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Era 5 in East Asia The Ming Dynasty. WHGCEs Era 5 Craig Benjamin. Introduction: Restoring Traditional Chinese Values. During the 13 th and 14 th centuries China experienced the trauma of rule by the Yuan Dynasty of nomadic Mongols

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Era 5 in East AsiaThe Ming Dynasty


Era 5

Craig Benjamin

introduction restoring traditional chinese values
Introduction: Restoring Traditional Chinese Values
  • During the 13th and 14th centuries China experienced the trauma of rule by the Yuan Dynasty of nomadic Mongols
  • Mongols ignored Chinese political and cultural traditions, and replaced Chinese bureaucrats with Turkish, Persian and other foreign administrators
  • So when the Mongol reign was over, the Ming emperors who succeeded it attempted to erase all signs of Mongol influence and restore traditional ways to China
ming and qing conservatism
Ming and Qing Conservatism
  • Looking to the Tang and Song for inspiration, they built a powerful imperial state, revived the Confucian civil service, and promoted Confucian values
  • Rulers of the succeeding Qing dynasty were themselves Manchus of nomadic origin, but they too worked hard to promote Chinese ways
  • Ming and Qing were deeply conservative - focused mainly on maintaining stability in a large agrarian society
  • By adopting policies that favored Chinese traditions, they maintained a successful and stable state for half a millennium

Ming dynasty (1403-24), Celestial globe vase with dragon and floral design, porcelain

to include
To Include:
  • Part One: Political History of the Ming Dynasty
  • Part Two: The Civil Service Exam System Under the Ming
  • Part Three:

Global Trade

Under the Ming

  • Part Four:

Christianity in

China Under

the Ming

part one political history of the ming dynasty 1368 1644
Part One: Political History of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)
  • When the Yuan Dynasty collapsed, the Ming Dynasty restored native rule to China
  • Hongwu (1368-98) founder of the Ming (‘brilliant’) Dynasty drove the Mongols out of China and built a tightly centralized state
  • Hongwu was the third of only three peasants ever to become leader of China


mandarins and eunuchs
Mandarins and Eunuchs
  • As emperor, Hongwu made extensive use of mandarins
  • These were imperial government officials who traveled throughout the land and supervised the implementation of government policies
  • He also placed great trust in eunuchs, because they could not generate families and therefore could not build power bases that would challenge imperial authority


international navy
International Navy
  • The Emperor Yongle (1403-1424) launched a series of naval expeditions that sailed throughout the Indian Ocean basin and showed Chinese colors as far away as east Africa
  • Yongle’s successors discontinued these expensive maritime expeditions but maintained the tightly centralized state that Hongwu had established

Yongle, and Ming Junk

Ming Emperors were determined to prevent new invasions of China
  • In 1421 Yongle moved the capital from Nanjing in the south to Beijing, to keep a close watch on the Mongols and other nomadic peoples to the north
  • The early Ming emperors commanded powerful armies that controlled the Mongols militarily, but by the mid-15th Century they had lost their effectiveness
  • Mongol forces massacred several Chinese armies in the 1440s, and in 1449 they captured the Ming emperor himself

Foreign Affairs

Ming Military Costumes


The later Ming emperors tried to protect their realm by building and extending new fortifications in the Great Wall system

  • Construction of the Great Walls had begun under Qin Shi Huangdi in the 3rd Century BCE
  • But these ancient walls had fallen into ruin, so the Ming made the reconstruction of the Great Wall a major priority

The Great Wall

Hundreds of thousands of workers labored throughout the late-15th and 16th Centuries to build a formidable stone and brick barrier that ran some 1,550 miles
  • The Ming Great Wall was 33 – 50 feet high and included watch and signal towers and accommodations for troops stationed on the borders





eradicating yuan influence
Eradicating Yuan Influence
  • Ming rulers set out to eradicate Mongol (and all other foreign) cultural influences and create a stable society in the image of the Chinese past
  • With Ming encouragement, individuals gave up the Mongol names and dress they had adopted under the Yuan
  • The government sponsored study of

