1574-1646). A scholar named Li from eastern Zhejiang falls in love with the beautiful Du Shiniang. Li is poor, but she contributes half the 300 taels needed to pay off her "mother" in the courtesan business so that they can leave. He raises a hundred, and her courtesan sisters provide the rest. The young lovers travel, are very happy, and plan to marry. When they run out of money, she unravels her sleeves to pay expenses and rent a boat to cross the Yangzi River. A champion heartbreaker persuades Li to turn over Shiniang for one thousand taels he can take home to his father. After another night of love, Li explains to Shiniang the proposal, and she says she will go with the other young man. On the boat they count the money. Then Shiniang opens the drawers of her jewel box and throws the precious gems into the river. Finally she curses both men and jumps into the river, drowning. This short story is a powerful protest of the way Chinese men exploited women and failed to appreciate their true value.
The first major Chinese novel is The Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong from the late 14th century. Based on histories of the third century CE when wars between forces led by Cao Cao, Liu Bei, and Sun Quan resulted in the breakup of Han China into three kingdoms, the long novel developed over several generations and was not published until 1522. The Three Kingdoms portrays four hundred characters in 120 chapters and is packed with stories of intriguing diplomacy, clever military strategies, and exciting battles. The story goes from the declining Han dynasty, starting in 168 CE and ending in 220, through the existence of the three kingdoms until they each have fallen to the Jin dynasty by 280, when even Wei succumbed.
The first chapter moves quickly to the yellow scarves rebellion of 184, when Liu Bei, Guan Yu, and Zhang Fei in a peach garden swear to help each other, serve their country, and save the people without turning away from justice or forgetting kindness. They soon come into conflict with Cao Cao, who believes he will restore peace after the Han dynasty falls. Cao Cao, whose motto is preferring to injure others rather than have them injure him, is portrayed as despotically attempting to take over the Han empire himself. Liu Bei is shown as more humane and just, and he gains loyalty because of his claim to be restoring the Han dynasty. Thanks to the genius of his advisor Zhuge Liang and the heroic Guan Yu, his forces make a successful alliance with Sun Quan's realm in the southeast in order to defeat the greater numbers garnered in the north by Cao Cao.
Chapters 43-50 on the battle of Red Cliff in 208 CE give one an idea of the clever intrigues, plot twists, and references to historical exemplars as the main characters attempt to outsmart each other. Cao Cao with one million men has written to Sun Quan, asking him to join forces to punish Liu Bei. Sun Quan's civil counselors recommend submission, while the military advisors want to fight. Liu Bei's advisor Zhuge Liang is in Sun Quan's camp and argues brilliantly for joining forces against Cao Cao, whose army is tired and unfamiliar with naval warfare. At first Sun Quan's commander Zhou Yu says that surrender is better; but when Zhuge Liang agrees that all they have to do is turn over the two daughters of Lord Qiao to Cao Cao, Zhou Yu suddenly wants to fight because one of them is his wife. Although they are allies, Zhou Yu wants to kill Zhuge Liang for being too clever; but the latter always manages to outwit the general and Cao Cao as well. Zhou Yu also plots to assassinate Liu Bei, but he is guarded by the brave Guan Yu.
Zhou Yu violates the rules of war by killing an envoy from
Cao Cao. Both sides send spies in the guise of deserters; but
Cao Cao is duped by letters a spy finds into killing his two best
admirals, fearing they are traitors. Zhuge Liang is able to collect
a hundred thousand arrows by sending ships with bales of hay in
the fog that Cao Cao's archers attack. Cao Cao shows his bad character
by killing the worthy prefect of Yangzhou for merely speaking
a bad omen at a drunken feast. Cao Cao is also lured into chaining
his ships together, because he does not expect an eastern wind
in winter; but a fire ritual by Zhuge Liang invokes the needed
wind that allows fire to burn the ships and give Zhou Yu's forces
victory. Yet Zhuge Liang allows Cao Cao to escape capture by assigning
Guan Yu to trap him, knowing that the good treatment Guan Yu received
when he was captured by Cao Cao before would cause him to let
Cao Cao go. The Three Kingdoms became very influential
in literature and in military strategy, particularly during the
rebellions that led to the founding of the Ming dynasty but also
in the peasant revolt that ended the Ming dynasty in the 17th
century and in the Taiping revolution. Many believe that this
textbook on feudal life taught wisdom while Outlaws of the
Marsh taught courage.
Luo Guanzhong (c. 1330-c. 1400) is also credited with writing or editing Shi Naian's (1290-1365) stories of sympathetic outlaws in Shandong who join together after suffering government abuses during the reign of Huizong (r. 1100-25). Pearl Buck retitled the epic novel with its theme, All Men Are Brothers, in her translation of an early version in 70 chapters. Later versions of Outlaws of the Marsh extend the story to 100, 115, or 120 chapters. The 36 major robbers and 72 minor ones do live by violence and take the law into their own hands; but even though they are outlaws, they usually respect the rights of the just while punishing wrong-doers, taking from the undeserving wealthy, much like contemporary English Robin Hood stories. Because of its challenge to law and government authorities, this book was occasionally banned, and officials caught with it could lose their positions and pay heavy fines.
