The Inadequacies of Ming Dynasty’s Foreign Policies: Lack of Efficient Rewards and Punishments
ASTD284, Foundations of East Asian Civilization
16 September 2013
Wang Yangming, “one of the most renowned Confucian thinkers and statesmen of the Ming dynasty” (Chang 1975, 39) wrote in his memorial on the issues with banditry in Southern Jiangxi and his analysis on why it had gotten out of control and further on, his recommendation on the measures that should be looked at to resolve it. He goes on to quote Wu Qi, who was an expert in warfare, “If laws and orders be not clear, if rewards and punishments be not just, though there be a hundred thousand men at ...view middle of the document...
After accepting the supremacy of the Son of Heaven from China, who was considered their “parent and source of their civilization” (Fairbank 1989, 55), the peripheral states would be offered opportunities to trade with China and military protection against attack so long as they paid tribute. Much like the later ideas of Wang Yangmings rewards and punishments, China’s peripheral states could reap these rewards of trade and protection by exchanging tribute.
One of the contributing factors leading to the Ming Dynasty’s instability was with the eunuchs. The Hongwu Emperor foresaw the rising power of the eunuchs and had initiated measures to prevent them from attaining too much power like “dismissing those who commented on government affairs, forbidding the handling of documents and decreeing that they remain illiterate” (Fairbank 1989, 46). This proved ineffective and in fact years later, “foreign trade was left to the powerful eunuchs making it more distasteful to the official class” (Fairbank 1989, 59). The Yongle Emperor even allowed his most trusted eunuch, Zheng He, to lead seven naval expeditions with two objectives in mind; “to gain the states of South and Southeast Asia into the tribute system” (Fairbank 1989, 57) and to “suppress piracy” (Ebrey 2014, 232). In this particular case, Wang Yangming might have addressed the issues of the eunuchs gaining this much power and the vulnerabilities that this would pose on the administration as well as the weakening effects that it would have on the role of authorities. When someone is given even an ounce of power, they will find a way to attain more and it is not always in the best interest of the people or society. Some similarities can be seen between the eunuchs and the bandits of Southern Jiangxi. The bandits received no disciplinary actions for their wrongdoings therefore, their numbers increased and their activities increased in frequency. The Eunuchs during the fifteenth century, had gradually spread their influence throughout the entire administration and their numbers increased to the thousands resulting in the occasional “power struggle with the Grand Secretaries of the palace” (Fairbank 1989, 46).
The dilemma in the sixteenth century was with the rise of the “Japanese pirates”, which actually encompassed more Chinese than Japanese. The rise of the Japanese pirates and the early campaigns against the Mongols are two of the reasons why the tribute missions were discontinued. To eradicate the Japanese pirates and put a stop to their anarchy, Ming decided to prohibit...