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China Dynasties Comparison: Ming Vs Qing Essay

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Updated: May 22nd, 2020


This assignment is a discussion on the topic of Chinese dynasties. The focus of the paper is examining the institutional developments after the Ming dynasty’s fall, with a view of illustrating the changes in the power division, distribution, structure, and dynamics in the Qing dynasty era through a comparative approach with the Ming Dynasty.


The Ming dynasty was an absolute Chinese monarch that 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 following the fall of the Yuan dynasty, which had ruled from 1271 to 1368 and ruled from 1368 to 1644 with several emperors such as Hongwu, Yongle, and Wanli (Travel china guide, 2013). It came into power after overpowering its predecessor, the Yuan dynasty, which had weakened following divisions in its leadership. The Yuan dynasty had also faced an almost collapsing infrastructure, which had risen the levels of discontentment among the people. Some of the key figures who noted the crumbling of the Yuan dynasty were Zhu Yuanzhand and the leader of the Han, the Chinese largest ethnic group Chen Younliang. The two leaders quickly turned into rebels of the Yuan dynasty.

In 1363, a battle known as the ‘battle of Lake Poyang’ was staged up (Encyclopadia Britanica, 2013). The battle involved the two rebel factions, one led by Zhu and the other led by Chen in which the former managed to eliminate the latter. After the defeat of the Han 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 seized the opportunity to declare 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, 2013).

Institutional structure and division

The Ming dynasty ruled through the provincial administration, just like its predecessor, the dynasty. The administrative structure comprised of 13 provinces which were led by a secretariat. The Ming also had three commissioners in charge of civil, surveillance, and military departments. At the lowest level of the provincial administration were counties which were headed by magistrates (Oracle Think Quest, 2013).


The Ming dynasty under the leadership of Wang was characterized by a mixture of ideology and was thus heterodoxy in nature. Ideally, the Ming dynasty subscribed to the Confucian ideology, but the Wang emperor also embraced the Buddhist ideology and, to some extent, Taoism (Asian art collection, 2013).

Confucianism is a philosophically derived ideology that outlines the moral and ethical principles which govern the relationship of people in a society. The philosophy has its roots in the works of Chinese philosopher Confucius who founded it in 551 BC. Confucianism does the project of moral self-cultivation central to human living and offers a distinctive account of the nature of the self and how the self is cultivated. According to early Confucians, the essence of humanity is to live and serve other humanity with a view of creating a harmonious society (Berling, 1996).

From the Confucianism view, morality is an approach of distinguishing and classifying actions and decisions as being good or right on one hand and bad or wrong on the other. Put simply, morality refers to what is right and what is wrong based on some specific socio-cultural environments. It is synonymous with virtues, ethics, and good (Patheos Library, 2013).

The Wang emperor emphasized 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 the 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 the 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 state ministers, who were liberal used their powers to impeach the conservatives from their leadership positions as court judges.


Ming’s philosophy was generally regarded as liberal as opposed to conservatism. The Ming emperors and especially Zhu Xi based their leadership on the belief that every body was capable of having moral knowledge. This was as opposed to the views of conservatives who believed in elitist scholars like Aristotle, who had argued that 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.

Other philosophers, who were inclined to the view that there was universal knowledge about morals based on cultural and philosophical orientations argued that it was essential to reject the elitist views of Aristotle and base arguments on conscience simply because everybody has a conscience which directs him or her to make judgments on what is good, right, bad or wrong. The difference of this view from the elitist one was that conscience enables everyone, regardless of whether educated on moral knowledge or not, to be able to gain moral knowledge regarding what is good, right, bad or wrong. According to the Zhu Xi emperor, moral knowledge came from reason, experience and traditions.


Every action is triggered by a reason. This means that many of our actions are based on some reasons and realities. The big question is whether the reasons are genuine or not. The aspect of reason is synonymous to conscience; which can be seen as the basis upon which we base our actions, behavior and thinking. One person may prefer stealing instead of borrowing money while the other may prefer borrowing to stealing. Even though the two are reacting to a similar problem of lack of money, they have different consciences which lead them to meet their need using different ways. In this example, the question of whether one is right or wrong or who is right or wrong may become debatable because we may not know the beliefs under which the conscience of the two were based and whether the beliefs were true or not, but one thing we know is that both acted as per their conscience, which may have been based on true or untrue beliefs. The interpretation of their actions as either moral or immoral depends on our socio-cultural orientations.


Since we live in a social world, it constantly keeps on influencing our behavior, actions and thinking towards various social phenomena. The ideas of John Locke who argued that we are born as a tabula rasa, meaning that we are open to absorb what is within our socio-cultural environments explains how experience can be a source of moral knowledge. What we experience greatly shapes our morals. If we undergo through tough life conditions like war or civil strife, we may find our self not caring much about killing other people because we have witnessed others be killed as opposed to situations where by we have not been exposed to such experiences before. If we live in a country where we experience a lot of official corruption, we may see nothing wrong with involving ourself in it because we would have either participated in it in one way or another or we would have benefited from the same. Experience can therefore enable us develop some ideas about moral knowledge.


