History Podcasts

The discovery that revealed how the Forbidden City of China was Built

The discovery that revealed how the Forbidden City of China was Built

We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

In November last year, the translation of a 500-year-old document answered one of the greatest mysteries surrounding the Forbidden City in Beijing, China – how the ancient people managed to transport stones weighing more than 330 tonnes over 70 kilometres. Until now it was believed that they were transported on wheels, however, the ancient document showed that this was not the case at all.

The Forbidden City is the imperial palace that was once home to the emperors of China during the final two imperial dynasties, the Ming Dynasty and the Qing Dynasty. Built in 1406 to 1420, the complex consists of 980 buildings and covers 720,000 m 2. The palace was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987, and is listed by UNESCO as having the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world.

The Forbidden City in China is a UNESCO World Heritage listed site. Image source: BigStockPhoto

Vast numbers of huge stones were mined and transported there for its construction, the heaviest of which weigh more than 220 tonnes and would have weighed more than 330 tonnes before they fragmented. It has been determined that the largest blocks came from a quarry 70 kilometres away and since people in China were using the wheel since around 1500 BC, it was believed that this is how the huge stones were transported.

However, Jiang Li, an engineer at the University of Science and Technology Beijing, translated a 500-year-old document and was astonished by what he read. The document described how giant stones were slid for miles on specially constructed sledges , dragged over slippery paths of wet ice by a team of men over 28 days. The workers dug wells every 500 metres to get water to pour on the ice to lubricate it, which made it easier to slide the rocks.

An historical document revealed that huge stone blocks were dragged along ice. Photo credit: Daily Mail

The researchers calculated that the transportation would have required 46 men to move a stone weighing 123 tonnes using this method, and they would have been able to move the stone about 3 inches per second, fast enough for the stone to slide over the wet ice before the liquid water on the ice froze.

The fascinating findings were published in full in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The spectacular Forbidden City. Image source: BigStockPhoto

Featured image: The Forbidden City of China. Image source: BigStockPhoto

    Forbidden City: Home to Chinese Emperors

    The Forbidden City (also called Zijin Cheng) is a 72-hectare (178 acres) palace complex in Beijing that was used by the emperors of China from A.D. 1420 to 1911.

    In total, 24 emperors occupied the Forbidden City, so named because it could only be accessed by the emperor, his immediate family, his women and thousands of eunuchs (castrated male servants) and officials. It was renovated constantly throughout its 600-year history.

    The complex consists of about 980 buildings, mainly in yellow and red colors, surrounded by a wall 32 feet (10 meters) high and a moat 171 feet (52 meters) wide. The city is configured on a north-south axis that aligns with the pole star, emphasizing the emperor&rsquos position as the son of heaven. &ldquoThe whole palace context is built along a central axis, the axis of the world,&rdquo said University of Sydney professor Jeffrey Riegel in a 2008 BBC/History Channel documentary, &ldquoeverything in the four directions suspend from this central point represented by these palaces.&rdquo

    The southern portion, which is also called the outer court, ends in the Hall of Supreme Harmony (the largest building) and tended to be where official business was carried out. The northern portion, which is also known as the inner court, had the residences of the emperor and his family as well as the harem where his concubines were kept.

    It was difficult for an ordinary male to enter the Forbidden City, said Chen Shen, the curator of a 2014 Forbidden City exhibition at Toronto&rsquos Royal Ontario Museum. He said that for a common man to enter he would likely have to become a eunuch, having his genitals cut off. Even then &ldquoyou still have to work your way up for many, many, many years before you get close to the emperor and his women.&rdquo

    Shen added that the Forbidden City is, today, a major tourist destination attracting millions of visitors each year. On a single day in 2013, October 2, &ldquothe Forbidden City welcomed 175,000 visitors making it the most visited World Heritage destination in the world.&rdquo

    American's Visit to China's Forbidden City Revealed in Old Journal

    Newly analyzed artifacts and a 200-year-old journal reveal the remarkable tale of the first American citizen to enter China's Forbidden City and meet the emperor.

    The mission was based on a diplomatic deception, and lives would be lost on the journey, but in 1795 Andreas Everardus van Braam Houckgeest would get to see the Forbidden City, a palace complex of more than 900 buildings that was off-limits even to most Chinese. He saw it at a time when China was wealthy and at the height of its power.

    At one point Houckgeest was shown to the emperor's favorite apartment, which gave him a view of a mountain covered with temples. [ See Photos of China's Forbidden City ]

    In Houckgeest's journal, he writes of his visit, as translated into English in the 18th century: "This work seems to represent the enterprise of the giants who attempted to scale the Heavens: at least rocks heaped upon rocks recall that ancient fiction to the mind. The assemblage of the buildings and picturesque embellishments of the mountains afford a view of which the pen can give no adequate idea …"

    Bruce MacLaren, a Chinese art specialist at the firm Bonhams, has been researching Houckgeest's tale and presented his findings recently at a symposium at Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum. While scholars are aware of the tale, MacLaren's research adds new details and insights.

    Maclaren slightly modified these 200-year-old translations to make them more understandable today.

    Enticed by democracy

    Houckgeest (born in 1739) was a Dutch citizen who had spent much of his life moving between China and Europe, working for the Dutch East India Co. However, in 1783, when the American Revolutionary War ended, Houckgeest decided to travel to Charleston, South Carolina, and make a new start. [ 10 Epic Battles That Changed History ]

    "He loved the idea of American democracy, he actually watched it very closely from Holland and watched [Thomas Paine's] ideas happen. He took a keen interest in it and wanted to move to be a part of it," MacLaren told Live Science in an interview. In 1784, Houckgeest took the oath of allegiance and became a naturalized citizen of the United States.

    Life in America would prove difficult for Houckgeest, as he lost three of his children to typhoid and his rice plantation near Charleston faltered, MacLaren said. His financial difficulties would force him to return to China by the 1790s.

    Diplomatic deception

    Houckgeest came up with an idea that would allow him to get back on his feet. A key problem that European traders faced was China's tight restrictions, merchants being largely restricted to an area on the Pearl River Delta, MacLaren said.

    In 1793, a British mission to the Qianlong emperor, the man who ruled China, failed spectacularly, in part because British ambassador George Macartney refused to kowtow (prostrate himself) before the emperor.

    Houckgeest made a proposal to Dutch officials in Batavia (modern-day Jakarta, Indonesia) that he lead a mission to the Qianlong emperor to try to give Dutch traders better access to the country. Making the visit in 1795, during the Qianlong emperor's 60th year of rule, would give the Dutch an excuse to visit him.

    Houckgeest also claimed that delegations from other European countries were going to visit China that year. In fact, MacLaren found that no other missions appear to have been planned and Houckgeest seems to have made this claim up to put pressure on the Dutch to approve his mission.

    The Dutch officials approved Houckgeest's proposal, but decided that he should be second in command rather than leader.

    Entering the Forbidden City

    On Nov. 24, 1794, Houckgeest left for the Forbidden City. Servants, secretaries and bodyguards being aided by about 1,300 laborers helped the envoys make their way from Canton to Beijing. The embassy had to move quickly to reach the Forbidden City by the Chinese New Year, MacLaren said.

    The weary travelers would arrive on Jan. 9, 1795. "A number of the laborers died en route," MacLaren told the Toronto audience.

    When they entered the Forbidden City, the travelers entered a seemingly fantastical world. In his journal, Houckgeest found himself struggling to describe the palaces, temples and other sights that he saw within and near the Forbidden City. [ In Photos: Art from China's Forbidden City ]

    "Instead of rashly undertaking to express and describe with my weak pen all that my eyes admired instead of endeavouring to communicate to my reader's mind, the many, the varied and the extraordinary sensations produced incessantlyin mine by the sight of so many things, inwhich singularity, magnificence, boldness of design,and skill of execution were combined, it will be more simple and more natural to confessmy incapability," he wrote.

    Although there was much ceremony during the meeting there were also lighter moments. At one point Houckgeest's hat fell off while bowing (something which the emperor laughed at), the journal noted. The delegation was also treated to a skating demonstration.

    "The (emperor's) sled was drawn to another place, where a gate made of bamboo had been erected, having a leather ball suspended in the center. Two by two (the soldiers) skated over the ice with bows and arrows in their hands, and shot, one at the leather ball, and the other at a kind of hat, of leather also, laid upon the ice at a little distance from the gate," Houckgeest wrote in his journal.

    The food was said to be terrible. At one point Houckgeest said he was served meat that had been gnawed on. He claimed the emperor himself had gnawed it, and he had been afforded a great honor.

    "According to the opinion of the Chinese, it was the greatest favour that could be conferred, since we had it in our power to gnaw the bone that his Majesty had begun to clean," Houckgeest wrote.

    At another point the diplomats had to figure out what to give the emperor after their baggage train arrived with their gifts broken.

    "Not a single article has escaped undamaged. Everything that was fragile is reduced to fragments. The vessels containing provision, the cases filled with liquor, are broken," Houckgeest wrote.

    Though the mission wouldn't open up the country to the Dutch, the emperor warmly welcomed the visitors.

    Return to America

    While Houckgeest traveled to China as a representative of Holland, he would return home to Philadelphia. Throughout all the hardship he remained an American citizen.

    MacLaren said that during his time in China, Houckgeest had commissioned about 1,800 drawings showing the country's interior (then inaccessible to foreigners). Houckgeest would show these drawings to the people of Philadelphia and give a Chinese service set, which had been decorated in Canton, to first lady Martha Washington as a gift. The names of the 15 states that were in the union in 1795 were engraved on the set.

    Houckgeest built a house north of Philadelphia whose architecture was inspired by China, including a cupola on the roof that was shaped like a pagoda, MacLaren said. Extracts from his journal would be translated into English and published.

    Again, however, Houckgeest would falter in America. In 1797 MacLaren said that he was forced to rely on friends to keep him out of debtors' prison, his financial problems apparently caused by excessive spending.

    In 1798, Houckgeest left America for London, never to return. His art collection was sold at auction, and MacLaren said that today it is scattered around the world. Houckgeest died in 1801 in Amsterdam, apparently still an American citizen, MacLaren said. Houckgeest had been criticized in his final years for kowtowing before the emperor.

    The symposium at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum accompanies an exhibition on the Forbidden City that runs to Sept. 1. It features numerous works of Chinese art.

    Secret garden of Beijing's Forbidden City revealed

    (CNN) -- When the last emperor of China fled Beijing's Forbidden City in 1924, the doors closed on one of its greatest treasures: the Qianlong Garden.

    A secluded compound of pavilions and gardens built in the 1770s for the retirement of the Qianlong Emperor, it housed some of the most extravagant interiors found anywhere in the imperial palace complex.

    As other areas were opened up to tourists, the garden remained mothballed for almost 100 years, its exquisite design and decorative treasures staying relatively unaltered since the 18th century.

