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I often read that the Ming dynasty taxed heavily, and that this is one of the reasons it failed.
For example, this says that: "Corruptive officials levied heavy taxes on peasants, triggering countless uprisings".
But how heavy was this tax, really?
In theory, not very.
The most infamous of the late Ming taxes were what's the known as the Three Payments (
三餉), so named because they were instituted to fund payments fo the army. From contemporary and Qing era history works such as the Veritable Records of Ming and the History of Ming, we know these were:
遼餉(Liao Pay) - fund the defence of Liaodong against the rising Manchurian menace.
剿餉(Pacification Pay) - fund the suppression of peasant revolts that had been breaking out
練餉(Training Pay) - levied in the wake of devastating Manchurian invasions in 1638
These primarily took the form of a tax on farmlands. The Liao Pay was the most significant of these, being originally raised in 1618, and quickly increased thrice to 0.9 candareen by 1620. In 1631, it was further raised to increased to 1.2 candareen. The Pacification Pay was levied in 1637 until 1639, when it was replaced by the Training Pay at about 1.4 candareen.
The Liao Pay returned some 6.6 million taels, and another million from various minor taxes on commerce. The Training Pay added 7.3 million taels. Each tael was equivalent to 100 candareen. To put the tax number in perspective, consumer prices according to the 1593 journal
- One kati of noodles: 0.7 candareen
- One sho (1% of a dan) of rice: 0.8 candareen
- One kati of beef: 1.3 candareen
- One kati of pork: 1.8 candareen
- One live duck: 3 candareen
- One live goose: 18 candareen
For reference, each mu of land (the basic land tax unit) had a basic production level of at least 2 dan of rice or equivalent each year. Other taxes such as customs were also low at only 1/30, or 3.33%. Therefore, the nominal tax value was in fact extremely low, especially in comparison to the double digit income tax of modern western societies.
Relatively speaking, these taxes represented a 50% increase over regular government revenues. However, this is due to how incredibly low normal taxes were. The subsequent Manchurian dynasty of Qing levied taxes of up to 5 candareen per mu, for example.
In practice, the peasantry were heavily exploited by an utterly corrupted bureaucratic machinery and social inequality. At every stage of governance, bureaucrats lined their own pockets with "tax" money. Every tael of tax from the provinces entailed several times more money extracted from the peasants to enrich the middlemen. More seriously, the wealthy in late Ming society could bribe and cajole tax collectors into passing their share of the tax burden onto less influential peasants.
This corruption was extended to the tax system as well where local magnates bribed officials to hide the amount of land or property they owned in order to keep their taxes low. Then, when the state was forced to increase taxes for military expenses, the costs were simply passed along to the peasants.
- Swope, Kenneth M. The Military Collapse of China's Ming Dynasty, 1618-44. Routledge, 2014.
My answer is short but can be a complement to the nice answer by Semaphore.
Already in the early 15th, from 1447 to 1449, un uprising by Deng Maoqi, a peasant in Fujian province occured. This suggest from the earlier stage of Ming's dynasty, the enocomic system was in chaotic mode.
The failure of these stern regulations against silver mining prompted ministers such as the censor Liu Hua (jinshi graduate in 1430) to support the baojia system of communal self-defense units to patrol areas and arrest 'mining bandits' (kuangzei). Deng Maoqi (died 1449), an overseer in this baojia defense units in Sha County of Fujian, abused local landlords who attempted to have him arrested; Deng responded by killing the local magistrate in 1447 and started a rebellion. By 1448, Deng's forces took control of several counties and were besieging the prefectural capital. The mobilization of local baojia units against Deng was largely a failure; in the end it took 50,000 government troops (including later Mongol rebels who sided with Cao Qin's rebellion in 1461), with food supplies supported by local wealthy elites, to put down Deng's rebellion and execute the so-called "King Who Eliminates Evil" in the spring of 1449. Many ministers blamed ministers such as Liu Hua for promoting the baojia system and thus allowing this disaster to occur. The historian Tanaka Masatoshi regarded "Deng's uprising as the first peasant rebellion that resisted the class relationship of rent rather than the depredations of officials, and therefore as the first genuinely class-based 'peasant warfare' in Chinese history.
It is said the lowest class of peasants had to pay 50-60% of their income to the landlord at that time.
And from the quote
Hongwu was unaware of economic inflation even as he continued to hand out multitudes of banknotes as awards; by 1425, paper currency was worth only 0.025% to 0.014% its original value in the 14th century
This freaking inflation makes me guess easily put so much hardship on the society in general then.
However, ironically, the Ming Dynasty is one of the longest living dynasties somehow ( up to early 17th century ). And personally it is remarkable when we consider in Japan too, the then dynasty Muromachi Period from the early staage almost everywhere fightings between lords continually occured and uprisings by farmers were frequent but lasted 200 years suggests something might have happening in a similar environment in East Asia at that time.
Ming Dynasty (1368-1644): The Single-Whip Reform
Causes of Reform. During the sixteenth century the Ming government faced several fiscal problems, one of which was the inadequacy of the monetary system. To supplement the shortage of copper coins, the government introduced unminted silver in tax transactions. When converting
commodities into silver, surcharges were often imposed on the peasants. In addition to this monetary problem, the increasing burden of military expenditures proved onerous. Ming armies were largely supported by the land tax, and a substantial portion of the government revenue was allocated for military expenses. The third problem was the inadequacy of government officials’ salaries, which were paid in grain. These payments were often converted into commodities at a low exchange rate when government funds were insufficient. The shrinkage of the salaries affected morale and encouraged corruption. The biggest problem, however, was the confusion and complexity of taxes on land and labor. The tax was assessed according to the classification of the land, which was reevaluated around every ten years. This system was maintained by local wealthy household heads who therefore were able to avoid their responsibilities by falsifying land records, a problem compounded by the complexity of taxes and labor services. Eventually, these problems negatively affected the peasants.
Single-Whip Reform. To solve these fiscal problems, the Ming government, from 1522 to 1619, undertook a series of reforms to simplify the tax structure and to secure tax collection. Many taxes were combined and simplified into monetary payments, a reform known as the yi tiao bian (combining many items into one) or Single Whip Reform. The Chief Grant Secretary, Zhang Juzheng, was the engineer of these reforms. His first major measure simplified land classifications from around one hundred different rates to only two or three rates. The second measure combined land taxes from thirty or forty types into two or three. Third, both land and labor taxes were computed into one tax to be paid in silver. Finally, the government established uniform tax collection dates to reduce the possibility of tax fraud and evasion.
Significance of Reform . These reforms were a prototype of modern taxation practices. Its principles, such as computation of taxes by government officials and use of cash payments, are employed in current tax structures. The assessment of taxes was based on the budgetary needs of the state, and therefore it assured a reliable income to run the government. Silver could be used to pay government officials and hire laborers. Peasants were also freed from the trouble of transporting grain to the government granaries, instead paying their taxes directly to collecting agencies at the local level.
How heavy was the taxation in Ming China? - History
The Ming (1368 to 1662) period is considered one of the three golden ages of China, alongside the Han and Tang Dynasties. During its reign, the Ming Dynasty economy made improvements in technology, agriculture, trade, and manufacturing. During the Ming Dynasty the Chinese economy was rapidly displaying signs of early capitalism.
The farmers used crop rotation methods and plowing was powered by water, greatly improving agricultural output. This formed a base for the Ming market economy. Crops like tea plants and fruit orchards were grown, depending on the soil suitability of a particular region, were mass produced.
Agricultural Influences on the Ming Economy
The new market economy made it possible for farmers to cultivate large areas of land for producing cash crops. Cash crops were important to agriculture due to fact that the quality of land was decreasing and population rising.
Advancements in use of tools, carts, and water-powered equipment helped in large scale production of crops.
There were three types of markets during the Ming period: the rural market, the urban-rural market, and the national market.
The manufacturing industry became more advanced and was involved in producing different products, compared to the Song Dynasty. Iron was produced at a rate which no previous dynasty was able to achieve. The Ming used the Han policies and privatized many industries, like tea and salt. Chinese industry was propelled by powerful and wealthy merchants.
The Ming abolished the practice of forced labor and brought out a major change in the manufacturing industry by paying wages to the labors working in these factories. There were around 300 factories involved in making pots and were run by waged labor forces.
Commerce and Trade
Trade, commerce, and investment flourished during the Ming period because of their liberalized economy. The Ming Chinese built canals for irrigation, bridges, and roads for transportation. Trade with faraway markets became more feasible. The Ming Dynasty trade reached as far as Japan and Europe, which opened gates for economic development. Overseas trade brought around 300 million silver taels into China.
4 responses to “Ming Dynasty Economy”
Hmm… I find it a bit lacking. How about the low taxes of the Ming? Due to the insanely high taxes established during the Yuan, the Ming wanted to keep taxes low. Too low to the point where if 300 million taels were flowing through the market, Ming would only collect 40,000. Although this made the state weak, it significantly boosted the economy. Many businesses sprung up and it was considered as the sprouting roots of capitalism in China.
^ yes but a weak state that was created from low taxes was a big factor that led to the mings downfall.
Oh my Gosh I love this website. It’s really useful. I’m recommending it to all my friends
Wm. Theodore de Bary, Self and Society in Ming Thought (New York: Columbia University Press, 1970).
John K. Fairbank and others, East Asia: Tradition and Transformation (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1973).
Ray Huang, 1587, A Year of No Significance: The Ming Dynasty in Decline (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981).
Charles O. Hucker, The Ming Dynasty: Its Origins and Evolving Institutions (Ann Arbor: Center for Chinese Studies, University of Michigan, 1978).
Robert B. Marks, Tigers, Rice, Silk, and Silt: Environment and Economy in Late Imperial South China (Cambridge &c New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997).
F. W. Mote, Imperial China, 900-1800 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999).
Mote and Denis Twitchett, eds., The Cambridge History of China, volume 7, The Ming Dynasty, 1368-1644, Part 1 (Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988).
Witold Rodzinski, A History of China, 2 volumes (Oxford 6c New York: Pergamon, 1979, 1983).
Shih-shan Henry Tsai, Perpetual Happiness: The Ming Emperor Yongle (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001).
4. The dynasty’s greatest admiral and navigator, Zheng He, sailed a vast armada as far as Africa.
Zheng He’s 1418 map of the world
Fifty years before Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama sailed around the Cape of Good Hope and up the east coast of Africa, an armada of some of the largest wooden ships ever made was projecting Chinese power in the same waters, under the command of Ming-dynasty admiral Zheng He. Born in 1371 into a Muslim family in Yunnan province, Zheng had been captured and castrated by Ming troops and sent into service to the imperial family, where he became a trusted advisor to the future Yongle Emperor. After his patron’s ascension, he was put in charge of the Forbidden City’s corps of eunuchs before being promoted to admiral. Between 1405 and 1433, Zheng’s seven maritime expeditions, which included up to 62 ships and 27,800 men, travelled trade routes through Southeast Asia, India, the Middle East and Eastern Africa. Some 36 countries agreed to form tributary relationships with China, but after the death of the Yongle Emperor, the new regime put an end to the costly expeditions.
