This paper is about the role of history on China’s current foreign policy. It focuses on the Ming and the Qing dynasties. The reason is that China’s current foreign policy is based on the policies, principles, and ideologies of the two dynasties. The Ming dynasty preceded the Qing dynasty, which paved way for the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1912.
The Ming dynasty was a Chinese absolute monarch which ruled the country for an uninterrupted period of 276 years. It is arguably one of the most influential and orderly governments that China has ever had. It came into office after the fall of the Yuan dynasty, which had ruled from 1271 to 1368. The Ming dynasty ruled from 1368 to 1644, with several emperors such as Hongwu, Yongle, and Wanli (“Travel China Guide: Ming Dynasty” par 4). Before its fall, the Yuan dynasty had faced an almost collapsing infrastructure which had raised the levels of discontentment among the people. Some of the key leaders who noted the crumbling of the Yuan dynasty include Zhu Yuanzhang and Chen. After noting the imminent collapse of the Yuan dynasty, these two leaders quickly turned into rebels and in 1363, a battle known as ‘the battle of Lake Poyang’ was staged up (“Encyclopedia Britannica: Ming Dynasty” par 12). During the battle, the faction led by Zhu managed to eliminate the one led by Chen. After the defeat of the faction led by Chen, Zhu gained control of the south and the area around the Yangtze River valley. In 1367, the then leader of the Yuan dynasty Red Turbans died, leaving a vacuum in leadership. Zhu sized the opportunity and declared the Ming dynasty as being in power after destroying Yuan palaces and cities, especially in Dadu. After taking power, Zhu Yuanzhang became the first Ming emperor under the name of Hongwu (“Department of Asian Art: Ming Dynasty 1368–1644” par 4).
Institutional Structure and Division of the Ming Dynasty
The Ming dynasty ruled through the provincial administration just like its predecessor. The administrative structure comprised of 13 provinces which were led by a secretariat. The Ming also had three commissioners who were in charge of civil, surveillance, and military departments. At the lowest level of the provincial administration were the counties, which were headed by magistrates (“Oracle Think Quest: The Ming Dynasty” par 8).
Ideology of the Ming Dynasty
Ideally, the Ming dynasty subscribed to the Confucian ideology. However the Ming dynasty, under the leadership of Wang was heterodoxy in nature (“Patheos Library: Confucianism” par 7). The reason is that the Wang emperor not only embraced Confucianism but also Buddhism and Taoism (“Asian Art collection: Ming dynasty 1638–1644” par 4).
The Wang emperor emphasized on the pursuit of education and the idea that women were equal to men when it came to attainment of education. The main proponents of education for women were Li and He. However, they were jailed by their opponents in the Wang government for pursuing such ‘strange’ ideas and they died while at prison. Those opposed to the idea of education and equality of men and women were regarded as conservatives and after the death of Li and He at prison, they attempted to renew Confucianism.
The conservatives led by Gu Xiancheng were very critical of Wang’s idea of moral knowledge gained through education, equating it to pursuit of personal narrow interests at the expense of the interests of the majority. These wranglings between the conservatives and the liberals split the Wang emperor into two factions. The liberal state ministers in the Wang government used their powers to impeach the conservatives from their leadership positions as court judges.
Philosophy of the Ming Dynasty
Ming’s philosophy was generally regarded as liberal. The Ming emperors based their leadership on the belief that every body was capable of having moral knowledge. This belief was opposed to the views of conservatives who believed in the works of elitist scholars like Aristotle. According to Aristotle, there was nothing like moral knowledge, but rather ‘knowledge of the forms’, which meant that moral knowledge was only found in those people who were trained or had studied morality.
Reasons for the Downfall of the Ming Dynasty
The key reason which triggered the downfall of the Ming dynasty was hyperinflation, which was caused by scarcity of silver in China. In 1640, thousands of Chinese starving peasant farmers staged a rebellion against the Ming dynasty due to its inability to cushion them from hyperinflation, which had made it almost impossible for them to pay their taxes to the Wang led government.
The starving peasants, together with the Manchu led rebel faction repeatedly defeated and eventually overpowered the Chinese army which was poorly paid and fed. The last Ming emperor hanged himself after the realization that Beijing had fallen under the hands of Li Zicheng. The Manchus eventually crossed the Great Wall of China under the leadership of Prince Dorgon. However, they were later defeated by the Qing dynasty which took control of China until the birth of the People’s Republic of China.
The Qing dynasty 1644-1912
It was the last imperial Chinese dynasty which was succeeded by the People’s Republic of China. It was founded by a clan called the Aisin Gioro under the leadership of Nurhachi. As early as 1635, the son of Nurhaci Hong Taji had started efforts of forcing the Ming out of southern Manchuria. In the same year, his allies were incorporated into his army to form the Manchu command which invaded North Korea in 1636 (“The Metropolitan Museum of Art: The Qing Dynasty 1644–1911: Painting” par 8).