    Now some of those treasures are finally seeing the light of day at an exhibition at the Milwaukee Art Museum, Wisconsin from June 11, while the gardens undergo a $25 million restoration.

    "Emperor Qianlong's reign is considered the zenith of the Qing dynasty and some of the highest prices fetched at auction today are for objects from that period," said historian Nancy Berliner, who curated the exhibition -- titled The Emperor's Private Paradise.

    "It was an incredibly prosperous time and this was an emperor who was fascinated in the arts," she continued. "He pushed people to do their finest work, and that can be seen in the garden."

    Items on view as part of the show -- a touring exhibition that opened at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem -- include a magnificent throne made from the finest imported tropical hardwood inlaid with jade and semi-precious stones, and a spectacular Buddhist panel, painted on silk and glittering with gold, that depicts the universe and its deities in 2D and 3D.

    A huge monumental jade and lacquer screen shows the 16 disciples of the Buddha, and was prized from a wall for the exhibition -- unintentionally revealing luxuriously decorated botanical images in gold lacquer on the back.

    European art was among the Emperor's interests, and he enlisted the help of Jesuit missionaries to train his workshops in the use of Western perspective in painting. One of the highlights of the exhibition is a 12-foot trompe l'oeil mural depicting women and children in a palace hall celebrating the New Year. The mural is one of only eight such surviving works from the 18th century -- five of which are in the garden, according to Berliner.

    "Qianlong is so important because it's the only still existent 18th-century interior garden that remains preserved as it originally was and not rebuilt or redesigned at any time," she said. "Most of the 18th-century gardens have either been destroyed or changed a lot over time, but because this was a small and private place it escaped the renovations that happened elsewhere in the palace complex."

    Conservation of the Qianlong Garden began in 2002 as a joint project between the Palace Museum and the World Monuments Fund (WMF), and will be completed in 2019. It is the largest conservation project in the WMF's history, with just one of the garden's 27 buildings -- the aptly named Studio of Exhaustion from Diligent Service -- restored so far.

    The Studio includes a private theatre, reception room and rooms for practising arts such as calligraphy and poetry. Three other buildings are slated to be finished in 2013.

    One of the reasons the restoration is so time-consuming is that the Emperor spared no expense on his pet project -- applying intricate techniques usually reserved for fine art objects to whole walls and ceilings.

    "You might find a room where there are decorations in very fine, hand-painted porcelain embedded into the screens, or others where fine lacquer -- usually used for furniture -- covers the whole room," said Henry Tzu Ng, WMF executive vice president. "The emperor took these fine art techniques and exploded them to an architectural scale."

    The other main challenge is that the traditional materials and craftsmanship used to create the interiors are no longer readily available in modern China.

    "Some techniques were not in use anymore, such as inner-bamboo-skin carving -- where bamboo stalks are soaked, flattened, turned into sheets of paper and poured over a mould to create landscapes like mountains or rockeries," said Ng.

    When the project began, the Palace put out an appeal in the press calling for people who had knowledge of traditional craft techniques to come forward. As a result, they managed to track down artisans scattered in towns and villages around China whom they brought to Beijing to help with the restoration.

    Once the work is complete, the external areas of the garden will be opened to the public -- but its opulent interiors will only be visible through large viewing glasses or on restricted tours, according to Ng.

    The exhibition is therefore the only time people will be able to walk freely amidst the emperor's murals and artworks. "This opportunity won't happen again," said Ng. "Our goal is to put everything back where it was originally found."

    7 Millennia Of Civilization

    While Gezer covered up one city, Beirut stands on several. For 5,000 years, Canaanite, Phoenician, Hellenistic, Roman, and Ottoman civilizations rose one after the other, adding their own influences to this archaeological smorgasbord. The incredible time line came to light during excavations in central Beirut, meant to rebuild the city after its devastating civil war.

    Among the finds were Roman ruins, including the city&rsquos cardo maximus (main north-south street), quarters belonging to the Phoenician and Hellenistic cultures, a Canaanite mound, and a Byzantine trading place. One of the most incredible recoveries was a collection of mosaics. Placed side by side, they create a massive, 8,200-meter-long (27,000 ft) stretch of art. It was already believed that Beirut originated around 3000 BC, but this proved it.

    National Day

    As Japan faded in the aftermath of Second World War, China entered a period of civil war. At the end of the civil war, in 1949, the Communist Party had gained control of most of mainland China. They established the People’s Republic of China under the leadership of Chairman Mao Zedong.

    A celebration to honor the occasion was held in Tiananmen Square on October 1, 1949. More than one million Chinese people attended. This celebration came to be known as National Day, and it is still observed annually on that date, with the largest events set in the square.

    Mao Zedong, considered the founding father of the People’s Republic of China, is interred at Tiananmen Square, in a mausoleum on the plaza.

    Beijing's Forbidden City Built on Ice Roads

    Ice sledges carried monumental stones to the Forbidden City in the 15th century.

    Beijing's builders relied on ice roads centuries ago to transport the massive carved stones of the famed Forbidden City from quarry to construction site, an international engineering team reports. The find confirms folklore long discounted by textbooks.

    Lubricated with water, the ice roads were built during winter months and extended 43 miles (70 kilometers), concludes the team led by Jiang Li of the University of Science and Technology Beijing.

    A World Heritage Site, the Forbidden City in the center of Beijing was the seat of Chinese imperial power from 1416 to 1911. Once forbidden to outsiders, the city's palaces were built of massive stones in the 15th and 16th centuries. (See "Forbidden City—China.")

    "How in the world did they get these massive rocks to Beijing?" says Princeton engineer Howard Stone, a co-author on the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences report. "It raises tremendous engineering questions."

    Carved with dragons and clouds, the "Large Stone Carving" that graces the stairway to the Hall of Preserving Harmony, for example, weighs more than 300 tons (272 metric tonnes).

    A tourist attraction today, the Large Stone Carving is 55 feet (16.8 meters) long, 10 feet (3 meters) wide, and more than 3 feet (about a meter) thick. Once only Chinese emperors, borne by porters, were allowed to traverse its carved surface.

    Ancient cultures from Egypt to Stonehenge to Easter Island have employed masses of men and animals to haul colossal statues or stones using rollers or sheer muscle power. And placards in the Forbidden City mention ice roads being used to shepherd its stones to Beijing. (See "Stonehenge Revealed.")

    But engineering histories don't mention the icy innovation, Stone says, instead stressing that Chinese inventors had created the spoked wheel by 1500 B.C., enabling wagons to do the job.

    So Stone, Li, and colleague Haosheng Chen of Tsinghua University in Beijing—the latter two are experts in the study of friction—decided to investigate the story after a visit last year to the Forbidden City.

    Not an Ancient Chinese Secret

    After a search for archival documents, Li found a 500-year-old Chinese record claiming that in 1557, a 123-ton (112-metric-tonne) stone was transported over 28 days to the Forbidden City from a quarry by ice sledge.

    The same document recorded a dispute among imperial officials in 1596 over how to bring more stones to the Forbidden City. Mules and wagons were cheaper, some argued, but men and sledges were safer ways to haul the expensive stones.

    In fact, the study team's analysis finds that Chinese wagons of the 16th century couldn't have hauled stones heavier than 96 tons (87 metric tonnes).

    Analysis of various sledge techniques, such as rollers, wooden planks on the ground, or even ice roads alone, finds that these methods provide too much friction to be practical.

    Instead, the team concludes that an "artificial ice path" was created in the winter along the roads from a quarry 43 miles (70 kilometers) away from the city. The path was lubricated with water as the sledges passed carrying the stones.

    The ice highways stretched from quarry to city and crossed several rivers. The stones were pulled by teams of as few as 46 men. The teams would lubricate the ice roads with water from wells spaced every half-mile along the road, as reported in the documents.

    "Some people have asked if the wells are still there. It would be interesting to look for them," Stone says. Keeping the ice wet would cut friction down to one-seventh that of bare ice.

    Lubricated in this fashion, the stones would have slid along at a stately 0.18 miles (0.29 kilometers) an hour, the analysis finds. That would be fast enough for the ice road's surface to remain wet as the stones passed, before the water refroze.

    Analysis shows that the 25°F (-3.7°C) average winter temperatures in Beijing in January at the time would have produced hard enough ice to easily bear the weight of the stones.

    "I'm not surprised. If you get enough people, enough rope, and enough time, you can move just about anything," says archaeologist Charles Faulkner of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, who was not on the study team. "And they had a lot of time. And a lot of people."

    The historic ice roads represent an elegant solution to an engineering problem, Stone says. The cold winters of northern China and the country's imperial organization resulted in the creation of an "ice lubrication" technique that preceded its scientific development in the 18th century, Stone says.

    "The Chinese organized the Great Wall and other huge public monuments," Stone says. "They certainly knew what they were doing."



    Revolt and rebel rivalry

    The Mongol-led Yuan dynasty (1271–1368) ruled before the establishment of the Ming dynasty. Explanations for the demise of the Yuan include institutionalized ethnic discrimination against Han Chinese that stirred resentment and rebellion, overtaxation of areas hard-hit by inflation, and massive flooding of the Yellow River as a result of the abandonment of irrigation projects. [12] Consequently, agriculture and the economy were in shambles, and rebellion broke out among the hundreds of thousands of peasants called upon to work on repairing the dykes of the Yellow River. [12] A number of Han Chinese groups revolted, including the Red Turbans in 1351. The Red Turbans were affiliated with the White Lotus, a Buddhist secret society. Zhu Yuanzhang was a penniless peasant and Buddhist monk who joined the Red Turbans in 1352 he soon gained a reputation after marrying the foster daughter of a rebel commander. [13] In 1356, Zhu's rebel force captured the city of Nanjing, [14] which he would later establish as the capital of the Ming dynasty.

    With the Yuan dynasty crumbling, competing rebel groups began fighting for control of the country and thus the right to establish a new dynasty. In 1363, Zhu Yuanzhang eliminated his archrival and leader of the rebel Han faction, Chen Youliang, in the Battle of Lake Poyang, arguably the largest naval battle in history. Known for its ambitious use of fire ships, Zhu's force of 200,000 Ming sailors were able to defeat a Han rebel force over triple their size, claimed to be 650,000-strong. The victory destroyed the last opposing rebel faction, leaving Zhu Yuanzhang in uncontested control of the bountiful Yangtze River Valley and cementing his power in the south. After the dynastic head of the Red Turbans suspiciously died in 1367 while a guest of Zhu, there was no one left who was remotely capable of contesting his march to the throne, and he made his imperial ambitions known by sending an army toward the Yuan capital Dadu (present-day Beijing) in 1368. [15] The last Yuan emperor fled north to the upper capital Shangdu, and Zhu declared the founding of the Ming dynasty after razing the Yuan palaces in Dadu to the ground [15] the city was renamed Beiping in the same year. [16] Zhu Yuanzhang took Hongwu, or "Vastly Martial", as his era name.

