Posts tagged ‘Ming Dynasty’


The Chinese admiral who spread Islam across Southeast Asia | South China Morning Post

Near my childhood home in Kunming (昆明), Yunnan (雲南) province, is a park dedicated to its most famous son: Admiral Zheng He.

Our teacher would take us to pay tribute to the great eunuch of the Ming dynasty, recounting his legendary seven expeditions that brought glory to the motherland.

The marble bust of Zheng He shows the face of a typical Chinese, with a square chin, brushy eyebrows and a flat nose. My father joked it more resembled comrade Lei Feng than the admiral. Not until years later did I realise how true this was.

A statue of Zheng He in Nanjing, where his armada was built. File photo

The statue was erected in 1979 – a year after Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) launched his open-door policy. Zheng, barely mentioned during the Cultural Revolution, was plucked from obscurity and hailed as a national hero who embodied China’s open spirit. A park near his ancestral home was dedicated to him. The same craftsmen who churned out revolutionary statues were employed to build his.

In real life, Zheng probably looked very different. My school textbook mentioned only that he was a Hui minority (Muslim Chinese). In fact, the admiral was a descendent of a powerful Persian family. Records discovered in 1913 trace his lineage to Sayyid Ajall, who was sent by Kublai Khan to conquer Yunnan and became its first governor. In 2014, Chinese scientists at Fudan University in Shanghai put the theory to test. They examined DNA samples collected from descendents of the admiral’s close kin and found they originated from Persia, modern-day Iran. In addition to Zheng He, most senior officers of the storied Ming armada were also Muslims.

Beijing follows the route well travelled by Admiral Zheng He in its belt and road initiative

Over the past decades, researchers have concluded Zhang and his armada were the key force behind Islam’s spread in Southeast Asia. The Arabs established settlements in Southeast Asia from the eighth century. But Islam did not become dominant there until the 15th century – around the time Admiral Zheng began to sail in the South China Sea. Historians found evidence of Zheng’s missionary work in documents discovered in Semarang, Indonesia, by Dutch officials in 1925. This prompted Indonesian religious leader Hamka to write in 1961: “The development of Islam in Indonesia and Malaysia is intimately related to a Chinese Muslim, Admiral Zheng He.

”A crowning moment of Zheng’s expedition was converting the King of Malacca, Parameswara, to Islam shortly after he paid homage to the Yongle Emperor in Beijing in 1411. The conversion played a crucial role in the spread of Islam in Southeast Asia, according to Professor Xiao Xian of Yunnan University.

A replica of a ship used by Ming Dynasty eunuch explorer Zheng He, in Nanjing. Photo: Reuters

Xiao was one of the scholars who presented research work on Zheng He at an international symposium in 2005. They painted a vivid picture of the Ming armada, which had all the elements of a multinational enterprise.

The 300 ships – many twice as big as the largest European vessels of the time – were constructed in dry docks in Nanjing ( 南京 ), Jiangsu ( 江蘇 ) province. Building materials were sourced from across the Ming Empire. The 27,000-strong crew included Han Chinese, Muslim Hui, Arabs, Persians, and peoples from Central and East Asia. The lingua franca was Persian or Sogdian – a language used for centuries by merchants of the ancient Silk Road, according to Professor Liu Yingsheng of Nanjing University.

Size was not the only difference between Zheng’s fleet and that of Christopher Columbus 70 years later. The Europeans aboard the Santa Maria were exclusively Catholic – the Ming fleet was culturally and religiously diverse. Zheng was a Muslim but he was fluent in the teachings of Confucius, Buddhism and classic Chinese philosophy. The fleet included many Buddhist missionaries. Many regard his expeditions as the high-water mark of Chinese civilization. The Ming armada’s true greatness lay not in its size or sophistication but in its diversity and tolerance.

