The Great Ming dynasty has been a dynasty where the basis of its rulings and organizations have been derived from Confucian ideals. Its Emperors held titles as the “Son of Heaven”, making them almost deities who should possess the wisdom as well as integrity to oversee such an enormous and centralized empire. Still, in 1644, the Hans were overtaken by a growing power the of brave warriors on horseback who had an expertise of western firearms. The Great Ming dynasty, arguably China’s most flourishing period of scholarship, arts and capitalist market economy ushered in a new ethnic ruling class, the Manchus.
Although the year of the official Ming-Qing transition was recorded in 1644, the fractioning and deterioration of Ming government had started a long time before that according to historians. While Huang Zhong-Hsi would attribute the fall of the Ming to its lack of order to Confucius ideals by drawing the contrast between Confucian ideologies and the human predicament, Ray Hwang’s book 1587, A Year of No Significance details the initial deterioration and corruption within the Ming government prior to 1644.
Above all, both Hwang and Huang would agree that the fall of Ming was a result of Ming rulers internal struggle between giving in to their indulgent, greedy human nature versus practicing virtuous Confucius ideologies. The fall of Ming is the inevitable result of factions within the government and many of its rulers drive to be self-serving instead of serving their nation along with the moral deterioration of China’s influential society at the time.
Although The Ming’s failure of mastery of western artillery gave way to the conquering of the Manchus on the battlefield, the fall of Ming would have been an inevitable fate with or without the invasive force. Huang’s book Waiting for the Dawn is a description of Confucius ideologies where he addresses different demographics within the Ming government and schools on how they ought to behave according to Confucius virtues. However, in almost all chapters, he draws out a strong contrast between how officials behave versus how they ought to behave, thus suggesting that the Ming dynasty was not firmly grounded in Confucius principles.
From the chapter where he addresses the Prince, he states that a princes should rule with the only intention being to servie his nation, which makes the responsibility of being a prince rather challenging and strenuous, therefore not many people should neither want or are qualified for it. However, he goes on to say that people never-the-less long for the job of the prince or positions of such out of their own greed; for from the position of power they can create bad laws that are self-serving versus good laws that serve the nation.
Ming’s inevitable fall would make sense in light of Huang’s analyses. If the leaders of an empire focused on themselves more than their nation, it is logical to assume inevitability of the nations destruction. This idea is empirically verified by Hwang’s description of the late Ming government where Huang’s rather abstract theories were vindicated by concrete cases of government corruptions and power struggles among the officials who created laws for the sole purpose of their own accumulation of wealth and power.
Ming was known for its array such corrupted government officials and law makers that engaged in bribery and factions. In Hwang’s book, the eunuchs, although low in position often were said to hold disproportionate amounts of influence and power due to their proximity the Emperor. This reflected the inappropriate sum of corruption and room to maneuver on top of Ming’s laws which should have been official and strict.
If an eunuch can gain an immense amount of power by ways of bribery and intimidation, then what legitimacy would there be government exams for the selection of scholar-officials? In turn, it is reasonable for one to assume that the high-ranked officials in the late Ming dynasty arose to their position of power not by scholarly achievement or political competence, rather, perhaps improper negotiations of bribery and family connections. Huang also described human predicament such as that people by nature are incline to seek pleasures and engaged in indulgences.
This could be seen in Charles Horner’s account of the late Ming dynasty being ” a time of mass vulgar consumption and unstrained materialism- an era of self-indulgence that the stern moralist then and now cannot help to find offensive aesthetically and to the stability of the society. “(Horner, 2009). According to Horner, the late Ming was a time where there was not only the government deteriorations, but also the moral deterioration of the society at large which Huang would say is a form of humanity giving in to its indulgent nature and refusing to follow Confucius’ virtues of hard work, diligence, and delaying satisfaction.
These of course, on the orders of civilians or government infrastructure will contribute to the demise of the dynasty. Lastly, there is a question of Ming’s lack of understanding and mastery of western firearm had contributed to its fall. Although the Manchu had an significant advantage on the battlefield due to their expertise of guns according to Nicola Di Cosmo, it is not a determinant factor against the backdrop of Ming’s decaying bureaucracy. Although Di Cosmo argues that ” without the fall of Dalinghe, which all military historians attribute to Manchu gunnery and siege skills, the conquest of Ming China would be less certain.
Di Cosmo, 2004), the layers of problems within Ming was so apparent that its fall would be inevitable even without the invasion of the Manchus. The Manchus, admittedly powerful, came at a time where the livelihood of Ming stability was uncertain. Ming officials were no longer concerned with development of the empire, rather, their attention had turned to the aim of seeking wealth and power. The Late Ming period ushered in a number of notoriously incompetent emperors who were so indecisive and weak and were more concerned with their imperial consorts than striving for “Peace under Heave”.
Rebellion forces were brewing along with the polarizing factions within the government. The Ming society as a whole no longer embraced the virtues of work and diligence, rather, they indulge in instant gratification which was make possible by Jiangnan’s thriving market economy. The Ming was a society that had forgone the principles of which it was found on and built off of. Its people engaged in all the vices that Confucius had warned them against. Therefore, the fall of the Great Ming dynasty was only a matter of time.