    Reign of the Hongwu Emperor

    Hongwu made an immediate effort to rebuild state infrastructure. He built a 48 km (30 mi) long wall around Nanjing, as well as new palaces and government halls. [15] The History of Ming states that as early as 1364 Zhu Yuanzhang had begun drafting a new Confucian law code, the Da Ming Lü, which was completed by 1397 and repeated certain clauses found in the old Tang Code of 653. [17] Hongwu organized a military system known as the weisuo, which was similar to the fubing system of the Tang dynasty (618–907).

    In 1380 Hongwu had the Chancellor Hu Weiyong executed upon suspicion of a conspiracy plot to overthrow him after that Hongwu abolished the Chancellery and assumed this role as chief executive and emperor, a precedent mostly followed throughout the Ming period. [18] [19] With a growing suspicion of his ministers and subjects, Hongwu established the Jinyiwei, a network of secret police drawn from his own palace guard. Some 100,000 people were executed in a series of purges during his rule. [18] [20]

    The Hongwu emperor issued many edicts forbidding Mongol practices and proclaiming his intention to purify China of barbarian influence. However, he also sought to use the Yuan legacy to legitimize his authority in China and other areas ruled by the Yuan. He continued policies of the Yuan dynasty such as continued request for Korean concubines and eunuchs, Mongol-style hereditary military institutions, Mongol-style clothing and hats, promoting archery and horseback riding, and having large numbers of Mongols serve in the Ming military. Until the late 16th century Mongols still constituted one-in-three officers serving in capital forces like the Embroidered Uniform Guard, and other peoples such as Jurchens were also prominent. [21] He frequently wrote to Mongol, Japanese, Korean, Jurchen, Tibetan, and Southwest frontier rulers offering advice on their governmental and dynastic policy, and insisted on leaders from these regions visiting the Ming capital for audiences. He resettled 100,000 Mongols into his territory, with many serving as guards in the capital. The emperor also strongly advertised the hospitality and role granted to Chinggisid nobles in his court. [22]

    South-Western frontier

    In Qinghai, the Salar Muslims voluntarily came under Ming rule, their clan leaders capitulating around 1370. Uyghur troops under Uyghur general Hala Bashi suppressed the Miao Rebellions of the 1370s and settled in Changde, Hunan. [23] Hui Muslim troops also settled in Changde, Hunan after serving the Ming in campaigns against other aboriginal tribes. [24] In 1381, the Ming dynasty annexed the areas of the southwest that had once been part of the Kingdom of Dali following the successful effort by Hui Muslim Ming armies to defeat Yuan-loyalist Mongol and Hui Muslim troops holding out in Yunnan province. The Hui troops under General Mu Ying, who was appointed Governor of Yunnan, were resettled in the region as part of a colonization effort. [25] By the end of the 14th century, some 200,000 military colonists settled some 2,000,000 mu (350,000 acres) of land in what is now Yunnan and Guizhou. Roughly half a million more Chinese settlers came in later periods these migrations caused a major shift in the ethnic make-up of the region, since formerly more than half of the population were non-Han peoples. Resentment over such massive changes in population and the resulting government presence and policies sparked more Miao and Yao revolts in 1464 to 1466, which were crushed by an army of 30,000 Ming troops (including 1,000 Mongols) joining the 160,000 local Guangxi (see Miao Rebellions (Ming dynasty)). After the scholar and philosopher Wang Yangming (1472–1529) suppressed another rebellion in the region, he advocated single, unitary administration of Chinese and indigenous ethnic groups in order to bring about sinification of the local peoples. [26]

    Campaign in the North-East

    After the overthrow of the Mongol Yuan dynasty by the Ming dynasty in 1368, Manchuria remained under control of the Mongols of the Northern Yuan dynasty based in Mongolia. Naghachu, a former Yuan official and a Uriankhai general of the Northern Yuan dynasty, won hegemony over the Mongol tribes in Manchuria (Liaoyang province of the former Yuan dynasty). He grew strong in the northeast, with forces large enough (numbering hundreds of thousands) to threaten invasion of the newly founded Ming dynasty in order to restore the Mongols to power in China. The Ming decided to defeat him instead of waiting for the Mongols to attack. In 1387 the Ming sent a military campaign to attack Naghachu, [27] which concluded with the surrender of Naghachu and Ming conquest of Manchuria.

    The early Ming court could not, and did not, aspire to the control imposed upon the Jurchens in Manchuria by the Mongols, yet it created a norm of organization that would ultimately serve as the main instrument for the relations with peoples along the northeast frontiers. By the end of the Hongwu reign, the essentials of a policy toward the Jurchens had taken shape. Most of the inhabitants of Manchuria, except for the Wild Jurchens, were at peace with China. In 1409, under the Yongle Emperor, the Ming Dynasty established the Nurgan Regional Military Commission on the banks of the Amur River, and Yishiha, a eunuch of Haixi Jurchen origin, was ordered to lead an expedition to the mouth of the Amur to pacify the Wild Jurchens. After the death of Yongle Emperor, the Nurgan Regional Military Commission was abolished in 1435, and the Ming court ceased to have substantial activities there, although the guards continued to exist in Manchuria. Throughout its existence, the Ming established a total of 384 guards (衛, wei) and 24 battalions (所, suo) in Manchuria, but these were probably only nominal offices and did not necessarily imply political control. [28] By the late Ming period, Ming's political presence in Manchuria has declined significantly.

    Relations with Tibet

    The Mingshi – the official history of the Ming dynasty compiled by the Qing dynasty in 1739 – states that the Ming established itinerant commanderies overseeing Tibetan administration while also renewing titles of ex-Yuan dynasty officials from Tibet and conferring new princely titles on leaders of Tibetan Buddhist sects. [31] However, Turrell V. Wylie states that censorship in the Mingshi in favor of bolstering the Ming emperor's prestige and reputation at all costs obfuscates the nuanced history of Sino-Tibetan relations during the Ming era. [32]

    Modern scholars debate whether the Ming dynasty had sovereignty over Tibet. Some believe it was a relationship of loose suzerainty that was largely cut off when the Jiajing Emperor (r. 1521–67) persecuted Buddhism in favor of Daoism at court. [32] [33] Others argue that the significant religious nature of the relationship with Tibetan lamas is underrepresented in modern scholarship. [34] [35] Others note the Ming need for Central Asian horses and the need to maintain the tea-horse trade. [36] [37] [38] [39]

    The Ming sporadically sent armed forays into Tibet during the 14th century, which the Tibetans successfully resisted. [40] [41] Several scholars point out that unlike the preceding Mongols, the Ming dynasty did not garrison permanent troops in Tibet. [42] [43] The Wanli Emperor (r. 1572–1620) attempted to reestablish Sino-Tibetan relations in the wake of a Mongol-Tibetan alliance initiated in 1578, an alliance which affected the foreign policy of the subsequent Manchu Qing dynasty (1644–1912) in their support for the Dalai Lama of the Yellow Hat sect. [32] [44] [45] [46] By the late 16th century, the Mongols proved to be successful armed protectors of the Yellow Hat Dalai Lama after their increasing presence in the Amdo region, culminating in the conquest of Tibet by Güshi Khan (1582–1655) in 1642, [32] [47] [48] establishing the Khoshut Khanate.

    Reign of the Yongle Emperor

    Rise to power

    The Hongwu Emperor specified his grandson Zhu Yunwen as his successor, and he assumed the throne as the Jianwen Emperor (1398–1402) after Hongwu's death in 1398. The most powerful of Hongwu's sons, Zhu Di, then the militarily mighty disagreed with this, and soon a political showdown erupted between him and his nephew Jianwen. [49] After Jianwen arrested many of Zhu Di's associates, Zhu Di plotted a rebellion that sparked a three-year civil war. Under the pretext of rescuing the young Jianwen from corrupting officials, Zhu Di personally led forces in the revolt the palace in Nanjing was burned to the ground, along with Jianwen himself, his wife, mother, and courtiers. Zhu Di assumed the throne as the Yongle Emperor (1402–1424) his reign is universally viewed by scholars as a "second founding" of the Ming dynasty since he reversed many of his father's policies. [50]

    New capital and foreign engagement

    Yongle demoted Nanjing to a secondary capital and in 1403 announced the new capital of China was to be at his power base in Beijing. Construction of a new city there lasted from 1407 to 1420, employing hundreds of thousands of workers daily. [51] At the center was the political node of the Imperial City, and at the center of this was the Forbidden City, the palatial residence of the emperor and his family. By 1553, the Outer City was added to the south, which brought the overall size of Beijing to 6.5 by 7 kilometres (4 by 4 + 1 ⁄ 2 miles). [52]

    Beginning in 1405, the Yongle Emperor entrusted his favored eunuch commander Zheng He (1371–1433) as the admiral for a gigantic new fleet of ships designated for international tributary missions. Among the Kingdoms visited by Zheng He, Yongle Emperor proclaimed the Kingdom of Cochin to be its protectorate. [53] The Chinese had sent diplomatic missions over land since the Han dynasty (202 BCE – 220 CE) and engaged in private overseas trade, but these missions were unprecedented in grandeur and scale. To service seven different tributary voyages, the Nanjing shipyards constructed two thousand vessels from 1403 to 1419, including treasure ships measuring 112 m (370 ft) to 134 m (440 ft) in length and 45 m (150 ft) to 54 m (180 ft) in width. [54]

    Yongle used woodblock printing to spread Chinese culture. He also used the military to expand China's borders. This included the brief occupation of Vietnam, from the initial invasion in 1406 until the Ming withdrawal in 1427 as a result of protracted guerrilla warfare led by Lê Lợi, the founder of the Vietnamese Lê dynasty. [55]

    Tumu Crisis and the Ming Mongols

    The Oirat leader Esen Tayisi launched an invasion into Ming China in July 1449. The chief eunuch Wang Zhen encouraged the Zhengtong Emperor (r. 1435–49) to lead a force personally to face the Oirats after a recent Ming defeat the emperor left the capital and put his half-brother Zhu Qiyu in charge of affairs as temporary regent. On 8 September, Esen routed Zhengtong's army, and Zhengtong was captured – an event known as the Tumu Crisis. [56] The Oirats held the Zhengtong Emperor for ransom. However, this scheme was foiled once the emperor's younger brother assumed the throne under the era name Jingtai (r. 1449–57) the Oirats were also repelled once the Jingtai Emperor's confidant and defense minister Yu Qian (1398–1457) gained control of the Ming armed forces. Holding the Zhengtong Emperor in captivity was a useless bargaining chip for the Oirats as long as another sat on his throne, so they released him back into Ming China. [56] The former emperor was placed under house arrest in the palace until the coup against the Jingtai Emperor in 1457 known as the "Wresting the Gate Incident". [57] The former emperor retook the throne under the new era name Tianshun (r. 1457–64).