A young swordsman defends his town against robbers, who ask to use the road because all men are brothers; they claim they have no other way to live because they are persecuted by officials. Lu Da kills a pig butcher, who had bullied a mother and daughter; then he causes havoc in a Buddhist monastery he entered to escape. Ling Chong joins the band after he is falsely convicted of murder and branded, because commander Gao's son lusted for his wife. After plotting to steal gifts, Chao Gai is made chief. Song Jiang is captured and welcomed by the robbers. General Ching Ming, who attacks the robbers, is won over by them. Song Jiang is branded for murder, writes revolutionary verses on the wall, and is freed by the robbers. From their lair at Liangshan Marsh the robbers plan warfare against the village of Zhu, while Li Kui breaks their pact by slaughtering the Hu household. Zhu Tong is forced to join the robbers when they kill a magistrate's little boy he is attending. A campaign against the robbers by Commander Gao results in numerous defections of captured officers. Chief Chao Gai is killed, and he is avenged primarily by Lu Zhun Yi, who declines Song Jiang's offer to be chief. Leadership is determined by a simultaneous attack on two cities led by these two men; Song Jiang succeeds and then aids Lu Zhun Yi. The first version ends with all 108 robbers swearing undying loyalty to their leader Song Jiang.
In the longer version of 100 chapters published during the
reign of Emperor Jiajing (r. 1521-66), the rebels defeat government
forces three times. They are given amnesty so that they can fight
the Liao Tatars, and in doing so they win a pardon. Apparently
in history the rebellion of 1120 ended the next year with the
mass slaughter of the entire robber band. As the Song dynasty
was reduced to paying tribute from southern China, stories of
the rebels became popular, resulting eventually in this influential
novel. At the end of the extended novel 81 of the 108 have died
one way or another; of those surviving, ten chiefs are made imperial
prefects, and fifteen are given commands of Song army units. Song
Jiang and Li Kui loyally drink poisoned wine sent by the Emperor
and die. After their spirits appear to Wu Yong in a dream, he
and Hua Rong hang themselves. Instead of concluding with the rebels
at their peak of power, these later versions have restored the
imperial order. The 120-chapter version was not published until
the decline of the Ming dynasty between 1621 and 1644. However,
the version in 100 chapters from the middle of the Ming dynasty
became the most popular.
Wu Chengen lived from about 1500 to 1582. From childhood he loved strange stories. He never passed the government examinations and did not have an official position until he was over sixty when he was appointed an assistant magistrate. After writing more traditional works, Wu Chengen finally created what he loved-fantastic stories; but he was too ashamed to put his name on the novel, The Journey to the West, and it was circulated anonymously. This long novel, also translated in an abridged version by Arthur Waley as Monkey, is about the historical Buddhist monk Xuanzang (596-664), who in 627 without Emperor Taizong's permission joined a merchant caravan and made it to the Magadha kingdom in India four years later. He studied with Silabhadra at the famous monastery at Nalanda for five years between traveling around. Xuanzang was considered one of the greatest of many Chinese pilgrims to India for his preaching and winning debates against scholastics. He left India in 643 and returned to the western capital of Chang'an two years later with 657 Buddhist scriptures. He impressed the Emperor with his knowledge of foreign cultures but refused an official appointment. Supported by imperial grants and a large staff in nearby monasteries, he was able to translate 74 works in 1,355 volumes. Xuanzang also wrote treatises on the Consciousness-Only school of Vasubandhu. Stories about Xuanzang grew into written legends, and Wu Chengen's masterpiece, The Journey to the West, was finally published in 1592.
The first seven chapters tell about the Monkey, who is born from a divine embryo in a stone egg and is called Stone Monkey. His inward shape is concealed, because it has no form. Other monkeys proclaim him king; but after three or four centuries he becomes sad at a feast and wants to know about Yama (Death). He learns there are Buddhas, immortals, and sages who can avoid the wheel of reincarnation, and he declares his intention to find them. However, he notices that people in the world are all seeking profit and fame without concerning themselves about their end. He learns that the Daoist immortals are hiding in the Yellow Court. After ten years of searching, in a cave marked by a stone "Mountain of Heart and Mind," the Handsome Monkey King finds Patriarch Subodhi, who gives him the name Wukong, meaning "Wake-to-Vacuity." After six or seven years the Patriarch lectures on Dao and Zen, harmonizing these with the Confucian school. After learning the oral formulas, the Monkey King masters 72 transformations and shows the Patriarch he can fly. The Patriarch fears Monkey will end up doing evil and forbids him ever to mention he was his disciple.