Urbanization and population Edit
During the Warring States period (403–221 BC), the development of private commerce, new trade routes, handicraft industries, and a money economy led to the growth of new urban centers. These centers were markedly different from the older cities, which had merely served as power bases for the nobility.  The use of a standardized, nationwide currency during the Qin dynasty (221–206 BC) facilitated long-distance trade between cities.  Many Han cities grew large: the Western Han capital, Chang'an, had approximately 250,000 inhabitants, while the Eastern Han capital, Luoyang, had approximately 500,000 inhabitants.  The population of the Han Empire, recorded in the tax census of 2 AD, was 57.6 million people in 12,366,470 households.  The majority of commoners who populated the cities lived in extended urban and suburban areas outside the city walls and gatehouses.  The total urban area of Western-Han Chang'an—including the extensions outside the walls—was 36 km 2 (14 sq mi). The total urban area of Eastern-Han Luoyang—including the extensions outside the walls—was 24.5 km 2 (9.5 sq mi).  Both Chang'an and Luoyang had two prominent marketplaces each market had a two-story government office demarcated by a flag and drum at the top.  Market officials were charged with maintaining order, collecting commercial taxes, setting standard commodity prices on a monthly basis, and authorizing contracts between merchants and customers. 
Variations in currency Edit
During the early Western Han period, founding Emperor Gaozu of Han (r. 202–195 BC) closed government mints in favor of coin currency produced by the private sector.  Gaozu's widow Empress Lü Zhi, as grand empress dowager, abolished private minting in 186 BC. She first issued a government-minted bronze coin weighing 5.7 g (0.20 oz), but issued another, weighing 1.5 g (0.053 oz), in 182 BC.  The change to the lighter coin caused widespread inflation, so in 175 BC Emperor Wen of Han (r. 180–157 BC) lifted the ban on private minting private mints were required to mint coins weighing exactly 2.6 g (0.092 oz).  Private minting was again abolished in 144 BC during the end of Emperor Jing of Han's (r. 157–141 BC) reign. Despite this, the 2.6 g (0.092 oz) bronze coin was issued by both central and local commandery governments until 120 BC, when for one year it was replaced with a coin weighing 1.9 g (0.067 oz).  Other currencies were introduced around this time. Token money notes made of embroidered white deerskin, with a face value of 400,000 coins, were used to collect government revenues.  Emperor Wu also introduced three tin-silver alloy coins worth 3,000, 500, and 300 bronze coins, respectively all of these weighed less than 120 g (4.2 oz). 
In 119 BC, the government issued the bronze wushu (五銖) coin weighing 3.2 g (0.11 oz) the coin remained the standard currency in China until the Tang dynasty (618–907 AD).  During the brief interruptive Xin dynasty (9–23 AD) of Wang Mang (45 BC – 23 AD), the government introduced several new denominations in 7, 9, 10, and 14 AD. These new units (including bronze knife money, gold, silver, tortoise, and cowry shell currencies) often had a market price unequal to their weight and debased the value of coin currency.  Once the widespread civil wars following Wang's overthrow abated, the wushu coin was reintroduced by Emperor Guangwu of Han (r. 25–57 AD) in 40 AD at the instigation of Ma Yuan (14 BC – 49 AD).  Since commandery-issued coins were often of inferior quality and lighter weight, the central government closed all commandery mints in 113 BC and granted the central government's Superintendent of Waterways and Parks the exclusive right to mint coins.  Although the issue of central government coinage was transferred to the office of the Minister of Finance (one of Nine Ministers of the central government) by the beginning of Eastern Han, the central government's monopoly over the issue of coinage persisted. 
Gary Lee Todd (Ph.D. in History from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Professor of History at Sias International University in Xinzheng, Henan, China) provides the following images of coins issued during the Western Han and Xin periods on his website: 
A coin issued during the reign of Empress Lü Zhi (r. 187–180 BC), 34 mm in diameter
A coin issued during the reign of Emperor Wen of Han (r. 180–157 BC), 24 mm in diameter
A coin issued during the early reign of Emperor Wu of Han (r. 141–87 BC), made of lead and issued before the government monopoly was installed this coin is 22 to 23 mm in diameter.
A coin issued during the regency of Wang Mang (6–9 AD), 28 mm in diameter
A knife-shaped coin issued during the reign of Wang Mang (9–23 AD)
A coin issued during the reign of Wang Mang (9–23 AD), 20 mm in diameter
Circulation and salaries Edit
Merchants and peasant farmers paid property and poll taxes in coin cash and land taxes with a portion of their crop yield.  Peasants obtained coinage by working as hired laborers for rich landowners, in businesses like breweries or by selling agricultural goods and homemade wares at urban markets.  The Han government may have found collecting taxes in coin the easiest method because the transportation of taxed goods would have been unnecessary. 
From 118 BC to 5 AD, the government minted over 28,000,000,000 coins, with an annual average of 220,000,000 coins minted (or 220,000 strings of 1,000 coins).  In comparison, the Tianbao period (天寶) (742–755 AD) of the Tang dynasty produced 327,000,000 coins every year while 3,000,000,000 coins in 1045 AD and 5,860,000,000 coins in 1080 AD were made in the Song dynasty (960–1279 AD).  Coin cash became the common measure of wealth during Eastern Han, as many wages were paid solely in cash.  Diwu Lun (第五倫) (fl. 40–85 AD), Governor of Shu Province (modern Sichuan), described his subordinate officials' wealth not in terms of landholdings, but in the form of aggregate properties worth approximately 10,000,000 coin cash.  Commercial transactions involving hundreds of thousands of coins were commonplace. 
Angus Maddison estimates that the country's gross domestic product was equivalent to $450 per head in 1990 United States dollars—a sum that was above subsistence level, and which did not significantly change until the beginning of the Song dynasty in the late 10th century.  Sinologist Joseph Needham has disputed this and claimed that China's GDP per capita exceeded Europe by substantial margins from the 5th century BCE onwards, holding that Han China was much wealthier than the contemporary Roman Empire.  The widespread circulation of coin cash enriched many merchants, who invested their money in land and became wealthy landowners. The government's efforts to circulate cash had empowered the very social class which it actively tried to suppress through heavy taxes, fines, confiscations, and price regulation schemes. 
Landowners and peasants Edit
After Shang Yang (d. 338 BC) of the State of Qin abolished the communal and aristocratic well-field system in an effort to curb the power of nobles, land in China could be bought and sold.  Historical scholars of the Han dynasty like Dong Zhongshu (179–104 BC) attributed the rise of the wealthy landowning class to this reform.  The Han Feizi describes these landowners' use of hired labor in agriculture, a practice dating back to the 3rd century BC, possibly earlier.  Some landowners owned small numbers of slaves, but many relied on peasant tenant farmers who paid rent with a portion of their agricultural produce.   More numerous than tenants, small landowner-cultivators lived and worked independently, but often fell into debt and sold their land to the wealthy.  The court official Chao Cuo (d. 154 BC) argued that if the average independent landowning family of five could cultivate no more than 4.57 hectares (11.3 acres) of land and produce no more than 2,000 litres (530 US gal) of grain annually, then natural disasters and high taxation rates would force many into debt, to sell their land, homes, and even children, and to become dependent upon work as tenant farmers for the wealthy. 
Officials at the court of Emperor Ai of Han (r. 7–1 BC) attempted to implement reforms limiting the amount of land nobles and wealthy landowners could own legally, but were unsuccessful.  When Wang Mang took control of the government in 9 AD, he abolished the purchase and sale of land in a system called King's Fields (王田). This was a variation of the well-field system, where the government owned the land and assured every peasant an equal share to cultivate.  Within three years, complaints from wealthy landowners and nobles forced Wang Mang to repeal the reform.  After Gengshi (r. 23–25 AD) and Guangwu (r. 25–57 AD) restored the Han dynasty, they relied on the service of great landholding families to secure their position in society. Many of their government officials also became wealthy landowners. 
By the late Eastern Han period, the peasantry had become largely landless and served wealthy landowners. This cost the government significant tax revenue.  Although the central government under Emperor He of Han (r. 88–105 AD) reduced taxes in times of natural disaster and distress without much effect upon the treasury, successive rulers became less able to cope with major crises. The government soon relied upon local administrations to conduct relief efforts.  After the central government failed to provide local governments with provisions during both a locust swarm and the flooding of the Yellow River in 153 AD, many landless peasants became retainers of large landowners in exchange for aid.  Patricia Ebrey writes that the Eastern Han was the "transitional period" between the Western Han—when small independent farmers were the vast majority—and the Three Kingdoms (220–265 AD) and later Sixteen Kingdoms (304–439 AD), when large family estates used unfree labor. 
The Yellow Turban Rebellion of 184 AD, the slaughter of the eunuchs in 189 AD, and the campaign against Dong Zhuo in 190 AD destabilized the central government, and Luoyang was burnt to the ground.  At this point, ". private and local power came to replace public authority." 
The Han Chancellor and King of Wei Cao Cao (155–220 AD) made the final significant attempt to limit the power of wealthy landowners. Cao Cao established government-managed agricultural colonies for landless commoners in exchange for land and cheap equipment, the farmers paid a portion of their crop yield.  In the 120s BC, Emperor Wu had attempted to establish agricultural colonies in the northwestern frontier of the newly conquered Hexi Corridor (in modern Gansu). 600,000 new settlers farmed on these state lands using seeds, draft animals and equipment loaned by the government.  An imperial edict in 85 AD ordered the local governments of commanderies and subordinate kingdoms to resettle landless peasants onto state-owned lands, where they would be paid wages, provided with crop seeds, loaned farming tools and exempted from rent payments for five years and poll taxes for three years.  The edict also allowed peasants to return to their native counties at any time.  Subsequent governments of the Three Kingdoms established agricultural colonies on these models. 
Many scholars claim that Han farmers were generally living at subsistence levels, relying primarily on two documents from the Hanshu (Book of Han). The first is attributed to the Warring States minister Li Kui 李悝 (455-395 BCE)  the second is a memorial written by the Han-era official Chao Cuo 晁錯 (200-154 BCE).  Both appear in Hanshu Chapter 24, the Treatise on Food and Money 食貨志. Li Kui and Chao Cuo both emphasize the extreme precariousness of Han agricultural life, a view summed up by Cho-yun Hsu, who writes that Han and pre-Han farmers had only "a relatively small margin left to meet other expenses": "An account of the income and expenditures of a small farm in the pre-Ch’in (Chan-kuo) period cited in the Han-shu gives a deficit of 10 percent of the annual income, presumably in a year of mediocre crops… In the time of [Chao Cuo] the situation remained very much the same." 