    Tianshun proved to be a troubled time and Mongol forces within the Ming military structure continued to be problematic. On 7 August 1461, the Chinese general Cao Qin and his Ming troops of Mongol descent staged a coup against the Tianshun Emperor out of fear of being next on his purge-list of those who aided him in the Wresting the Gate Incident. [58] Cao's rebel force managed to set fire to the western and eastern gates of the Imperial City (doused by rain during the battle) and killed several leading ministers before his forces were finally cornered and he was forced to commit suicide. [59]

    While the Yongle Emperor had staged five major offensives north of the Great Wall against the Mongols and the Oirats, the constant threat of Oirat incursions prompted the Ming authorities to fortify the Great Wall from the late 15th century to the 16th century nevertheless, John Fairbank notes that "it proved to be a futile military gesture but vividly expressed China's siege mentality." [60] Yet the Great Wall was not meant to be a purely defensive fortification its towers functioned rather as a series of lit beacons and signalling stations to allow rapid warning to friendly units of advancing enemy troops. [61]

    Decline and fall of the Ming dynasty

    Later reign of the Wanli Emperor

    The financial drain of the Imjin War in Korea against the Japanese was one of the many problems – fiscal or other – facing Ming China during the reign of the Wanli Emperor (1572–1620). In the beginning of his reign, Wanli surrounded himself with able advisors and made a conscientious effort to handle state affairs. His Grand Secretary Zhang Juzheng (1572–82) built up an effective network of alliances with senior officials. However, there was no one after him skilled enough to maintain the stability of these alliances [62] officials soon banded together in opposing political factions. Over time Wanli grew tired of court affairs and frequent political quarreling amongst his ministers, preferring to stay behind the walls of the Forbidden City and out of his officials' sight. [63] Scholar-officials lost prominence in administration as eunuchs became intermediaries between the aloof emperor and his officials any senior official who wanted to discuss state matters had to persuade powerful eunuchs with a bribe simply to have his demands or message relayed to the emperor. [64] The Bozhou rebellion by the Chiefdom of Bozhou was going on in southwestern China at the same time as the Imjin War. [65] [66] [67] [68]

    Role of eunuchs

    The Hongwu Emperor forbade eunuchs to learn how to read or engage in politics. Whether or not these restrictions were carried out with absolute success in his reign, eunuchs during the Yongle Emperor's reign (1402–1424) and afterwards managed huge imperial workshops, commanded armies, and participated in matters of appointment and promotion of officials. Yongle put 75 eunuchs in charge of foreign policy they traveled frequently to vassal states including Annam, Mongolia, the Ryukyu Islands, and Tibet and less frequently to farther-flung places like Japan and Nepal. In the later 15th century, however, eunuch envoys generally only traveled to Korea. [69]

    The eunuchs developed their own bureaucracy that was organized parallel to but was not subject to the civil service bureaucracy. [70] Although there were several dictatorial eunuchs throughout the Ming, such as Wang Zhen, Wang Zhi, and Liu Jin, excessive tyrannical eunuch power did not become evident until the 1590s when the Wanli Emperor increased their rights over the civil bureaucracy and granted them power to collect provincial taxes. [64] [71]

    The eunuch Wei Zhongxian (1568–1627) dominated the court of the Tianqi Emperor (r. 1620–1627) and had his political rivals tortured to death, mostly the vocal critics from the faction of the Donglin Society. He ordered temples built in his honor throughout the Ming Empire, and built personal palaces created with funds allocated for building the previous emperor's tombs. His friends and family gained important positions without qualifications. Wei also published a historical work lambasting and belittling his political opponents. [72] The instability at court came right as natural calamity, pestilence, rebellion, and foreign invasion came to a peak. The Chongzhen Emperor (r. 1627–44) had Wei dismissed from court, which led to Wei's suicide shortly after.

    The eunuchs built their own social structure, providing and gaining support to their birth clans. Instead of fathers promoting sons, it was a matter of uncles promoting nephews. The Heishanhui Society in Peking sponsored the temple that conducted rituals for worshiping the memory of Gang Tie, a powerful eunuch of the Yuan dynasty. The Temple became an influential base for highly placed eunuchs, and continued in a somewhat diminished role during the Qing dynasty. [73] [74] [75]

    Economic breakdown and natural disasters

    During the last years of the Wanli era and those of his two successors, an economic crisis developed that was centered on a sudden widespread lack of the empire's chief medium of exchange: silver. The Portuguese first established trade with China in 1516, [76] trading Japanese silver for Chinese silk, [77] and after some initial hostilities gained consent from the Ming court in 1557 to settle Macau as their permanent trade base in China. [78] Their role in providing silver was gradually surpassed by the Spanish, [79] [80] [81] while even the Dutch challenged them for control of this trade. [82] [83] Philip IV of Spain (r. 1621–1665) began cracking down on illegal smuggling of silver from New Spain and Peru across the Pacific through the Philippines towards China, in favor of shipping American-mined silver through Spanish ports. In 1639 the new Tokugawa regime of Japan shut down most of its foreign trade with European powers, cutting off another source of silver coming into China. These events occurring at roughly the same time caused a dramatic spike in the value of silver and made paying taxes nearly impossible for most provinces. [84] People began hoarding precious silver as there was progressively less of it, forcing the ratio of the value of copper to silver into a steep decline. In the 1630s a string of one thousand copper coins equaled an ounce of silver by 1640 that sum could fetch half an ounce and, by 1643 only one-third of an ounce. [79] For peasants this meant economic disaster, since they paid taxes in silver while conducting local trade and crop sales in copper. [85] Recent historians have debated the validity of the theory that silver shortages caused the downfall of the Ming dynasty. [86] [87]

    Famines became common in northern China in the early 17th century because of unusually dry and cold weather that shortened the growing season – effects of a larger ecological event now known as the Little Ice Age. [88] Famine, alongside tax increases, widespread military desertions, a declining relief system, and natural disasters such as flooding and inability of the government to properly manage irrigation and flood-control projects caused widespread loss of life and normal civility. [88] The central government, starved of resources, could do very little to mitigate the effects of these calamities. Making matters worse, a widespread epidemic, the Great Plague in late Ming Dynasty, spread across China from Zhejiang to Henan, killing an unknown but large number of people. [89] The deadliest earthquake of all time, the Shaanxi earthquake of 1556, occurred during the Jiajing Emperor's reign, killing approximately 830,000 people. [90]

    Rise of the Manchu

    A Jurchen tribal leader named Nurhaci (r. 1616–26), starting with just a small tribe, rapidly gained control over all the Manchurian tribes. During the Japanese invasions of Joseon Korea in the 1590s, he offered to lead his tribes in support of the Ming and Joseon army. This offer was declined, but he was granted honorific Ming titles for his gesture. Recognizing the weakness of Ming authority north of their border, he united all of the adjacent northern tribes and consolidated power in the region surrounding his homeland as the Jurchen Jin dynasty had done previously. [91] In 1610, he broke relations with the Ming court, and in 1618 demanded a tribute from them to redress "Seven Grievances".

    By 1636, Nurhaci's son Huang Taiji renamed his dynasty from the "Later Jin" to the "Great Qing" at Mukden, which had fallen to Qing forces in 1621 and was made their capital in 1625. [92] [93] Huang Taiji also adopted the Chinese imperial title huangdi, declared the Chongde ("Revering Virtue") era, and changed the ethnic name of his people from "Jurchen" to "Manchu". [93] [94] In 1638 the Manchu defeated and conquered Ming China's traditional ally Joseon with an army of 100,000 troops in the Second Manchu invasion of Korea. Shortly after, the Koreans renounced their long-held loyalty to the Ming dynasty. [94]

    Rebellion, invasion, collapse

    A peasant soldier named Li Zicheng mutinied with his fellow soldiers in western Shaanxi in the early 1630s after the Ming government failed to ship much-needed supplies there. [88] In 1634 he was captured by a Ming general and released only on the terms that he return to service. [95] The agreement soon broke down when a local magistrate had thirty-six of his fellow rebels executed Li's troops retaliated by killing the officials and continued to lead a rebellion based in Rongyang, central Henan province by 1635. [96] By the 1640s, an ex-soldier and rival to Li – Zhang Xianzhong (1606–1647) – had created a firm rebel base in Chengdu, Sichuan, while Li's center of power was in Hubei with extended influence over Shaanxi and Henan. [96]

    In 1640, masses of Chinese peasants who were starving, unable to pay their taxes, and no longer in fear of the frequently defeated Chinese army, began to form into huge bands of rebels. The Chinese military, caught between fruitless efforts to defeat the Manchu raiders from the north and huge peasant revolts in the provinces, essentially fell apart. Unpaid and unfed, the army was defeated by Li Zicheng – now self-styled as the Prince of Shun – and deserted the capital without much of a fight. On 25 April 1644, Beijing fell to a rebel army led by Li Zicheng when the city gates were opened by rebel allies from within. During the turmoil, the last Ming emperor hanged himself on a tree in the imperial garden outside the Forbidden City. [97]

    Seizing opportunity, the Eight Banners crossed the Great Wall after the Ming border general Wu Sangui (1612–1678) opened the gates at Shanhai Pass. This occurred shortly after he learned about the fate of the capital and an army of Li Zicheng marching towards him weighing his options of alliance, he decided to side with the Manchus. [98] The Eight Banners under the Manchu Prince Dorgon (1612–1650) and Wu Sangui approached Beijing after the army sent by Li was destroyed at Shanhaiguan the Prince of Shun's army fled the capital on the fourth of June. On 6 June, the Manchus and Wu entered the capital and proclaimed the young Shunzhi Emperor ruler of China. After being forced out of Xi'an by the Qing, chased along the Han River to Wuchang, and finally along the northern border of Jiangxi province, Li Zicheng died there in the summer of 1645, thus ending the Shun dynasty. One report says his death was a suicide another states that he was beaten to death by peasants after he was caught stealing their food. [99]

    Despite the loss of Beijing and the death of the emperor, the Ming were not yet totally destroyed. Nanjing, Fujian, Guangdong, Shanxi, and Yunnan were all strongholds of Ming resistance. However, there were several pretenders for the Ming throne, and their forces were divided. These scattered Ming remnants in southern China after 1644 were collectively designated by 19th-century historians as the Southern Ming. [100] Each bastion of resistance was individually defeated by the Qing until 1662, when the last southern Ming Emperor died, the Yongli Emperor, Zhu Youlang. The last Ming Princes to hold out were the Prince of Ningjing Zhu Shugui and the son of Zhu Yihai, the Prince of Lu Zhu Honghuan (朱弘桓) who stayed with Koxinga's Ming loyalists in the Kingdom of Tungning (in Taiwan) until 1683. Zhu Shugui proclaimed that he acted in the name of the deceased Yongli Emperor. [101] The Qing eventually sent the seventeen Ming princes still living in Taiwan back to mainland China where they spent the rest of their lives. [102]