Accomplished in the Great Art, the Monkey King can change his shape into whatever he desires. So from the hairs on his body he creates thousands of monkey warriors to attack and kill the Monstrous King. Monkey King's army of 47,000 monkeys impresses all the wild beasts of the mountain who do him homage and bring annual tributes. From the Dragon King in the Water-Crystal Palace the Monkey King gets a suit of golden armor and cloud-treading shoes, and he makes alliances with other kings as well. In the Region of Darkness he meets the Ten Kings of the Underworld. Old Monkey has acquired the Dao (Way) and attained immortality, and so he erases his name and others from Death's ledger. He awakes from this dream and tells other monkeys he erased their names in the Underworld.
In the Heavenly realm the Gold Star of Venus, the spirit of that planet, is sent by the Jade Emperor to make peace with the Monkey King. The Jade Emperor says that Sun Wukung has only recently become a human being, and so he sends him to work in the imperial stables. When Monkey learns his rank is so low that it is unclassified, he demands the rank of Great Sage, Equal to Heaven. The Mighty-Spirit God is sent, but the Monkey King fights him and spares him. Young Nata uses six arms to fight Monkey, who matches him. So the Jade Emperor recognizes him as Great Sage and says he has neither duties nor a salary; but he warns Monkey not to indulge in preposterous conduct. After Monkey steals heavenly peaches and wine and robs Lao-zi of his immortal elixir, the Jade Emperor sends an army of 100,000 celestial soldiers against him; but Monkey uses his magical powers to multiply himself, and neither side wins. Finally the Bodhisattva Guanyin intervenes, and the Four Great Devarajas capture Monkey. He is placed in the brazier of Eight Trigrams. After 49 days Monkey escapes. The Buddhist Patriarch Tathagata follows him and wins a bet that Monkey cannot leap out of his hand. Monkey does penance and learns the teachings of Buddhism.
The Tathagata Buddha declares that he has three baskets of scriptures on Heaven, Earth, and redeeming the damned. Guanyin says that she will go to the East to find a scripture pilgrim. Chen Guangrui in Chang'an wins the top prize in the examinations, marries, and is appointed a governor; but the boatman Liu Hong kills him and takes his wife Lady Yin by force to become governor. A Dragon King preserves Guangrui's body, and Lady Yin gives birth to a son and floats him on the river with a letter in blood. The boy is raised by an abbot and is given the spiritual name Xuanzang. When he is eighteen, he finds his mother and grandmother. Emperor Tang is told, and the Dragon King brings Guangrui back to life. Lady Yin commits suicide out of shame. In the underworld the Dragon King complains that the Emperor had him executed after promising to save him; but the judge Wei Zheng had sentenced him for a mortal offense. Emperor Taizong is allowed to return from the Underworld for twenty more years. The judge tells him to explain the six-fold path of transmigration. Those doing good ascend to be immortals; the patriotic become noble; the filial pious are blessed; the just and honest become humans; the virtuous become rich; but the vicious and violent fall back to being demons. The Tang emperor sighs and says,
Ah, how truly good is goodness!
To do good will never bring illness!
Let kindness always be your aim.
On charity don't shut your door.
Allow no evil thoughts to rise.
Be certain to cut down mischief.
Don't say there's no retribution,
For gods have their disposition.6
The judge warns him that only when there are no cries for vengeance in the region of darkness will the world of light have the prosperity of peace. He must change his wicked ways one by one and teach his subjects to do good so that his empire will be established firmly. When he returns to Earth, the Emperor proclaims,
The world, though immense,
Approves not villains in Heaven nor on Earth.
If your intent is trickery,
Even this life will bring retribution;
If your giving exceeds receiving,
There's blessing not only in the life hereafter.
A thousand clever designs
Are not as living according to one's duties;
Ten thousand men of violence
Cannot compare with one frugal and content.
If you're bent on good works and mercy,
Need you read the sutras with diligence?
If you intend to harm others,
Even the learning of Buddha is vain!7
Meanwhile Guanyin has been searching for a scripture pilgrim and offers a cassock for 5,000 taels but gives it to the Emperor for Xuanzang, who has performed a grand mass and volunteers to go to India for the Buddhist scriptures. The Emperor gives him the byname Tripitaka, meaning "three baskets." He understands that the mind is easily tempted, and that is why the Buddha pointed to the heart, not the head. The Tang pilgrim survives many dangers and by a prayer releases Monkey from five hundred years imprisonment. Monkey and two other monsters, Bajie and Sha monk, are instructed by Guanyin to serve the pilgrim on his journey. Both Bajie and Sha monk had been marshals in heaven but were banished. A dragon destroys Tripitaka's horse; but realizing it was a mistake, he changes into a horse to serve the pilgrimage. Thus the horse of the will is reined. Bajie indulges his large appetites and is jealous of Monkey's power. When Monkey Mind becomes obstreperous, pilgrim priest restrains him by means of a golden fillet around his neck he can tighten.
