The Ming rule in China is historically applauded for the longest-lasting peace as a result of strong leadership and far-reaching cultural influence that exerted control over the entire East-Asian region from 1360 to 1640. Despite its deeply autocratic nature, the Ming dynasty, established by Zhu Yuanzhang, followed a basic governmental structure that existed long past its downfall, right until the abolishment of this imperial institution in 1912.
A curse of lackluster leadership and strings of disasters allowed the exploitation of the throne and its citizens. The political landscape of the Ming dynasty became dysfunctional and rife with internal factionalism that led to increasingly petty sabotages and in-fighting between power-hungry political officials that ignored the needs of their people.
Disaster after failure after war after uprising after impoverishment; a succession of devastating events brought the Ming dynasty to its knees.
The Mandate of Heaven manifested itself in the minds of China’s civilians in the constant succeeding of the throne and the consistent waves of natural disasters that led to over a million deaths.
The Toxic Politics of the Ming Dynasty
There came to be multiple drains on the empire’s coffers, especially the Imjin campaign in Korea against the Japanese. Such a war required vast skill to maintain since the emperor’s state duties were just as hefty.
Zhang Juzheng, the Grand Secretary to the Wanli Emperor, was one such intelligent official who, after his death, left behind a great gap in the expertise needed to continue the dynasty’s undertakings, yet the war kept raging.
The emperor became despondent and reclusive as a result of this overwhelming burden, remaining out of sight from his court.
This further exacerbated the ongoing political quarreling among his ministers and created a stratification between the emperor and his officials that lent excessive power to the court’s eunuchs.
The most notorious of these Eunuchs was Wei Zhongxian who coveted the powers of the throne, preferring to dominate the court of the Tianqi Emperor by enacting violence against his political opponents and producing public disparaging literature of them.
His repugnant leadership lasted from 1570 to 1630 and led to a system of absolute corruption.
His royally sanctioned and unwarranted leadership spawned massively toxic social structures that led to outright nepotism, furthering the already vast skill gap left behind by Zhang Guzheng.
Zhongxian’s abuse of power was most evident in the misdirection of state funds for his personal use in the construction of private palaces that dug into the funds necessary for the previous emperor’s funeral rites.
Mandated Disasters and Successions
Whilst the unskilled leadership of the crumbling empire turned their eyes inward for purposes of self-enrichment, outside of the privileged royal walls arose an economic breakdown combined with strings of natural disasters that led to civil uprisings against the failing throne.
Across the borders of East Asia, Spanish and Dutch traders sought to diversify their streams of income and focus on the shipping of American silver, leaving the Chinese markets in the lurch in the 15th century.
Many sources of silver coming into China were cut off, causing severe inflation of prices that spelled doom for peasants who lived off the silver trade.
In the 17th century, a natural ecological phenomenon known as the Little Ice Age caused a severe decrease in the annual growing times for the most necessary Chinese crops.
Normalcy completely collapsed when the government did little to respond to the growing floods and lacking resources.
The one thing the government did do was raise taxes, which did little for the already declining relief system and later caused a civil uprising.
During this same period, a small tribe known as Jurchen who was led by Nurhaci caught wind of the weakening leadership. They recognized an opportunity that transformed into a campaign for unity amongst all northern tribes and led to a consolidation of tribal powers against the Ming.
Jurchen, having successfully dominated the Ming both politically and militarily, renamed the ethnicity of his people to Manchu in the same period, establishing himself as a prominent figure in the eyes of China’s allies.
One such ally, the Koreans, renounced the Ming dynasty, further legitimizing Jurchen’s rule, after successful military campaigns against the Ming. Such acts were echoed by Li Zicheng, a peasant soldier who mutinied against the throne in 1630 for their failure to provide essential resources.
Li Zicheng later established a rebel base in Chengdu that went so far as to provide military influence over its regions. He also consolidated the powers of Chinese civilians, forming extensive rebel groups within Chinese borders, thus bolstering the Ming’s enemies.
The Overwhelmed End of the Ming Dynasty
Across the entire nation were factions and rebel groups responding to widespread starvation, famine, and uncontrollable plague in the only way they could: revolt against a failed government.
A multi-headed rebellion against the throne created an overwhelming number of foes that caused the outright collapse of the Ming military.
Both the Chognzen emperor, the last of the Ming emperors, and the notorious Zhongxian, ended their own lives, taking along with them the dynasty itself.