Manchuria under Ming rule

Manchuria under Ming rule
Territory of the Ming dynasty

Ming China during the reign of the Yongle Emperor
Government Ming hierarchy
  Ming military campaign against Naghachu 1387
  Established 1388
  Establishment of the Nurgan Regional Military Commission 1409
  Abolishment of the Nurgan Regional Military Commission 1435
  Beginning of actual control of most of Manchuria by Nurhaci 1580s
  Disestablished 1616
Part of a series on the
History of Manchuria

Manchuria under Ming rule refers to the domination of the Ming dynasty over Manchuria, including today's Northeast China and Outer Manchuria. The Ming rule of Manchuria began with its conquest of Manchuria in the late 1380s after the fall of the Mongol Yuan dynasty, and reached its peak in the early 15th century with the establishment of the Nurgan Regional Military Commission, but the Ming power waned considerably in Manchuria after that. Starting in the 1580s, a Jianzhou Jurchen chieftain named Nurhaci (1558–1626), began to take control of most of Manchuria over the next several decades, and the Qing dynasty established by his son would eventually conquered the Ming and took control of the China proper.


The Mongol Empire conquered the entire Manchuria (modern Northeast China and Outer Manchuria) in the 13th century and it was put under the rule of the Yuan dynasty established by Kublai Khan. After the overthrown of the Mongol Yuan dynasty by the Ming dynasty founded by the Han Chinese in 1368, Manchuria was still under control of the Mongols of the Northern Yuan dynasty based in Mongolia. Naghachu, a former Yuan official and a Uriankhai general of the Northern Yuan dynasty, won hegemony over the Mongol tribes in Manchuria (Liaoyang province of the former Yuan dynasty). As he grew strong in the northeast, the Ming decided to defeat him instead of waiting for the Mongols to attack. In 1387 the Ming sent a military campaign to attack Naghachu,[1] which concluded with the surrender of Naghachu and Ming conquest of Manchuria.

However, the early Ming court could not, and did not, aspire to the control imposed upon the Jurchens by the Mongols, yet it created a norm of organization that would ultimately serve as the principal vehicle for the relations with peoples along the northeast frontiers. For example, it was not able to levy taxes on the Jurchens, as the Mongols had done. Also, unlike the Mongols, the early Ming Chinese had not set up postal stations in Liaodong and northern Manchuria to facilitate the transmission of official mail and also to impose greater control over the region, which was an indication that they had not gained the same authority as the Yuan. Despite its less advantageous position, however, the Ming established an institution that formalized its relations and eventually provided leverage in dealings with the Jurchens. The court founded guards (衛, wei) in Lingdong during the reign of the Hongwu Emperor and in northern Manchuria later under the Yongle Emperor. Yet, the establishment of these guards did not signify Ming rule. The Jurchen leaders were not truly incorporated into the Ming empire, for they collected taxes and raised armies for themselves, not for the court. Nor did the creation of the Ming guards indicate that the Jurchen leaders were moving toward a more sinicized society. The guards were simply convenient vehicles for the Ming's reaffirmation of traditional Chinese foreign relations.[2]

By the end of the Hongwu reign, the essentials of a policy toward the Jurchens had taken shape. Most of the inhabitants of Manchuria, except for the wild Jurchens, were at peace with China. Yet a suitable relationship between Ming China and their neighbors to the northeast had not been established. The guard system had scarcely reached into northern Manchuria, and the regulations for tribute and commerce were still relatively uniformed. The Yongle Emperor once again was responsible for devising the framework for Ming-Jurchen relations. He sought peace with the Jurchens and tried to prevent them from allying with the Mongols or the Koreans to pose threats to the Chinese borderlands. One way of winning over the Jurchens was to initiate a regular system of tribute and trade, a boon to these northeastern neighbors, as well as to the Ming, which needed and coveted certain Jurchen products. Finally, the emperor distinguished between Liaodong and the other Jurchen areas farther to the north. Liaodong was to be part of the normal administrative system of the Ming, with the creation of a Regional Military Commission and a commensurate set of military and fiscal obligations which were similar to those imposed upon and generally fulfilled by provinces in China proper. And in northern Manchuria, the Yongle Emperor had created a series of guards and had superseded Korean influence among the Jurchens. He had archived peace in the Jurchen lands adjacent to the Tumen, Amur, Songhua, and Ussuri rivers, and the Chinese government had developed expertise about the different Jurchen groups and leaders. Chinese cultural and religious influence such as Chinese New Year, the "Chinese god", Chinese motifs like the dragon, spirals, scrolls, and material goods like agriculture, husbandry, heating, iron cooking pots, silk, and cotton spread among the Amur natives like the Udeghes, Ulchis, and Nanais.[3]