According to Hans Bielenstein, the physical requirements of subsistence in grain can also be calculated from the Hanshu: "a family consisting of an old woman, a grown man, a grown woman, an older child, and a younger child, annually consumed 127 hu of unhusked grain. This comes to about 10.5 hu per month."  (According to Swann, one hu 斛 equals 0.565 of a US bushel, which is about 5 gallons or 20 liters).  Hsu puts the yearly subsistence figure at 140 hu.  Bielenstein also examines salary tables given in both the Hanshu and the Houhan shu (Book of the Later Han) that list official salaries half in cash and half in unhusked grain. Based on these tables, he derives a conversion between cash and hu: a "generally accepted average is 70 to 80 cash for Former Han and 100 cash for Later Han."  Based on this conversion, the cash value of the grain needed for subsistence was about 8,890 to 14,000 coins per year during the Han dynasty.
We can also estimate the amount of land needed to produce this amount of grain, thanks to Wolfram Eberhard who "estimates the average yield as being 1.0 to 1.5 shih per mu," though Hsu notes that, "Very high yields could reach as much as 6.4 hu per mu."  Swann gives 1 shi 石 (which she translates as "picul" with a weight of "64 lbs. 8.8 oz.") as between 1 and 2 hu, depending on the type of grain. Based only on Eberhard's yields and Swann's range of conversion between shi and hu, a farmer would need between about 85 and 254 mu (between about 9.7 and 29 acres) in order to produce the 127 hu of grain Eberhard deems necessary to the subsistence of a family of five. Other scholars give other numbers, however. Hsu claims that 50 mu (about 5.7 acres) was in fact "the acreage needed for subsistence living,"  while Wang Zhongshu calculates that "there was on the average 24.6 mou per family, or less than 6 mou per person (with each mou equivalent to 456 square m)."  Both Li Kui and Chao Cuo claimed that 100 mu was the amount of land required to support a family, though the amount of land denoted by the word mu had changed between Li Kui's time and Chao Cuo's. 
Tax reforms Edit
Because small landowning families represented the mainstay of the Han tax base, the Han government attempted to aid and protect small landowners and to limit the power of wealthy landlords and merchants.  The government reduced taxes in times of poor harvest and provided relief after disasters.  Tax remissions and crop seed loans encouraged displaced peasants to return to their land.  An edict in 94 AD excused displaced peasants from paying land and labor service taxes for a year upon returning to their own farms.  The land tax on agricultural production was reduced in 168 BC from a rate of one-fifteenth of crop yield to one-thirtieth, and abolished in 167 BC. However, the tax was reinstated in 156 BC at a rate of one-thirtieth.  At the beginning of the Eastern Han, the land tax rate was one-tenth of the crop yield, but following the stabilization following Wang Mang's death, the rate was reduced to the original one-thirtieth in 30 AD. 
Towards the end of the Han dynasty, the land tax rate was reduced to one-hundredth, with lost revenue recouped by increasing the poll and property tax rates.  The poll tax for most adults was 120 coins annually, 240 coins for merchants, and 20 coins for minors aged between three and fourteen years. The lower taxable threshold age for minors increased to seven years during the reign of Emperor Yuan of Han (r. 48–33 BC) and onwards.  Historian Charles Hucker writes that underreporting of the population by local authorities was deliberate and widespread, since this reduced their tax and labor service obligations rendered to the central government. 
Though requiring additional revenue to fund the Han–Xiongnu War, the government during Emperor Wu of Han's reign (141–87 BC) sought to avoid heavy taxation of small landowners. To increase revenue, the government imposed heavier taxes on merchants, confiscated land from nobles, sold offices and titles, and established government monopolies over the minting of coins, iron manufacture and salt mining.  New taxes were imposed on the ownership of boats, carts, carriages, wheelbarrows, shops and other properties. The overall property tax for merchants was raised in 119 BC from 120 coins for every 10,000 coins-worth of property owned to 120 coins for every 2,000 coins-worth of property owned.  Tax rates for almost all commodities are unknown, except for that of liquor. After the government monopoly on liquor was abolished in 81 BC, a property tax of 2 coins for every 0.2 litres (0.05 US gal) was levied on liquor merchants. 
The sale of certain offices and titles was reintroduced in Eastern Han by Empress Dowager Deng Sui—who reigned as regent from 105–121 AD—to raise government revenues in times of severe natural disasters and the widespread rebellion of the Qiang people in western China.  The sale of offices became extremely corrupt under the eunuch-dominated government of Emperor Ling of Han (r. 168–189 AD), when many top official posts were sold at the highest bidder instead of being filled by vetted candidates who had taken Imperial examinations or attended the Imperial University. 
Two forms of mass conscription existed during the Han period. These were civilian conscription (gengzu 更卒) and military conscription (zhengzu 正卒). In addition to paying their monetary and crop taxes, all peasants of the Western Han period aged between fifteen and fifty-six were required to undertake mandatory conscription duties for one month of each year. These duties were usually fulfilled by work on construction projects. 
At the age of twenty-three years male peasants were drafted to serve in the military, where they were assigned to infantry, cavalry, or navy service.  After one year of training, they went on to perform a year of actual military service in frontier garrisons or as guards in the capital city.  They remained liable to perform this year of service until the age of fifty-six.  This was also the age when they were dismissed from their local militias, which they could join once they had finished their year of conscripted service.  These non-professional conscripted soldiers comprised the Southern Army (Nanjun 南軍), while the Northern Army (Beijun 北軍) was a standing army composed of paid career soldiers. 
During the Eastern Han, peasants could avoid the month of annual conscripted labor by paying a tax in commutation (gengfu 更賦). This development went hand in hand with the increasing use of hired labor by the government.  In a similar manner, because the Eastern-Han government favored the military recruitment of volunteers, the mandatory military draft for peasants aged twenty-three could be avoided by paying a tax in substitution. 
There were two categories of Han merchants: those who sold goods at shops in urban markets, and the larger-scale itinerant traders who traveled between cities and to foreign countries.  The small-scale urban shopkeepers were enrolled on an official register and had to pay heavy commercial taxes.  Although these registered merchants were taxed, an edict of 94 AD ordered that landless peasants who had to resort to peddling were to be exempted from taxation. 
Itinerant merchants were often wealthy and did not have to register.  These itinerant merchants often participated in large-scale trade with powerful families and officials.  Nishijima writes that most of the biographies of "wealthy men" in the Records of the Grand Historian and Book of Han were those of itinerant merchants. 
In contrast, registered marketplace merchants had a very low social status and were often subject to additional restrictions.  Emperor Gaozu passed laws levying higher taxes, forbidding merchants from wearing silk, and barring their descendants from holding public office. These laws were difficult to enforce.  Emperor Wu targeted both the registered and unregistered merchants with higher taxes. While registered merchants were not allowed to own land, if they broke this law their land and slaves would be confiscated.  However, wealthy unregistered merchants owned large tracts of land.  Emperor Wu significantly reduced the economic influence of great merchants by openly competing with them in the marketplace, where he set up government-managed shops that sold commodities collected from the merchants as property taxes. 
How heavy was the taxation in Ming China? - History
This period of Chinese history, from roughly 600-1600 C.E., is a period of stunning development in China. From the Tang (discussed in the unit on the Tang Dynasty) through the "pre-modern" commercial and urban development of the Song, ca. 1000, to the Ming voyages of exploration (1405- 1433) with ships that reach the coast of Africa. (The achievements of China under the Song are the subject of Marco Polo's "fantastic" reports when he journeys to China under the Mongols, who rule in China for eighty-nine years (1279- 1368) as the Yuan dynasty, between the Song and Ming.)
China's Preeminence under the Song (960-1279) and Commercial Development
- The Song dynasty (960-1279) follows the Tang (618-906) and the two together constitute what is often called "China's Golden Age."
- The use of paper money, the introduction of tea drinking, and the inventions of gunpowder, the compass, and printing all occur under the Song. (The fact that the dynasty spans the year 1000 may make it easier for students to locate these developments in time.)
- The Song is distinguished by enormous commercial growth that historians refer to as "pre-modern" in character. The growth in a) the production of non-agricultural goods in a rural and household context ("cottage industries" such as silk), and in b) the production of cash crops that are sold not consumed (tea), leads to the extension of market forces into the everyday life of ordinary people. When this commercial development takes place in European history it is labeled "proto-industrial" growth by historians, important in European history because it is succeeded by industrialization where the production moves to cities. (In Japanese history, historians see these pre-modern and proto-industrial developments taking place in the Tokugawa period, 1600-1868.) In China, the production of nonagricultural goods at the household level begins in Song and remains an important form of production and market development in China until the 20th century. China is distinguished by early development in this area.
- Students might consider the question: Did commercialization have to lead to industrialization, as it did in the West? This is a common assumption. Were there other factors influencing the economic development of the West? Is the Western pattern the "norm" or the Chinese pattern? What made each country's economic evolution follow the path it took?
- Urbanization accompanies commercial growth and Chinese cities are the largest and most sophisticated in the world at this time. (Marco Polo came from one of the most sophisticated cities in Europe of his time, Venice, and yet he wrote in awe of the organization of Chinese cities which he visited in the 1200s.)
- During the Song there is enormous growth in Chinese population and a shift in the locus of this population to southern China. Under the Tang dynasty, which precedes the Song, the population is concentrated in the north of China, in the wheat growing area. After 1127 when the Southern Song makes its capital in Hangzhou, below the Yangtze (Yangzi) River, there is a corresponding shift in the concentration of the Chinese population to southern China, below the Yangtze River. Rice is the staple crop of southern China and it produces a higher yield per acre than wheat and supports a larger population. By the end of the Song, 2/3 to 3/4 of the Chinese population is concentrated below the Yangtze.
- The Grand Canal, built during the Sui Dynasty, connects the Yangtze and the Yellow rivers, facilitating the transport of agricultural production from the south to the north and helping to unify the economy of China.
- The Mongols invade China from the north, defeat the Song, and establish the Yuan dynasty in 1279, ruling less than one-hundred years, to 1368. Under Khubilai (Kublai) Khan (1215-1294), the supreme leader of the Mongols and a grandson of Chinggis (Genghis) Khan (d. 1227), the Mongols move the Chinese capital to Beijing and establish the capital of their empire there.
- The Mongol empire spans Eurasia in the 13th and 14th centuries and facilitates trade and exchange across the Eurasian land mass.
- Marco Polo visits China (from ca. 1275-1291) under the Mongol rule, as mentioned above.
- The Ming defeated the Mongol conquerors in 1368 and reasserted Chinese military and political authority on land and sea.
- The officially sponsored Ming voyages of admiral Zheng He (Cheng He), from 1405-1433, provide an interesting basis for comparison of the Chinese and European capabilities and goals of maritime trade and exploration at this time. ". The Ming emperors sponsored an extraordinary series of seven voyages under the leadership of Admiral Zheng He. His huge fleets sailed the Indian Ocean as far as the Persian Gulf and the eastern coast of Africa, proclaiming the magnificence of the empire. While Zheng He brought lavish gifts to the states he visited and encourages their leaders to offer tribute to the Chinese emperor, at no time did he seek to extend Chinese territory." (From Circa 1492: Art in the Age of Exploration, a pamphlet of the National Gallery of Art, 1992).
