(CHINA from MING to QING – continued)
In 1603 the Dutch East Indies Trading Company had established a presence on the Penghu (Pescadores) Islands. It was ejected from the Penghu Islands by Ming forces, and in 1624 the Dutch moved to Taiwan and made it a colony.
Wanli had died in 1620 at the age of fifty-seven. An examination of his remains in the year 1958 revealed morphine residues at levels which indicated he had been a heavy and habitual user of opium. (During the Cultural Revolution his remains were burned by Red Guards.)
Wanli's successor was his grandson, Tianqi, who was fifteen and illiterate. The withdrawal of emperors from governmental affairs continued. Emperor Tianqi enjoyed carpentry while his court and administration were being tyrannized by a eunuch, Wei Zhongxian, who dismissed anyone from government service whom he thought might be disloyal to him.
Rebellion occurred in 1624, led by six Confucianists who were attempting a moral revival of "pure" Confucianism. They were known as the Six Heroes. They were dreamers interested in moral revival rather than organizing an armed opposition, and, like the Confucianist Wang Mang centuries before, they paid for it with their lives. They were tortured and beaten to death, and seven hundred of their supporters were purged from their government positions.
Some in China concluded that Wei Zhongxian's terror and Tianqi's passive acceptance indicated that the Ming dynasty had lost the Mandate of Heaven. Tanqui died in 1627 and was succeeded by his feeble younger brother, Chongzhen. During Chongzhen's reign heaven seemed to be intervening against the Ming, as China suffered (with other parts of the world) from unusually bad weather: low temperatures, drought and flooding from too much rain. Also, unpaid soldiers were driving peasants to revolt by stealing their crops. Across China people were in rebellion. Militarily the emperor remained weak. More raiding was underway from the north – not from the Mongols this time but from the Manchu, raiding from what is now called Manchuria. The Ming Dynasty had been in need of organizing an adequate military defense. In his book The Origins of Political Order, Francis Fukuyama (pp 309-10) writes of a "completely feckless" response by the Ming government. There were accumulated tax delinquencies and insufficient revenues for military defense, and the regime failed to organize an adequate logistics system with which to pay its frontier soldiers.
Fall of the Ming Dynasty has been described as an inner collapse that made conquest from Manchuria possible. But developments In Manchuria helped. In Manchuria were Chinese who had brought with them Chinese-style agriculture. In that part of Manchuria called Jilin were the descendants of the semi-nomadic Jurchen who had established the Jin Dynasty in northern China in the 1100s. By the early 1600s, one among them, Nurgaci, had brought adjoining Manchu tribes under his rule. His son and successor, Abahai, ruling from the town of Mukden, gave the name of Manchu to his subjects. He allied himself with Mongol tribes, made a treaty with the Koreans and was set for an assault on China.
The Manchu were making incursions into northern China at the same time as people in China were rebelling against the emperor, Chongzhen. In 1644 a rebel Chinese force swept into Beijing. Chongzhen hanged himself. In the coming seven years the Manchu fought battles outside of Beijing, the Manchu gaining hold of military garrisons at strategic points, and Ming supporters taking refuge in Taiwan, which did not submit to the Manchus until 1683. The Manchu's took power in Beijing and eventually over the whole of China. (Details provided by scholar/reader.) China's emperors now belonged to a Manchu family called the Qing family, a dynasty that was to rule to the 19th century.
A few Chinese chose death rather than serve the Manchu, but other Chinese filled the Manchu government bureaucracy. The Manchu were never more than two percent of the population in China, but helping them rule was Confucianism's view of arbitrary authority being other than an imposition by violent conquest. Manchu rule in China promoted the study of the classics and the veneration of ancestors, including the idea that a ruler rules by virtue of his goodness, connected with the heavens. Meanwhile, Manchu emperors kept military power out of the hands of Chinese and in the hands of their fellow Manchu. They guarded against their fellow Manchu being swallowed by the Chinese by forbidding Manchu from marrying Chinese. They forbade them from engaging in commerce or labor and obliged them to military service dedicated to maintaining Manchu power.
With the peace that the Manchu imposed upon China, prosperity and population growth returned, and trade with Europe increased. One Manchu emperor, Kangxi, ruled sixty-one years – from 1661 to 1722 – and would be considered one of China's great emperors. He won praise from Jesuits in China for his "noble heart," his intelligence, his excellent memory, his taste in reading and for his being an "absolute ruler over his passions."
But China's economic preeminence had ended. Per capita production in China had been falling behind Western Europe since the 1400s. By 1600, per capita production in Western Europe was 50 percent higher than China's. China's per capita production would be measured as constant between 1350 and 1950, a six-hundred-year period in which Western Europe's per capita production increased 594 percent. note33
The Rise and Splendor of the Chinese Empire, by René Grousset, 1968
China: a New History, by John King Fairbank and Merle Goldman, 1998
The Ageless Chinese by Dun J. Li, 1978
"From Ming to Manchu," by Andrew Chou to F Smitha, 2006?
Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, Chapter 1, Paul Kennedy, 1987
Copyright © 2001-2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.