Chinese cultural traditions that the

Mongols had suppressed or ignored,

especially Confucianism

  • Also provided financial support

for imperial academies and regional


  • Most important, they restored the civil

service exam system that the Mongols

had dismantled

ming decline pirates
Ming Decline: Pirates!
  • Vigor of the early Ming emperors did mot survive beyond the mid-16th Century, when a series of problems weakened the dynasty
  • Between the 1520s and 1560s, pirates and smugglers operated almost at will along the east coast of China
  • The Ming navy and coastal defenses were ineffective, and conflicts with pirates severely disrupted coastal regions and sometimes the interior
  • In 1555 a gang of 67 pirates went on a three-month rampage, looted a dozen cities in three provinces and killed 4000 people!
later ming emperors
Later Ming Emperors
  • It took more than 40 years to suppress the pirates, because of an increasingly inept government
  • The latter Ming emperors lived extravagantly in the Forbidden City, a vast imperial enclave in Beijing
  • They only received news about the outside world from eunuchs and servant administrators
  • The emperors sometimes ignored government affairs for decades while satisfying their various appetites


City –


Theater (L)


Throne (R)

wanli 1572 1620
Wanli (1572-1620)
  • Throughout his long reign, for example,

Emperor Wanli refused to meet with

government officials

  • Instead he conducted business through eunuch intermediaries, and indulged his taste for wine!
  • Powerful eunuchs won the favor of later Ming emperors by acquiring concubines for them and providing for their amusement
  • Eunuchs then used their power to live lives of luxury, and as their power increased, corruption spread and weakened the state
ming collapse
Ming Collapse
  • When a series of famines struck China in the early 17th Century, the government was incapable of organizing relief efforts
  • Peasants were so hungry they ate grass roots and tree bark
  • In the 1630s, peasants began organizing revolts, and as they gathered momentum city after city withdrew its loyalty from the Ming
  • Manchu invaders from the north joined forces with the peasants and attacked the Ming
  • By the early1640s the combined rebel and Manchu forces controlled much of China, and turned towards Beijing

Manchu Rulers (above)Manchu archers (below)


Chinese movie about the last

Ming Emperor, Chongzen

the last emperor
The Last Emperor
  • Sheltered from the bad news by court eunuchs, the last Ming emperor did not even know the location of the rebel forces until they began climbing over the walls of the Forbidden City
  • As rebels looted the imperial quarter, the emperor and his family committed suicide
  • The Ming Dynasty had come to an end!

On 17 March 1644 the last Ming Emperor Chongzhen was forced to flee to the eastern foot of Jingshan Hill where he hanged himself from a pagoda tree when the forces of Li Zi cheng captured the inner city. The original pagoda tree no longer exists, but the replacement tree has an historical storyboard attached to it to explain that era of Ming Dynasty history.

part two the civil service exam system under the ming the scholar bureaucrats
Part Two: The Civil Service Exam System Under the MingThe Scholar Bureaucrats
  • Both the Ming and (later) Qing dynasties presided over a tightly centralized state
  • This was administered through a bureaucracy staffed by Confucian scholars
  • For more than 500 years the autocratic state created by Hongwu governed China’s fortunes

Ming 'Head of an Official'

14th–17th C, limestone

the son of heaven

Ming Yongle

The Son of Heaven
  • The emperor was not quite a god, but he was

certainly no mere mortal

  • According to tradition he was the ‘Son of

Heaven’, a human being designated by heavenly powers to maintain order on earth

  • He lived a privileged life within the Forbidden City, with hundreds of concubines and thousands of eunuchs to take care of his desires
  • His day was completely orchestrated, and all performances carefully choreographed – audiences, inspections, banquets

Ming Taizu

The Ming Emperor with some of his concubines and eunuchs in a garden in the Forbidden City Palace

(16th Century silk screen)

