The First Emperor of the Ming Dynasty

May 23, 2018

Zhu Yuanzhang was born to a poor family that died of the plague when the Yuan (Mongol) Dynasty ruled China. To survive, he spent his youth as a Buddhist monk begging for food.

After becoming the leader of the White Lotus Society rebels, Yuanzhang led the fight against the Yuan Dynasty for twelve years. When he defeated the Mongols, he took the name Emperor Hongwu and ruled from 1368 – 1398.

Hongwu was frugal because of his difficult childhood, and he was known to be suspicious of others and exploded in anger at the smallest things. Punishments were harsh and often ended in death.

Yuanzhang’s capital was Nanjing on the south side of the Yangtze River.

However, Emperor Hongwu promoted agriculture, and he reestablished the competitive Imperial examinations of the Confucian classics.

Defeating the Yuan Dynasty did not end the Mongol threat, and the nomadic warriors continued to raid China’s north to loot and pillage.

To deal with this threat, Emperor Hongwu divided the Imperial Ming army among his sons and ordered them to defend the northern frontier. That was when the Great Wall was rebuilt, extended and strengthened.  The Great Wall tourists see in today’s China is the one that was rebuilt by the Ming Dynasty.

Since Hongwu came from a background of poverty and despised people that were wealthy, he raised their taxes. However, to avoid paying, many wealthy southern Chinese families left China with their gold and silver.

In Chinese history, the Ming Dynasty under Emperor Hongwu was probably the most conservative and the least forgiving of those who were perceived to have done wrong.

Hongwu practiced a closed-door policy with the world. To avoid conflicts with Japanese pirates, he ordered the people who lived along China’s coast to move inland and he forbid any trade with foreign merchants.

Emperor Hangwu also exercised strict control over the thoughts of the common people to preserve heaven’s rule and suppress human desire.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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The Religious Cult that Contributed to China’s Decline

May 22, 2018

It could be argued that religion has only played a ‘major’ role in Chinese Culture and Politics one time.

Even today, more than 800-million Chinese say they do not belong to any organized religion and the largest religion in China is Buddhism representing 18.2-percent of the total population, and less than 0.05-percent of China’s population are Christians, 0.015 are Muslims, and about five hundred are Jews.

Then there was the White Lotus Society that brought down the Mongols.

Persecution of the White Lotus Society started during the Mongol led Yuan Dynasty (1271 – 1368). Due to this persecution, the White Lotus Society changed from one of peace and tranquility and organized protests against the Mongol rulers, the first non-Han to rule China.

When the Mongols defeated the Song Dynasty, they broke the almost 1500-year progression of dynasties ruled by the ethnic Han Chinese … the fifteen hundred years when China was the most innovative country in the world.

The Han Chinese are bound together with a common genetic stock and a shared history inhabiting an ancient ancestral territory spanning more than four thousand years, deeply rooted with many different cultural traditions and customs. Even though the Mongol Kublai Khan practiced Confucianism, that did not make him think like the Han Chinese.

Since Yuan Imperial authorities distrusted the White Lotus Society, the Mongol led Dynasty banned them, and the White Lotus that were mostly Han Chinese went underground.  The White Lotus also started to predict that a messianic Christ like figure would come and save them from persecution.

The White Lotus led revolution started in 1352 around Guangzhou. A Buddhist monk, Zhu Yuanzhang, joined the rebellion. Soon, he became the leader by forbidding his soldiers to pillage, in observance of White Lotus religious beliefs.

By 1355, the rebellion had spread through much of China. In 1356, Zhu Yuanzhang captured Nanjing and made it his capital. Then Confucian scholars issued pronouncements supporting Zhu’s claim of the Mandate of Heaven, the first step toward establishing a new dynasty.

Zhu Yuanzhang liberated China from the Mongols and became the founding Emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1643), but this Chinese Han led Dynasty would break from the methods used by all the previous dynasties led by Han Chinese.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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Mongol Yuan Dynasty Defeats Song: Part 3 of 3

May 18, 2018

Now that China was unified under the new Yung Dynasty, Kublai improved communications between the north and south. To accomplish this, three million laborers extended the Grand Canal to carry grain north to his new capital of Dadu, modern Beijing.  He also worked to improve the economy and reform agriculture and treated the Song nobility well.

Under Kublai, China became a world-trading center and the merchants’ status and prosperity improved.

He ruled justly showing that he was a wise leader who loved his subjects … not what most would expect from someone who grew up in a nomadic, warrior culture.

