China Chapter VII - The Ming Dynasty

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Chapter VII - The Ming Dynasty

Having expelled the Mongols, Choo assumed the style of Hongwou, and he gave his dynasty the name of Ming, which signifies "bright." He then rewarded his generals and officers with titles and pecuniary grants, and in 1369, the first year of his reign after the capture of Pekin, he erected a temple or hall in that city in honor of the generals who had been slain, while vacant places were left for the statues of those generals who still held command. But while he rewarded his army, Hongwou very carefully avoided giving his government a military character, knowing that the Chinese resent the superiority of military officials, and he devoted his main efforts to placing the civil administration on its old and national basis. In this he received the cordial support of the Chinese themselves, who had been kept in the background by their late conquerors, whose administration was essentially military. Hongwou also patronized literature, and endowed the celebrated Hanlin College, which was neglected after the death of Kublai. He at once provided a literary task of great magnitude in the history of the Yuen dynasty, which was intrusted to a commission of eighteen writers. But a still greater literary work was accomplished in the codified Book of Laws, which is known as the Pandects of Yunglo, and which not merely simplified the administration of the law, but also gave the people some idea of the laws under which they lived. He also passed a great measure of gratuitous national education, and, in order to carry out this reform in a thoroughly successful manner, he appointed all the masters himself. He also founded many public libraries, and he wished to establish one in every town, but this was beyond the extent of his power. Not content with providing for the minds of his subjects, Hongwou did his utmost to supply the needs of the aged. He cut down the court expenses and issued sumptuary laws, so that he might devote the sums thus economized to the support of the aged and sick. His last instructions to the new officials, on proceeding to their posts, were to "take particular care of the aged and the orphan." Thus did he show that the Chinese had found in him a ruler who would revive the ancient glories of the kingdom.

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The frugality and modesty of his court have already been referred to. The later Mongols were fond of a lavish display, and expended large sums on banquets and amusements. At Pekin one of their emperors had erected in the grounds of the palace a lofty tower of porcelain, at enormous expense, and had arranged an ingenious contrivance at its base for denoting the time. Two statues sounded a bell and struck a drum at every hour. When Hongwou saw this edifice, he exclaimed, "How is it possible for men to neglect the most important affairs of life for the sole object of devoting their attention to useless buildings? If the Mongols in place of amusing themselves with these trifles had applied their energies to the task of contenting the people, would they not have preserved the scepter in their family?" He then ordered that this building should be razed to the ground. Nor did this action stand alone. He reduced the size of the harem maintained by all the Chinese as well as the Mongol rulers, and he instituted a rigid economy in all matters of state ceremonial. Changtu, the Xanadu of Coleridge, the famous summer palace of Kublai, had been destroyed during the campaigns with the Mongols, and Hongwou systematically discouraged any attempt to embellish the northern capital, Pekin, which, under the Kin and Yuen dynasties, had become identified with foreign rulers. Pekin, during the whole of the Ming dynasty, was only a second-rate city, and all the attention of the Ming rulers was given to the embellishment of Nankin, the truly national capital of China.

The expulsion of the Mongols beyond the Great Wall and the death of Chunti, the last of the Yuen emperors, by no means ended the struggle between the Chinese and their late northern...

(The entire section is 8,722 words.)