During their western journey the four pilgrims experience 81 calamities; but Monkey overcomes many monsters and demons, and they learn their Buddhist lessons along the way. In the Cart-slow kingdom Daoists are persecuting Buddhists; but Monkey overcomes three Daoist magicians in dangerous ordeals. Occasionally Guanyin intervenes to save them, and the Tathagata reveals the true master. Mind Monkey devises a way of avoiding a nation of women. Washing off filth is cleaning the mind, and binding demons is self-cultivation. The four pilgrims arrive in India, meet the king, and are given a feast in the imperial garden. They receive thousands of Buddhist scriptures. Tripitaka forgets his promise to mention to the Buddha the big turtle's quest to be human, and while crossing a river on his back they are all dumped in the water. Some of the scriptures are lost in this last calamity. Finally the Buddha notes that the sage monk had failed to listen to him in his previous lifetime; but he succeeds in this incarnation and becomes a Buddha. Victorious in strife, Monkey also becomes a Buddha and has the fillet removed. Bajie has not yet extinguished his desires and so is made a janitor of the altars. Sha monk for his service is declared a golden-bodied arhat (saint), and the horse is promoted to be a supernatural dragon. Finally everyone at the Tang court chants their submission to the Buddha.
In 1640 Dong Yue (1620-89) wrote the novel Tower of Myriad Mirrors based on the Monkey character and meant to extend Journey to the West and fit in after chapter 61. In Dong Yue's story Monkey mind experiences fantasy and dreams. In a preface Dong Yue explained the main point of his novel.
For men, desire is a demon without form, without sound-
a man may not be conscious of it or know about it.
It may enter by way of grief, indulgence,
a single doubtful or vacillating thought, or the sensory perceptions.
It seems as if the desire that enters the sphere of your thought
cannot be stopped or changed or ignored;
as if once it enters it can in no way be expelled.
But to recognize desire for the demon is to achieve success.
Therefore, when the Great Sage was in the belly of the Qing Fish,
he didn't know it was the Qing Fish.
Moreover, he didn't know when he leapt out of the Qing Fish
that he who shortly would kill the Qing Fish
was none other than the Great Sage himself.
The deluded man and the enlightened man were not two men.8
The fourth great novel of the Ming era, The Plum in the Golden Vase (Jin Ping Mei), is also very long in a hundred chapters. It was written anonymously in the late 16th century and circulated privately until it was published about 1618. Shen Defu wrote that he had a copy of it and could have made much money by giving it to a printer; but he was afraid it would lower the moral tone of the community and cause him to go to hell. He said the copy that was printed lacked chapters 53-57, and these were replaced clumsily by someone else's writing. Jin Ping Mei is frankly erotic but did not attract the attention of censors until the edicts of 1687 and 1725; the latter calling for strict punishments for anyone selling, buying, or reading the book was in effect until 1912, and the full text is still restricted in China. A preface published in 1695 suggested the book expressed filial piety and recounts an elaborate legend of how the author wrote the book and gave it to the murderer of his father with poison on the pages so that by the time he had finished the book exposing his vile character the poison killed him.
Arthur Waley has speculated that the author was probably Xu Wei (1520-93) or perhaps someone in his circle that believed literature should reflect real life. David Tod Roy is doing a complete translation in five volumes of an earlier manuscript that was only rediscovered in 1932. He has suggested that the preface naming the author as the "scoffing scholar of Lanling" refers to the ancient Confucian scholar Xun-zi, who taught a realistic philosophy of learning how to overcome our evil nature. Roy has selected the playwright Tang Xianzi (1550-1616) as the most likely author, and he has determined that the preface to the earlier edition is very likely by the original author or someone who knew him well. The preface mentions that of the seven human feelings (joy, anger, sadness, fear, love, disliking, and liking), melancholy (sadness) is the hardest to dispel. The scoffing scholar has poured a lifetime of wisdom into this immense novel that may beguile readers into forgetting their melancholy, because it is
designed to illuminate the cardinal human relationships,
to discourage sexual promiscuity,
to distinguish between the pure and the impure,
to edify both the good and the ungood,
and to expound the secrets of flourishing and decay,
failure and success,
through the inexorable working of karmic cause and effect,
in such a way that
they lie utterly revealed before the reader's eyes.9
The preface admits that the language is vulgar but notes that even Confucius said that pleasure not extending to wantonness is not harmful and that few are able to attain wealth and distinction without resorting to such indulgence. The preface reminds readers that joy after reaching its zenith gives birth to sorrow, that disruptions from calamitous missteps are inescapable, that the world of light has imperial law while the world of darkness has ghosts and spirits, and that calamity results from accumulated wrong-doing while good fortune is the reward for virtue. Thus heaven has its seasons, and humans have their joys and sorrows. An introductory song also warns of the four vices of drunkenness, lust, avarice, and anger.
