1902 Encyclopedia > China > Chinese History (cont.) - Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)

(Part 34)


Imperial Era (221 BC - 1911 AD)

Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD)

His scruples, however, on this point were overcome, and he solemnly declared himself emperor in 1368. Once seated upon the throne, he ingratiated himself with his subjects by his generous treatment of his enemies, and by the regard he showed for the welfare of his people. He carried his arms into Tatary, where he subdued the last semblance of Mongol power in direction, and then bent his steps towards Leou-tung. Here the Mongols defended themselves with the bravery of despair, but nothing could resist the onslaught of the victorious Chinese, and the conquest of this province left Hung-woo, as the founder of the new or Ming, "Bright," dynasty styled himself, without a foe in the empire. Beyond the frontier of China he cultivated friendly relations with the rulers of the neighbouring states. The king of Corea sent an embassy the congratulate him on his accession, and the sovereign of the Lew-chew Islands sent his brothers and sons to his court to be educated. As a quandam Buddhist priest he naturally lent his countenance to that religion to the exclusion of Taouism, whose priests had for centuries earned the contempt of all but the most ignorant by their pretended magical arts and their search after the philosopher’s stone. In 1398, and in the thirtieth year of his reign, Hung-woo was gathered to his fathers, and Keen-wan his grandson reigned in his stead. Aware that the appointment of this youth-his father was dead—would give offence to the young emperor’s uncles, Hung-woo dismissed them to their respective governments before death close his eyes. This, however, only delayed the storm. The prince of Yen, his eldest surviving son, raised the banner of rebellion in his principality as soon as the news reached him of his nephew’s accession, and after gaining several victories over the armies of Keen-wan he presented himself before the gates of Nanking, the capital. Treachery opened the gates to him, and the emperor having fled in the disguised of a monk, the victorious prince clothed himself in imperial yellow and took the title of Yung-lo (1403). At home Yung-lo devoted himself to the encouragement of literature and the fine arts, and possibly from a knowledge that Keen-wan was among the Buddhist priests, he renewed the law prohibiting Buddhism. Abroad he swept Cochin-China and Tonquin within the folds of his empire and carried his arms into Tatary, where he made new conquests of waste regions, and erected a monument of his victories. His death took place in 1425, and he was in that year succeeded by his son Hung-ke.

Hung-ke’s reign was short and uneventful. He did that which was right as far his knowledge went. He strove to promote only such mandarins as had proved themselves to be able and honest, and to further the welfare of the people. During the reign of his successor, Seuen-t—h (1426-1436), the empire suffered the first lost of territory sine the commencement of the dynasty. Cochin-China rebelled and gained her independence. But this was but the beginning of troubles. The next emperor, Ching-tung (1436) was defeated and taken prisoner by a Tatar chieftain, a descendant of the Yuen family named Ye-seen, who had invaded the northern provinces. With unusual clemency the Tatar give him his life, though he kept him a close prisoner until the fortunes of war turned against him. Having been completely defeated by a Chinese force from Leaou-tung, Ye-seen liberated his captive, who returned to his capital amidst the rejoicings of the people, again to occupy the throne which during his imprisonment (1450-1457) had been held by his brother Kinfg-te. The two following reigns, those of Ching-hwa (1465-1488) and of Hung-che 91488-1506) were quiet and peaceful. But their successor Ching-t—h (1506-1522) was called upon to face a very formidable insurrection headed by the prince of Ning. He was, however, victorious over the rebel, who lost 30,000 men in the engagement which put an end to his hopes. The disorder into which the empire had been thrown by this civil was encouraged the foreign enemies of China. First at all from the dreaded north came a Tatar army under Yen-ta in 1542, during the reign of Kea-tsing, which laid waste the province of Shen-se, and even threatened the capital, and a little later a Japanese fleet appeared off the coast and carried fire and sword through the littoral provinces. Ill blood had arisen between the two peoples before this, and a Japanese colony had been driven out of Ningpo by force and not without bloodshed a few years previously. Kea-tsing was not equal to such emergencies, and his death, which took place in 1567, would have been an advantage to the empire, had his son been a more able prince. But the only weapon Lung-king (1567-1573) was able to wield against the Tatar Yen-ta was a bribe. He made him a prince of the empire, and gave him certain commercial privileges, which were further supplemented by the succeeding emperor Wah-leih (1573-1620) by a grant of land in Shen-se. During the reign of this sovereign, in the year 1592, the Japanese successfully invaded Corea, and Taikosama, the emperor of Japan, was on the point of proclaiming himself king of the peninsula, when a large Chinese force answering to the invitation of the king, appeared on the field and completely routed the Japanese army, at the same time that the Chinese fleet cut off their retreat by sea. In this extremity the Japanese sued for peace, and sent an embassy to Peking to arranged terms. But the peace was of short duration. In 1597 the Japanese again invaded Corea and defeated the Chinese army which was sent against them, nor were they less successful at sea. They destroyed the Chinese fleet and ravaged the coast. Suddenly, however, when in the full tide of conquest, they evacuated Corea, which again fell under the direction of China. Four years later Ricci arrived at the Chinese court ; and though at first the emperor was inclined to send him out of the country, his abilities gradually won for him the esteem of the sovereign and his ministers, and he remained the scientific adviser of the court until his death in 1610. About this time the power which was destined to overthrow the Ming dynasty began to grow restless. The Manchoo Tatars, goaded into war by the injustice they were constantly receiving at the hands of the Chinese, led an army into China in 1616 and completely defeated the force which was sent against them. Three years later were again victorious over the Chinese, and they then gained possession of the province of Leaou-tung. This final series of disasters was more than the emperor could bear, and he died of a broken heart in 1620.