Chinese actress Hao Lei as the concubine Kong Si Zhen

awesome authority
Awesome Authority
  • Everything about his person and the institution he represented conveyed a sense of awesome authority
  • His clothes and personal effects bore designs forbidden to other people, and the written characters of the emperor’s name were taboo throughout China
  • Any individual with the rare privilege of meeting the emperor personally had to kowtow – three kneelings and nine head knockings!
  • Even minor offences would be severely punished – even the highest official could have his bare buttocks flogged with bamboo (which sometimes caused death)
the scholar bureaucrats
The Scholar Bureaucrats
  • Day to day governing was the job of scholar-bureaucrats appointed by the emperor
  • These were mostly gentlemen from the class of well-educated and highly literate men known as the scholar-gentry
  • These men had earned academic degrees by passing rigorous civil service examinations
  • They dominated China’s political and social life
preparing for the exams
Preparing for the Exams
  • Preparations for the exams began at an early age
  • Sometimes they took place in local schools which (like the exams themselves) were only open to males
  • Wealthy families employed tutors, which made formal education also available for girls
  • By the time students were 10 or 11 they had memorized several thousand characters that were necessary to deal with the Confucian literature, including the Analects
  • They also studied calligraphy,

poetry and essay writing

  • Students also had to know a

large corpus of commentaries,

histories and literary works

before sitting the exam

Ming Calligraphy

civil service examinations quotas
Civil Service Examinations: Quotas

The examinations

consisted of a large

number of tests

administered at the

district, provincial

and metropolitan


Stiff official quotas

restricted the number

of successful candidates

in each exam

  • Only 300 students could pass the metropolitan exam, e.g., so students frequently took the exam several times before earning a degree
the exam
The Exam
  • Writing the exam was grueling!
  • At the appointed hour candidates presented themselves in the examination compound with a water pitcher, chamber pot, bedding, food, an inkstone, ink and brushes
  • After they were verified and searched (for ‘cheat sheets’) they were led through narrow corridors to small cells that contained a bench, bed and desk
  • For the next 3 days and 2 nights they spent their time writing essays with eight distinct sections on questions posed by the examiners
  • There were no interruptions, no communication between candidates, and if a candidate died during the exam his body was wrapped in straw and tossed over the compound walls!

Imperial examination cells in Guangdong, 1873 (R)

2005 (L)

competition and corruption
Competition and Corruption
  • Possibility of bureaucratic service (with rich financial and social rewards) meant that competition for degrees was ferocious at all levels
  • Sometimes cheating candidates and corrupt examiners compromised the system
  • Even obtaining a degree did not ensure employment (under the Qing there were a million degree holders for only 20,000 jobs)
  • Those who only passed the district exams usually spent their careers teaching in local schools or as private tutors
  • Those who passed the metropolitan exams could look forward to powerful positions in the imperial bureaucracy

Recreation of a cell

used by students taking

the metropolitan exam


The Examination System and Chinese Society

  • By opening the door to honor, power and rewards, the exam system encouraged serious pursuit of formal, higher education
  • System also provided an avenue of social upward mobility, because they were open to all males regardless of age or class
  • But so expensive to travel to the examination sites that wealthy families had a distinct advantage
  • System also molded the personal values of those who governed China, by ensuring that it was Confucianism that would be at the heart of Chinese education and government
part three global trade under the ming
Part Three: Global Trade Under the Ming
  • During the Ming and Early Qing Eras, global trade brought tremendous prosperity to China
  • Chinese workers produced vast quantities of silk, porcelain, lacquerware and tea for consumers in the Indian Ocean basin, Central Asia and Europe
  • Silk industry was especially well organized in workshops paying regular wages and producing fine satins and brocades for export
  • Imports were few – spices, exotic birds and animal skins and some woolen textiles from Europe
  • Payment for exports was usually in the form of silver bullion, which supported a silver-based economy
maritime expeditions
Maritime Expeditions
  • Commercial growth and expansion took place in an atmosphere of tight government control
  • In the early 15th Century, Yongle set out to establish a Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean basin, and he sponsored seven massive maritime expeditions between 1405 and 1433 led by the eunuch admiral Zheng He
  • The Chinese fleet numbered up to 317 vessels and included 28,000 men!