However, the creation of a guard did not necessarily imply political control. In 1409, the Ming dynasty under Yongle Emperor established the Nurgan Regional Military Commission on the banks of the Amur River, and Yishiha, a eunuch of Haixi Jurchen derivation, was ordered to lead an expedition to the mouth of the Amur to pacify the Wild Jurchens. The reception he was accorded by Jurchen chiefs was cordial, and he responded by providing them with gifts. They, in turn, agreed to the Ming creation of the Nurgan Regional Military Commission and to the dispatch of a tribute mission to accompany Yishiha back to the court. In 1413, the emperor again sent Yishiha to Nurgan to meet with the Jurchen chiefs and to build the Yongning temple in an attempt to promote Buddhism among the least sedentarized of the Jurchens. There is some evidence that he reached the Sakhalin island during one of his expeditions to the lower Amur, and granted Ming titles to a local chieftain. His efforts were well-received because he was well-informed about Jurchen custom and attitudes. Tribute and trade from Nurgan began to flow into China; the Jurchen chiefs accepted the bestowal of titles by the Ming; Buddhism was promoted among the native peoples, and commerce and communication were facilitated through the postal stations established in Nurgan. Yet, the Ming court did not dominate the political fortunes of the Wild Jurchens. It simply maintained a presence in the far northeast of Manchuria. After Yongle Emperor's death, it became increasing difficult to do so.[4] According to the Collected Statutes of the Ming Dynasty, the Ming established 384 guards and 24 battalions in Manchuria, but these were probably only nominal offices.[5]

The Nurgan Regional Military Commission was abolished in 1435, 11 years after the death of the Yongle Emperor, and the Ming court ceased to have substantial activities there, although the guards continued to exist in Manchuria. By the late Ming period, Ming political presence in Manchuria had waned considerably, although it continued to give titles to Jurchen chiefs. Ironically, however, it was in fact the peoples in this region caused the downfall of the Ming dynasty.[6] Starting in the 1580s, Nurhaci (1558–1626), a Jianzhou Jurchen chieftain who was nominally a Ming vassal, started to take actual control of most of Manchuria over the next several decades. In 1616, he declared himself the "Bright Khan" of the Later Jin state. Two years later he announced the "Seven Grievances" and openly renounced the sovereignty of Ming overlordship and started to fight against the Ming. By 1644, the dynasty became known as the Qing dynasty, which conquered the Ming dynasty and became the ruler of China.

See also


  1. Harmony and War: Confucian Culture and Chinese Power Politics, by Yuan-kang Wang
  2. The Cambridge History of China: Volume 8, The Ming Dynasty, Part 2, by Denis C. Twitchett, Frederick W. Mote, p260
  3. Forsyth (1994), p. 214.
  4. From Yuan to Modern China and Mongolia: The Writings of Morris Rossabi, by Morris Rossabi, p193
  5. Perpetual happiness: the Ming emperor Yongle, by Shih-shan Henry Tsa, p159
  6. The Cambridge History of China: Volume 8, The Ming Dynasty, Part 2, by Denis C. Twitchett, Frederick W. Mote, p258
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