Ming/Qing China by Sam Wakeman


external image china-ming-large.gif

Economic Backdrop

The Chinese played a critical part in the economy and trade of the world. They traded with the Europeans, Africans, Indians, and the Russians. They imported many things, the largest most influential import being silver. Before the opening of the Potosi Mines in Peru, and many others like it in the New World by the Spanish, the Chinese acquired their silver from Japan. When China drastically changed their system of taxation from rice to silver, the demand for silver by the Chinese government skyrocketed. As well as silver, potatoes were a major factor in Ming/Qing economic success. With potatoes, the lower class population grew rapidly and a larger population could be supported. With a larger work force, more products could be produced to be exported, which drove the economy across the world. They also imported manufactured goods, potatoes, gold, ivory, and textiles. The Chinese traders obtaining imported goods were also exporting their own fine goods all across the world. Their most famous export was porcelain, which actually became known as china. It was fine pottery with their trademark, intricate blue and white designs. They also exported silk and gunpowder, which would be a crucial factor to the development of Western nations and to the world as we know it.

Ming Porcelain, just like the pieces that were traded all over the world at the height of their economic power.
Ming Porcelain, just like the pieces that were traded all over the world at the height of their economic power.

Political Backdrop

The political situation in China during the Ming and Qing dynasties was complex and far ahead of its time. In both dynasties, despite their differences, both had a central bureaucracy at a centralized capital called the Forbidden City. There in the Forbidden City the emperor lived with his family and his trustworthy servants and administration officials. From the Forbidden City the emperor would rule the nation, but it was broken down into smaller pieces called provinces, for which there was a governor under the close supervision of the emperor's administration. Taxation by the government in China was very popular with every dynasty, and as discussed in the previous section, spurred the demand for silver, With these taxes levied upon the peasantry and merchant classes, the emperor built roads, the Forbidden City, and many other public works such as the Grand Canal. Just as in Japan, France, and Russia, there were no ruling noble families. Throughout history aristocratic nobles have given many rulers trouble, causing rebellions and disorder. During the Ming rule especially, there were a few uprising that took place. To combat them in some cases extreme measures were used, sometimes resulting in tens of thousands of people being executed. Even with black spots on the records of these dynasty's leaders, the Ming and Qing were looked upon with respect and most were generally liked. Some of this respect is due to the Mandate of Heaven, which had been going on for sometime at that point. The Mandate of Heavens states that the emperor has the divine right to rule, for he is in the favor of the gods, Therefore he was revered in China not as just a political figure, but as a religious leader as well. It was only when things were going wrong and the Mandate of Heaven seemed to have moved to somebody else that the emperor would leave on his own, or even sometimes be revolted against by his subjects.

The Forbidden City in Beijing, where the emperor sat at court.
The Forbidden City in Beijing, where the emperor sat at court.


Aspects of Culture

Social Backdrop

The culture of China during the Ming and Qing Periods was very intricate, because of centuries of undisturbed cultivation, unlike the disappearance of the arts in Europe after the fall of Rome. Bronze and other metal artpieces were displayed during this time and some made it through the trade as far as Europe. Porcelain was also a prominent art in Ming and Qing China, and widely distributed across the world. Socially, merchants were not very high in the "caste system" if you will. In fact, farmers and artisans were higher in social status than merchants, because they actually built a living, while merchants were seen as men who made a living off of other people's creations. Above the farmers and artisans were nobles and warriors, and above them were the emperor and his family, with administration. These people from the administration were not of noble status, but men taken from the educated middle class, who were highly educated scholars taught by the best minds in all of China. The emperor's personal attendants, and all the other administrators who lived in the Forbidden City were eunuchs. They were castrated to symbolize that they would have no family or life other than serving the emperor. Everyone else outside of the Forbidden City was not castrated, but were still held to serving the emperor faithfully.

A fine example of the great skill of bronze art in the Ming dynasty.
A fine example of the great skill of bronze art in the Ming dynasty.


The education in China over a few centuries grew, and the number of scholars in China far outnumbered the Muslims and Christians. Over the years the Chinese had invented some of the most important discoveries of the modern age, such as the compass, gunpowder, and paper money. The Chinese studied chemisty, literature, math, and a decent amount of history, for which they are not as famous for as the Greek historians such as Thucydides.

Artistic Innovation

The Ming had an advanced and unique style of art, unlike any other in the world. The colors in most Chinese paintings were blue, gray, and a dim green. The most popular art of the time was vivid and moving paintings of nature scenes such as a gnarled forest, or a mist-wreathed mountain top. The MIng dynasty actually had an Academy of Art, which trained and taught numerous creative individuals how to paint and produce other art works. These paintings made during the Ming dynasty period were the artworks to collect for the aristocratic elite, being made in numerous forms. Classic folding fans, scrolls, and leafed albums.Before the Qing period, paintings could be collected, but they were never actually sold by the painter. In the Qing period this idea became more prevalent with the famous painter Luo Ping (1733-1799). He sold his paintings to people, which gave the lower class people a chance to acquire pieces of art. Before the selling of art, it was only accessed by the rich nobility. Porcelain pottery being made over centuries and centuries developed to very complex shapes with amazingly intricate glazed designs of the traditional colors of blue and white on them.

