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Bandits, Eunuchs and the Son of Heaven

Bandits, Eunuchs and the Son of Heaven: Rebellion and the Economy of Violence in Mid-Ming China

David Robinson
Copyright Date: 2001
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  • Book Info
    Bandits, Eunuchs and the Son of Heaven
    Book Description:

    On a spring afternoon in 1509 a local bandit found himself in the emperor's private quarters deep within the Forbidden City and in the presence of the Son of Heaven himself. This bizarre meeting was the doing of the eunuch Zhang Zhong, the emperor's personal servant and companion. In time court intrigue between competing palace eunuchs would lead to the death of this bandit-turned-rebel, setting off a massive uprising that resulted in China's largest rebellion of the sixteenth century. To understand how this extraordinary meeting came about requires a consideration of the economy of violence during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Here, for the first time in any language, is a detailed look at the role of illicit violence during the Ming. Drawing on court annals, imperial law codes, administrative regulations, private writings, and local gazetteers, David Robinson recreates in vivid detail a world where heavily armed highwaymen and bandits raided the boulevards in and around the Ming capital, Beijing. He then convincingly traces the roots of this systemic mayhem to economic, ethnic, social, and institutional factors at work in local society.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6154-4
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. 1 Introduction: The Economy of Violence
    (pp. 1-26)

    With a lunge and a mighty kick, the slight sixteen-year-old boy sent the leather ball hurtling skyward. Uttering a cry of admiration, a strapping young Mongol dressed in a red riding tunic scrambled to keep the ball aloft. Among those who watched the athletic play was a small knot of sturdy men whose sharp eyes darted back and forth between the boy and a dark man elegantly dressed in a red silk gown embroidered with an image of a dragon across the chest. Amid his exertions, the boy frequently turned to the dark man with commentary on the game and...

  5. 2 The Capital Region
    (pp. 27-44)

    In 1500, Beijing and the surrounding area, the capital region, were simultaneously very old and very new. The region’s chief topographical features had formed nearly one million years before, and finds ofHomo erectusin the area date from 500,000 B.C. Agriculturists had practiced in the region for roughly ten thousand years, and important walled political centers had appeared in or close to Beijing since at least the sixth century B.C. More recently, the Khitan Liao dynasty (907–1115) had located its southern capital in present-day Beijing, the Jurchen Jin dynasty (1115–1234) had established their central capital there, and,...

  6. 3 Banditry during the Mid-Ming Period
    (pp. 45-68)

    By midsummer 1468, the clerk Shi Huizong had begun the last leg of a 1,000-mile journey from his hometown, Fuqing County, in the south-eastern coastal province of Fujian, to Beijing. Shi, like hundreds of other clerks and assorted minor functionaries, was making an annual delivery of tax silver and other tribute items. However, misfortune struck when he reached Huoxian, a prosperous entrepôt along the Grand Canal less than 25 miles south of the capital. There, armed bandits seized the silver and his luggage, silks, and travel money. Shi’s fate was not an isolated incident. Officials from the southern provinces of...

  7. 4 The Management of Violence
    (pp. 69-98)

    Besides yin and yang, male and female, inner and outer, China and the barbarians, another binary pair frequently appeared in imperial records and private writings of the late imperial period:wenandwu.Wenconnotes culture, letters, education, and civil order;wurefers to the military and the martial. As with many other pairs of complementary opposites, both aspects were essential, but one was generally ascendant. From the tenth to nineteenth centuries,wenand its ancillary cluster of connotative attributes generally enjoyed far greater prestige and power than didwuand its attributes. This relationship is encapsulated in the phrase...

  8. 5 Men of Force and the Son of Heaven
    (pp. 99-120)

    Such labels as “bandit” and “man of force” were products of social negotiation in at least two senses. First, societies—or, more accurately, ruling elites—define the formal parameters of criminal behavior, through the creation of official law codes. Ever-shifting considerations of private profit, personal prestige, local security, official duties, and political expediency, however, deeply influenced how and when such categories were applied, which then determined whether men like Zhang Mao, the Liu brothers, and Tiger Yang were perceived as unfettered heroes, valued members of the local constabulary, grasping bandits, or defiant rebels. The same behavior—intimidation, physical violence, and...

  9. 6 From Banditry to Rebellion and Back Again
    (pp. 121-162)

    Flamed by the winds of latent discontent, widespread drought, military incompetence, and government hesitancy, the small sporadic sparks of armed conflict grew into a mighty conflagration, spreading from Beijing in the north to the Yangzi River in the south, from the Pacific Ocean in the east to the Taihang Mountains in the west.¹ In the process, the 1510 Rebellion deeply affected the lives of tens of thousands of people, tested the resources and ability of the court, and influenced perceptions of Chinese strength throughout East Asia. What had begun as a relatively common event—rivalry among palace eunuchs and dislocation...

  10. 7 Conclusion: Implications for the Study of Late Imperial China
    (pp. 163-172)

    Inseparably tied to the area’s demography, military institutions, economic structures, ethnic composition, and political dynamics, illicit violence constituted an integral element of the capital region’s social order during the middle Ming period. Given that violent crimes like banditry and highway robbery posed perennial problems in the heart of the Ming empire even during a time of relative peace and prosperity, violence and crime probably loomed more prevalent in late imperial China than many of us may have assumed. This realization has several consequences for our understanding of the period in general.

    Before considering the implications of this study for late...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 173-240)
  12. Character Glossary
    (pp. 241-246)
  13. References
    (pp. 247-278)
  14. Index
    (pp. 279-284)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 285-286)