- The first of the Ming voyages in 1405 consisted of a flotilla of 62 large ships, accompanied by 255 smaller ships, manned by 27,000 men.
Ming Dynasty China at the Time of Columbus
- "China in 1492 was the oldest, largest, and richest civilization in the world. Its command of science and technology far exceeded that of Europe. A strong agrarian economy ensured that its inhabitants were better provided for than those of any other society on earth. The emperors of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) presided over a vast and stable centralized bureaucracy. In addition to a hereditary aristocracy, the governing elite was composed of scholar-officials recruited on the basis of merit through civil examinations open to all. Many Chinese painters of the middle Ming period were themselves officials, a situation unparalleled in the West. The idea of artist-officials arose naturally in China, where candidates for government were expected to practice calligraphy and compose poetry." (From Circa 1492: Art in the Age of Exploration, a pamphlet of the National Gallery of Art, 1992).
European Interest in Chinese Inventions and the Chinese Political System
How heavy was the taxation in Ming China? - History
Crisis in Population and Ecology
Unfortunately for China, the demands of western powers and the devastation caused by rebellions coincided with other social crises which challenged the Chinese government and people. Foremost among these crises was a tremendous population increase which put an enormous strain on already hard-pressed resources. During the long period of peace from the late 17th century until the end of the 18th century, the population of China more than doubled, growing from nearly 150 million to over 300 million. The next period, 1779-1850, brought another 56% increase, bringing the total population to 430 million (approximately 1/2 the 1980 total) on the eve of the great Taiping rebellion of mid-century. This population spurt was all the more difficult to deal with since by the late 18th century there were few regions left which could absorb more internal migration. Even frontier areas like the west and south-west were filling up. As in other times of Chinese history, there were creative responses: more intense irrigation, the development of earlier ripening strains of rice that allowed double cropping, and, most importantly, the gradual acceptance of New World food crops such as maize (corn), sweet potatoes, tobacco and peanuts for marginal lands. But these agricultural advances were double-edged: they may have resulted in more food, animal feed, and fuel, but they also led to erosion of the more intensely cultivated hills and the beginnings of a labor surplus, particularly in crowded areas like the lower Yangtze delta.
But it was not only food production and available opportunities for work that could not keep up with the population surge. The machinery of government had been reasonably well-suited for a smaller population, yet a proportionate increase in administrative personnel was not made to keep pace with the population. By the 19th century, it is estimated that a direct magistrate, the lowest level official responsible for all local administration, might be responsible for as many as 250,000 people. Small wonder that when real crises came, officials in government were powerless to avoid them, and people had nothing to fall back on except for some meager donations and national and international relief efforts, which reached few people. To get an idea of the extent of the suffering in the late nineteenth century look closely at the woodblock prints from the China Famine Relief Fund distributed in Europe. As you view them, keep in mind that they were produced during one of the most disastrous famines in recent Chinese history, which took place between 1876-1879. It affected all five provinces of north China and claimed at least 9.5 million lives. The immediate cause was a three year drought which withered crops from 1873-6.
Woodblock Prints: Images of Famine
They Sell Their Fields and Take Their Houses to Pieces (to Sell the Materials)
For a time the sufferers could borrow from one another, but this came to an end. Then they killed their ploughing oxen and pawned their implements of agriculture, their coverlets and clothes and at last they gave up all thoughts of the future, and fell to selling their furniture and the materials of their houses, and many of their fields, for a mere song, till at last no purchaser could be found.
Think of this, ye who live in high halls and fine houses, and let your hearts move.
They Strip Off the Bark of Trees and Dig Up the Grass Roots for Food
The glowing sun is in the sky and the locusts cover the ground. There is no green grass in the fields and no smoke of cooking from the houses. They caught rats, or spread their nets for birds, or ground the wheat-stalks into powder, or kneaded the dry grass into cakes. Alas! What food was this for men! They were at last reduced to the straits seen in the picture.
Ye who spend large sums every day on your food, will you not give these sufferers a cup of soup?
Suicides in Consequence of the Famine
The old and weak find it hard to trudge along. The young and solitary and feeble are not accustomed to run about. They wait for death in their houses, stripped of everything. The cold winds pierce through their bones. They have no rice to cook, and the cravings of hunger are most painful. There is no way by which they can ascend to heaven, no door by which they can enter the earth. All their plans are exhausted. To die is better for them than to live. They hang themselves from beams, or throw themselves into the rivers. Everywhere such heartrending sights are to be seen.
A Famishing Woman Is Taken in Labor, Mother and Child Both Die
What can be the result of such an event amidst the horrors of the famine? A birth in the open air under ordinary circumstances is perilous but here, in a strange place, with disease and death around, the famishing mother gasps her last, and the child gives a few feeble wails and dies. Very few babes are born to live in this year of famine where are the kind people to supply the swaddling clothes and money necessary to keep them alive?
Primary Source: "Starvation"
This following excerpt is from a Chinese woman's account of the period ten years after the 1876-1879 famine, when another great famine afflicted North China. When she was older, this woman, Ning Lao Tai Tai, narrated the story of her harsh life. At the time of this story, she is a young woman with two children, married to a man who has turned out to be an opium addict. (By the late 19th century, it is estimated that in some areas of China, as much as 80% of the population of villages were frequent users of opium, and the average is estimated at perhaps 10% of the entire population.) This selection gives us a glimpse into what life was like for Ning Lao Tai Tai in North China in 1887-88.
Day after day I sat at home. Hunger gnawed. What could I do? My mother was dead. My brother had gone away. When my husband brought home food I ate it and my children ate with me. A woman could not go out of the court. If a woman went out to work the neighbors all laughed. They said, "So and so's wife has gone out to service." Or they said, "So and so's daughter has gone out to service." I did not know enough even to beg. So I sat at home and starved. I was so hungry one day that I took a brick, pounded it to bits, and ate it. It made me feel better.
How could I know what to do? We women knew nothing but to comb our hair and bind our feet and wait at home for our men. When my mother had been hungry she had sat at home and waited for my father to bring her food, so when I was hungry I waited at home for my husband to bring me food.
My husband sold everything we had.
There was a fur hat. He wanted to sell it. But I begged him not to sell it.
"Let's keep this." It was my uncle's. "Take my coat." He took the coat and sold it for grain. When he came home for food he drank only two bowls of millet gruel. I wondered why he ate so little. I looked and found that the hat was gone, and knew that he had sold it for opium. Those who take opium care not for food. .
One year after my mother died I got a stick and a bowl and started out begging. It was the spring of the year and I was twenty-two. It was no light thing for a woman to go out of her home. That is why I put up with my old opium sot so long. But now I could not live in my house and had to come out. When I begged I begged in the parts of the city where I was not known, for I was ashamed. I went with my begging stick (the little stick with which beggars beat off dogs) up my sleeve, that people should not see it. Every day we went out begging. My husband carried the baby and led Mantze. When we came to an open gate I would send her in, for people's hearts are moved by a child. .
Reprinted with permission from Ida Pruitt, A Daughter of Han: The Autobiography of a Chinese Working Woman (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1967), 55, 62.
Discussion Questions and Suggested Exercises
- How and why did demographic and ecological problems make matters worse for the Chinese government in the late 19th century?
- Why is it that women are often more severely afflicted during times of hardship than men?
- Why was begging so difficult for Ning Lao Tai Tai? What were the alternatives for her and her children?
- Since the late 19th century there have been cycles of opium use and suppression. The period pre-1906 was one of extensive use, 1906-15 of almost total suppression, 1915-45 of use again, and 1945 to the present of suppression. Some analysts conclude that the period of suppression matched times of strong government and others believe it was due to the people's spirit of nationalism and national pride. How can either of these explanations be related to opium use? What implications does this have for our society today?
Activity 1: Analyzing Famine
Experts usually regard famine as largely a man-made catastrophe, as opposed to natural disasters like hurricanes or tornadoes, although the effects of the latter are certainly made worse by short-sighted construction and energy products. Measures to prevent famine, therefore, must take into account the different factors in any catastrophe and assign a degree of responsibility. Look at the list below and rank each factor from 1-5 which you think are responsible for the human and financial costs of the Great North China Famine. Next, detail what measures would specifically target that factor.
____ government infrastructure (roads, communication)
____ local government
____ western powers
Activity 2: Famine Relief
Write to a relief agency (international organizations such as Oxfam, Red Cross, American Friends Service, Doctors Without Borders, and the United Nations) for information, or have a representative from the agency come to speak to the class about the organization's work and the needed resources — human, financial, and material — to implement relief projects.
Follow up this activity by raising the questions, such as: Does the relief work implemented by such agencies address or ameliorate the root causes of disasters such as famine? What sort of measures would address the underlying causes of crises? What would have addressed the causes of disasters in nineteenth century China?
Chinese Porcelain Marks
This chart shows the relative length and sequence of the various period during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). This chart has been copied and in my view, quite improved, and submitted to Wikipedia. Since plagiarism is the most honest kind of flattery, I am very pleased. They even kept my color scheme, which is my case was inspired by "Imperial yellow".
What makes things difficult is that the Ming dynasty was actually quite a long time ago, it's actually called Medieval times in most of the world, and mankind was actually trying things out, that they were about to do for the very first time. So, there were no set rules to a lot of things.
Like what requirement you need to have on porcelain that was about to be considered "Imperial" about half a millennia later. This said, what I am aiming at is that some of the porcelain that was delivered to the Imperial court in Beijing, in particular by the end of the dynasty, was most probably just commissioned from the better of the private kilns. This means that at this time there are no complete agreement among scholars about what was imperial and not. We can guess, but most likely we can never know for sure what was made for the court or not.
Marks are helpful but as a general rule the last thing you should trust while trying to establishing a date on a particular piece of Chinese porcelain. By a careful study of all technical and artistically features - including the mark - the authenticity of most Chinese porcelain is possible to establish. We should however be aware of that the best copies are those still not detected.
The dynastic succession
The Ming dynasty, which encompassed the reigns of 16 emperors, proved to be one of the most stable and longest ruling periods of Chinese history. Rulers of Korea, Mongolia, East Turkistan, Myanmar, Siam, and Nam Viet regularly acknowledged Ming overlordship, and at times tribute was received from as far away as Japan, Java and Sumatra, Sri Lanka and South India, the East African coast, the Persian Gulf region, and Samarkand.
Modern Chinese honor the Ming emperors especially for having restored China's international power and prestige, which had been in decline since the 8th century. The Ming emperors probably exercised more far-reaching influence in East Asia than any other native rulers of China, and their attitude toward the representatives of Portugal, Spain, Russia, Britain, and Holland who appeared in China before the end of their dynasty was a condescending one.
Reign names - nian hao
Alternate titles: Gaodi Hung-wu Taizu Zhu Chongba Zhu Yuanzhang
The Hongwu emperor in the National Palace Museum, Taipei.
The Ming dynasty's founder, the Hongwu emperor, is one of the strongest and most colorful personalities of Chinese history. His long reign established the governmental structure, policies, and tone that characterized the whole dynasty.
