The Ming Dynasty’s Star-Crossed Lovers

June 5, 2018

China’s Romeo and Juliet, “The Peony Pavilion”, was a play written by Tang Xianzu and was first performed in 1598, forty-six years before the end of the Ming Dynasty.

Someone might assume that Xianzu borrowed from Shakespeare’s play, but that would be a wrong assumption because in the 16th century there was no internet, no television, no radio, no telephones, no TV, and it took months to sail from England to China. Communication and the sharing of ideas happened at a snail’s pace.

It was clearly a coincidence that Tang Xianzu came up with the idea of China’s Romeo and Juliet a few months after Shakespeare wrote his first version.

In fact, the Encyclopedia Britannica reports that “Romeo and Juliet” had a bumpy start.  “Romeo and Juliet, the play by William Shakespeare, was written about 1594–96 and first published in an unauthorized quarto in 1597. An authorized quarto appeared in 1599.” Two years after “The Peony Pavilion” (first) appeared on stage in China.

In addition, the star-crossed lovers that appear in the “The Peony Pavilion” also tragically die for love, but their plight is described in a much more mournful tone than Shakespeare’s version.

You might also be surprised to learn that Shakespeare is popular in China since his work is taught in most Chinese universities both in English and in Chinese.

Enid Tsui writes, “It’s had its ups and downs but, 400 years after William Shakespeare’s death, China’s affinity with The Bard is as strong as ever.”

However, The People’s Republic of Shakespeare, Adventures in Chinese Research says that many of the Romeo and Juliets performed in China are either parodies or rewrites where one of the lovers survives in the end because too many Chinese have experienced too much sadness in their lives thanks to Japan’s brutal invasion of China during World War II and China’s long bloody Civil War followed by the suffering caused by Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

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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Although Established by a Nationalistic Religious Cult, the Ming Dynasty Was Not a Total Failure

May 30, 2018

During the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644), great achievements were recorded in architecture, shipbuilding, porcelain making, and textile weaving.

Eighty years before the British discovered what caused scurvy, Chinese sailors were not suffering from this disease because the Chinese had developed porcelain containers to grow bean sprouts in while the ships were crossing oceans.  Bean sprouts are a rich source of vitamin C.

During his voyages, Admiral Zheng He took more than 10,000 copies of books to give away in the hope of spreading Chinese civilization and traditional Confucian ideas. Instead of diseases and cannonballs that were ruthlessly used to spread colonialism out of Europe, the Chinese gave away books.

Of all the textile industries, silk weaving was number one and could be found in almost every large and small town in Southern China.

Shang Chuan, a Research Fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences says, “Textiles in China have a long history (back to the Warring States Period, BC 475-221). By the Ming Dynasty… large workshops had appeared, although work was still done by hand.

“However, compared with the old family production model, large worships were superior as the products were quality guaranteed, all looked the same and were the same standard.”

The silk industry in China was the beginning of modern manufacturing. As many think, modern manufacturing techniques did not start in England in the 18th century. It started in China centuries earlier.

The reputation of the Chinese products that Admiral Zheng He took with him on his voyages brought him considerable honor and made him welcome everywhere he visited. On his sixth voyage, he reached the African coast and twelve hundred envoys from sixteen African and Asian countries returned to China with Zheng He’s fleet.

In Beijing, the Ming Emperor presented these envoys with forty-thousand roles of silk and brocade.

Even before the Ming Dynasty, China had been sending diplomatic missions overland to the West for centuries and trade had extended as far as east Africa.

However, never before had a government-sponsored mission the size of Zheng He’s fleet been organized.  His voyages were a vivid demonstration of the economic and cultural prosperity of the Ming Dynasty.

The Great Wall, which the Ming Dynasty had continued to rebuild, modernize and strengthen, stretched from China’s eastern coast to the far northwest. This Great Wall is what tourists in China see today.

In 1637, the largest encyclopedia of ancient China was published. It was a comprehensive book covering science and handicraft technologies. Another encyclopedia was published on agriculture. A third described China’s geology in detail. A fourth was the most comprehensive medical book in Chinese history, the Compendium of Materia Medica.

Meanwhile, The Industrial Revolution in Europe would not start in Britain until about 1760, more than a century after the Ming Dynasty had been replaced in 1655 by the Manchu led Qing Dynasty.

However, after 1433, the Ming Dynasty turned inward and became isolated from the world, setting the stage for its collapse and the madness and horror that followed for more than a century up to 1949.

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 Ming Dynasty’s Second Emperor was the opposite of Hongwu

May 29, 2018

Before Emperor Hongwu (the 1st emperor of the Ming Dynasty), died, he made arrangements so his oldest grandson would become the next emperor. To ensure this wouldn’t fail, he had all the “potential” enemies of his grandson killed. Hongwu did this because he wanted someone to replace him that thought like him.

However, that grandson didn’t become the second emperor of the Ming Dynasty. Instead, Hongwu’s fourth son became that emperor, and he became Emperor Yongle who ruled 1402 – 1424.  Before his father died, Yongle had been sent to guard the north against the nomads and was given the title of King Yan. Due to his success at driving back the Mongols, he had the support of China’s nobility to become emperor.

After a bloodbath to gain the throne, he became emperor and reversed his father’s decisions reopening China to world trade.

In 1404, Yongle also decided to move the capital from Nanjing to Beijing since that city was situated in an important strategic position between Mongolia and the plains of northern China, twenty miles from the Great Wall.

Before moving from Nanjing, Yongle had Beijing rebuilt with a new palace now known as The Forbidden City. The materials for this construction came from all over China with most of it being carried on barges along the Grand Canal.

Emperor Yongle also wanted to learn more about the world, so he had a huge fleet of ships built that the world had never seen before, and he put a Muslim eunuch by the name of Zheng He in charge.

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 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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