    In 1725 the Qing Yongzheng Emperor bestowed the hereditary title of Marquis on a descendant of the Ming dynasty Imperial family, Zhu Zhilian (朱之璉), who received a salary from the Qing government and whose duty was to perform rituals at the Ming tombs. The Chinese Plain White Banner was also inducted in the Eight Banners. Later the Qianlong Emperor bestowed the title Marquis of Extended Grace posthumously on Zhu Zhilian in 1750, and the title passed on through twelve generations of Ming descendants until the end of the Qing dynasty in 1912. The last Marquis of Extended Grance was Zhu Yuxun (朱煜勳). In 1912, after the overthrow of the Qing dynasty in the Xinhai Revolution, some advocated that a Han Chinese be installed as Emperor, either the descendant of Confucius, who was the Duke Yansheng, [103] [104] [105] [106] [107] or the Ming dynasty Imperial family descendant, the Marquis of Extended Grace. [108] [109]

    Province, prefecture, subprefecture, county

    Described as "one of the greatest eras of orderly government and social stability in human history" by Edwin O. Reischauer, John K. Fairbank and Albert M. Craig, [110] the Ming emperors took over the provincial administration system of the Yuan dynasty, and the thirteen Ming provinces are the precursors of the modern provinces. Throughout the Song dynasty, the largest political division was the circuit (lu 路). [111] However, after the Jurchen invasion in 1127, the Song court established four semi-autonomous regional command systems based on territorial and military units, with a detached service secretariat that would become the provincial administrations of the Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties. [112] Copied on the Yuan model, the Ming provincial bureaucracy contained three commissions: one civil, one military, and one for surveillance. Below the level of the province (sheng 省) were prefectures (fu 府) operating under a prefect (zhifu 知府), followed by subprefectures (zhou 州) under a subprefect. The lowest unit was the county (xian 縣), overseen by a magistrate. Besides the provinces, there were also two large areas that belonged to no province, but were metropolitan areas (jing 京) attached to Nanjing and Beijing. [113]

    Institutions and bureaus

    Institutional trends

    Departing from the main central administrative system generally known as the Three Departments and Six Ministries system, which was instituted by various dynasties since late Han (202 BCE – 220 CE), the Ming administration had only one Department, the Secretariat, that controlled the Six Ministries. Following the execution of the Chancellor Hu Weiyong in 1380, the Hongwu Emperor abolished the Secretariat, the Censorate, and the Chief Military Commission and personally took charge of the Six Ministries and the regional Five Military Commissions. [114] [115] Thus a whole level of administration was cut out and only partially rebuilt by subsequent rulers. [114] The Grand Secretariat, at the beginning a secretarial institution that assisted the emperor with administrative paperwork, was instituted, but without employing grand counselors, or chancellors.

    The Hongwu Emperor sent his heir apparent to Shaanxi in 1391 to "tour and soothe" (xunfu) the region in 1421 the Yongle Emperor commissioned 26 officials to travel the empire and uphold similar investigatory and patrimonial duties. By 1430 these xunfu assignments became institutionalized as "grand coordinators". Hence, the Censorate was reinstalled and first staffed with investigating censors, later with censors-in-chief. By 1453, the grand coordinators were granted the title vice censor-in-chief or assistant censor-in-chief and were allowed direct access to the emperor. [116] As in prior dynasties, the provincial administrations were monitored by a travelling inspector from the Censorate. Censors had the power to impeach officials on an irregular basis, unlike the senior officials who were to do so only in triennial evaluations of junior officials. [116] [117]

    Although decentralization of state power within the provinces occurred in the early Ming, the trend of central government officials delegated to the provinces as virtual provincial governors began in the 1420s. By the late Ming dynasty, there were central government officials delegated to two or more provinces as supreme commanders and viceroys, a system which reined in the power and influence of the military by the civil establishment. [118]

    Grand Secretariat and Six Ministries

    Governmental institutions in China conformed to a similar pattern for some two thousand years, but each dynasty installed special offices and bureaus, reflecting its own particular interests. The Ming administration utilized Grand Secretaries to assist the emperor, handling paperwork under the reign of the Yongle Emperor and later appointed as top officials of agencies and Grand Preceptor, a top-ranking, non-functional civil service post, under the Hongxi Emperor (r. 1424–25). [119] The Grand Secretariat drew its members from the Hanlin Academy and were considered part of the imperial authority, not the ministerial one (hence being at odds with both the emperor and ministers at times). [120] The Secretariat operated as a coordinating agency, whereas the Six Ministries – Personnel, Revenue, Rites, War, Justice, and Public Works – were direct administrative organs of the state: [121]

    1. The Ministry of Personnel was in charge of appointments, merit ratings, promotions, and demotions of officials, as well as granting of honorific titles. [122]
    2. The Ministry of Revenue was in charge of gathering census data, collecting taxes, and handling state revenues, while there were two offices of currency that were subordinate to it. [123]
    3. The Ministry of Rites was in charge of state ceremonies, rituals, and sacrifices it also oversaw registers for Buddhist and Daoist priesthoods and even the reception of envoys from tributary states. [124]
    4. The Ministry of War was in charge of the appointments, promotions, and demotions of military officers, the maintenance of military installations, equipment, and weapons, as well as the courier system. [125]
    5. The Ministry of Justice was in charge of judicial and penal processes, but had no supervisory role over the Censorate or the Grand Court of Revision. [126]
    6. The Ministry of Public Works had charge of government construction projects, hiring of artisans and laborers for temporary service, manufacturing government equipment, the maintenance of roads and canals, standardization of weights and measures, and the gathering of resources from the countryside. [126]

    Bureaus and offices for the imperial household

    The imperial household was staffed almost entirely by eunuchs and ladies with their own bureaus. [127] Female servants were organized into the Bureau of Palace Attendance, Bureau of Ceremonies, Bureau of Apparel, Bureau of Foodstuffs, Bureau of the Bedchamber, Bureau of Handicrafts, and Office of Staff Surveillance. [127] Starting in the 1420s, eunuchs began taking over these ladies' positions until only the Bureau of Apparel with its four subsidiary offices remained. [127] Hongwu had his eunuchs organized into the Directorate of Palace Attendants, but as eunuch power at court increased, so did their administrative offices, with eventual twelve directorates, four offices, and eight bureaus. [127] The dynasty had a vast imperial household, staffed with thousands of eunuchs, who were headed by the Directorate of Palace Attendants. The eunuchs were divided into different directorates in charge of staff surveillance, ceremonial rites, food, utensils, documents, stables, seals, apparel, and so on. [128] The offices were in charge of providing fuel, music, paper, and baths. [128] The bureaus were in charge of weapons, silverwork, laundering, headgear, bronze work, textile manufacture, wineries, and gardens. [128] At times, the most influential eunuch in the Directorate of Ceremonial acted as a de facto dictator over the state. [129]

    Although the imperial household was staffed mostly by eunuchs and palace ladies, there was a civil service office called the Seal Office, which cooperated with eunuch agencies in maintaining imperial seals, tallies, and stamps. [130] There were also civil service offices to oversee the affairs of imperial princes. [131]



    The Hongwu emperor from 1373 to 1384 staffed his bureaus with officials gathered through recommendations only. After that the scholar-officials who populated the many ranks of bureaucracy were recruited through a rigorous examination system that was initially established by the Sui dynasty (581–618). [133] [134] [135] Theoretically the system of exams allowed anyone to join the ranks of imperial officials (although it was frowned upon for merchants to join) in reality the time and funding needed to support the study in preparation for the exam generally limited participants to those already coming from the landholding class. However, the government did exact provincial quotas while drafting officials. This was an effort to curb monopolization of power by landholding gentry who came from the most prosperous regions, where education was the most advanced. The expansion of the printing industry since Song times enhanced the spread of knowledge and number of potential exam candidates throughout the provinces. For young schoolchildren there were printed multiplication tables and primers for elementary vocabulary for adult examination candidates there were mass-produced, inexpensive volumes of Confucian classics and successful examination answers. [136]

    As in earlier periods, the focus of the examination was classical Confucian texts, while the bulk of test material centered on the Four Books outlined by Zhu Xi in the 12th century. [137] Ming era examinations were perhaps more difficult to pass since the 1487 requirement of completing the "eight-legged essay", a departure from basing essays off progressing literary trends. The exams increased in difficulty as the student progressed from the local level, and appropriate titles were accordingly awarded successful applicants. Officials were classified in nine hierarchic grades, each grade divided into two degrees, with ranging salaries (nominally paid in piculs of rice) according to their rank. While provincial graduates who were appointed to office were immediately assigned to low-ranking posts like the county graduates, those who passed the palace examination were awarded a jinshi ('presented scholar') degree and assured a high-level position. [138] In 276 years of Ming rule and ninety palace examinations, the number of doctoral degrees granted by passing the palace examinations was 24,874. [139] Ebrey states that "there were only two to four thousand of these jinshi at any given time, on the order of one out of 10,000 adult males." This was in comparison to the 100,000 shengyuan ('government students'), the lowest tier of graduates, by the 16th century. [140]

    The maximum tenure in office was nine years, but every three years officials were graded on their performance by senior officials. If they were graded as superior then they were promoted, if graded adequate then they retained their ranks, and if graded inadequate they were demoted one rank. In extreme cases, officials would be dismissed or punished. Only capital officials of grade 4 and above were exempt from the scrutiny of recorded evaluation, although they were expected to confess any of their faults. There were over 4,000 school instructors in county and prefectural schools who were subject to evaluations every nine years. The Chief Instructor on the prefectural level was classified as equal to a second-grade county graduate. The Supervisorate of Imperial Instruction oversaw the education of the heir apparent to the throne this office was headed by a Grand Supervisor of Instruction, who was ranked as first class of grade three. [141]

    Historians debate whether the examination system expanded or contracted upward social mobility. On the one hand, the exams were graded without regard to a candidate's social background, and were theoretically open to everyone. [142] In actual practice, the successful candidates had years of a very expensive, sophisticated tutoring of the sort that wealthy gentry families specialized in providing their talented sons. In practice, 90 percent of the population was ineligible due to lack of education, but the upper 10 percent had equal chances for moving to the top. To be successful young men had to have extensive, expensive training in classical Chinese, the use of Mandarin in spoken conversation, calligraphy, and had to master the intricate poetic requirements of the eight-legged essay. Not only did the traditional gentry dominated the system, they also learned that conservatism and resistance to new ideas was the path to success. For centuries critics had pointed out these problems, but the examination system only became more abstract and less relevant to the needs of China. [143] The consensus of scholars is that the eight-legged essay can be blamed as a major cause of "China's cultural stagnation and economic backwardness." However Benjamin Ellman argues there were some positive features, since the essay form was capable of fostering “abstract thinking, persuasiveness, and prosodic form” and that its elaborate structure discouraged a wandering, unfocused narrative”. [144]

