all 9 comments

[–]blackchoas 19 points20 points  (3 children)

Interesting stuff, it sounds to me like in the external letters he's merely willing to scapegoat the Yuan in an attempt to smooth over any diplomatic issues they caused in the past.

Internally he doesn't want the Yuan scapegoated though because he lived and understood the very real problems the Yuan court caused and to let his officials scapegoat the Yuan and their origins as barbarians as the "true cause" of all the problems would be to fail to learn from the real problems.

His view is pretty consistent with my understanding of the Mandate of Heaven, interestingly he refers to natural disasters but seems to suggest that those weren't so much directly a sign of the loss as the Yuan's failed reaction to them were. Further I feel like he is characterizing the rebels and banditry as a natural disaster in a way, a natural reaction to a court that isn't governing properly, something awful and violent and dangerous, definitely not to be encouraged or glorified as righteous, but to be expected if the government fails in their duty to the people.

This emperor was literally born a peasant and rose to the top, which I expect gives him a proper perspective on the wasteful luxury, arbitrary justice, local corruption and clueless isolationism that can characterize Chinese dynasties that lost the mandate, but also he literally wasn't the first peasant emperor. I find it hard to imagine that he didn't understand his situation, the Yuan didn't lose China because they were foreign barbarians, and that if his government didn't govern properly than the pattern would just repeat again and another peasant would replace him

[–]rtb001 10 points11 points  (2 children)

Well by the nature of this concept of a "mandate from heaven", he kind of have to take this position. If the founder of the Ming dynasty claims he now has the legitimate devine right to rule China by taking this mandate from the preceding Yuan dynasty, then by definition the Yuan dynasty must have been at one point legitimate. After all, if they were never legitimate, and then you took the mandate to rule from them, that would mean your own mandate is also illegitimate.

Therefore the official stance of EVERY major Chinese dynasty has to be that the previous dynasty gained the mandate of heaven legitimately, but then lost said mandate due to poor rule, thereby allowing the new dynasty to claim the mandate and begin the cycle anew.

Interesting side note about the mandate is that there was once a physical symbol of it in the form of a massive jade seal made by the first emperor of China around 220 BCE, which survived multiple pronged periods of interdynastic chaos, until eventually the Heirloom Seal of the Realm was finally lost to history somewhere around the Song to Yuan dynasties. Zhu's forces looked very hard for the seal as they took over the country from the retreating Mongol five, but came up empty.

[–]Babystepthree 3 points4 points  (1 child)

Thank you for sharing your insights on the concept of the "mandate from heaven" and its implications on the legitimacy of Chinese dynasties. Your point about the necessity for each new dynasty to acknowledge the legitimacy of the preceding dynasty in order to claim the mandate is particularly interesting. It demonstrates the continuity and stability of the Chinese imperial system, despite the frequent changes in ruling families.

[–]War_Hymn 7 points8 points  (0 children)

Guy's origin story was wild. Started rock bottom, born in a poor family out of eight kids. Famine kills his whole family but him and another brother. Didn't know what to do with his life, so he joins a monastery and becomes a monk. Got bored of being a temple monk, so left and started wandering the countryside as a beggar vangabond. Goes back to the monastery, learns how to read and write. Yuan army comes out of nowhere and burns down the monastery. Decides to become a bandit. Gets good enough as a bandit that he starts his own bandit gang. Local rebel faction notices him and his gang successfully robbing Yuan government officials and convoys, asks him to join them. He agrees, eventually levels up to rebel general, then takes over as boss of the rebel faction. Scores victories against both Yuan army and rival rebel factions. Captures the Yuan winter capital and crowns himself Emperor of China at the age of 40 (in comparison, the youngest US president, John F. Kennedy was 44 when he took office).

[–]quantdave 7 points8 points  (0 children)

Eye-opening and a valuable antidote to notions of the Mongols ruling over a devastated and depopulated land. Of course the new Emperor is partly doing sound politics, blaming bad officials rather than the overthrown court - there's an old injunction about not being too negative about your predecessor, lest your denunciations undermine the status of the office you seek to hold.

The communications for external consumption are interesting too, offering a rather different evaluation. But Korea and Japan each had their own beef with the Mongols, so here distancing yourself from the old regime was good statecraft. Might there also be a hint (less subtle in the Japanese case) of "Remember those fearsome Mongols? Well I'm the guy who defeated them!"?

Which is the "true" version of his thoughts? It's notable that even in the external letters he blames disorder in the last Yuan reign rather than the dynasty as a whole: Mongol and Han ways may be incompatible, but there's nothing to contradict the domestic account of the Yuan as a legitimate though "barbarian" dynasty that had outlived its usefulness by no longer being able to rule.

[–]Ghost5k1 4 points5 points  (0 children)

Thank you for compiling this! It was a fascinating read.

[–]LobMob 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Thanks for sharing this! Great research