With the south pacified, Zhu sent his generals Xu Da and Chang Yuchun to lead troops against the north. At the beginning of 1368 Zhu finally proclaimed himself emperor of the Ming dynasty, establishing his capital at Nanjing. Hongwu ("Vastly Martial") was adopted as his reign title, and he is usually referred to as the Hongwu emperor, though Taizu is more strictly correct.
The troops sent to conquer the north were highly successful. Shandong and Henan provinces submitted to Ming authority. By August 1368, Ming troops had entered the Yuan capital of Dadu (later renamed Beijing). The Mongol emperor Shundi fled to Inner Mongolia, and, although Mongol power was not immediately destroyed, historically the Yuan dynasty now came to an end. The rest of the country fell easily as Ming troops subdued first the northwest, then the southwest (Sichuan and Yunnan). Unification was completed by 1382.
The Hongwu emperor was cruel, suspicious, and irrational, especially as he grew older. Instead of eliminating Mongol influence, he made his court resemble the Mongol court, and the despotic power of the emperor was institutionalized for the rest of the dynasty.
One of his political acts was to grant principalities to all his sons, ostensibly from fear of another Mongol invasion, so that the imperial princes could be given military powers to aid the regular armies. A contributing factor was his interest in maintaining personal control over the empire through his sons' principalities.
The trend toward political despotism can be seen in the Hongwu emperor's various other actions. In 1380 the prime minister Hu Weiyong was implicated in a widespread plot to overthrow the throne and was executed along with 30,000 members of his clique. The emperor consequently abolished the prime ministership in perpetuity as well as the central chancellery. Thus, the next highest level of administration, the six ministries, became merely advisory to the emperor himself, who now exercised direct control. This change had serious defects, the most important being the inability of even the most vigorous emperor to attend to all the affairs of state. In an attempt to overcome this difficulty, the emperor made use of six or more grand secretaries, who were responsible for routine administration. The institution of the grand secretaries evolved from that of the Hanlin Academy, the original function of which was to assist in the education of the heir designate. Although superior in practice to the six ministries, the grand secretaries (later institutionalized as the grand secretariat) were mere servants of the despotic emperor.
The Song emperors, learning from the Tang dynasty's experience, had felt that the militarists were the most dangerous group in the country and had purposely encouraged the scholar class, but the Hongwu emperor felt that, after the Mongol expulsion, the scholars formed the most dangerous group. Nevertheless, his interest in restoring traditional Chinese values involved rehabilitating the Confucian scholar class, and from experience he knew that effective government depended upon the scholars. He therefore encouraged education and purposely trained scholars for the bureaucracy. At the same time he used methods to deprive them of power and position and introduced the use of heavy bamboo as a punishment at court, often beating to death scholar-officials for the slightest offense. He felt that scholars should be mere servants of the state, working on behalf of the emperor. Because of the emperor's attitude, a great many members of the gentry were discouraged from embarking on official careers.
To train scholars for the bureaucracy, the Hongwu emperor in 1369 ordered the establishment of schools at each local level. Students were subsidized and were privileged to apply for admission to the Hanlin Academy, which presumably formulated policy and supervised the local schools. As a result of this edict, more schools developed during the Ming than in previous periods of Chinese history, and education became inseparable from civil-service recruitment by examination, the realization of which had been an ideal during the Tang and Song dynasties. Imperial authorities controlled the system of examination as far down as the provincial examinations that provided candidates for the metropolitan and palace examinations at the capital. The examination system made it possible to recruit the best minds for governmental service, though examinations stressed only the Song Neo-Confucian interpretation of the Classics and forced candidates to write in an artificial literary style, discouraging the development of originality.
The Hongwu emperor's military system, the weiso ("guard-post") system, was of earlier origin. The practice of granting land to soldiers for cultivation in peace realized his ideal of having the troops support themselves so as not to burden the people.
In foreign relations the Hongwu emperor extended the Ming empire's prestige to outlying regions: southern Manchuria was brought into the empire outlying states, such as Korea, the Liuqiu (i.e., Ryukyu) Islands, Annam, and other states, sent tribute missions to acknowledge the suzerainty of the Ming emperor and, not satisfied with the expulsion of the Mongols, he sent two military expeditions into Mongolia, reaching the Mongol capital of Karakorum itself. Ming forces even penetrated Central Asia, taking Hami (in the Gobi) and accepting the submission of several states in the Chinese Turkistan region. When Ming emissaries traversed the mountains to Samarkand, however, they were met with a different reception. Timur (one of history's greatest conquerors) was building a new Mongol empire in that region, and the Chinese envoys were imprisoned. Eventually, they were released, and Timur and the Ming exchanged several embassies, which the Chinese regarded as tributary missions. Timur was preparing an invasion of China when he died in 1405.
The Hongwu emperor was less successful with Japan, the buccaneers of which ravaged the Chinese coast. Three missions went to Japan, armed with inducements and threats, but were unable to curb piracy, because the Japanese authorities were themselves helpless.
A great problem for the Hongwu emperor was the succession. His first choice, made when he was prince of Wu, was Biao, his eldest son, later known as the heir designate Yiwen. As the Hongwu emperor's reign progressed there were indications that he favored his fourth son, Di, the prince of Yan, whose principality was at Beijing and whose personal qualities and military ability were more impressive. In 1392, when the heir designate Yiwen died, the Hongwu emperor was persuaded to appoint Yiwen's eldest son as his successor, rather than the prince of Yan, who was angered by this decision. After the Hongwu emperor's death in June 1398, he was succeeded by his grandson Yunwen, known in history as Huidi, or the Jianwen emperor, who reigned until 1402, when the throne was usurped by the prince of Yan (the Yongle emperor).
In his progress from a mendicant monastery to the imperial palace, the Hongwu emperor illustrates the chaos into which China had fallen under the preceding late Yuan dynasty. The Yuan rulers were alien Mongol conquerors who had nevertheless absorbed many Chinese features during their reign. Their administration was faltering by the Hongwu emperor's time, and his achievement, first as rebel leader and then as emperor, was to focus national resentment against the foreign rulers and to resuscitate a more truly Chinese way of government. This he did so forcefully that his reign has been seen as a culmination of the despotic trends that had been in evidence since the Song dynasty (960–1279). He considered certain groups (for instance, maternal relatives court eunuchs, who were often entrusted with power and the military) as having been peculiarly prone to intrigue in the past, and vigorously stamped out such tendencies. He prohibited eunuchs, for instance, from participating in government, forbade the empress to meddle with court politics, and appointed civilian officials to control military affairs. Of lowly peasant origins, he always was aware of the popular misery that administrative corruption could engender, and he savagely punished malpractices
Main source: Hongwu. 2015. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 24 June, 2015, from http://global.britannica.com/biography/Hongwu
After the Hongwu emperors death in 1398 his grandson and successor, the Jianwen 建文 emperor, trying to assert control over his powerful uncles, provoked a rebellion on the part of the Prince of Yan and was overwhelmed in 1402.
The Yongle emperor, detail of a portrait in the National Palace Museum, Taipei.
Wade-Giles romanization Yung-lo, temple name (miaohao) (Ming) Chengzu or (Ming) Taizong, posthumous name (shi) Wendi, personal name Zhu Di. Born May 2, 1360, in Yingtian, now Nanjing, Jiangsu province, China - August 5, 1424, Yumuchuan (now in Inner Mongolia), en route to Beijing).
In 1403 the Prince of Yan took the throne as the Yongle emperor (reigned 1402–24) and proved to be vigorous and aggressive. Third emperor (1402–24) of China's Ming dynasty (1368–1644), which he raised to its greatest power. Returned the empire's capital from Nanjing to Beijing (Northern City), which was rebuilt with the Forbidden City and giving that city its present-day name. Subjugated Nam Viet, campaigned personally against the reorganizing Mongols in the north and sent large naval expeditions overseas, chiefly under the eunuch admiral Zheng He, to demand tribute from rulers as far away as Africa.
Youth and early career
Zhu Di's father, the Hongwu emperor, had rapidly risen from a poor orphan of peasant origin through stages as a mendicant Buddhist monk and then a subaltern in a popular rebellion against the Mongol rulers of the Yuan dynasty to become a virtually independent satrap in part of the rich eastern Yangtze River (Chang Jiang) valley, with his headquarters at Yingtian (Nanjing). There Zhu Di was born fourth in a brood that ultimately numbered 26 princes. Modern scholarship has suggested that Zhu Di was probably borne by a secondary consort of Korean origin, although in traditional Chinese fashion he always treated his father's principal consort, the revered and influential empress Ma, as his "legal" mother.
In 1360 Hongwu was struggling with other contenders for supremacy in the Yangtze valley, while the Yuan government at Dadu (Beijing) was all but immobilized by court factionalism. In the next seven years the Hongwu emperor's armies swept central and eastern China clear of opposition, and in 1368 he inaugurated the new Ming dynasty, with its capital at Nanjing. He drove the last Mongol emperor out of Beijing and then beyond the Great Wall and the Gobi.
At the age of 10, in 1370, Zhu Di was designated prince of Yan (an ancient name for the Beijing region). As he grew to manhood during the next decade, the new Ming empire was stabilized, an elaborate governmental apparatus was erected, and a new socioeconomic order characterized by authoritarian reconstruction in many fields was instituted. The boy grew up in the mold of his remarkable father—robust, vigorous, and temperamental—and he became his father's favourite. His natural leadership qualities clearly outshone those of his many brothers.
In 1380, at the age of 20, the prince of Yan took up residence at Beijing. The early Ming governmental system provided that the imperial princes other than the eldest son, who remained at Nanjing as heir apparent, be enfeoffed in strategic areas as regional viceroys. Through the 1380s the prince of Yan gained experience in patrolling and skirmishing along the northern frontier under the tutelage of the greatest generals of the age. In 1390 he and his older half brother the prince of Jin (enfeoffed in adjacent Shanxi province to the west) were given joint command of a patrolling expedition beyond the Great Wall, and in 1393 they assumed full supervisory control over defense forces of the whole central sector of the northern frontier. Thereafter, the prince of Yan campaigned almost annually to keep the fragmented and disorganized Mongols off balance and on the defensive.
Meanwhile, in 1392, the heir apparent died. Some historians believe that the aging Hongwu emperor seriously considered naming the prince of Yan his new heir, in violation of tradition and the household rules he had himself promulgated. The emperor did hesitate for almost half a year before designating his successor, but then he complied with tradition by investing the dead crown prince's son Zhu Yunwen, then only 15 years old. From this time forward, and especially after the deaths of his two remaining seniors in 1395 and in 1398, respectively, the prince of Yan became increasingly arrogant and imperious when the old emperor died in the summer of 1398 the prince of Yan, in full vigour at the age of 38, considered himself the de facto head of the imperial clan and expected to be treated deferentially by his nephew.
