Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Emperor Hongwu: Founder, General, Executioner

Emperor Hongwu
For an almost hundred years, the Yuan Dynasty ruled China. From the conquest of Kublai Khan, the Mongols was the first foreign dynasty to rule all of China. But then, a rebellion rose that would launched a new dynasty. A dynasty that would last for a hundred years, born from its founder, Emperor Hongwu.

Yuan China, early 14th century, China had been under the domination of their conquerors, the Mongols. Their swift and mobile cavalry brought the fall of the previous Song Dynasty. After the death of its founder, Kublai Khan, the Yuan saw ten more emperor. But then, in the early 13th century, the Han Chinese felt misruled, neglected, and indignation. In this situation, poor boy with a great destiny would be born.

Zhu Yuangzhang was born in 1328 the farmlands of Fengyang County in Anhui Province. His parents were famers living off from their harvest. In 1344, disaster struck his family, natural disasters hit the region. A famine then ensued. During the famine, Zhu’s parents died. He then entered a Buddhist monastery to become an apprentice and more importantly, to survive. He received basic education through the monks.

In 1352, he joined an anti-Yuan rebel group known as the Red Turbans. The Red Turban was a group of several religious individuals. It was a melting of various beliefs, from Buddhist to an obscure Manicheanist. The organization, however, was fragmented. It had several groups operating in separate regions with separate leaders but with a paramount lord who was Han Liner.

Zhu joined the Red Turbans operating in the Yangtze River. He came under the command of Guo Zixing. He was a protégé of Guo. Eventually, Zhu was married to Guo’s daughter who later became Empress Xiaocigao or Empress Ma.

In 1355, Guo died and Zhu became the leader of the Red Turbans in the Yangzte region. He was a great military order. He valued loyalty, obedience, and discipline among his troops. In 1356, his skills was greatly proven when he captured Nanjing, his capital and future center of the Ming Dynasty. From his victories, he took the name Duke of Wu, from the Wu Kingdom during the Three Kingdoms Period. And later on, to promote his interest of establishing of a dynasty, he took the title of Prince of Wu in 1364.

Meanwhile, Zhu took several more victories against other opposing factions of the Red Turban. In 1363 he scored a victory against Chen Youliang, the Red Turban warlord in Central China, during the Battle of Lake Poyang. Four years after his stunning victory, it was followed by another one in 1367. He defeated another rival in the Central region of China, Zhang Shicheng. Then in the same year, Han Liner, drowned under suspicious circumstances. Han drowned while being guarded by Zhu’s troops. It was suspected that he was assassinated by Zhu.

With most of his enemies gone and the fall of the weakened Yuan Dynasty, Zhu finally to establish his Dynasty. On January 12, 1368, in his palace in Nanjing, he proclaimed the foundation of the Dynasty of Ming or Radiance. He then took the reign name of Hongwu or Great Military Achievement.

As a start of his reign, he allowed a number of Mongols to stay in china. They were permitted also to remain in some positions in government. Also, some units also had Mongol troops.

The Emperor also moved to stabilize the government and the Empire. He brought back the Six Ministries, which were the Ministry of Revenue, Personnel, War, Justice, and Public Works, under the watch of the Prime Minister. Then in 1370, he reinstated the Civil Service Examination.  For the creation of efficient land taxation system, he ordered a map for land-survey as well as, compilation of records of previous land taxes in 1387. To control the landowning families, Hongwu made them to move and live in Nanjing.

Along with establishing a stable government, Hongwu made more military exploits. Under his command was over a million soldiers. His army also took advantage of firearms as weapons. Mongol raiders wreak havoc to the border towns of China. Hongwu launched punitive expedition to the north. Twice, in 1372 and 1380, he raze the capital of the Mongols, Karakorum. From his experience at the Battle of Lake Poyang, Hongwu saw the importance of a navy and established one. The navy served as a coast guard especially against pirate attacks in south. To strengthen command and control he also established military commissions throughout the country.

Hongwu was a notable supporter of Neo-Confucian ideas. He promoted Zhu Xi’s Family Ritual. He also patronized the establishing of many community schools throughout the Empire.

But most of Hongwu’s reign, however, was widely marred by consolidation and brutality. He highly preferred the neo-Confucianism ideas of a leader, where obedience, loyalty, and discipline was highly regarded. During his time as a rebel leader, this worked perfectly for his soldiers. This same ideals were then made also for civilian officials and bureaucrats. The idea of a strong and absolute leader, however, resulted in massive deaths and purges. Corporal punishments, such as flogging was applicable to incompetent officials. Under his reign two major purges were made against influential officers. In 1380, the rising role of his Prime Minister, Hu Wei Yong, gained the attention of the paranoid Emperor. Threatened by Hu’s growing influence he ordered his execution. Hu’s family and allies also felt his fury and many more were killed. After the issue, the Emperor abolished the position of Prime Minister and placed the Six Ministries under his control. It was then followed by the establishment of a somewhat Secret Police. In 1382, the Embroidered Uniform Guards was formed. The second major purged that the Emperor made was in 1393, when he ordered the execution of thousands of officials. By the end of his reign, Hongwu claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. He proved his absolute and autocratic power.

In 1398, Emperor Hongwu died. His eldest son died few years ago, in 1392. The throne then fell to his grandson, the future Emperor Jianwen. However, ambition brought down the young Emperor and brought Hongwu’s fourth son, Emperor Yongle.

From Emperor Hongwu, a new prosperous China would be born. A dynasty made from blood, a lot of blood. But from blood, Hongwu and his successors ushered a dynasty of builders, explorers, and intellectuals.

See also:
Emperor Yongle: Usurper and Builder
The Golden Age of Manchu Dynasty - Emperor Kangxi
The Last Great Manchu Emperor
Wu Zentian: Only Woman Emperor of China

Bibliography:
Li, X. China at War: An Encyclopedia. California: ABC-CLIO LLC, 2012.

Nolan, C. The Greenwood Encyclopedia of International Relation. Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2002.

Perkins, D. Encyclopedia of China: An Essential Reference to China, Its History and Culture. New York: Routledge, 2013. 

Rossabi, M. A History of China. West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons, 2014.

Tanner, H.  China: A History. Indiana: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2009.

Wolff, R. The Popular Encyclopedia of World Religion: A User Friendly Guide to Their Beliefs, History, and Impact on our World Today. Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2007.

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