. The capture of Sogshan and Jingzhou territories by the Manchu command in 1637 culminated into full seizure of power from the then weakened Ming dynasty in 1644. However, Hong Taji was not to become the first Qing emperor since he died in 1643 without appointing his preferred leadership mantle bearer. As a result, Kangxi came into power and gave the Jurchens enough time to reorganize themselves to choose a person from Hong’s family to take the mantle of leadership. The seat attracted two people namely Hoog and Dorgon. There was a bitter rivalry between the two and as a result, the Jurchens were prompted to pick Fulin, a five year old son of Hong as a compromise candidate.
Changes made by the Qing dynasty
One of the changes introduced by the Qing dynasty was the increase of the provinces from 13 to 22. Just like the Ming dynasty, the Qing dynasty had three commissioners who were in charge of surveillance, military, and civil departments. However, under the Qing dynasty, the provinces were placed under governors and a military commander. There were also viceroys who were in charge of three provinces with the viceroy of Zhili of Beijing being the most powerful of all the viceroys since Beijing was the capital. The Qing dynasty also extended its rule to Mongolia, Xinjiang, and Tibet, where it deployed commissioners to oversee its affairs in those areas.
It also introduced reforms in the land sector by taking huge tracks of land from wealthy people and giving it back to the local people, who had been forced to sell it to wealthy merchants due to inability to pay land rates. The dynasty also greatly reduced the tax burden and gave the local people some incentives to start small businesses. It also improved the transport sector by opening the Grand Canal to private merchants. Further to that, the dynasty introduced a system of regulating grain prices thus eliminating grain shortages which were occasioned by farmers hoarding their grains in anticipation of higher prices. In addition, the dynasty took control of the licensing of wealthy merchants, because it perceived them as a threat to small businesses.
During the reign of the Qing dynasty, China’s population grew rapidly from 150 to 300 million people in the 18th century. This rapid growth was due to improved economy and a relatively stable political environment in China. Since then, China has witnessed an unending population growth, which has prompted the Chinese government to put in place the one-child policy, which is aimed at slowing China’s population. China’s government is of the view that a big population would compromise the country’s ability to accelerate its economic growth. As a result, Chinese citizens are restricted as far as family size is concerned. This restriction has been described by commentators as an infringement of personal freedoms. The policy has also raised serious ethical and moral concerns regarding the punishment of parents who have more than one child.
Philosophy of the Qing Dynasty
The Qing dynasty was guided by the modernity philosophy, which appeared to down play conservative ideas held by former dynasties in regard to many issues such as trade and unity with neighbors and rivals. The dynasty was of the view that collaboration with other countries was the way to develop the country, which had suffered the devastating effects of ethnic wars and bad governance by former dynasties especially the Ming dynasty. It collaborated with the British, Japan, and India in many issues and especially in trade. This collaboration saw the re-introduction of foreign trade which picked at a growth rate of 4% per year in the 17th and 18th centuries. China’s key exports included silk and tea. As a result of these exports, there was a steady flow of silver into the country thus easing the effects of hyperinflation which had set in during the reign of the Ming dynasty (“China Connection Tours: Qing Dynasty 1644-1911 AD” par 5).
China’s current foreign policy is therefore strongly built on the foundations of the Qing dynasty. The reason is that China’s current foreign policy is based on building global networks and strengthening its trade ties with as many countries as possible. Unlike the United States, whose foreign policy is based on the idea of unipolarity, China’s foreign policy is based on the idea of multipolarity. Other crucial tenets of China’s current foreign policy include equality, peaceful coexistence, non-interference, non-aggression, mutual benefit, and respect for state sovereignty. These principles have elevated China to the level of the United States in many aspects such as trade, manufacturing, military prowess, and advancement in technology (“Asia for Educators, Columbia University: Principles of China’s Foreign Policy” par 9).
According to the CIA Factbook, China was the 2nd largest economy in the world with a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 13 trillion (by purchasing power) in 2013. Its growth rate by GDP was 7.7%, making it the world’s fastest growing economy (“CIA Factbook: China Vs Japan” par 6). China also leads the world in terms of manufacturing and exports. Being the largest trading nation in the world, China has entered into several trade agreements and treaties with several countries. Examples of such countries include Australia, Korea, Switzerland, and Pakistan. China’s economy is described as a socialist market economy, which is considered as open to competition from other countries. China is the world’s most populated country with a population of 1.3 billion people (“CIA Factbook: China Vs Japan” par 6).
Even though China’s economy is based on the socialist ideology, economic analysts have argued that China’s economy has been transformed into a capitalist economy in the past four decades. The reason is that China has become very aggressive in manufacturing and as a result, it has been relying on raw materials from other countries to manufacture some of its products. Its high purchasing power has enabled it to offer high prices for raw materials especially from Africa and Asia.
Economic analysts have further argued that China has the potential of overtaking the US in terms of economic growth if China succeeds in controlling the resources and markets of the developing countries. The size of China’s economy does not have a direct relationship to democracy. The reason is that China’s foreign policy does not have any political interests. Since the end of the cold war, the country has never had serious political alliances at the global level to propagate a particular political ideology. The reason is that China’s main interest is becoming a global leader in international trade.
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