    Lesser functionaries

    Scholar-officials who entered civil service through examinations acted as executive officials to a much larger body of non-ranked personnel called lesser functionaries. They outnumbered officials by four to one Charles Hucker estimates that they were perhaps as many as 100,000 throughout the empire. These lesser functionaries performed clerical and technical tasks for government agencies. Yet they should not be confused with lowly lictors, runners, and bearers lesser functionaries were given periodic merit evaluations like officials and after nine years of service might be accepted into a low civil service rank. [145] The one great advantage of the lesser functionaries over officials was that officials were periodically rotated and assigned to different regional posts and had to rely on the good service and cooperation of the local lesser functionaries. [146]

    Eunuchs, princes, and generals

    Eunuchs gained unprecedented power over state affairs during the Ming dynasty. One of the most effective means of control was the secret service stationed in what was called the Eastern Depot at the beginning of the dynasty, later the Western Depot. This secret service was overseen by the Directorate of Ceremonial, hence this state organ's often totalitarian affiliation. Eunuchs had ranks that were equivalent to civil service ranks, only theirs had four grades instead of nine. [147] [148]

    Descendants of the first Ming emperor were made princes and given (typically nominal) military commands, annual stipends, and large estates. The title used was "king" ( 王 , wáng) but – unlike the princes in the Han and Jin dynasties – these estates were not feudatories, the princes did not serve any administrative function, and they partook in military affairs only during the reigns of the first two emperors. [149] The rebellion of the Prince of Yan was justified in part as upholding the rights of the princes, but once the Yongle Emperor was enthroned, he continued his nephew's policy of disarming his brothers and moved their fiefs away from the militarized northern border. Although princes served no organ of state administration, the princes, consorts of the imperial princesses, and ennobled relatives did staff the Imperial Clan Court, which supervised the imperial genealogy. [131]

    Like scholar-officials, military generals were ranked in a hierarchic grading system and were given merit evaluations every five years (as opposed to three years for officials). [150] However, military officers had less prestige than officials. This was due to their hereditary service (instead of solely merit-based) and Confucian values that dictated those who chose the profession of violence (wu) over the cultured pursuits of knowledge (wen). [151] Although seen as less prestigious, military officers were not excluded from taking civil service examinations, and after 1478 the military even held their own examinations to test military skills. [152] In addition to taking over the established bureaucratic structure from the Yuan period, the Ming emperors established the new post of the travelling military inspector. In the early half of the dynasty, men of noble lineage dominated the higher ranks of military office this trend was reversed during the latter half of the dynasty as men from more humble origins eventually displaced them. [153]

    Literature and arts

    Literature, painting, poetry, music, and Chinese opera of various types flourished during the Ming dynasty, especially in the economically prosperous lower Yangzi valley. Although short fiction had been popular as far back as the Tang dynasty (618–907), [154] and the works of contemporaneous authors such as Xu Guangqi, Xu Xiake, and Song Yingxing were often technical and encyclopedic, the most striking literary development was the vernacular novel. While the gentry elite were educated enough to fully comprehend the language of Classical Chinese, those with rudimentary education – such as women in educated families, merchants, and shop clerks – became a large potential audience for literature and performing arts that employed Vernacular Chinese. [155] Literati scholars edited or developed major Chinese novels into mature form in this period, such as Water Margin and Journey to the West. Jin Ping Mei, published in 1610, although incorporating earlier material, marks the trend toward independent composition and concern with psychology. [156] In the later years of the dynasty, Feng Menglong and Ling Mengchu innovated with vernacular short fiction. Theater scripts were equally imaginative. The most famous, The Peony Pavilion, was written by Tang Xianzu (1550–1616), with its first performance at the Pavilion of Prince Teng in 1598.

    Informal essay and travel writing was another highlight. Xu Xiake (1587–1641), a travel literature author, published his Travel Diaries in 404,000 written characters, with information on everything from local geography to mineralogy. [157] [158] The first reference to the publishing of private newspapers in Beijing was in 1582 by 1638 the Peking Gazette switched from using woodblock print to movable type printing. [159] The new literary field of the moral guide to business ethics was developed during the late Ming period, for the readership of the merchant class. [160]

    In contrast to Xu Xiake, who focused on technical aspects in his travel literature, the Chinese poet and official Yuan Hongdao (1568–1610) used travel literature to express his desires for individualism as well as autonomy from and frustration with Confucian court politics. [161] Yuan desired to free himself from the ethical compromises that were inseparable from the career of a scholar-official. This anti-official sentiment in Yuan's travel literature and poetry was actually following in the tradition of the Song dynasty poet and official Su Shi (1037–1101). [162] Yuan Hongdao and his two brothers, Yuan Zongdao (1560–1600) and Yuan Zhongdao (1570–1623), were the founders of the Gong'an School of letters. [163] This highly individualistic school of poetry and prose was criticized by the Confucian establishment for its association with intense sensual lyricism, which was also apparent in Ming vernacular novels such as the Jin Ping Mei. [163] Yet even gentry and scholar-officials were affected by the new popular romantic literature, seeking courtesans as soulmates to re-enact the heroic love stories that arranged marriages often could not provide or accommodate. [164]

    Famous painters included Ni Zan and Dong Qichang, as well as the Four Masters of the Ming dynasty, Shen Zhou, Tang Yin, Wen Zhengming, and Qiu Ying. They drew upon the techniques, styles, and complexity in painting achieved by their Song and Yuan predecessors, but added techniques and styles. Well-known Ming artists could make a living simply by painting due to the high prices they demanded for their artworks and the great demand by the highly cultured community to collect precious works of art. The artist Qiu Ying was once paid 2.8 kg (100 oz) of silver to paint a long handscroll for the eightieth birthday celebration of the mother of a wealthy patron. Renowned artists often gathered an entourage of followers, some who were amateurs who painted while pursuing an official career and others who were full-time painters. [165]

    The period was also renowned for ceramics and porcelains. The major production center for porcelain was the imperial kilns at Jingdezhen in Jiangxi province, most famous in the period for blue and white porcelain, but also producing other styles. The Dehua porcelain factories in Fujian catered to European tastes by creating Chinese export porcelain by the late 16th century. Individual potters also became known, such as He Chaozong, who became famous in the early 17th century for his style of white porcelain sculpture. In The Ceramic Trade in Asia, Chuimei Ho estimates that about 16% of late Ming era Chinese ceramic exports were sent to Europe, while the rest were destined for Japan and South East Asia. [166]

    Carved designs in lacquerware and designs glazed onto porcelain wares displayed intricate scenes similar in complexity to those in painting. These items could be found in the homes of the wealthy, alongside embroidered silks and wares in jade, ivory, and cloisonné. The houses of the rich were also furnished with rosewood furniture and feathery latticework. The writing materials in a scholar's private study, including elaborately carved brush holders made of stone or wood, were designed and arranged ritually to give an aesthetic appeal. [167]

    Connoisseurship in the late Ming period centered on these items of refined artistic taste, which provided work for art dealers and even underground scammers who themselves made imitations and false attributions. [167] The Jesuit Matteo Ricci while staying in Nanjing wrote that Chinese scam artists were ingenious at making forgeries and huge profits. [168] However, there were guides to help the wary new connoisseur Liu Tong (died 1637) wrote a book printed in 1635 that told his readers how to spot fake and authentic pieces of art. [169] He revealed that a Xuande era (1426–1435) bronze work could be authenticated by judging its sheen porcelain wares from the Yongle era (1402–1424) could be judged authentic by their thickness. [170]


    The dominant religious beliefs during the Ming dynasty were the various forms of Chinese folk religion and the Three Teachings – Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism. The Yuan-supported Tibetan lamas fell from favor, and the early Ming emperors particularly favored Taoism, granting its practitioners many positions in the state's ritual offices. [171] The Hongwu Emperor curtailed the cosmopolitan culture of the Mongol Yuan dynasty, and the prolific Prince of Ning Zhu Quan even composed one encyclopedia attacking Buddhism as a foreign "mourning cult", deleterious to the state, and another encyclopedia that subsequently joined the Taoist canon. [171]

    Islam was also well-established throughout China, with a history said to have begun with Sa'd ibn Abi Waqqas during the Tang dynasty and strong official support during the Yuan. Although the Ming sharply curtailed this support, there were still several prominent Muslim figures early on, including the Hongwu Emperor's generals Chang Yuqun, Lan Yu, Ding Dexing, and Mu Ying, [172] as well as the Yongle Emperor's powerful eunuch Zheng He. Mongol and Central Asian Semu Muslim women and men were required by Ming Code to marry Han Chinese after the first Ming Emperor Hongwu passed the law in Article 122. [173] [174] [175]

    The advent of the Ming was initially devastating to Christianity: in his first year, the Hongwu Emperor declared the eighty-year-old Franciscan missions among the Yuan heterodox and illegal. [177] The centuries-old Nestorian church also disappeared. During the later Ming a new wave of Christian missionaries arrived – particularly Jesuits – who employed new western science and technology in their arguments for conversion. They were educated in Chinese language and culture at St. Paul's College on Macau after its founding in 1579. The most influential was Matteo Ricci, whose "Map of the Myriad Countries of the World" upended traditional geography throughout East Asia, and whose work with the convert Xu Guangqi led to the first Chinese translation of Euclid's Elements in 1607. The discovery of a Nestorian stele at Xi'an in 1625 also permitted Christianity to be treated as an old and established faith, rather than as a new and dangerous cult. However, there were strong disagreements about the extent to which converts could continue to perform rituals to the emperor, Confucius, or their ancestors: Ricci had been very accommodating and an attempt by his successors to backtrack from this policy led to the Nanjing Incident of 1616, which exiled four Jesuits to Macau and forced the others out of public life for six years. [178] A series of spectacular failures by the Chinese astronomers – including missing an eclipse easily computed by Xu Guangqi and Sabatino de Ursis – and a return by the Jesuits to presenting themselves as educated scholars in the Confucian mold [179] restored their fortunes. However, by the end of the Ming the Dominicans had begun the Chinese Rites controversy in Rome that would eventually lead to a full ban of Christianity under the Qing dynasty.