In the same year Teen-ning, the Manchoo sovereign, having declared himself independent, and possessed himself of Leaou-tung, moved the court to San-koo, to the east of Moukden, which, five years later, he made his capital. Meanwhile Tai-chang, the son of Wan-leih, ascended the Chinese throne, but barely had he assumed the reins of power when he fell ill. Acting on the advice of his doctors he drank of the liquor of immortality and died. The next emperor Teen-ke, after a brief and troublous reign, followed him to the grave in 1627, and to him succeeded Tsung-ching, the emperor of the Ming-dynasty. In his reign the storm-clouds, which had been collecting for some years, burst over the empire. In addition to the threatened danger on the north, rebel bands, enriched by plunder, and grown bold by success, began to assume the proportion of armies. They dominated over whole districts and provinces and paralyzed the imperial forces by their energy and daring. Out of this seething mass of insubordination two leaders showed themselves conspicuously. These were Le Tsze-ching and Shang Ko-he. In order that there should be no dispute as to which should be greatest, they decided to divide the empire between them, and to begin with it was agreed that Shang should take possession of Sze-chuen and Hoo-kwang, and that Le should make himself of Ho-nan. Bent on this mission Le besieged Kaifung Foo, the capital of the province, and so long and closely did he beleaguer it that in the consequent famine human flesh was regularly sold in the, market. At length an imperial force came to raise the siege, with consequences as fatal to the inhabitants as if the rebels had gained the city ; for, fearful of meeting Le’s army in the field, they cut through the dykes of the Yellow River, "China’s Sorrow," and flooded the whole country including the city. The rebels escaped to the mountains, but upwards of 200,000 inhabitants perished in the flood, and the city became a heap of ruins (1642). From Kaifung-Foo Le marched against the other strongholds of Honan and Shen-se, and was so completely successful that he determined to attack Peking. A treacherous eunuch opened the gates to him, on being informed of which the emperor committed suicide. When the new of this disaster reached the general-commanding on the frontier of Manchoo Tatary, he, is an unguarded moment, concluded a peace with the Manchoos, and invited them to dispossess the rebel Le Tsze-ching. With the acquiescence the Manchoos entered China, and after defeating a rebel army sent against them, they marched towards Peking. On hearing of the approach of the invaders, Le Tsze-ching, after having set fire to the imperial palace, evacuated the city, but was overtaken, and his force was completely routed.

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