A statue of famed Chinese navigator Zheng He overlooks the city of Nanjing, Jiangsu province. Photo: AFP

After the Yongle Emperor’s death, the Ming court lost its global vision. Power was in the hands of the Confucius gentry-class, who jealously guarded against other schools of thoughts. China became increasingly introspective and insulated. The court stopped further expeditions and banned seafaring. The Chinese civilization gradually lost its vigour and started a long decline.

Today as the new “Silk Road” and “soft power” become China’s new catchphrases, it is important to remember what makes the Chinese civilization unique in the first place. Its greatest strength lies in its people’s amazing ability to absorb, adopt and assimilate different cultures.

Buddhism, which originated in India, flourished in China. The Zen school – a hybrid of Indian Buddhism and Chinese Taoism – spread to East Asia by monks in the Tang dynasty and became mainstream. Islam arrived from Central Asia and the Middle East during the Yuan and Ming dynasties. It took root in western China before spreading to Southeast Asia with Zhang’s fleet. We should remember that until 100 years ago, China was not a nation state in the Westphalian sense. Narrow-minded nationalism and xenophobia are the exception rather than the norm of the world’s oldest surviving civilization.

Source: The Chinese admiral who spread Islam across Southeast Asia | South China Morning Post


‘The greatest palace that ever was’: Chinese archaeologists find evidence of the fabled imperial home of Kublai Khan’s Yuan dynasty | South China Morning Post

For centuries the imperial palace of Kublai Khan’s Yuan dynasty was shrouded in mystery.

After the dynasty collapsed, there were no clues as to where it was and it lived on only in legend through writings such as those of 13th century Venetian merchant Marco Polo.

If Polo is to be believed, the walls of “the greatest palace that ever was” were covered with gold and silver and the main hall was so large that it could easily seat 6,000 people for dinner.

“The palace was made of cane supported by 200 silk cords, which could be taken to pieces and transported easily when the emperor moved,” he wrote in his travel journal.

It was a vision of grandeur but the palace disappeared, seemingly without trace.

The Yuan dynasty lasted for a less than a century, spanning the years from 1279 to 1368, and it is widely believed that the capital of the empire was Beijing.

But in the centuries since, one question has dogged historians and archaeologists in China: just where was the dynasty’s palace?

Now experts at the Palace Museum in Beijing believe that they have some answers, clues they stumbled upon during upgrades to the heritage site’s underground power and fire-extinguishing systems.

According to historical records, the Yuan palace in Beijing was abandoned by its last emperor, Toghon Temür, who was overthrown by rebel troops that established the Ming dynasty in the 14th century.

Some experts believe the palace was razed by Ming soldiers who took over the city, while others insist the buildings were removed by Ming workers on the site of what was to become the Forbidden City.

The foundations for the sprawling Forbidden City were laid in 1406 and construction continued for another 14 years. It was the imperial palace for the Ming rulers and then the Qing dynasty until 1912.

The complex has been built up, layer by layer, but researchers sifting through the sands of archaeological time said last month that they had found evidence that at least part of the Yuan palace was beneath the site.

The researchers from the museum’s Institute of Archaeology said the proof was a 3 metre thick rammed earth and rubble foundation buried beneath the layers of Ming and Qing dynasty construction.

Institute deputy director Wang Guangyao said the foundation unearthed in the central-west part of the palace was in the same style as one uncovered in Zhangjiakou, Hebei province, in the ruins of Zhongdu, one of the four capitals of the Yuan dynasty.

Some of the rubble in the newly discovered Yuan foundation dated back even further to dynasties such as the Liao (907–1125) and the Jin (1115–1234), Wang said.

Wang said a foundation of such size was rare in Yuan buildings and could have been used to support a palatial hall.

At the very least, the find proved that the Yuan palace was built on the same site as the Ming palace, though it was still too early to say these two completely overlapped.

“At least we now know that the palace was not built somewhere else but here,” Wang said.

“From a historical perspective, it gives us evidence that the architectural history runs uninterrupted from the Yuan, to the Ming and Qing dynasties.