    During his mission, Ricci was also contacted in Beijing by one of the approximately 5,000 Kaifeng Jews and introduced them and their long history in China to Europe. [180] However, the 1642 flood caused by Kaifeng's Ming governor devastated the community, which lost five of its twelve families, its synagogue, and most of its Torah. [181]


    Wang Yangming's Confucianism

    During the Ming dynasty, the Neo-Confucian doctrines of the Song scholar Zhu Xi were embraced by the court and the Chinese literati at large, although the direct line of his school was destroyed by the Yongle Emperor's extermination of the ten degrees of kinship of Fang Xiaoru in 1402. The Ming scholar most influential upon subsequent generations, however, was Wang Yangming (1472–1529), whose teachings were attacked in his own time for their similarity to Chan Buddhism. [182] Building upon Zhu Xi's concept of the "extension of knowledge" ( 理學 or 格物致知 ), gaining understanding through careful and rational investigation of things and events, Wang argued that universal concepts would appear in the minds of anyone. [183] Therefore, he claimed that anyone – no matter their pedigree or education – could become as wise as Confucius and Mencius had been and that their writings were not sources of truth but merely guides that might have flaws when carefully examined. [184] A peasant with a great deal of experience and intelligence would then be wiser than an official who had memorized the Classics but not experienced the real world. [184]

    Conservative reaction

    Other scholar-bureaucrats were wary of Wang's heterodoxy, the increasing number of his disciples while he was still in office, and his overall socially rebellious message. To curb his influence, he was often sent out to deal with military affairs and rebellions far away from the capital. Yet his ideas penetrated mainstream Chinese thought and spurred new interest in Taoism and Buddhism. [182] Furthermore, people began to question the validity of the social hierarchy and the idea that the scholar should be above the farmer. Wang Yangming's disciple and salt-mine worker Wang Gen gave lectures to commoners about pursuing education to improve their lives, while his follower He Xinyin ( 何心隱 ) challenged the elevation and emphasis of the family in Chinese society. [182] His contemporary Li Zhi even taught that women were the intellectual equals of men and should be given a better education both Li and He eventually died in prison, jailed on charges of spreading "dangerous ideas". [185] Yet these "dangerous ideas" of educating women had long been embraced by some mothers [186] and by courtesans who were as literate and skillful in calligraphy, painting, and poetry as their male guests. [187]

    The liberal views of Wang Yangming were opposed by the Censorate and by the Donglin Academy, re-established in 1604. These conservatives wanted a revival of orthodox Confucian ethics. Conservatives such as Gu Xiancheng (1550–1612) argued against Wang's idea of innate moral knowledge, stating that this was simply a legitimization for unscrupulous behavior such as greedy pursuits and personal gain. These two strands of Confucian thought, hardened by Chinese scholars' notions of obligation towards their mentors, developed into pervasive factionalism among the ministers of state, who used any opportunity to impeach members of the other faction from court. [188]

    Beijing’s extraordinary Grand Canal

    Although few locals realize it, the once powerful Grand Canal is seeing new life in Beijing's suburb of Tongzhou.

    When I told Beijingers what my itinerary for their city included, they nodded along. The Forbidden City, of course. Tiananmen Square, yes. The Great Wall, naturally.

    And then, when I listed my final stop – one almost as monumental as the Great Wall, as connected to the emperors as the Forbidden City and even more consequential to Beijing’s history than Tiananmen Square – they paused.

    “The Grand Canal?” they asked. “Are you sure?”

    If few Beijingers make it out to the Grand Canal, even fewer travellers do. The canal is a relatively well-known attraction in southern China, where barges and cruise ships alike ply the 2,500-year-old route. In Beijing, less so: hardly anyone realises that the canal runs an entire 1,794km north from Hangzhou to Beijing’s suburb of Tongzhou, located 35km west of Tiananmen Square.

    Yet few spots are more important to Chinese history than this: the longest, oldest manmade waterway in the world, nine times longer than the Suez Canal. Without the canal, Beijing never would have been China’s capital. And without the canal, China may not be China at all – all reasons why, in June 2014, Unesco finally inscribed the Grand Canal on its World Heritage List.

    I didn’t care if locals were perplexed. I had to see it.

    As we drove west along highway 103, four lanes of traffic running in each direction, one building under construction loomed after another. People on scooters checked their iPhones at a stoplight a concrete mixer churned behind them. As we crossed a bridge, I caught a quick glimpse of water beneath us. And then it vanished.

    Whether the canal goes largely ignored by locals today or not, the workers who build here are continuing a millennia-old tradition: one of investing human capital in projects on the kind of scale the world has never before seen. Work began on the canal in 486 BC, but it wasn’t until a 7 th -century expansion that the canal was brought to the magnitude it’s known for today: in 605, a 1,000km canal was cut from Luoyang to Qingjiang (now called Huaiyin), and three years later, 1,000km were built on to today’s Beijing. In 610, another 400km was cut from Zhenjiang to Hangzhou.

    The project took more than three million peasants to complete. Half are estimated to have died from the hard labour and hunger. The canal’s further facelifts, including a major intervention in the 13 th Century, took even more manpower. When Kublai Khan moved the empire’s capital to Beijing in 1271, eliminating the need for a section to go to the previous capitals of Kaifeng or Luoyang, he ordered that the canal be made more direct – creating today’s 1,794km Beijing to Hangzhou route. The project took four million slaves some 10 years. According to Unesco, in fact, the canal was “the world’s largest and most extensive civil engineering project prior to the Industrial Revolution”.

    Like any major route, the canal played several roles, all of them indispensable to the empire. Food security was one: the Yangzi River Delta was China’s breadbasket, but the Yangzi itself flowed from west to east. As any ruler knew, hungry locals were more likely to rebel, and unfed soldiers couldn’t be counted on to keep both the peasants and potential invaders in check. And so (before Kublai Khan’s overhaul), the Grand Canal allowed barges to transport rice from the Yangzi to the Yellow River and on to Luoyang and Kaifeng, with an adjoining tributary allowing transport even further west to Xi’an, another of the ancient capitals. Meanwhile, wheat, which was grown in the north, could be sent south. By 735, no less than 149,000,000kg of grain was being shipped along the canal each year. Other goods, from cotton to porcelain, were also traded, helping China’s economy bloom. And the canal became a lifeline for communication, with government couriers running messages up and down the waterway.

    A feat of modernity in itself, the canal led to equally extraordinary innovations. In 587, the world’s first lock gates were invented by the Sui Dynasty engineer Liang Rui for one of the canal’s original sections along the Yellow River in 984, a transport commissioner named Qiao Weiyo invented the Grand Canal’s first pound lock – the lock that we see in modern canals even today, creating a pool with two barriers and allowing a boat to wait safely until the water level changes. (It wouldn’t be picked up in Europe until 1373, in Vreeswijk, Netherlands).

    Yet after railroads took over China in the late 19 th Century, the canal was largely forgotten. Vast sections fell into disrepair. In 1958, the canal was restored. Today, some sections – particularly in the south – are plied by barges, mostly transporting construction material, while others remain unused. Here in Tongzhou, the section hadn’t been used for trade in years.

    But the city seems to be rediscovering the canal’s merit. For the 2008 Games, an Olympic park was built along its shores I could see the park’s white canopy rising from the fog like a Japanese crane.

    And last year, the city built a new park: the Grand Canal Forest Park, which runs 8.6km on the north side of the canal in Tongzhou. On a Sunday morning, families pushed strollers and carried picnics beneath the park’s tree-lined walkways. Immaculate clusters of flowers and foliage grew, many with descriptive signs in both Mandarin and English. From a small amusement park, a carousel tinkled a tune.

    Smelling the brine on the air, I wandered past the families, past the rides. And there it was.

    The Grand Canal was wider than I’d expected, and stiller too. Lotus flowers blossomed at the edges of the grey-green water. I couldn’t see a single skyscraper on the horizon. The only movement was a tiny boat, no more than a creaky platform with a sputtering outboard engine its crew of three old men looked like they were trawling for fish. Floating in and out of the mist that hung thick in the air, they seemed like apparitions.

    At the dock, wooden boats lined up to take curious customers across. As mine puttered down the canal, another boat passed, this one without so much as an engine, just an operator rowing wooden oars. A handful of locals were on board for a Sunday outing. We waved at each other, and they smiled curiously: what was a tourist doing all the way out here?

    Once, the canal had been proof that China was on the fast track. And I’d been drawn by its monumentality, its grandeur, its importance. Yet today, as Beijing builds bullet trains and underground metros, expands its airports and thrusts skyscrapers into the sky, the Grand Canal is anything but. It seems, instead, a symbol of a slower-moving past. And, if I could have, that’s what I would have explained to the perplexed passersby on the canal: in the end, my choice to come here was worth it not because the canal was as monumental as I’d expected – but because, on the scale of modern-day Beijing, it was less so. And that made it a refreshing stop.

    The Beijingers I’d spoken to may have been right today’s vast, almost empty waterway makes it hard to get a sense of just how extraordinary the Grand Canal once was, and how integral it was to China’s flourishing trade. But as Beijing races ahead, building modern monuments to commerce, industry and traffic, experiencing the canal – stepping outside of the rush, experiencing a place of lotus flowers and fishermen, faded pride and stillness – seems all the more poignant.

    Further Reading

    There is no book-length biography of Yung-lo in a Western language. A translation of his biography in the Chinese official history of the Ming dynasty, Ming-shih, is included in Lewis C. Arlington and William Lewisohn, In Search of Old Peking (1935), which also contains useful information on Yung-lo's rule. Recommended for general historical background are K. S. Latourette, The Chinese: Their History and Culture (1934 4th ed. rev. 1964) L. Carrington Goodrich, A Short History of the Chinese People (1943 rev. ed. 1959) and Edwin O. Reischauer and John K. Fairbank, A History of East Asian Civilization, vol. 1: East Asia: The Great Tradition (1958). □

    How China Sees the World

    On November 8, 2017, Air Force One touched down in Beijing, marking the start of a state visit hosted by China’s president and Communist Party chairman, Xi Jinping. From my first day on the job as President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, China had been a top priority. The country figured prominently in what President Barack Obama had identified for his successor as the biggest immediate problem the new administration would face—what to do about North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. But many other questions about the nature and future of the relationship between China and the United States had also emerged, reflecting China’s fundamentally different perception of the world.

    Since the heady days of Deng Xiaoping, in the late 1970s, the assumptions that had governed the American approach to our relationship with China were these: After being welcomed into the international political and economic order, China would play by the rules, open its markets, and privatize its economy. As the country became more prosperous, the Chinese government would respect the rights of its people and liberalize politically. But those assumptions were proving to be wrong.

    China has become a threat because its leaders are promoting a closed, authoritarian model as an alternative to democratic governance and free-market economics. The Chinese Communist Party is not only strengthening an internal system that stifles human freedom and extends its authoritarian control it is also exporting that model and leading the development of new rules and a new international order that would make the world less free and less safe. China’s effort to extend its influence is obvious in the militarization of man-made islands in the South China Sea and the deployment of military capabilities near Taiwan and in the East China Sea. But the integrated nature of the Chinese Communist Party’s military and economic strategies is what makes it particularly dangerous to the United States and other free and open societies.

    John King Fairbank, the Harvard historian and godfather of American sinology, noted in 1948 that to understand the policies and actions of Chinese leaders, historical perspective is “not a luxury, but a necessity.” During our state visit, Xi and his advisers relied heavily on history to convey their intended message. They emphasized certain historical subjects. They avoided others.