The novel Jin Ping Mei is set in Shandong during the reign of Huizong (r. 1100-25) in the last part of the Song dynasty before the north was conquered by the Jin dynasty. Corruption and decay are proverbial during the decline of a dynasty, though this reign is named "harmonious." The main character Ximen is thirty years old and has inherited a prosperous pharmacy business from his father. He lives in a large house with many servants. He has business ability but spends most of his time seeking pleasure. His first wife has died, and Ximen has recently married a governor's daughter. In addition he has two secondary wives and is also granted favors by three or four pretty maidservants. Ximen spends much time cavorting with a group of nine friends, who swear loyal brotherhood in a Daoist temple. Hundreds of characters appear in the novel, and in the first half Ximen finds great success and indulges in innumerable pleasures. His lavish gifts and corrupt ways gain him appointments in the judiciary. The widow of one of his sworn brothers bears him a son and heir, although his attention to her alienates many in his household.
At the halfway point in the novel, Ximen is given an aphrodisiac by an Indian monk and violates propriety by using it as instructed during his favorite wife's menstrual period. This begins a gradual decline. His son and his favorite wife die, and in chapter 79 Ximen himself succumbs at age 33 to an overdose of the aphrodisiac. His household eventually disintegrates. As Ximen is dying, a son is born to his legitimate wife; but he eventually decides to become a celibate Buddhist monk, thus failing in his filial duty to perpetuate the family line. Ximen's wife ends up dependent on a servant as wanton as his master had been. The decadence of the family is meant to mirror the decline of a dynasty, and a Daoist theme is indicated in the erotic imagery, suggesting that the continual wasting of semen uses up vital energies and eventually causes the source to dry up at the base, symbolizing the extravagant expenditures by the Emperor at the capital draining the prosperity of the empire.
Influenced by Jin Ping Mei, Li Yu (1611-80) wrote the erotic novel Jou Pu Tuan in 1635 to entertain young men but also to warn them of the consequences from a life of sensuality and moral corruption. A young scholar visits the hermit Lonely Summit, who learns the youth wants a "prayer mat of flesh" (jou pu tuan). The youth marries the girl Noble Scent, who is protected by her father. The Before Midnight Scholar teaches her erotic techniques from illustrated books and then leaves to seek teachers so he can pass the examination. Instead, he pursues beautiful woman. After having an operation to enlarge his instrument, he has numerous encounters with wives and their cousins. The husband of Aroma gets revenge by seducing Noble Scent. She ends up being sold into a brothel and committing suicide, but Before Midnight Scholar castrates himself to live ascetically as Stupid Pebble. In the last chapter the author preaches his sermon, explaining that without the erotic literature no one would ever read his message.
An example of the southern drama early in the Ming era is the play Record of a Dog Slain by Xu Ji. The plot is based on a northern Yuan drama, but it is lengthened to 36 scenes. Wealthy young Sun Hua of Luoyang indulges in drinking and women and is reprimanded by his younger brother Sun Yong, who is expelled from the family and attempts suicide. One day the brothers meet in a snowstorm, and Sun Yong saves the life of his intoxicated older brother by carrying him home. To teach her drunken husband, Yang Yuezhen has a large dog killed and dressed in a man's clothes near their home. She asks the intoxicated Sun Hua to get rid of the corpse, and he asks his two drinking companions to bury it; but they do not help. So she suggests he ask his brother to help, and Sun Yong buries the body by himself, reconciling the brothers. When the two companions next ask Sun Hua for a drinking feast, he declines. So they decide to expose his crime by digging up the body; but the carcass of a dog proves there was no crime, and they are punished for attempted blackmail.
Zhu Chuan wrote about drama in the Yuan and early Ming eras, and his nephew Zhu Yudun (1379-1439) wrote 31 plays, of which 25 are extant, about Daoists, prostitutes, and other subjects. The shorter northern plays had only four acts, but he expanded that. While the hero sang in the northern style, the heroine sang southern melodies. In his Tragedy of the Fragrant Bag the Kaifeng prostitute Liu Banchun is not permitted by her parents to marry the poor scholar Zhou Gong since a rich salt merchant wants to marry her. She chides Zhou for being a cold-hearted scholar, because he did not come to see her; but she is so moved by the love poem he wrote to her that she puts it in her fragrant bag, singing she will treasure it more than her life. After being forced to marry the merchant, Liu commits suicide. Her body is cremated, but Zhou finds the bag with the poem and vows to remain a bachelor. In other plays prostitutes reform or are transformed into fairies, but in Descending to Be a Prostitute the courtesans do not reform. Zhu Yudun portrayed prostitutes with sympathy and exposed the cruel procuress.
The dramatist Kang Hai (1475-1540) went to the corrupt premier Liu Qin and persuaded him that the talent of the imprisoned official Li Xianji would be wasted if he were executed; but years later after Liu Qin was gone, the powerful Li Xianji allowed Kang Hai to be dismissed. So Hai wrote The Wolf of Mount Zhong to satirize his ungrateful friend, using the northern zaju style in four acts. Wang Jiusi (1468-1551) had written a zaju play with the same title to show that the universal love of Mo-zi is not as discriminating as Confucian humanism. Master Dongguo, a philosopher of the Mo school, helps a wolf escape from the king's hunt by hiding him in his trunk he had been using to transport books. When the hungry wolf wants to eat him, Dongguo asks three witnesses their opinions. An old apricot tree and an old ox agree the wolf should eat him; but a local deity disguised as an old man has the wolf put back in the trunk to verify his story and advises Dongguo to kill him. Dongguo realizes that he failed to recognize treachery and laments that human hearts are often like the wolf's.