”The discovery has also revived debate about the Central Axis of Beijing – a 7.8km strip that runs from Yongding Gate to the Drum and Bell towers and included the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven and Zhongnanhai, the Communist Party leadership compound.

Many Chinese believe the axis has been the city’s “sacred backbone” since the Ming dynasty but others argue that it goes back further to the mid-13th century.

Wang said it was still too early to conclude whether the Yuan, Ming and Qing were built along the same axis.

“As archaeologists, we can only define what we have found,” Wang said. “But it gives us a direction for future exploration.”

Wang said it wasn’t easy to excavate in one of the country’s most important cultural sites and more work was still to be done.

Even if we think a certain site is important for an archaeological finding, we can’t just dig the ground up because it is not allowed,” Wang said.“All we can do is to wait and collect as much evidence as we can until sometime later, probably in a generation or two, work is done in those places and we can put all the finds together to see if they are all connected.

”The new discovery would be open to the public soon, Wang said.

Source: ‘The greatest palace that ever was’: Chinese archaeologists find evidence of the fabled imperial home of Kublai Khan’s Yuan dynasty | South China Morning Post


Today’s ‘Kings Without Crowns?’ — The Growing Powers of Xi’s Party Disciplinarians – China Real Time Report – WSJ

After hunting corrupt cadres over the past three years, the Communist Party’s much-feared graftbusters are switching gears to political policing.

In the process, they have emerged with an authority perhaps unparalleled since ancient China.

With President Xi Jinping’s blessing, the already-powerful Central Commission for Discipline Inspection is stationing inspectors in all central party and government departments, extending its reach into the top echelons of China’s bureaucracy.

In addition to targeting graft and waste, the CCDI has also become a kind of thought police for officials, academics and propagandists. Its inspectors are increasingly denouncing those deemed disloyalty to the party leadership.

The agency’s expanded scope reminded the Procuratorial Daily (in Chinese), a newspaper run by China’s top prosecutorial agency, of how Ming Dynasty rulers in the 14th century fortified a body of imperial censors who hunted errant officials in the name of the emperor.

Embedded in the Ming court’s six ministries, the censors could make direct representations to the emperor, despite their relatively junior rank, and assist the monarch in administrative tasks.

“But their most important power was to inspect the six ministries and impeach ministers,” the newspaper said. “It was this special status that made them ‘kings without crowns’ in the Ming Dynasty court.”

Recent developments, legal experts say, suggest that Mr. Xi is transforming the agency from a party watchdog into an arm of government.

“In effect, Xi Jinping is creating a parallel bureaucracy that can go around existing party and government institutions, to make things happen,” said Carl Minzner, a law professor at Fordham University who studies the Chinese legal system.

Disciplinary inspectors have also found a role in imposing party ideology beyond the traditional corridors of power.

Source: Today’s ‘Kings Without Crowns?’ — The Growing Powers of Xi’s Party Disciplinarians – China Real Time Report – WSJ


Shark Fin Soup Still Sells Despite China’s Extravagance Crackdown – Businessweek

Guess it’s hard to break the habits of several life-times or even dynasties!

“Even as Chinese President Xi Jinping clamps down on excessive wining and dining—and even fancy funerals—the controversial delicacy shark fin soup remains on the menu in plenty of China’s upscale restaurants.

Shark fins for sale in Hong Kong

That’s shown by a survey of 207 high-end restaurants in Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen carried out by Humane Society International and the Nature University, an environmental organization in Beijing. More than three out of four staffers queried, or those from 156 restaurants, said shark fin soup remains available. “Consumption of shark fin represents animal cruelty, wasteful extravagance, and is environmentally unsustainable,” Iris Ho, HSI’s wildlife program manager, said in a statement. China is the largest consumer of shark fin soup in the world, with the dish popular at official banquets, despite years of efforts to restrict it.

In March 2011 a group of Chinese legislators tried unsuccessfully to ban the country’s shark fin trade. The “soup represents wealth, prestige, and honor as the gourmet food was coveted by emperors in China’s Ming Dynasty because it was rare, delicious, and required elaborate preparation,” the official Xinhua News Agency reported at the time.”

via Shark Fin Soup Still Sells Despite China’s Extravagance Crackdown – Businessweek.