Instead, he became more of a Confucian style ruler. However, he was still a Mongol at heart and he craved new conquests. Since most of the kingdoms of Asia paid tribute to Kublai Khan so he would leave them alone, there was nothing for his massive Mongol empire and army to fight.

However, Kublai did not control one country, Japan.  He sent emissaries to Japan to demand that they accept him as their emperor and every time his demand was met with the execution of his envoys.

He enlisted Koreans to crew his navy to carry his army to an island off Japan’s coast where the Japanese forces stationed there were defeated. However, a storm destroyed Kublai’s fleet.

This did not stop Kublai and in 1281, a second invasion was launched. This time the Japanese were better prepared and for two months the armies fought. Then another storm hit and destroyed Kublai’s second fleet.

Kublai Khan wanted another invasion force, but his advisors talked him out of it. That was when he abandoned his military campaigns and turned to court life.

A few years after that, his beloved wife died followed by then his son and heir. This broke his heart and he became depressed. All of his trusted advisors died and were replaced with corrupt officials while Kublai Khan becomes more isolated from the public and his government.

He died alone in his palace at 80. Soon after his death, rebellions broke out in China leading to the Ming Dynasty replacing the Yung in 1368. Kublai Khan’s dynasty survived from 1271 to 1368.

Return to Part 2 or start with Part 1

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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Mongol Yuan Dynasty Defeats Song: Part 2 of 3

May 17, 2018

To decide who the next khan would be while Kublai was still in China, a secret council was held in Mongolia’s capital Karakorum, and a rebellion was plotted by Kublai’s rivals.

After his mother warned him of the plot, he had no choice, and Kublai broke off the war with the Song Dynasty and led his army north to Shang-Tu. where he gathered supporters and was elected the great Khan of the Mongols at the age of 44.

Deciding he wanted a new capital, construction was started on the site where Beijing stands today. It would take 30,000 men five years to complete the new city. This is the city Marco Polo reached in 1266.

Kublai received Marco and his brother with hospitality and asked them many questions regarding the European legal and political system. He also inquired about the Pope and Church in Rome. After the brothers answered his questions, he tasked them with delivering a letter to the Pope, requesting 100 Christians acquainted with the Seven Arts (grammar, rhetoric, logic, geometry, arithmetic, music and astronomy).

Kublai Khan was now ready to wage war with the Song Dynasty again. At first, he tried diplomacy but the Song Dynasty refused to surrender. To fight the Song, Kublai Khan knew he had to build a navy and learn naval warfare. The Mongols had never been a seafaring race but this didn’t stop him.

Kublai’s army was now up against the great fortress city of Xiangyang.  On the other side of this city was the Yangtze River and on the other side of the river was the heart of the Song Empire. He had to take the city before he crossed the river.

The siege lasted for five years before taking the city of Xiangyang and then Kublai’s army crossed the Yangtze.

At the time, the Song emperor was only four years old, and his aging mother handled affairs of state ruling China as the Empress Dowager. In 1276, she admitted defeat and the Song Dynasty surrendered.

Continued in Part 3 on May 18, 2018, or return to Part 1

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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Subscribe to my newsletter to hear about new releases and get a free copy of my award-winning, historical fiction short story “A Night at the Well of Purity”.

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Mongol Yuan Dynasty Defeats Song: Part 1 of 3

May 16, 2018

Kublai Khan was the first significant non-Chinese to rule China and like his grandfather, Genghis Khan, he defeated and crushed his enemies with brutal force. Once Kublai defeated the Song Dynasty, he founded the Yuan Dynasty.

But one of the greatest influences over Kublai, while he was a child, was his mother.  Unlike most Mongol women that often fought beside their men and ruled tribes and territories, she insisted that her son be educated in Chinese culture and the teaching of Confucius. That may have saved China’s civilization for a few more decades before the beginning of its decline.

The defeat of the Song Dynasty did not happen overnight. It was a long process that spanned decades. The start of this war was in 1235 when at the age of twenty-one, Kublai was given an area in northern China by his uncle, who was the great khan.

When his older brother Mongke became the great khan in 1251 after his uncle’s death, he gave Kublai more land to rule in northeastern China, and Kublai soon decided to wage war against the powerful Song Dynasty.

Kublai made his first major move against the Song in 1252. After he won those battles, but not the war, he returned to Northern China with plans to build a new city to rival his brother’s capital. First, he had to select a site. Kublai’s war with China’s Song Dynasty would last until 1279.