The young new emperor Zhu Yunwen (the Jianwen emperor) had other intentions. Influenced by Confucian scholar-officials, he instituted a series of reforms unsettling to the newly stabilized government. One of his major goals was to take regional power away from the princes, and in 1398–99 one prince after another was imprisoned, exiled, or driven to suicide. Thus the prince of Yan found himself steadily more isolated and endangered, and in August 1399 he rose in rebellion, declaring it his avuncular duty to rescue the inexperienced emperor from his malicious advisers.
The rebellion lasted from 1399 into 1402 and devastated much of western Shandong province and the northern part of the Huai River basin. The central government at Nanjing seems to have underestimated the prince of Yan's strength and failed to muster its manpower and matériel effectively the war was a long stalemate. In early 1402 the prince of Yan's forces broke through the imperial armies in the north, sped almost unopposed southward along the Grand Canal, accepted surrender of the imperial fleet on the Yangtze River, and were admitted into the walled capital by court defectors in July 1402. Four days after the fall of Nanjing, the prince of Yan took the throne himself, although he did not formally begin his rule until 1403 he took the reign name Yongle ("Perpetual Happiness"). The Jianwen emperor had disappeared. Whether he died in a palace fire (as was officially announced) or escaped in disguise to live many more years as a recluse is a puzzle that troubled Zhu Di until his own death and has been a subject of conjecture by Chinese historians ever since.
Accession to the throne
The accession brought terrible retribution to those who had most closely advised Jianwen. They and all their relatives were put to death. Before the purge ended, thousands had perished. The new emperor also revoked the institutional and policy changes of his nephew-predecessor and even ordered history rewritten so that the founding emperor's era name was extended through 1402, as if the Jianwen emperor had never reigned at all. The one reform policy that remained in effect was that princely powers must be curtailed. Hence, the surviving frontier princes were successively transferred from their strategically located fiefs into central and south China and were deprived of all governmental authority. From the Yongle period on, imperial princes were no more than salaried idlers who socially and ceremonially adorned the cities to which they were assigned and in which they were effectively confined. No subsequent Ming emperor was seriously threatened by a princely uprising.
As the Yongle emperor, Zhu Di was domineering, jealous of his authority, and inclined toward self-aggrandizement. He staffed the central government with young men dependent on himself and relied to an unprecedented extent on eunuchs for service outside their traditionally prescribed palace spheres—as foreign envoys, as supervisors of special projects such as the requisitioning of construction supplies, and as regional overseers of military garrisons. In 1420 he established a special eunuch agency called the Eastern Depot (Dongchang) charged with ferreting out treasonable activities. Although it did not become notorious in his own reign, it came to be a hated and feared secret police in collaboration with the imperial bodyguard in later decades and centuries.
The Yongle emperor also relied heavily on a secretarial group of young scholar-officials assigned to palace duty from the traditional compiling and editing agency, the Hanlin Academy, and by the end of his reign they became a Grand Secretariat, a powerful buffer between the emperor and the administrative agencies of government. Although the emperor, like his father, was quick to anger and sometimes abused officials cruelly, he built a strong and effective administration, and during his reign China settled into the generally stable political and socioeconomic patterns that were to characterize the remainder of the dynasty.
Like his father, Yongle had little personal respect for the higher forms of Chinese culture. In the fashion of the Mongol khans, he summoned to China and highly honoured a Tibetan lama, and the strongest intellectual influence on him may have been that of a monk named Daoyan, a long-favoured personal adviser. Along more orthodox lines, his government sponsored the compilation and publication of Confucian and Neo-Confucian Classics, and it most notably sponsored the preparation in manuscript form of a monumental compendium of literature called Yongle dadian ("The Great Canon of the Yongle Era") in more than 11,000 volumes, which preserved many works that would otherwise have been lost. But the emperor himself must have considered such activities a kind of busywork for litterateurs who enjoyed public esteem but not his personal trust. A military man of action, the Yongle emperor had little enough patience with unavoidable administrative business, much less with intellectual exercises.
In the early years of his reign, he seems to have been fascinated by the regions beyond China's southern borders, perhaps in part because of rumours that the Jianwen emperor had escaped overseas. In 1403 the Yongle emperor sent out three fleets under eunuch commanders to proclaim his accession throughout Southeast Asia as far as Java and southern India. More vigorously than any other ruler in Chinese history, he sought recognition from faraway potentates in these regions. Throughout his reign "tributary" missions regularly traveled to China from overseas, including local kings of Malacca and Brunei. Most renowned of the Yongle emperor's many ocean admirals was the Muslim eunuch Zheng He, who led grand armadas on seven great voyages between 1405 and 1433. Zheng He visited no fewer than 37 countries, some as far away as the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, and the east coast of Africa almost as far south as Zanzibar, and from all the states that he visited Zheng He brought home envoys bearing tribute to acknowledge the Yongle emperor's overlordship.
The emperor similarly sent a eunuch emissary on repeated tribute-seeking missions to Tibet and Nepal and a civil servant across Central Asia to Afghanistan and Russian Turkistan. The Yongle emperor became the only ruler in Chinese history to be acknowledged suzerain by the Japanese, under the Ashikaga shogun Yoshimitsu. For a short time the Japanese were so docile as to send their own subjects to the Chinese court for punishment as piratical plunderers of the Korean and Chinese coasts. But the succession of a new shogun brought about a less submissive attitude in Japan from 1411 on, no tribute missions arrived from Japan despite the Yongle emperor's inquiries, and Japanese raiders became active again on China's coast. The emperor then threatened to send a punitive expedition against Japan if it would not reform. But in 1419, when the shogunate brusquely denied responsibility for any piratical activities and refused to resume the former tributary relationship, the Yongle emperor was too preoccupied with other matters to do more than grumble.
The Yongle emperor's expansionist inclinations led China into an ultimately disastrous military adventure against China's southern neighbour, Dai Viet (Vietnam, called Annam by the Chinese). In 1400 the young Tran dynasty, heir to the Dai Viet throne, had been deposed and a new dynasty proclaimed. From the beginning of Yongle's reign Tran loyalist refugees urged him to intervene and restore legitimate rule, and, when his own envoys to Annam were murdered, in 1406, the emperor authorized a punitive campaign. Chinese forces rapidly occupied and pacified Annam. Because no Tran heir seemed available, the Yongle emperor in 1407 transformed Dai Viet from a tributary state into the new Chinese province of Annam. Local resistance broke out almost immediately and continued irrepressibly. Especially after 1418, guerrilla warfare against the Ming authorities made the Chinese position in Annam increasingly precarious. By that time the emperor had lost most of his early interest in the southern regions, and the situation was allowed to deteriorate until his grandson, the Xuande emperor, realistically, albeit with some humiliation, abandoned direct Ming rule of Annam in 1428.
During the early years of the Yongle emperor's reign, the northern frontier, traditionally the zone of greatest danger to any Chinese regime, was relatively quiescent. At the outset of his Beijing-based insurrection in 1402, the Yongle emperor had sought and won the support of the Mongol tribes directly to his rear, in northeastern China. In later payment for this support, he in effect gave these Urianghad Mongols virtual autonomy by withdrawing China's command posts south of the Great Wall, and he regularly sent the Urianghad chiefs substantial gifts. Other tribes beyond the northern frontier—the Eastern Mongols, or Tatars, and the Western Mongols, or Oyrats—were too disorganized to do more than struggle among themselves. In the far west, the Turko-Mongol empire builder Timur (Tamerlane) had already invaded and pillaged both India and Syria when the Yongle emperor came to the Chinese throne, and in 1404 Timur prepared to launch an expedition against China. Vaguely aware of this, the Yongle emperor alerted his commanders in the west to prepare for trouble but Timur died in 1405, and the expedition was canceled. Thereafter, the emperor maintained amicable relations with Timur's heirs at Samarkand and Herat, keeping the Central Asian trade routes open.
After his early years on the throne, the Yongle emperor's attention was diverted from the south back to the northern frontier by the emergence of an effective new Tatar leader named Aruqtai. In 1410 the Yongle emperor resumed the aggressive extramural patrolling in the north that had preoccupied him as a prince in the 1380s and '90s. Between 1410 and 1424 the emperor five times personally led grand armies northward into the Gobi, primarily against Aruqtai but occasionally against Oyrats or restless Urianghad groups. The campaigns culminated in only a few battles, in which the Chinese forces won indecisive victories, but they had the effect of forestalling the development of a new large-scale Mongol confederation that might have seriously threatened China. Astute diplomacy was also relied on during these years to keep the Mongols fragmented and to establish at least nominal Chinese authority over the Juchen (Chinese: Nüzchen, or Ruzhen) peoples in the far northeast, as distant as the Amur River (Chinese: Heilong Jiang).
Transfer of the capital to Beijing
The most notable domestic event of the Yongle emperor's reign was the transfer of the national capital and the central government from Nanjing to Beijing. This reflected and symbolized the emperor's and the country's shift of attention from the southern oceans to the northern land frontiers. Beijing was perhaps not the ideal site for the national capital: it historically had been associated primarily with "barbarian" dynasties such as the Yuan, it was far removed from China's economic and cultural heartland, and it was dangerously close and exposed to the northern frontier. But it was the Yongle emperor's personal power base, and it was a site from which the northern defenses could be kept under effective surveillance. In 1407 the emperor authorized transfer of the capital there, and from 1409 on he spent most of his time in the north. In 1417 large-scale work began on the reconstruction of Beijing, and thereafter the Yongle emperor never returned to Nanjing. The new Beijing palace was completed in 1420, and on New Year's Day of 1421 Beijing formally became the national capital.
Before this transfer of the capital could be accomplished and before the northern defenses could be made satisfactorily secure, the Yongle emperor had to provide for the reliable transport of grain supplies from the affluent Yangtze valley to the north. Since the old Grand Canal linking the Yangtze and Huang He (Yellow River) valleys had been neglected for centuries and was largely unusable, coastal transport service around the Shandong peninsula was reorganized, and it proved spectacularly successful in the early years of the Yongle emperor's reign under the naval commander Chen Xuan. Rehabilitation and extension of old waterways in the north proceeded simultaneously, so that in 1411 sea transport vessels could enter the Huang He mouth south of Shandong and thus avoid the most perilous part of the coastal route then Chen Xuan by 1415 successfully rehabilitated the southern segments of the Grand Canal, and sea transport was abandoned. With Chen Xuan serving as supreme commander of the Grand Canal system until his death in 1433, the new army-operated waterways complex, extending from Hangzhou in the south to outside Beijing, was able to deliver grain supplies in quantities adequate for the northern needs. In 1421, when Beijing became the national capital, deliveries began to exceed 3,000,000 piculs (200,000 tons) annually.
The Yongle emperor's overseas expeditions, the ill-fated occupation of Annam, the northern campaigns, the rebuilding of Beijing, and the rehabilitation of the Grand Canal all required enormous expenditures of supplies and human effort. That China was able to undertake such projects during his reign gives evidence of the Yongle emperor's strong leadership, but they seem to have left the country exhausted and ready for an era of recovery under his successors.