China’s Jiboazhai Museum Closed After Artifacts Discovered To Be Fake – Huffington Post

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China is known worldwide for its pandas, its cranes, and unfortunately, its forged goods. According to a UN report, 70 percent of the world\’s counterfeit goods produced between 2008 and 2010 originated from China. The forgeries have found their way into markets and stores around the world, and even, it was revealed this month, into China\’s own museums.

museum fake

On Monday, authorities in Hebei Province shuttered Jibaozhai Museum after announcing that many of the Chinese historical artifacts it displayed were forgeries. An official from the Hebei Provincial Cultural Heritage Bureau told Global Times that the museum\’s license had been revoked and its managers were currently under investigation.

The deceit was initially revealed in a July 6 blog by Chinese writer Ma Boyong on the Sina blogging platform. As Shanghai Daily reports, Ma had posted photos of the forged pieces, which included items purportedly signed by Huangdi, the Yellow Emperor, in simplified Chinese characters. However, such characters did not come into use until the 20th century, 4,500 years after the Yellow Emperor died.

According to the report, another vase had a label identifying it as dating back to the Tang Dynasty-era (618–907 AD), even though the five-color wucai technique it displayed was not invented until the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644 AD).

via China’s Jiboazhai Museum Closed After Artifacts Discovered To Be Fake.


Admiral Cheng Ho (Zheng He)

From Glimpses of HIstory: “Almost all children around the world learn about Christopher Columbus, and how, as the popular poem starts, “In fourteen hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue”, and how Columbus reached the Americas in October of 1492.  They also learn that he sailed with three ships: the Nina (“Girl”), the Pinta(“Pint”), and the Santa Maria (“Holy Mary”).


All true.  But what is not as well known is that over 75 years earlier a Chinese admiral made several amazing sea voyages.  This admiral was seven feet tall.  He was a Muslim (Muslims were, and still are, a minority in China).  He was born in poverty and had worked as a servant.  And he traveled over 31,000 miles and visited 37 countries (including countries in Africa) – with a crew, a fleet, and ships, all much larger than Columbus’s.

Cheng Ho was born in 1371 with the name Ma Ho.  His great great grandfather was Sayyid Ajjal Shams al-Din Omar, a Persian who was the first governor of Yunnan during the early Yuan Dynasty. His father and grandfather had both made the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. Their travels influenced his upbringing, and he grew up familiar with Chinese, Arabic, and Persian.

When he was ten years old, his town was captured by the Chinese army, and he eventually became a servant to Prince Zhu Di, the fourth son (out of 26 sons) of the Emperor of the Ming Dynasty.  He helped Zhu Di in various battles.  After one such battle, Zhu Di renamed him Cheng Ho (also referred to as “Zheng He”), after a place where Cheng Ho’s horse was killed.

In 1402 Zhu Di became Emperor, and one year later Zhu Di appointed Cheng Ho as admiral.  He ordered him to build a “Treasure Fleet” for three purposes: to explore the seas, to make China known to the world as a friendly power, and to establish trade relations with other countries.

Between 1405 and 1433 he led seven voyages.  1622 ships were constructed in Nanjing along the Yangtze River.  The first voyage had a 30,000 person crew, 62 large ships, and 255 smaller ships.  Some of these smaller ships were dedicated to specific purposes such as carrying horses, carrying fresh water, and carrying items to trade such as porcelain dishes, vases and cups, Chinese silk, gold, and silver.  Each of the 62 ships were 475 feet long and 193 feet wide, and each held a crew of 1000.  By comparison, Columbus’s three ships held 90 men each, and the longest of them, the Santa Maria, was 85 feet long.  Cheng Ho’s fleet was so large, that it would not be matched again in history until World War I.”

via Cheng Ho | Glimpses of History.

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