Xu Wei (1521-73) was a painter as well as a writer. His ideas may have helped General Hu Zongxian defeat the Japanese; when Hu was unjustly imprisoned, Xu attempted suicide. Xu was then imprisoned for having murdered his wife out of jealousy but was released. He traveled, drank, and suffered extreme poverty; yet he would not accept financial assistance. Xu studied Daoist and Buddhist books and was admired for his calligraphy and paintings.
Xu Wei is most famous for the four plays he called The Four Shrieks of the Ape, because folklore held that an ape who lost a baby would shriek four times and die. The Drummer's Scorn is about a scholar in the declining Han dynasty, who is insulted by the cruel Cao Cao and is made a drummer; so he beats the drum with hatred as if he were beating Cao Cao. The second play is called The Monk's Dream. The third play in the series, The Lady General, tells the famous story of Hua Mulan, who lived in the eighth century when women were forbidden to appear in public. Disguised as a man, she becomes a great general and is appointed chief of staff by the Emperor. However, Mulan declines the honor, because in twelve years of fighting she has accomplished her purpose. The fourth play, The Lady Scholar, is a romantic comedy based on a folk tale of the tenth century. The learned Huang Conghu also dresses as a man and is imprisoned for arson. The magistrate admires the writing of his prisoner but cannot make her his son-in-law when he learns she is a woman. So he lets her continue her disguise as his secretary, and she even passes the government exam with the highest honors, demonstrating Xu's theme that women are not inferior to men.
Liang Chenyu (1520-80) is best known for his play The Beauty Trap that popularized the new chuanqi style started by Wei Liangfu. The play has 45 scenes with twelve characters and ten songs; it is set during the declining Zhou dynasty of the third century BC. Yue premier Fan Li falls in love with beautiful Xi Shi. When Yue is attacked by Wu king Fu Chai, Fan Li persuades his king Gou Jian to surrender; they are exiled to tend horses. After two years Gou Jian meets the Wu king while he is hunting and predicts his recovery from illness. Gou Jian is allowed to return to his Yue people. Fan Li suggests they train the beautiful Xi Shi to seduce King Fu Chai, who ignores the warning of his premier Wu Zixu, falls into the beauty trap, and even has Wu put to death. Before he is killed, Wu asks that his eyes be put on the gate to see the conquest of the Wu kingdom by the King of Yue. While Fu Chai is distracted by Xi Shi, the state of Qi attacks. Fu Chai leaves his son in charge and leads the campaign against Qi, allowing the Yue to attack. Led by Fan Li, they capture and behead the Yue prince. When Fu Chai returns to Wu, he is executed by Yue king Gou Jian. Fan Li finds Xi Shi, and they sail away on the five lakes to a life of love and peace.
Zheng Royong was a contemporary of Liang Chenyu and is renowned for his tragicomedy The Broken Jade Ring. During the southern Song dynasty the wife of Wang Shang persuades him to go to Nanjing for the examinations and gives him a jade ring as a reminder to return to her. When Wang fails the exam, he is so ashamed that he stays and falls in love with the courtesan Ji Zhuannu. Wang Shang's wife is captured by the invading northern Jin army; but she cuts off her hair and threatens suicide to escape the desires of the rebel Zhang Anguo. Intoxicated by Ji Zhuannu, Wang Shang breaks the jade ring and throws it into a temple; but after all his money is gone, the prostitute abandons him. Helped by a Daoist priest, Wang studies hard and passes the examinations with high honors. The Emperor makes him a judge, and he condemns the ungrateful Ji Zhuannu to death for murdering a rich merchant. When the Jin army and the rebels are subdued, the fleeing Anguo leaves behind the captives. Wang Shang is reunited with his wife; later he is made minister of state, and she is ennobled. This play criticizes a greedy procuress and commends the wife's loyal chastity while showing Wang Shang's melodramatic changes.
Wang Shizhen wrote a book on dramatic criticism. His play The Singing Phoenix is significant, because it portrays living people. The corrupt prime minister Yan Song had unjustly condemned Shizhen's father to death. The tyrannical prime minister imprisons those opposing his policies even though the Mongols are invading; but the result is the fall of the Yan house.
Li Kaixian wrote short northern plays. The Magic Sword
is adapted from a conflict between heroes of the novel Outlaws
of the Marsh, and in Cutting Off Her Hair, the heroine
Fei Shuying does that and goes on a hunger strike to keep from
being married again while her husband is away.
Tang Xianzu (1550-1617) passed his civil examination in 1583; but he criticized the unfairness of the exams and was banished to Guangdong province in 1590. He was a county magistrate in Zhejiang but was dismissed in 1598. Tang Xianzu was from Linchuan and founded that school of drama which emphasized diction and romance rather than form and rhythm. He wrote that the four essentials of good drama are theme, vivid presentation, style, and beauty. Later he lived in poverty and was influenced by a Buddhist priest; his last two plays are more mystical.