Then Kublai Khan’s older brother became sick and died and Kublai’s armies were recalled from the war during the time period it took to decide who the next great khan would be.

Continued in Part 2 on May 17, 2018

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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Why did China stop being the most innovative country in the world

May 15, 2018

The Man Who Loved China is the biography of Joseph Needham’s life. In this biography, Simon Winchester, the bestselling author of The Professor and the Madman brings to life the extraordinary story of Joseph Needham, the brilliant Cambridge scientist who unlocked the most closely held secrets of China, long the world’s most technologically advanced country.

Joseph Needham’s Science and Civilisation in China deals with the history of science and technology in China, and the series is on the Modern Library Board’s 100 Best Nonfiction books of the 20th century.

In 1954, Needham—along with an international team of collaborators—initiated the project to study the science, technology, and civilization of ancient China. This project produced a series of volumes published by Cambridge University Press. The project is still continuing under the guidance of the Publications Board of the Needham Research Institute (NRI).

If you visit Cambridge.org, you will read: “Dr. Joseph Needham’s account of the Chinese achievement in science and technology will stand as one of the great works of our time. It has been acclaimed by specialists in both East and West and also by readers with wider and more general interests. The text, based on research of a high critical quality, is supported by many hundreds of illustrations and is imbued with a warm appreciation of China. … He begins by examining the structure of the Chinese language; he reviews the geography of China and the long history of its people, and discusses the scientific contacts which have occurred throughout the centuries, between Europe and East Asia.”

Needham left us with a question that he never answered, and China experts are still debating that answer today, an answer to the curious fact that after centuries of scientific and technological creativity, that activity suddenly came to an end in 1500 AD. Needham wanted to know what happened, but he never answered his own question.

Needham’s research on China discovered that the ancient Chinese led the world and accomplished an average of 15 important innovations a century for a total of more than fifteen hundred. Then came the sixteenth century, when the Renaissances was fully underway in Europe, and the creative passions of China dried up.

I think the answer to Needham’s question will be revealed in the posts that cover the rest of China’s history after the end of the Song Dynasty in 1279 AD up to Mao’s death in 1976. The decline was long, brutal, and bloody.

When Mao died in 1976, China’s education system was all but gone and had to be rebuilt from scratch, and many of the country’s public school teachers were dead from suicide or execution. If you read The Man Who Loved China, you will also discover that during World War II, one goal of the Japanese was to destroy China’s educational system, and the Japanese armies did all they could to destroy China’s universities, burn China’s libraries, and execute China’s scholars.

What happened to China after the Song Dynasty and in World War II reminds me of what is happening today in the United States where ignorant, arrogant individuals like Donald Trump, Betsy DeVos, Bill Gates, David and Charles Koch, the Wal-Mart Walton family and their autocratic, wealthy, old, white allies are slowly, systematically dismantling the community based, public education system of the United States.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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China was the Most Innovative Country in the World for Fifteen Hundred Years: Part 3 of 3

May 10, 2018

Another Chinese inventor during the Song Dynasty created a machine known as the Cosmic Engine, the ancient world’s astronomical computer.

Su Song was the inventor.  The Cosmic Engine was so complicated that for centuries no one (even Westerners) understood how it worked. Today, few westerners know that it existed.

However, records show that the Cosmic Engine was created in 1092 AD.

The Cosmic Engine calculated time—not just hours and minutes but weeks, months and seasons reflecting how the earth moves around the sun. It also calculated how the earth and planets moved through space.

The Cosmic Engine was five stories tall and its working innards were complex.

Today, we know exactly how this device was created since Su Song left detailed blueprints and directions describing how it was built. Song’s Cosmic Engine worked from the eleventh century until enemies of the Song Dynasty destroyed it.

Using Song’s blueprints, the Science and Technology Museum in Beijing built a fully accurate reconstruction. Another reconstruction exists in London.

This ingenious device led to the invention of Western clocks hundreds of years later, and we now know that many of the inventions and discoveries the modern world was built on originated in ancient Imperial China.

The Confucian method of meritocracy was (and still is) the engine that led to the creation of all of the Chinese innovations mentioned in this series of posts and this is only a sample.

The Chinese system of meritocracy then and now makes it impossible that anyone as weak or ignorant as George W. Bush or Donald Trump could ever come close to a position of top leadership.

Return to Part 2 or start with Part 1

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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Subscribe to my newsletter to hear about new releases and get a free copy of my award-winning, historical fiction short story “A Night at the Well of Purity”.

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