The Collapse of the Ming and the Founding of the Qing Dynasty.docx

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27 Mar 2012
HIS280 The Collapse of the Ming and the Founding of the Qing Dynasty February 2nd 2012
- Social transformations of the late Ming dynasty
- Factional conflict, eunuchs, the decline of the centre and gentry reorganization
- Aspects of the late Ming collapse:
o Environmental disaster and epidemics
o Peasant and bondservant/ slave rebellions
o Invasion from the north
- The organization and execution of the Qing
- The case of Qi Biaojia, 1602-1645
- The consolidation of the Qing, 1645-1683
Social Transformations of the Late Ming
- Society of the late Ming period is much more commercialized than the early Ming society
- This led to a number of consequences that shape the collapse of the Ming
- For one, at the level of the elites, China’s involvement in the early modern global economy and
the increasing wealth in Chinese society tended to make many people rich who, according to
standard Confucian theory, shouldn’t have been rich
- Start to get a class of extremely wealthy merchants based on their trade rather than their
learning in the Confucian texts
- Conflict between the old elite (who feel that status should be earned by civility and education)
and the new elite who are gaining status by buying it
- Now, alongside the examination network, there was increasingly another elite class network,
creating a kind of crisis of consciousness among the elite
- One feature of late imperial China, from the early Ming onwards, is that land is alienable
(basically, there is a free market in land, people are not bound by feudal ties to a particular
- This alienability of land means that people are less and less bound to their native place and thus
an increase in people migrating around the dynasty
- This is especially true in the south of China, where people are constantly moving to escape
exploitative situations (taxation, rents, etc)
- One of the effects of this, the lijia system becomes basically useless which requires people to
stay stationary to remain functional
- This state-led system for controlling the movements of regular people increasingly falls into
disrepair, and this means that the gentry, if they want to maintain their grip on the people, need
to invent new ways of keeping them in place
- See a return to local activism on the part of the gentry (setting up community schools, granaries,
charities, etc.) so that your basic organization of social power in rural areas is less based on state
systems of control and more based on elite systems of control
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HIS280 The Collapse of the Ming and the Founding of the Qing Dynasty February 2nd 2012
- But as the lijia system functions less and less, and areas are more and more linked to each other,
and as there is more money in the economy, as a result of all this there are more and more
opportunities for people to get out of situations they don’t want to be in
- Less and less of a social basis for the paternalistic organization of society that Confucians
- One of the ironic effects of the increasing flow of information is that it creates more ways for
people to move around and hear about opportunities elsewhere
- Those members of the gentry that fail to adapt to these changes are unable to maintain their
- What emerges is a new system of class rule, from paternalism and ritual to trade and debt
Wei Zhongxian (1568-1627) vs. the Confucians
- Towards the end of the Wanli reign, factional politics in the court really come to a head
- Wanli absented himself from the central court, which effectively left the high civil bureaucrats
to deal with the eunuchs if they wanted to get anything done
- The most powerful eunuch in the late Ming was Wei Zhongxian
- Wei entered into the eunuch service of the wetnurse of the future Tianqi emperor (r. 1620-
- Concerned members of the scholarly Confucian elite found themselves barred from the role
they felt was there (advisors of the emperor) formed themselves into a new organization that
was centred around the Donglin Academy
- In 1620 Wei really takes over the reigns of state power and shuts down the Donglin economy
and executes some of its founders
- In 1627 the Tianqi emperor dies and Wei is stripped of his power and “allowed” to commit
- The Donglin Academy don’t disband, however, and reorganize themselves into the “Restoration
Society” in 1628
- So, what’s happened is that many scholars have absented themselves from traditional sources
of power and thus organize social power at the local level
- These scholars are the ones who see themselves as having possession of a certain tradition in
Confucian statecraft, so for a time, starting in the early 17th century, the people who are keeping
the flame of this serious Confucianism absent themselves from state service until about the
1730s, when the Qing dynasty reintroduce these traditions back into the examination ssytem
The Late Ming Collapse
- Many and severe problems leading to the fall of the Ming
- Starting in the 1620s there is a prolonged environmental crisis, known as the Little Ice Age”
o Leads to a massive series of floods, droughts, shorter growing periods, etc.
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