Tang Xianzu wrote two plays that adapted a Tang dynasty story. The later Purple Hairpin is considered the better play. When bandits raid a lantern festival, beautiful Huo Xiaoyu drops her jade hairpin, and the prominent Li Yi finds it. He refuses to return it unless she marries him; but she refuses until her mother consents. Shortly after their wedding, Li Yi goes away to take the exams and leaves a promise written on silk that he will not forget her love. After passing the exam, he hurries to return but offends the army commander Lu, who sends him to fight on the frontier, where Li Yi conquers two tribes. After three years, Lu wants Li Yi to marry his daughter and sends word to Xiaoyu he has already done so. Poor and in bad health, she finally sends her maid to sell the purple hairpin. Lu buys it and shows it to Li Yi as proof she is no longer faithful. When Li Yi is told about this at a temple, bandits abduct him and take him home to his wife Xiaoyu. He gives her wine, and she is so weak that she faints. She is revived; they realize how Lu came between them; and they are reunited. The play gives a happy ending; but in the original story Xiaoyu dies and haunts Li Yi so that he suspects all his wives. During the stable Ming dynasty happy endings were most common.
Tang Xianzu's most famous play, The Peony Pavilion, was written in 1598. In the southern Song era Liu is a scholar and dreams of a beautiful maiden standing by an apricot tree; so he adopts the name Mengmei, meaning "apricot dream." Prefect Du Bao is descended from the great poet Du Fu, and he hires the old scholar Chen Zuiliang to tutor his daughter Bridal Du along with her rambunctious maid Spring Fragrance. The comic scene in which the maid teases the tutor is still often performed in Chinese opera. Du Bao inspects the farmers and invites them to a feast. Bridal Du makes herself beautiful and goes to the back garden on a spring day and dances with her maid. Left alone, Bridal Du falls asleep and dreams she meets Liu, who makes love to her in the peony pavilion; this famous scene is also performed in Chinese opera. Awake, Bridal Du goes back to the pavilion looking for Liu but finds only the apricot tree and asks to be buried under it. Before she dies, she paints her own portrait. Bridal Du even goes to the Daoist nun Sister Stone to drive away her evil spirits, but she faints and dies.
After three years Liu is on his way to the capital to take his exams when he collapses and is taken to the Apricot Shrine by the tutor Chen. Meanwhile Bridal Du's spirit is put on trial in the underworld but is successfully defended by Flower Spirit so that she can return to life. Liu recovers and on a walk in the garden sees the portrait of Bridal Du. He puts it in his room and gazes at it day and night. On the third anniversary of her death Bridal Du appears to Liu, and they begin to spend every night together. One night she explains who she is and tells Liu to open her grave. So Liu goes to Sister Stone, and they open the Apricot Shrine grave. Bridal Du comes forth alive and elopes with him to the capital so that Liu can take his government examination.
Chen discovers the body of Bridal Du is gone; but Commissioner Du Bao has been besieged in Huaian by the Jin army, and the old tutor is captured by Jin troops. Chen lies that Du's wife and family were killed; Du Bao fights on in Huaian while the tutor negotiates a treaty between the Jin commander and the Song government. Madame Du is reunited with her daughter at the capital. Liu passes the metropolitan examination and takes Bridal Du's portrait to her father in Huaian; but Du Bao suspects that Liu robbed his daughter's grave and puts him in prison. Du Bao learns from reports that Liu won the highest prize in the examination, and Bridal Du arrives to explain her resurrection so that Liu can be released as the happy family is reunited. This romantic play was such a sensation that it was reported some girls even died from having these romantic feelings. The Peony Pavilion became so popular that the price for The Western Chamber was reduced.
Tang Xianzu's The Nanke Story is also a romantic dream play. While drinking, the soldier Shun Yufeng offends the Huaian commander and is dismissed. He lives in retirement outside of Yangzhou. At a festival he meets Huaian princess Golden Twig but cannot find out who she is. Getting drunk, Shun Yufeng dreams the Big Ash-tree king orders him to marry Princess Golden Twig and to defend the state as Nanke prefect against the Danlo. He does so for twenty years, but his wife avoids the heat by living alone in Yao Citadel. The fourth Yanlo prince tries to take her, but Yufeng saves his wife. However, she becomes ill, dies, and is buried on Turtle Hill. Yufeng starts drinking again and is banished by the king; but he falls out of a cart and wakes to learn it was a dream. His servants explain it as the spirit of the big ash-tree; but the abbot says it was love sickness. When Yufeng vows to give up love, heaven opens; his friends, family, and the king and queen all ascend to heaven. Golden Twig arrives as a spirit, and Yufeng forces her to be his wife; but he must let her spirit go, and he cannot do so until the abbot separates them with his magic sword. She ascends to heaven, and Yufeng disciplines himself to become an immortal. This Daoist ending thus substitutes a spiritual fulfillment for the romantic one.