    The American delegation—which included President Trump and the first lady, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and the U.S. ambassador to China, Terry Branstad—received its first history lesson as it toured the Forbidden City, the seat of Chinese emperors for five centuries. We were accompanied by Xi, his wife, and several other senior Chinese leaders. The message—conveyed in private conversations and public statements, as well as in official TV coverage and by the very nature of the tour—was consistent with Xi’s speech three weeks earlier at the 19th National Congress: The Chinese Communist Party was relentlessly pursuing the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” As Xi described it, “rejuvenation” encompassed prosperity, collective effort, socialism, and national glory—the “China dream.” The Forbidden City was the perfect backdrop for Xi to showcase his determination to “move closer to the center of the world stage and to make a greater contribution to humankind.”

    The Forbidden City was built during the Ming dynasty, which ruled China from 1368 to 1644—a period considered to be a golden age in terms of China’s economic might, territorial control, and cultural achievements. It was during this dynasty that Zheng He, an admiral in the Ming fleet, embarked on seven voyages around the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans, more than half a century before Christopher Columbus set sail. His “treasure ships,” among the largest wooden vessels ever built, brought back tribute from all parts of the known world. But despite the success of the seven voyages, the emperor concluded that the world had nothing to offer China. He ordered the treasure ships scuttled and Chinese ports closed. The period that followed—the 19th and 20th centuries in particular—is seen by Xi and others in the leadership as an aberrational period during which European nations and, later, the United States achieved economic and military dominance.

    Like the closing show of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, which placed modern technological innovation in the context of 5,000 years of Chinese history, the tour of the Forbidden City was meant, it seemed, as a reminder that Chinese dynasties had long stood at the center of the Earth. The art and architectural style of the buildings reflected the Confucian social creed: that hierarchy and harmony fit together and are interdependent. The emperor held court in the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the largest building in the Forbidden City. The grand throne is surrounded by six golden pillars, engraved with dragons to evoke the power of an emperor whose state ruled over tianxia—over “everything beneath heaven.”

    While the images broadcast to China and the rest of the world from the Forbidden City during our visit were meant to project confidence in the Chinese Communist Party, one could also sense a profound insecurity—a lesson of history that went unmentioned. In its very design, the Forbidden City seemed to reflect that contrast between outward confidence and inner apprehension. The three great halls at the city’s center were meant not only to impress, but also to defend from threats that might come from both outside and inside the city’s walls. After the end of the Han dynasty, in a . d . 220, China’s core provinces were ruled only half the time by a strong central authority. And even then, China was subject to foreign invasion and domestic turmoil. The Yongle emperor, Zhu Di, who built the Forbidden City, was more concerned about internal dangers than he was about the possibilities of another Mongol invasion. To identify and eliminate opponents, the emperor set up an elaborate spy network. To preempt opposition from scholars and bureaucrats, he directed the executions of not only those suspected of disloyalty, but also their entire families. The Chinese Communist Party used similar tactics centuries later. Like Xi, the emperors who sat on the elaborate throne in the heart of the Forbidden City practiced a remote and autocratic style of rule vulnerable to corruption and internal threats.

    Our guide showed us where the last royal occupant of the Forbidden City, Emperor Puyi, was stripped of power in 1911, at the age of 5, during China’s republican revolution. Puyi abdicated in the midst of the “century of humiliation,” a period of Chinese history that Xi had described to Trump when the two leaders met for dinner at Mar-a-Lago, seven months before our tour. The century of humiliation was the unhappy era during which China experienced internal fragmentation, suffered defeat in wars, made major concessions to foreign powers, and endured brutal occupation. The humiliation began with Great Britain’s defeat of China in the First Opium War, in 1842. It ended with the Allied and Chinese defeat of imperial Japan in 1945 and the Communist victory in the Chinese Civil War in 1949.

    Our last meeting of the state visit, in the Great Hall of the People, was with Li Keqiang, the premier of the State Council and the titular head of China’s government. If anyone in the American group had any doubts about China’s view of its relationship with the United States, Li’s monologue would have removed them. He began with the observation that China, having already developed its industrial and technological base, no longer needed the United States. He dismissed U.S. concerns over unfair trade and economic practices, indicating that the U.S. role in the future global economy would merely be to provide China with raw materials, agricultural products, and energy to fuel its production of the world’s cutting-edge industrial and consumer products.

    Leaving China, I was even more convinced than I had been before that a dramatic shift in U.S. policy was overdue. The Forbidden City was supposed to convey confidence in China’s national rejuvenation and its return to the world stage as the proud Middle Kingdom. But for me it exposed the fears as well as the ambitions that drive the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to extend China’s influence along its frontiers and beyond, and to regain the honor lost during the century of humiliation. The fears and ambitions are inseparable. They explain why the Chinese Communist Party is obsessed with control—both internally and externally.

    The party’s leaders believe they have a narrow window of strategic opportunity to strengthen their rule and revise the international order in their favor—before China’s economy sours, before the population grows old, before other countries realize that the party is pursuing national rejuvenation at their expense, and before unanticipated events such as the coronavirus pandemic expose the vulnerabilities the party created in the race to surpass the United States and realize the China dream. The party has no intention of playing by the rules associated with international law, trade, or commerce. China’s overall strategy relies on co-option and coercion at home and abroad, as well as on concealing the nature of China’s true intentions. What makes this strategy potent and dangerous is the integrated nature of the party’s efforts across government, industry, academia, and the military.

    And, on balance, the Chinese Communist Party’s goals run counter to American ideals and American interests.

    II. Three Prongs

    As China pursues its strategy of co-option, coercion, and concealment, its authoritarian interventions have become ubiquitous. Inside China, the party’s tolerance for free expression and dissent is minimal, to put it mildly. The repressive and manipulative policies in Tibet, with its Buddhist majority, are well known. The Catholic Church and, in particular, the fast-growing Protestant religions are of deep concern to Xi and the party. Protestant Churches have proved difficult to control, because of their diversity and decentralization, and the party has forcefully removed crosses from the tops of church buildings and even demolished some buildings to set an example. Last year, Beijing’s effort to tighten its grip on Hong Kong sparked sustained protests that continued into 2020—protests that Chinese leaders blamed on foreigners, as they typically do. In Xinjiang, in northwestern China, where ethnic Uighurs mainly practice Islam, the party has forced at least 1 million people into concentration camps. (The government denies this, but last year The New York Times uncovered a cache of incriminating documents, including accounts of closed-door speeches by Xi directing officials to show “absolutely no mercy.”)

    Party leaders have accelerated the construction of an unprecedented surveillance state. For the 1.4 billion Chinese people, government propaganda on television and elsewhere is a seamless part of everyday life. Universities have cracked down on teaching that explains “Western liberal” concepts of individual rights, freedom of expression, representative government, and the rule of law. Students in universities and high schools must take lessons in “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism With Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.” The chairman’s 14-point philosophy is the subject of the most popular app in China, which requires users to sign in with their cellphone number and real name before they can earn study points by reading articles, writing comments, and taking multiple-choice tests. A system of personal “social credit scores” is based on tracking people’s online and other activity to determine their friendliness to Chinese government priorities. Peoples’ scores determine eligibility for loans, government employment, housing, transportation benefits, and more.

    The party’s efforts to exert control inside China are far better known than its parallel efforts beyond China’s borders. Here again, insecurity and ambition are mutually reinforcing. Chinese leaders aim to put in place a modern-day version of the tributary system that Chinese emperors used to establish authority over vassal states. Under that system, kingdoms could trade and enjoy peace with the Chinese empire in return for submission. Chinese leaders are not shy about asserting this ambition. In 2010, China’s foreign minister matter-of-factly told his counterparts at a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations: “China is a big country, and you are small countries.” China intends to establish a new tributary system through a massive effort organized under three overlapping policies, carrying the names “Made in China 2025,” “Belt and Road Initiative,” and “Military-Civil Fusion.”

    “Made in China 2025” is designed to help China become a largely independent scientific and technological power. To achieve that goal, the party is creating high-tech monopolies inside China and stripping foreign companies of their intellectual property by means of theft and forced technology transfer. In some cases, foreign companies are forced to enter into joint ventures with Chinese companies before they are permitted to sell their products in China. These Chinese companies mostly have close ties to the party, making routine the transfer of intellectual property and manufacturing techniques to the Chinese government.

    The “Belt and Road Initiative” calls for more than $1 trillion in new infrastructure investments across the Indo-Pacific region, Eurasia, and beyond. Its true purpose is to place China at the hub of trade routes and communications networks. While the initiative at first received an enthusiastic reception from nations that saw opportunities for economic growth, many of those nations soon realized that Chinese investment came with strings attached.

    The Belt and Road Initiative has created a common pattern of economic clientelism. Beijing first offers countries loans from Chinese banks for large-scale infrastructure projects. Once the countries are in debt, the party forces their leaders to align with China’s foreign-policy agenda and the goal of displacing the influence of the United States and its key partners. Although Chinese leaders often depict these deals as win-win, most of them have just one real winner.

    For developing countries with fragile economies, Belt and Road sets a ruthless debt trap. When some countries are unable to service their loans, China trades debt for equity to gain control of their ports, airports, dams, power plants, and communications networks. As of 2018, the risk of debt distress was growing in 23 countries with Belt and Road financing. Eight poor countries with Belt and Road financing—Pakistan, Djibouti, the Maldives, Laos, Mongolia, Montenegro, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan—already have unsustainable levels of debt.

    China’s tactics vary based on the relative strength or weakness of the target states. When undertaking large-scale investment projects, many countries with weak political institutions succumb to corruption, making them even more vulnerable to Chinese tactics.

    In Sri Lanka, the longtime president and current prime minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa, incurred debts far beyond what his nation could bear. He agreed to a series of high-interest loans to finance Chinese construction of a port, though there was no apparent need for one. Despite earlier assurances that the port would not be used for military purposes, a Chinese submarine docked there the same day as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Sri Lanka in 2014. In 2017, following the commercial failure of the port, Sri Lanka was forced to sign a 99-year lease to a Chinese state-owned enterprise in a debt-for-equity swap.

    The new vanguard of the Chinese Communist Party is a delegation of bankers and party officials with duffel bags full of cash. Corruption enables a new form of colonial-like control that extends far beyond strategic shipping routes in the Indian Ocean and South China Sea, and elsewhere.

    Watch the video: Die verbotene Stadt in China. Doku Lehrfilm (July 2022).


    1. Tomuro

      Nicely written, I liked it.

    2. Cedric

      What talented message

    3. Kigakus

      How could it not be better!

    4. Mogore

      I hope everyone is normal

    5. Kazralabar

      I probably promolchu

    6. Reeve

      Bravo, brilliant idea and in a timely manner

    Write a message