Chinese Expansion and Withdrawal

China - The Ming Dynasty – 1400 > 1600


            While the Near East and India were adjusting to the rule of the Muslim nomads, Europe was pulling itself into a new age of exploration and self-discovery, and the Americas were surviving the onslaught of the trans-Atlantic forces, over in the East, the civilizations of Japan and China were trying to maintain their traditional roots while surviving internal disorder and threats from beyond the horizon.

            Like the rest of Eurasia, the prospect of Chinese autonomy ended when the Mongol hordes took control, spreading their empire from the Pacific Ocean to the borders of central Europe.  During their nearly century-long reign, the Mongols upended society by devaluing the age-old superiority of the Mandarin bureaucrats, replacing Confucian order with arbitrary violence and inconsistent law enforcement.  The Mongol lords then connected China to a transcontinental trade network that left the previously isolated peoples open to the wandering eyes of traders and missionaries from the West.

            As the Mongol control over their vast empire dissipated, chaos and famine ruled in the countryside.  For one young boy, Hongwu, the despair of the later Mongol years hit just a little too close to home. His parents were homeless, they sold his siblings just to survive and just when Hongwu reached adolescence and thought life couldn’t get any worse, his parents died, leaving him to roam the countryside looking for scraps.  And where did a young boy with no hope turn in times of misery?  The monastery.  He joined a Buddhist monastery, but even they lacked the resources to feed and shelter him, so he again went on the road, living off the hit and miss kindness of strangers.  Exhausted by the futility of this existence, Hongwu finally joined the army.  Here he showed a knack for killing people and leading others in battle. Hongwu turned his little band of brothers against the Mongol invaders, conquering village after village, eventually gaining enough strength to kick out the last of the Mongol rulers.  It wasn’t that hard to gain support for his little venture, as year after year the mounting droughts, famines and floods intimated the Mandate of Heaven was lost and another dynasty needed to fall. 

            With the barbarian invaders finally expelled, Hongwu established the Ming Dynasty and vowed to fix every ill that vexed his childhood, bringing back the romanticized order from dynasties past. 

            Task #1 – Help out the poor.  China had millions of acres of unfarmed land, so Hongwu declared that whoever cultivated these new fields wouldn’t have to pay taxes.  He helped bring water to these vast, arid regions by ordering the construction of dams, dikes and levees.   These choices seemed noble at the time, but with a few decades, most of these lands were merely snatched up by rich landlords, not the poor for which they were intended.  Hongwu believed he could reduce taxes if he cut off a chunk of money normally used to house, feed and arm the military.  Instead, he would give every soldier a parcel of land.  These soldiers would hypothetically use this land to feed their families, purchase their needed weapons and pay for the training necessary to perform in combat.   This idea worked in theory, but...