Tang Xianzu wrote The Handan Story in 1613, the year of Shakespeare's last play, The Tempest. Also based on Shen Jiqi's "Story of the Pillow," it is very similar to Ma Zhiyuan's The Dream of Yellow Millet. The immortal Lu Dangbin is guided to a restaurant, where he meets farming inspector Lu Sheng. Dangbin puts his porcelain pillow under the head of sleepy Lu Sheng, who dreams he can crawl in one end. He meets the beautiful daughter of a millionaire and marries her. She urges him to take the examinations, and he goes to the capital and takes her advice to bribe an official to win the highest prize; but the chief examiner Yu Wenyong knows of this and blackmails Lu Sheng to open a difficult road to the Yellow River. The Emperor is pleased, but Yu Wenyong next sends Lu Sheng to command the army on the western frontier. He uses a clever stratagem to cause dissension among the enemy leaders and triumphs.
Finally Yu Wenyong tries to get the Emperor to execute Lu Sheng
for bribery; but his wife's plea keeps Lu from losing his head.
Yet she is condemned to weave, and he is imprisoned. She makes
a tapestry depicting the wrongs her husband has suffered, and
it is presented at court to a foreign envoy, who alerts the Emperor
to its story. Yu Wenyong is the only official who does not testify
to the integrity of Lu Sheng; so the Emperor punishes Yu and releases
Lu Sheng. He becomes prime minister and prince of Zhao; his four
sons become officials. Lu Sheng dies at age eighty, happy he had
a successful life; but then he awakes and realizes it was a dream.
After discussing his dream with Lu Dangbin, Lu Sheng understands
how futile it is to strive for wealth, fame, and honor. So he
wanders with the immortal, and they live as carefree and harmoniously
as the clouds in the sky.
The Kunshan play Fifteen Strings of Cash by Shi Wu Guan was based on a story published in a collection in 1627 and was performed in the 17th century. A drunk butcher brings home fifteen strings of coins a relative has loaned him so that he can restart his pork business. As a joke before he falls asleep, he tells his stepdaughter that he has sold her into slavery. That night she flees to another town. A thief called Lou the Rat takes the money from under the pillow. When the butcher wakes up, Lou murders him with a meat cleaver. The next morning neighbors find the dead body, and Lou says the missing daughter is suspect. She is found on the highway with a merchant's apprentice, who happens to have fifteen strings of cash to purchase goods. Both are arrested and convicted of the murder on circumstantial evidence by a rather stupid judge. They appeal to a fair prefect, who is in charge of the execution but manages to get permission from the governor to investigate. Disguised as a fortune-teller he learns the truth from Lou the Rat, who is arrested and brought to trial. This satire and near tragedy exposes how people can easily jump to conclusions and convict innocent people, and it shows the importance of investigation and judicial safeguards.
Meng Chengshun (1599-1684) is best known for his romantic tragedy Jiaohongji, which is a chuanqi play written in 1638. The complete title is The Story of Jiaoniang and Feihong and of Chastity and Integrity in the Mandarin-duck Tomb, sometimes shortened to The Mandarin-duck Tomb or Jiao and Hong. Cyril Birch has translated it into English as Mistress & Maid. Jiaoniang means "charming girl," and Feihong is her maid. The story is taken from a novella by Song Yuan of the Yuan era. The play in fifty scenes is long and was probably performed over at least two days. Shen Chun is the devoted suitor of Jiaoniang, but he also flirts with her maid. Shen Chun romantically makes marriage more important than his career. He keeps his red-stained sleeve as a remembrance of their first night together. A matchmaker informs Shen and his family that his proposal has been refused, but they get another chance by staging a Daoist exorcism. In the last part of the play a ghost impersonates Jiaoniang. She is not willing to obey her father and marry Governor Shuai; so she takes her own life. Shen Chun tells his family and dies also to be with her. In the final scene the maid Feihong sees Jiaoniang and Shen in their immortal forms.
1. "Memorial Outlining Policies for the Frontier"
in Instructions for Practical Living by Wang Yangming,
tr. Wing-tsit Chan, p. 284.
2. Instructions for Practical Living by Wang Yangming, tr. Wing-tsit Chan, 1:3, p. 7.
3. Ibid. 3:315, p. 243.
4. "Inquiry on the Great Learning" by Wang Yangming, tr. Wing-tsit Chan in Instructions for Practical Living, p. 274.
5. Cang shu by Li Zhi, p. 7 quoted in Cambridge History of China, Volume 8, p. 749.
6. The Journey to the West 11 tr. Anthony C. Yu, Volume 1, p. 248.
7. Ibid. p. 253-254.
8. Tower of Myriad Mirrors by Tung Yueh, tr. Shuen-fu Lin and Larry J. Schulz, p. 192-3.
9. Plum in the Golden Vase, The or, Chin P'ing Mei, Volume One: The Gathering tr. David Tod Roy, p. 3.
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