The emperor fell ill while returning from his campaign of 1424 into Mongolia and died at the age of 64 in August, when the army was still en route to Beijing. He was succeeded by his eldest son, Zhu Gaozhi, who had served ably as regent during his father's frequent long absences from the capital he is known to history by the posthumous designation Renzong ("Benevolent Forebear"). The Yongle emperor fathered three other sons and five daughters. His principal consort was the empress Xu, daughter of the great early Ming marshal Xu Da she died early in his reign, in 1407.
The Yongle emperor was originally given the posthumous temple designation Taizong ("Grand Forebear"), a designation traditionally given to the second emperor of a dynasty. In 1538, long after that designation had come to be considered an unjustifiable insult to the memory of the Jianwen emperor, it was changed to the equally flattering Chengzu ("Completing Ancestor"), in acknowledgement that it was indeed Zhu Di who consolidated the new dynasty.
Main source: Yongle. 2015. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 24 June, 2015, from http://global.britannica.com/biography/Yongle
The Xuande mark is said to have been written by the famous calligrapher Shendu , since the official mark of Xuande is following his hand writing.
For a century after the Yongle emperor, the empire enjoyed stability, tranquillity, and prosperity. But state administration began to suffer when weak emperors were exploited by favored eunuchs: Wang Zhen in the 1440s, Wang Zhi in the 1470s and '80s, and Liu Jin from 1505 to 1510.
The only serious disruption of the peace occurred in 1449 when the eunuch Wang Zhen led the Zhengtong emperor (first reign 1435–49) into a disastrous military campaign against the Oirat (western Mongols). The Oirat leader Esen Taiji ambushed the imperial army, captured the emperor, and besieged Beijing. The Ming defense minister, Yu Qian, forced Esen to withdraw unsatisfied and for eight years dominated the government with emergency powers. When the interim Jingtai emperor (reigned 1449–57) fell ill in 1457, the Zhengtong emperor, having been released by the Mongols in 1450, resumed the throne as the Tianshun emperor (1457–64). Yu Qian was then executed as a traitor.
It is thought that during the Chenghua period there were only one calligrapher writing all marks on all official porcelains. I am not sure we can assume that, regardless of what the mark looks like. In the early 1990's I discussed this with Liu Xinyuan head of the excavations in Jingdezhen at this time, while spending some time studying their finds. He told the reason why the Chenghua mark looks like it does - in his opinion - was because the original mark was written by the emperor while he was quite young, and his handwriting was not so good. Whatever the case is, the Chenghua mark is inelegant, thick, often unbalanced and immature. Some common characteristics of the Chenghua porcelain mark by whatever hand but true to the period:
1) First character "Great" - the beginning of the second stroke seldom extends much beyond the first stroke, looking stubby, but when it occasionally does the beginning is fat third and final stroke ends thickly.
2) Third character "Cheng" - the third stroke descending is not curved but straight and vertical.
3) Fifth character "Nian" - the character is unusually squat and square.
4) Last (sixth) character "Zhi" - the ninth stroke does not extend beyond the standing knife (li-dao) radical.
5) The final "tails" on most characters (e.g. last stroke of "cheng", third stroke of "hua") are abrupt and sharp, like fish hooks.
6) The surrounds when square are thick with ink at each right angle.
7) The mark in general is faintly obscured, as if covered with a thin haze.
The Hongxi (reigned 1424–25), Xuande (1425–35), and Hongzhi (1487–1505) emperors were able and conscientious rulers in the Confucian mode.
The Zhengde (reigned 1505–21) and Jiajing (1521–1566/67) emperors were among the less-esteemed Ming rulers. The former was an adventure-loving carouser, the latter a lavish patron of Daoist alchemists. Both emperors cruelly humiliated and punished hundreds of officials for their temerity in remonstrating.
Wade-Giles romanization Chia-ching, personal name (xingming) Zhu Houcong, posthumous name (shi) Sudi, temple name (miaohao) (Ming) Shizong. Born 1507, China — died 1566/67, China.
The 11th emperor of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), whose long reign (1521–66/67) added a degree of stability to the government but whose neglect of official duties ushered in an era of misrule.
For one period of 20 years, during the regime of an unpopular grand secretary named Yan Song, the Jiajing emperor withdrew almost entirely from governmental cares.
China's long peace ended during the Jiajiang emperor's reign. The Oirat, under the vigorous new leadership of Altan Khan, were a constant nuisance on the northern frontier from 1542 on in 1550 Altan Khan raided the suburbs of Beijing itself.
During the same era, Japan-based sea raiders repeatedly plundered China's southeastern coast. Such sea raiders, a problem in Yuan times and from the earliest Ming years, had been suppressed during the reign of the Yongle emperor, when Japan's Ashikaga shogunate offered nominal submission to China in exchange for generous trading privileges. However, changes in the official trade system eventually provoked new discontent along the coast, and during the 1550s corsair fleets looted the Shanghai-Ningbo region almost annually, sometimes sending raiding parties far inland to terrorize cities and villages throughout the whole Yangtze delta.
Although coastal raiding was not totally suppressed, it was brought under control in the 1560s. Also in the 1560s Altan Khan was repeatedly defeated, so that he made peace in 1571.
Notoriously cruel, Jiajing caused hundreds of officials who had the temerity to disagree with him to be tortured, demoted, or killed. He spent much of his time and money, especially in his later years, patronizing Daoist alchemists in the hopes of finding an elixir to prolong his life. The government was left in the hands of a few favourites who allowed the situation on China’s borders to deteriorate. Mongol tribesmen under the leadership of Altan Khan (died 1583) raided the northwest frontier and several times even besieged the Chinese capital at Beijing. Japanese pirates harassed trade along the coast, and rebellions in the southern provinces were frequent. Jiajing’s successors, however, were able to revive Ming power temporarily.
An auspicious inscription on folk wares, mostly seen on blue-and-white porcelain made in Jingdezhen in the Jiajing and Wanli reigns of the Ming dynasty and also seen on wares with gilt designs produced in the Jiajing reign. Chakra or, the flaming wheel-design on the inside. Estimated date C. 1600 according to some sources but probably Jiajing. Coll: Musée Antoine Lécuyer of Saint-Quentin (Aisne), France.
An auspicious inscription on folk wares, mostly seen on blue-and-white porcelain made in Jingdezhen in the Jiajing and Wanli reigns of the Ming dynasty and also seen on wares with gilt designs produced in the Jiajing reign. Decoration on the outside of a Qilin or, a mythical lion-deer. Estimated date C. 1600 according to some sources but probably Jiajing. See: a bowl with similar mark at Musée Antoine Lécuyer of Saint-Quentin (Aisne), France. Gotheborg.com mark #736.
Wade-Giles romanization Lung-ch’ing, temple name (miaohao) Muzong, posthumous name (shi) Zhuangdi, original name Zhu Zaihou. Born 1537, China - died 1572, China. The 12th emperor (reigned 1566/67-72) of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644).
In this short reign the famous minister Zhang Juzheng first came to power and the country entered a period of stability and prosperity. During the Longqing emperor’s reign the Mongol leader Altan (died 1583), who had been harassing China’s northern borders and had attacked the capital at Beijing, was repulsed and a peace treaty was signed. Government expenditures were limited and an attempt was made to wipe out corruption.
For the next decade, during the last years of the Longqing emperor (reigned 1566/67–1572) and the early years of the Wanli emperor (1572–1620), the government was highly stable. The court was dominated by the outstanding grand secretary of Ming history, Zhang Juzheng, and capable generals such as Qi Jiguang restored and maintained effective military defenses.
Wade-Giles romanization Wan-li, personal name (xingming) Zhu Yijun, posthumous name (shi) Xiandi, temple name (miaohao) (Ming) Shenzong. Born Sept. 4, 1563, China — Aug. 18, 1620, Beijing).
In 1592, when Japanese forces under Toyotomi Hideyoshi invaded Korea, Ming China was still strong and responsive enough to campaign effectively in support of its tributary neighbor. But the Korean war dragged on indecisively until 1598, when Hideyoshi died and the Japanese withdrew. It made heavy demands on Ming resources and apparently precipitated a military decline in China.
The Wanli emperor was a recluse whose apparent inattention to government affairs contributed to the abuses of power by provincial officials and other political figures that came to dominate that era of Chinese history. The violence and corruption among leaders of the northern provinces led to much dissatisfaction and unrest, preparing the way for the invasion from the north by the Manchu, who subsequently conquered all of China and established the Qing dynasty (1644–1911/12). Wanli’s reign also witnessed some of the earliest Western inroads into China, among them by the Italian priest Matteo Ricci.
The reign of the Wanli emperor was a turning point of Ming history in other regards as well. Partisan wrangling among civil officials had flared up in the 1450s in reaction to Yu Qian's dominance and again in the 1520s during a prolonged "rites controversy" provoked by the Jiajing emperor on his accession after Zhang Juzheng's death in 1582, it became the normal condition of court life. Through the remainder of the Wanli emperor's long reign, a series of increasingly vicious partisan controversies absorbed the energies of officialdom, while the harassed emperor abandoned more and more of his responsibilities to eunuchs.
Born 28 August 1582 – 26 September 1620, age 38.
The Taichang Emperor was the fourteenth emperor of the Ming Dynasty. He was born Zhu Changluo, the eldest son of the Wanli Emperor and succeeded his father as emperor in 1620. However his reign came to an abrupt end less than one month after his coronation when he was found dead one morning in the palace following a bout of diarrhea.
The Wanli Emperor died on 18 August 1620 and Zhu Chanluo officially ascended the throne on 28 August 1620, taking the era name "Taichang" meaning "Magnificent Prosperity".
The first few days of his reign started promisingly enough as recorded in official Ming court history. Two million taels of silver was entailed as a gift to the troops guarding the border, important bureaucratic posts left vacant during Wanli's long periods of administrative inactivity were finally starting to be filled, and many of the deeply unpopular extraordinary taxes and duties imposed by the late emperor were also revoked at this time. However ten days after his coronation, Taichang was taken ill. So grave was the new emperor's physical condition his birthday celebration originally planned for the next day was cancelled.
According to some non-official primary sources, Taichang's illness was brought about by excessive sexual indulgence after he was presented with eight beautiful serving girls by his nemesis Lady Zheng as a coronation gift. The emperor's already serious condition was further compounded by severe diarrhea after taking a dose of laxative, recommended by an attending eunuch Cui Wensheng on 10 September. Finally on 25 September, to counter the effects of the laxative, he asked for and took a red pill presented by a minor court official named Li Kezhuo, who dabbled in apothecary.
It was recorded in the official Ming court history that Taichang felt much better after taking the pill, regained his appetite and repeatedly praised Li Kezhuo as a "loyal subject" . That same afternoon the emperor took a second pill and was found dead the next morning.
The death of a second emperor who was seemingly in good health within the span of a month sent shock waves through the empire and started rumours flying. The much talked about mystery surrounding the emperor's death became known as the infamous "Case of the Red Pills", one of three notorious 'mysteries' of the late Ming Dynasty.