Culture and traditions greatly influence our understanding and acquisition of moral knowledge. Each culture or tradition has got its teaching about what is acceptable as good behavior and what is not acceptable. The morals are passed on from generation to the other through birth and assimilation as well as acculturation. Even though they keep on changing, each generation is able to have a chance to gain some moral knowledge from the culture and traditions of that community, which increases commonness and makes the community members, have a sense of solidarity as they acquire and share similar morals and moral knowledge.

Reasons of its downfall

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 government led by the last Ming emperor Wang.

The starving peasants together with the Manchu led rebel faction repeatedly defeated and eventually overpowered the Chinese army which was poorly paid as well as poorly fed. The last Ming emperor hanged himself after the realization that Beinjing had fallen under the hands of the Li Zicheng. The Manchus eventually crossed the Great Wall of China under the leadership of Prince Dorgon. The Manchus were later to be defeated by the Qing dynasty which took control of China until the birth of the 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 Nurhachi 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, 2013).

. 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 following his death in 1643 without appointing his preffered leadership mantle bearer. This brought Kangxi into power and enabled the Jurchens enough time to reorganize themselves to choose a person from Hong’s familiy to take the mantle of leadership. The seat attracted two people namely Hoog and Dorgon. There was a bitter rivalry between the two and this prompted the Jurchens to pick Fulin, a five year old son of Hong as a compromise candidate. Fulin became the Shunzhi emperor while Dorgon was appointed as the defacto leader of Manchu.

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 also had three commissions namely the surveillance, military and civil commissions. However, under the Qing dynasty, the provinces were placed under governors and a military commander. There were also viceroys who were incharge of three provinces with the viceroy of Zhili of Beinjing being the most powerful of all the viceroys since Beinjing was the capital. The Qing dynasty also extended its rule to Mongolia, Xinjiang and Tibet, where it deployed commmissioners 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 their inability to pay land rates for their land. The dynasty also greatly reduced the tax burden and also gave the local people some incentives to start small businesses. The dynasty also improved the trasnport sector by opening the Grand Canal to private merchants. It also introduced a system of regulating grain prices thus eliminating grain shortages which were occasioned by farmers hoarding their grains in anticipation of higher prices. It also regulated the licensing of wealthy merchants, whom it percieved as a threat to small businesses if they were allowed to do business without regulation. During the reign of the Qing dynasty, China’s population grew rapidly from 150 to 300 million people in the 18th century. This was due to improved economy as well as relatively peaceful and politically stable country.


The Qing dynasty was guided by the modernity philosophy, which appeared to down play conservative ideas held by former dynasties in regards to many issues such as trade and unity with neighbours and potential rivals. The dynasty was of the view that collaboration with other countries was the way to develop the Chinese 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 saw foreign trade re-introduced and picking at a rate of 4% growth per annum in the 17th and 18th centuries. China’s key exports included silk and tea. As a result of the exports, there was a steady flow of silver into the country thus easing the effects of hyperinflation whach had set in during the reign of the Ming dynasty (China connection tours, 2013).

Comparison of the Ming and the Qing dynasties

Aspect Ming Dynasty Qing Dynasty
Head of state Emperor was the centre of authority Emperor was the centre of authority
Ministries’ function Ministries played minimal to no role but the emperor directed almost everything Ministries were proplery formulated with full fledged ministers in charge of the affairs of the central government.
Nature of government Fully centralized system of governance Government decentralized with governors heading the provinces
Army Functional military under the command of the emperor Functional militray under the command of the emperor
Judiciary Part of the central government Judiciary partly independent from the central government
Education Integrated with religion. Education of women seen as a strange idea Education part of government’s strategy to hasten economic growth. Education of women not a strange idea
Foreign influences The Ming isolated itself from, or had limited interaction with neighbours. The Qing was connected with the west and its impact on its institutions.

From the above table, it is evident that the Qing dynasty was more progressive than the Ming dynasty. Due to its progressive nature, it was able to turn around the economy of China from a lame economy to a promising one. It created a condusive environment for investors from all over the world who established businesses in the country. It can then be argued that the progress China has made today is due to the firm foundation laid down by the Qing dynasty. Even though the Ming dynasty had its shortcomings, it succeeded especially in conservation of Chinese traditions and culture. However, its major shortcoming was poor governance which contributed to high levels of inflation which led to the institutionalization of poverty.


Asian Art collection. (2013). Ming dynasty 1638–1644. Web.

Berling, J.A. (1996). Web.

China connection tours. (2013). . Web.

Department of Asian Art. (2013). . Web.

Encyclopadia Britanica. (2013). . Web.

Oracle Think Quest. (2013). The Ming Dynasty. Web.

Patheos Library. (2013). Web.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. (2013). . Web.

Travel china guide. (2013). . Web.

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