The gnarled tree and lofty mountain in the background are typical of Ming art.
The gnarled tree and lofty mountain in the background are typical of Ming art.
A beautiful painting by Qing dynasty painter Luo Ping.
A beautiful painting by Qing dynasty painter Luo Ping.

Classic literary text

One piece of classic literature from Ming China is Jin Ping Mei, which is translated to The Golden Lotus. Jin Ping Mei was written in 1590, and was one of the first fictional narratives in Chinese history. Before this period, most books were scientific texts or historical documents. Fictional writing was introduced with the Buddhist "transformational texts" and was built upon by the Chinese authors by using character's narratives to weave the plot of the story, instead of simply having an outside narrator telling the story.


The most influential religion in China was Buddhism, which became known as Mahayana Buddhism in China. Mahayana Buddhism was and is one of the major three types of Buddhism: Mahayana, Zen, and Theravada Buddhism. Mahayana Buddhism is different in the strive to intertwine the daily life with the spiritual life. People are encouraged to bring other people onto the path, thus bringing yourself and others to achieve nirvana. Other than Buddhism, there was a "state cult" described by Robert Tignor in Worlds Together, Worlds Apart. This state cult was the official religion appointed by the emperor, which often conflicted with Buddhism in places where sentiments for Buddhism were very strong.


Over many centuries the Chinese improved their mathematical skill to a point where they were building massive architectural accomplishments that were not only engineering marvels, but also artistic masterpieces. The greatest of these can be seen from even space, and was built out of military necessity. The most famous Great Wall was built by the first emperor, Shi Huangdi, in about 220 BCE. Nomadic invaders from the north would routinely intrude upon the Chinese dynasties, and so many rulers from all the dynasties repaired and built upon the already existing wall. In the Ming dynasty however, the wall was improved to what can be seen today, although significant portions of it have crumbled away or were destroyed and built over. As discussed in numerous sections above is the government center of the emperor known as the Forbidden City or Forbidden Palace. Built in 1420, it served as the capital for 500 years of emperors. The city contains 980 buildings on 780,000 square meters of ground.The slanted roofs and long stairs ascending to these massive buildings stand as a testament to the skill of the Ming architects.

The Great Wall twisting along the peaks of the mountains in the morning mist must have been a forboding sight for any attempting to invade.
The Great Wall twisting along the peaks of the mountains in the morning mist must have been a forboding sight for any attempting to invade.

Observations about what we have learned.

After writing this page and posting all of the pictures I have not only learned a lot more information on the Ming/Qing dynasties in China, but also about the mass of great websites available on the internet that can be accessed for information. A few that I especially liked were ABC-CLIO and ARTstor, which were filled with pieces of information pertaining to the Chinese. To write this page I had to do some research outside of the book and the classroom. During this research period I discovered many things that were left out in the book, or new pieces of insightful information that could be used in this project.


"Chinese literature." World History: Ancient and Medieval Eras. ABC-CLIO,2011. Web. 15 Nov. 2011.

Robert Tignor et. al., Worlds Together, Worlds Apart: A History of the World Third Edition (London: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2011), 425.
"Ming Empire of China, ca. A.D. 1424." Map. World History: Ancient and Medieval Eras. ABC-CLIO,2011. Web. 15 Nov. 2011.

"Asian literature." World History: The Modern Era.ABC-CLIO, 2011. Web. 16 Nov. 2011.

Stockdale, Nancy. "Asian art." World History: The Modern Era.ABC-CLIO, 2011. Web. 16 Nov. 2011

Thorp, Robert L., Chinese Art and Culture, 2001

Fahr-Becker, Gabriele, ed., The Art of East Asia, 1999

"The Black Death (Overview)." World History: Ancient and Medieval Eras.ABC-CLIO, 2011. Web. 16 Nov. 2011.


F: Follows directions but steals material. Both footnotes (or endnotes) and a bibliography (in Chicago Manual of Style format) are expected. You can change text using the T button to create superscript numbers.1 In short, treat the project like writing a research paper. There should be a caption under each picture that gives the name, originator, date, and source. Paragraphs and descriptions should be your writing, not another author's work pasted in with a few key words changed using the thesaurus function in Word.
D: Follows directions, cites sources, doesn't complete the project, is riddled with errors. It is evident that the team failed to use its time well.
C: Follows directions. Pastes the correct items into the correct places but takes no care in explaining the choices made. Uses less than six sources. Text is SLOPPY - no proofing!
B: Follows directions. Describes the choices made using complete sentences and clear language. Labels items correctly. Cites sources. Organizes the visuals. The paragraphs are clearly written, but general in nature.
A: Does B - but, shows some extra care, thought and research. An A has a "Wow" factor. This does not mean more color or flying moneys. It means that the content selected does a great job TEACHING about the culture of the in that region in that time period.