The Ming Dynasty, 1368-1644 A.d.
( Originally Published 1910 )
Humble Origin of the Founder—Nanking and Peking as Capital First Arrival of European Ships-Portuguese, Spaniards, and Dutch Traders—Arrival of Missionaries—Tragic End of the Last of the Mings
HUMBLE as was the origin of the founder of the House of Han, spoken of as Pu-i, "A peasant clothed in homespun," that of the Father of the Mings was still more obscure. A novice or servant (sacrificulus) in a Buddhist monastery, Chu Yuen Chang felt called to deliver his people from oppression. At first regarded as a robber chief, one of many, his rivals submitted to his leadership and the people accepted his protection. Securing possession of Nan-king, a city of illustrious memories and strong natural defences, he boldly proclaimed his purpose. After twenty years of blood and strategy, he succeeded in placing the Great Wall between him and the re-treating Mongols. Proud of his victory he assumed for the title of his reign Hungwu, "Great Warrior," and chose Ming, "Luminous," for that of his dynasty.
Leaving his son, the Prince of Yen, at Peking, to hold the Tartars in check, Hungwu spent the remaining years of his reign at his original capital, and then left the sceptre to his grandson. The Prince of Yen, uncle of the youthful emperor, feeling the slight implied in his father's choice, raised an army and captured Nanking. A charred corpse being shown to him as that of the emperor, he caused it to be interred with becoming rites, and at once assumed the imperial dignity, choosing for his reigning title Yungloh, "Perpetual Joy." He also removed the seat of government to Peking, where it has remained for five centuries. The "Thesaurus of Yungloh," a digest of Chinese literature so extensive as to form a library in itself, remains a monument to his patronage of letters.
A tragic episode in the history of the Mings was the capture of the next emperor by the Mongols, who, however, failed to take Peking. It was easier to make a new emperor than to ransom the captive. His brother having been proclaimed, the Tartars sent their captive back, hoping that a war between the brothers would weaken their enemy. Retiring into private life he appeared to renounce his claim; but after the death of his brother he once more occupied the throne. What a theme for a romance!
Great Britain was described by a Roman as " almost cut off from the whole world" because it was not accessible by land. China had long been cut off from the Western world because it was not accessible by sea. The way to India was opened by Diaz and Gama in 1498; and the first Portuguese ships appeared at Canton in 1511. Well-treated at first, others came in greater numbers. Their armaments were so formidable as to excite suspicion; and their acts of violence kindled resentment. Under these combined motives a massacre of the foreign traders was perpetrated, and Andrade, a sort of envoy at Peking, was thrown into prison and beheaded. The trading-posts were abolished except at Macao, where the Portuguese obtained a footing by paying an annual rent.
After the Portuguese came the Spaniards, who appear to have been satisfied with the Philippine archipelago, rather than provoke a conflict with the Portuguese. The Chinese they had little reason to dread, as the superiority of their arms would have enabled them to seize portions of the seacoast, though not to conquer the Empire as easily as they did the Mexicans and Peruvians. Perhaps, too, they were debarred by the same authority which divided the Western continent between the two Iberian powers. The Chinese becoming too numerous at Manila, the Spaniards slaughtered them without mercy, as if in retaliation for the blood of their cousins, or taking a hint from the policy of China.
In 1622 the Dutch endeavoured to open trade with China, but their advances being rejected, doubtless through secret opposition from the Portuguese, they seized the Pescadores, and later established themselves on Formosa, whence they were eventually expelled by Koxinga, a Chinese freebooter.
The church founded by Corvino at Peking perished in the overthrow of the Mongols. The Portuguese traders disapproved of missions, as tending to impose restraint on their profligacy and to impart to China the strength that comes from knowledge. The narrow policy of the Mings, moreover, closed the door against the introduction of a foreign creed. Yet it is strange that half a century elapsed before any serious attempt was made to give the Gospel to China. In 1552 St. Francis Xavier, the apostle of the Indies, arrived at Macao. He and his fellow Jesuits were indirect fruits of the Protestant Reformation—belonging to an order organised for the purpose of upholding and extending the power of the Holy See. After wonderful success in India, the Straits, and Japan, Xavier appeared in Chinese waters, but he was not allowed to land. He expired on the island of Shang-chuen or St. John's, exclaiming "0 rock, rock, when wilt thou open?"
Ricci, who came in 1580, met with better success: but it cost him twenty years of unceasing effort to effect an entrance to Peking. Careful to avoid giving offence, and courtly in manners, his science proved to be the master-key. Among the eminent men who favoured his mission was Sa of Shanghai, whom he baptised by the name of Paul. Not only did he help Ricci to translate Euclid for a people ignorant of the first elements of geometry, but he boldly came to the defence of missionaries when it was proposed to expel them. His memorial in their favour is one of the best documents in the defence of Christianity. Among the converts to the Christian faith there are no brighter names than Paul Sü and his daughter Candida.
The Ming dynasty compares favourably in point of duration with most of the imperial houses that preceded it; but long before the middle of its third century it began to show signs of decay. In Korea it came into collision with the Japanese, and emerged with more credit than did its successor from a war with the same foe, which began on the same ground three centuries later. In the northeast the Mings were able to hold the Manchus at bay, notwithstanding an occasional foray; but a disease of the heart was sapping the vigour of the dynasty and hastening its doom. Rebellion became rife; and two of the aspirants to the throne made themselves masters of whole provinces. One depopulated Szechuen; the other ravaged Shansi and advanced on Peking. Chungchen, the last of the Mings, realising that all was lost, hanged himself in his garden on the Palatine Hill, after stabbing his daughter, as a last proof of paternal affection (1643).