The fate of Li Kezhuo, whose pills were at the center of this controversy, became a hotly contested subject between competing power factions of officials and eunuchs vying for influence at the Ming court. Opinions ranged from awarding him money for the emperor's initial recovery to executing his entire family for murdering the emperor. The question was finally settled in 1625 when Li was exiled to the border regions on the order of the powerful eunuch Wei Zhongxian, signaling the total dominance of eunuchs during the reign of Taichang's son Zhu Youxiao, who became the Tianqi Emperor.
Wade-Giles romanization T’ien-ch’i, personal name (xingming) Zhu Youjiao, posthumous name (shi) Zhedi, temple name (miaohao) (Ming) Xizong. Born 1605, China - died 1627, at age 22.
The Tianqi emperor was the 16th and penultimate emperor (reigned 1620–27) of the Ming dynasty. He was too young and indecisive to provide needed leadership. In 1624 he finally gave almost totalitarian powers to his favorite, Wei Zhongxian (1568–1627), the most notorious eunuch of Chinese history. Wei brutally purged hundreds of officials, chiefly those associated with a reformist clique called the Donglin party, and staffed the government with sycophants while the dynasty disintegrated.
A new threat had in the meantime appeared on the northern frontier. The Manchu, quiet occupants of far eastern Manchuria from the beginning of the dynasty, were aroused in 1583 by an ambitious young leader named Nurhachi. During the Wanli emperor's latter years, they steadily encroached on central Manchuria. In 1616 Nurhachi proclaimed a new dynasty, and overwhelming victories over Ming forces in 1619 and 1621 gave him control of the whole northeastern segment of the Ming empire, south to the Great Wall at Shanhaiguan.
Ascending the throne at the age of 15, the Tianqi emperor preferred carpentry to governmental affairs. He handed the powers of government to Wei, a former butler in the empress dowagers service and a friend of the young emperors nurse. Wei became the most powerful eunuch in Chinese history, replacing hundreds of officials and creating a network of spies. He even had temples erected in his honor throughout the country.
During this time several foreign invasions took place. The Dutch attacked and occupied the island of Taiwan, a Chinese protectorate and the Manchu tribes, who 20 years later were to conquer all of China, were virtually unopposed in their conquest of the northeastern part of the Ming empire around the Liao River valley.
Conditions deteriorated in every part of the empire. In the northern and southwestern provinces, rebellions became endemic, and the imperial treasury was too depleted to repair the dikes when the Huang He (Yellow River) burst its banks. By the end of the Tianqi emperors reign the dynasty had lost control of the country, and his brother and successor, the Chongzhen emperor, was powerless to reverse the decline.
Wade-Giles romanization Ch’ung-chen, personal name (xingming) Zhu Youjian, posthumous name (shi) Zhuangliemindi, temple name (miaohao) (Ming) Sizong or (Ming) Yizong. Born Feb. 6, 1611, Beijing, China — April 25, 1644, Beijing. 16th (or 17th) and last emperor (reigned 1627–44) of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644).
The Chongzhen emperor (reigned 1627–44) ascended the throne at the age of 16 on the death of his brother, the Tianqi emperor (reigned 1620–27), and tried to revive the deteriorating Ming government. He banished Wei Zhongxian, the powerful eunuch who had dominated his brother’s reign, and he eliminated some of the more corrupt officials. He could not, however, quell partisan strife within the bureaucracy and the army. The imperial generals were frequently more interested in quarreling with one another than in putting down rebellions or halting the incursions of the Manchu tribes on the northeast border of the empire.
The Chongzhen emperor tried to revitalize the deteriorating Ming government. He banished Wei Zhongxian but could not quell the partisan strife that was paralyzing the bureaucracy. The Manchu repeatedly raided within the Great Wall, even threatening Beijing in 1629 and 1638. Taxes and conscriptions became increasingly oppressive to the Chinese population, and banditry and rebellions spread in the interior. The Ming government became completely demoralized.
Finally, a domestic rebel named Li Zicheng captured the capital in April 1644, and the Chongzhen emperor committed suicide. The Ming commander at Shanhaiguan accepted Manchu help in an effort to punish Li Zicheng and restore the dynasty, only to have the Manchu seize the throne for themselves.
The corruption of previous reigns had so depleted the imperial treasuries that Chongzhen was unable to supply his armies, and his troops frequently joined enemy forces. In desperation, Chongzhen demanded more taxes and conscripts from the already overly oppressed population. Unable to bear this extra burden, the people joined the rebel bands in increasing numbers.
Finally, in 1644 several of Chongzhen’s eunuch generals betrayed him, and Li Zicheng, one of the rebel leaders, captured the capital city, Beijing. As Li’s forces approached the city, the emperor struck a bell, signaling his ministers to appear for a conference. When no one came, he climbed to the top of Meishan (Coal Hill), next to his palace, and hanged himself. His posthumous name, Zhuangliemindi, was bestowed during the succeeding Qing dynasty.
During a period of close to forty years the southern part of China was ruled by seven emperors claiming their eight to tenth generation of kinship back to the first emperor of the Ming dynasty. They mostly enjoyed a very short life after that. I mention this here despite their limited importance for the imperial porcelain industry which during this time mostly focused on export. This was however also the highly artistic period of the Transitional period (defined by Soames Jenyns to 1620-1683) as well as that of the very interesting export porcelain developed for the Japanese as well as the Dutch market and the Middle eastern market.
Ming loyalists ineffectively resisted the Qing (Manchu) dynasty from various refuges in the south for a generation. Their Nan (Southern) Ming dynasty included the prince of Fu (Zhu Yousong, reign name Hongguang 弘光 1644-45), the prince of Tang (Zhu Yujian, reign name Longwu 隆武 1645-46), the Prince of Lu (Zhu Yihai, no reign name but called 魯王), and the prince of Gui (Zhu Youlang, reign name Yongli 永历 1646-1662) and Dingwu (定武), 1647-1663.
The loyalist coastal raider Zheng Chenggong (Koxinga) and his heirs held out on Taiwan until 1683 after which the Qing dynasty could effectively be considered to have begun. Some confusion about reign marks and auspicious symbols on porcelain, prevailed well into the 18th century. The most popular mark was that of Chenghua 大明 or just 成化年製 which, referring to the quality of the porcelain of the period can look innocent enough, but if it was only that, is anyone's guess.
The Japanese marks section of Gotheborg.com originally came to be thanks to a donation of Japanese marks images from Karl-Hans Schneider , Euskirchen, Germany, in may 2000, that gave me a modest but nonetheless beginning. It was a kind gesture and I really appreciated that. Of the many later contributors I would especially want to mention Albert Becker , Somerset, UK, who were the first to help with some translations and comments on the Japanese marks. His work was than greatly extended by Ms. Gloria S. Garaventa after which Mr. John Avery looked into and corrected some of the dates. Most of the Satsuma marks were originally submitted by Ms. Michaela Russell , Brisbane, Australia. A section which was then greatly extended by Ian & Mary Heriot of which a large amount of information still awaits publication. A warm thank you also goes to John R. Skeens , Florida, U.S.A. and Toru Yoshikawa for the Kitagawa Togei section and to Susan Eades for her help and encouragement towards the creation of the Moriyama section. For the last full overhaul of the Satsuma and Kutani sections, thank you to Howard Reed , Australia. The most recent larger contribution was made by Lisa M. Surowiec , New Jersey, USA. In 2004 and from then on my warm thank you goes to John Wocher and Howard Reed whose knowledge and interest has sparked a new life into this section and given reason for a new overhaul. Thank you again and thank you to all I have not mentioned here, for all help and interest in and contributions to our knowledge of the 20th century Japanese porcelain.
The Chinese marks section would not have been possibly without the dedicated help of Mr. Simon Ng, City University of Hong Kong whose translations and personal efforts in researching the origin and dates of the different marks is and has been an invaluable resource. It has since been greatly extended by several contributors such as Cordelia Bay, USA, Walt Brygier, USA, Bonnie Hoffmann, Harmen Lensink, 'Tony' Yalin Zhang, Beijing and 'ScottLoar', Shanghai, and many more expert members of the Gotheborg Discussion Board.
A number of reference pieces have also been donated by Simon Ng, City University of Hong Kong, N K Koh, Singapore, Hans Mueller, USA. Hans Slager, Belgium, William Turnbull, Canada and Tony Jalin Zhang, Beijing.
All material submitted by visitors and published anywhere on this site are and remain the copyrighted property of the submitter and appears here by permission of the owner, which can be revoked at any time. All expressed opinions are my personal or those of my trusted friends and fellow experts, based on photos and the owners submitted descriptions. They are not to be used for any financial or commercial decisions but for educational and personal interest only and can and will be changed here as further information merits.
For further studies Encyclopedia Britannica is recommended in preference to Wikipedia, that besides having an ideological bias and a number of erroneous Chinese characters, is used by the fake industry to promote porcelain pieces that are not of the period stated.
Decline & Fall of Yuan Dynasty
The Yuan court actually first began to decline during the reign of Emperor Renzong, when peasant uprisings emerged in southern China. However, despite the warning of the uprisings, corruption of the Yuan court officials continued. Also, power struggles within the ruling class became more and more serious. For instance in the short period from the beginning of Emperor Wuzong's reign in 1308 to the start of Emperor Huizong's reign in 1333, there were eight emperors. During this period, the corruption became severe as subordinate officials were commonly appointed on the basis of bribery rather than merit the land was gradually concentrated in the hands of Mongolian aristocrats and a select group of powerful Han landlords a fiscal crisis in the Yuan court also broke out due to the luxurious lifestyles of the ruling class. Even worse, the Mongolian army became corrupt and gradually disintegrated.
During the reign of the last emperor, the real power of the Yuan regime fell into the hands of Cheng Xiang (prime minister) named Bo Yan, who was born of a Mongolian noble family. He was rather hostile to the Han people and introduced a series of policies unfavorable to the Han. This magnified the seriousness of the ethic contradiction. Misfortunes never come singly. The Yellow River burst its banks three times in the late Yuan Dynasty. As a result, serious natural disasters broke out and the masses were forced to live in dire poverty. Under such circumstances, groups of farmers left the land and successively launched armed uprisings. Although many peasants' uprisings were successfully suppressed by the Yuan army, the corrupt regime of the Yuan Dynasty was constantly impacted by this surging wave and teetered on the verge of collapse.
Simultaneously, a group of the Hongjinjun military forces led by a man named Zhu Yuanzhang won a series of victories in battle, and his military forces gradually became stronger. In the management of military affairs, Zhu Yuanzhang set strict military discipline and was good at delegating duties to different human resources. Soon after, in 1356, his military forces captured Jiankang (currently Nanjing which later became their military base. With increasing military strength and more talented people joining him, Zhu's army succeeded in defeating the separatist military forces in the northern areas of China. In 1367, Zhu Yuanzhang officially launched a deadly attack on the Yuan regime which was riddled with corruption and intrigue. Within a year, Zhu's army captured Dadu (currently Beijing), the capital of Yuan. Soon after, a new dynasty - the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644) displaced the Yuan Dynasty.