Zheng He’s ship

(c. 400 ft long)

Columbus’ St. Maria

(c. 85 ft. long)

Zheng He’s flag ship was 5 times as long as Columbus’ St. Maria

first maritime expedition
First Maritime Expedition
  • First expeditions embarked in July 1405 from Liujia Harbor near Suzhou
  • Purpose was to establish relations with foreign countries, to expand trade contacts and to look for treasures for Yongle
  • Under the command of the eunuch admiral Zheng He (pictured right) was a fleet of 62 ships manned by more than 27, 800 men (including sailors, clerks, interpreters, officers and soldiers, artisans, medical men and meteorologists)
  • The cargo on board could be broken down into over 40 different categories, including silk goods, porcelain, gold and silver ware, copper utensils, iron implements, cotton goods, mercury, umbrellas and straw mats
route of first voyage
Route of First Voyage
  • Fleet sailed along the coast of Fujian, down south to Zhancheng and, after crossing the South China Sea eventually to Java and Sri Lanka
  • On the return journey it sailed along the east coast of India and triumphantly returned to the home port in 1407
subsequent expeditions
Subsequent Expeditions
  • Between 1405 and 1433 Zheng He (over a period of 28 years) led seven voyages to some 30 countries and regions countries west of China
  • Each time he commanded a large fleet and a staff of more than 20,000 men
  • On subsequent voyages they visited Yemen, Iran and Mecca and the coast of East Africa
ban on maritime travel
Ban on Maritime Travel
  • Zheng He intervened in local conflicts in Sumatra and Ceylon, suppressed pirates in SE Asian waters, intimidated local authorities with a show of strength in Arabia and Mogadishu, and generally made China’s presence strongly felt throughout the Indian Ocean
  • After the reign of Yongle, however, the Ming government withdrew its support for expensive maritime expeditions
  • They even tried to persuade Chinese merchants from dealing with foreign people
  • Eventually (as we will see next week) the Qing tried to ban maritime travel altogether!

A modern illustration shows Zheng He and one of the giant, nine-masted “treasure ships” in which he made seven voyages around the Indian Ocean, traveling as far west as Jeddah, trading and collecting tribute. Had the voyages not been abruptly curtailed by a change of government policy, Chinese influence in the Indian Ocean might have countered that of Portugal

part four christianity in china under the ming
Part Four: Christianity in China Under the Ming
  • Nestorian Christianity had established churches in China as early as the 7th C CE
  • Catholic communities were prominent in China under the Yuan Dynasty
  • But Christianity disappeared from China after the collapse of the Yuan
  • When Roman Catholic missionaries returned in the 16th C, they had to start from scratch in their efforts to establish a Christian community
mateo ricci 1552 1610
Mateo Ricci (1552-1610)
  • Most prominent missionaries were the Jesuits, who worked to strengthen Catholicism in Europe and to spread the faith abroad
  • Founder of the mission to China was the Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci, who aimed to convert all of China to Christianity, beginning with the emperor Wanli
  • Ricci was learned, brilliant and polished and became a popular figure in the Ming Court
  • After arriving at Macau in 1582, Ricci immersed himself in Chinese language and Confucian texts
  • When he first traveled to Beijing in 1601 he was able to write learned Chinese and converse with Confucian scholars

Influence of the Jesuits

  • Ricci’s mastery opened doors for the Jesuits, who were able to dazzle their hosts with European science and technology
  • Ricci and his colleagues (who had had an advanced mathematical education) were able to correct Chinese calendars that consistently miscalculated solar eclipses
  • The Jesuits also prepared maps of the world (with China at the center) on the basis of knowledge European explorers and cartographers had accumulated
  • The Jesuits even supervised the casting of high quality bronze canons for the Ming and Qing

Map of the



by the Jesuits

for the Ming



ming dazzled by european technology
Ming Dazzled by European Technology
  • Jesuits played on Chinese curiosity for mechanical devices
  • Finely ground glass prisms became immensely popular because of the way they refracted sunlight into component parts
  • Harpsichords also of great fascination, and skilled Jesuits dazzled their hosts with compositions written especially for (and about) their hosts
  • The most popular device of all was what the Chinese called the ‘self singing bells’ – spring-driven mechanical clocks that kept accurate time and chimed the hours (sometimes even the quarter hours)
conversion to christianity
Conversion to Christianity
  • Jesuits used technology to capture Chinese attention, but their ultimate goal was to win converts to Christianity
  • Portrayed Christianity as a high faith similar to Chinese cultural traditions
  • Ricci wrote a treatise called The True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven in which he argued that the doctrines of Jesus and Confucius were similar
  • He even suggested that adoption of Christianity would represent a return to a more pure and original form of Confucianism
  • The Jesuits held Christian services in Chinese languages, and allowed converts to continue the practice of ancestor worship
failure to attract significant numbers of converts
Failure to Attract Significant Numbers of Converts
  • Yet, in spite of their skill, their genuine respect for their hosts, and their flexibility, the Jesuits attracted few converts to Christianity
  • By the mid-18th C (under the Qing) Chinese Christians numbered about 200,000 out of a population of 225 million
  • The Chinese disliked the ‘exclusive’ nature of Christianity; for centuries they had honored Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism
  • But Christianity (like Islam) claimed to be the only true religion, so conversion implied that the other creeds were all wrong, an idea most Chinese were unwilling to accept!
Ultimately, the Roman Catholic mission to China came to an end because of squabbles between the Jesuits, Dominicans and Franciscans (who also sought converts in China)
  • Jealous of the influence of the Jesuits in the Ming Court, their rivals complained to the Pope about the Jesuits conducting services in Chinese, and allowing ancestor worship
  • Pope sided with their critics and issued proclamations ordering all missionaries to suppress ancestor worship and conduct services in European languages
  • In response to this demand,

the emperor Kangxi ordered

an end to the preaching of

Christianity in China

  • By the mid-18th Century,

the Christian missions

had all disappeared

End of the Jesuit Mission

two way cultural impacts
Two-Way Cultural Impacts
  • Roman Catholic mission to China did not convert large numbers of Chinese, but it did have important cultural impacts
  • Besides making European science and technology known in China, the Jesuits also made China known to Europe
  • In letters, reports and other writings distributed widely throughout Europe, the Jesuits described China as an orderly and rational society
impact on europe
Impact on Europe
  • Confucian civil service exam system attracted the attention of European rulers, who began to design their own civil service bureaucracies in the 18th Century
  • Rational moral philosophy of Confucius also appealed to the Enlightenment philosophers of Europe, who began to seek alternatives to Christianity as the foundation for ethics and morality
  • For the first time since Marco Polo, the Jesuits made firsthand observations of China available to Europeans
  • Stimulated strong European interest in all East Asian societies!
  • China controlled its own affairs throughout the early modern era, avoiding the sort of turmoil that afflicted the Americas and Africa after the arrival of the Europeans
  • After driving the Mongols back to the steppelands of Central Asia, rulers of the Ming Dynasty built a powerful centralized state
  • Worked hard to eradicate all vestiges of Mongol rule and restore traditional ways by reviving Chinese political institutions (particularly the exam system)
  • Also provided state sponsorship for neo-Confucianism
  • After a burst of astonishing expeditions, the Ming restricted foreign expeditions, and also the access of foreign merchants and missionaries to China
  • The Ming thus brought considerable stability to China, and as we will see in the next lecture, the succeeding Qing Dynasty pursued very similar policies