Manchu Conquest of China 2 清明決戦

For the millions of the native Han population, they would tell a drastically different story of the Manchu conquest of China. It would be one of the coming of strangers, and an echo of a nightmare they thought they once averted, they would again have to endure their ancestor's shames for another unknown eternity.

To many native Chinese of the 17th century the Manchus came as barbarian invaders. To the average subject of the empire, all they could make out was that a people on the boarders of their empire who had previously served as good mercenaries and vassals had rebelled in full force. Their own generals in the north had opened the mountain pass to the invaders and has thrown their weight behind the foreigners.

Twenty years and 30 million death (nearly half of Western Europe combined at that time, also greater than the whole of 17th century Africa) later, all of China would belong to the Manchu conquerors. The native's own dynasty, the Ming had fallen, and the Manchus had set up their own Chinese styled "Qing" dynasty. All men from nobles to subjects would be forced to wear the Manchu "ques," or ponytails as a sign or their subjugation. To the Chinese of this time all of this had seemed to be a dark echo from an earlier age, the memory of their own humiliation and subjugation at the hands of the Mongols was still bitterly echoed in their minds. Three century of security and sovereignty was over.

But for a while, the Ming did stood and resist the great horde. Even though the dynasty was financially broken, internally rife with court intrigue and great peasant rebellions, effective leadership of generals and the advantage of gunpowder held the invaders at bay. For 20 years since Nurhaci launched his campaign to subjugate all of China, the Manchu were held at the border by a shoe string army.

While the endless rebellions pockmarked the empire, the Ming was still able to field a relatively effective army with trained generals. Even after the Ming collapsed in 1644, a Ming loyalist general, Zheng Chenggong (or Koxinga as known in the west) would defeat a contemporary Dutch garrison armed with 17th century muskets and cannons and take Taiwan for his own and create an empire of renegade pirates

It was when Nurhaci's 50,000 army obliterated all of China's northern defenses that history remembered the name Yuan Chonghuan.

I think much of the world's history neglected this studious, Portuguese speaking gentleman who died a traitor's death in a thousand cuts at the hands of the very people he loyally protected. I think much of his story resonated of a Flavius Aetius, who confronted the Huns, with a dash of flavor of a Scipiio Africanus.

Yuan was curious, he grew up near bright haired and bright eyed foriegners in Guangdong, (Canton, or where Hong Kong is today in southern China) the usual port of call for nearly all sea-borne foreigners in China. Yuan grew up playing and speaking liberally with the Spanish, the Portuguese, and the Dutch and learned much of their culture, of Christianity, and most importantly, the effective way of using "barbarian cannons."

He tried many times to apply himself as a scholar- official by taking the Imperial Exams but was rejected on a number of occasions. Having failed to attain a scholarly title, he satisfied himself with learning military arts, disassembling and modifying European cannons.

It was during this time the Ming traitors opened up the pass allowing Nurhaci and his great host to penetrate into northern China, also around the time when the Ming imperial army was utterly destroyed by Nurhaci in the disastrous Battle of Sarhu,

Various artillery of the late Ming and (mostly) early Qing dynasty. Most are small and portable pieces augmented for fast reload and fast firing.

Yuan, at the time of the disaster only a minor magistrate of a county, toured the collapsing front and was quickly promoted to a second ranked secretary in the Ministry of War, and then almost instantly was raised to the full position of secretary and empowered with funds and privilege to raise his own soldiers. His rapid promotion was notable in that he had little to nearly no military training before and was only acquainted with the scholarly Confucian Classics for the Imperial Exam. For two years he drilled his army at Ningyuan Pass, working harmoniously with fellow commanders, but when the court ordered a general withdraw from the front and replaced several of his comrade commanders, he refused to leave.

Seeing the massive pullout along his entire border, Nurhaci crossed the Liao River in the early spring of next year with some 140,000 bannermen and found the whole front deserted, save the small fort city that had no more than 9,000 militias standing in his way. Like many Ming generals he bribed, Nurhaci sent a letter with a bribe encased within, his reply was an essay written entirely with Yuan's own blood rebuffing any of such talk.

Impressed, Nurhaci nonetheless attacked with his full force 20 days later, but what they found was a wall ringed with European cannons, behind the greater ones that outranged anything he had, there were also smaller guns, swirvel guns and wall guns mounted on tripods that overlapped each other. It was the ideal terrain for a defense centric commander, and Nurhaci have nothing that could counter such threat. Each step the Manchu advances would be met with another series of ranged weapons, worse yet, Yuan had scorched all the neighboring lands, stockpiling the fort with all the provisions so there was nothing left for the besiegers.

Hordes and hordes of Manchu warriors dismounted and assaulted the tall walls, and hordes and hordes were cut down by the overlapping fire. Not even their camps dugged in the distance was safe from the fire from the great European fires.

The Manchus tried to shield their assault with mobile wooden pavises on wagon wheels, they even deployed metalic ladder shields to protect the ascending soldiers on scaling ladders but these bore little protection against the city's fire power.

Thousands of Manchu soldiery was cut down including their great Khan. Nurhaci was either shot while he commanded from his mare or grazed by a cannon blast while he was touring the trenches. Bleeding and severely wounded he was carried off the field, his army quickly followed suit in full retreat.

Nurhaci would die two days later near Mukden from his wounds. Thus a meteoric career marked by mastery of statecraft and a slew of miraculous victories against series of numerically superior foes would end anticlimactically facing against a foe of armed peasants no more than a tenth of his army. This was to be his first and final defeat.

Following Nurhaci's death, his eighth son, Lord Hong Taiji succeeded him as the Khan of the Manchu nation. Yuan, meanwhile, took to the offensive and reconquered key Ming strongholds in the lost lands, strengthening a series of forts along the Manchu invasion path the same manner as Ningyuan. A year passes after the debacle, and Hong Taiji tried his chance against Yuan at Ningyuan with another army, this time numbering nearly 200,000 and equipped with much more siege weapons. This army, although numbered nearly half time as much as his father's with the impressed soldiery from the recently subdued Korean kingdom was also destroyed by Yuan's garrison. Yuan was able to effectively secure all of North China and bolster it into a staging point for counter-offensives into the heart of Manchuria.

Unable to defeat Yuan on the field (in fact the Manchus would never defeat the garrison in battle in the next 20 years) Hong Taiji resorted to intrigue to plot the downfall of his nemesis.

In 1627, a 16 year old Emperor ascended the Ming throne. The Chongzhen Emperor was an extremely idealistic and ambitious emperor who launched a serious of reforms aimed at destroying corruption and root out treacherous ministers, but he was also extremely paranoid. Initially he trusted Yuan's successive victories, and sent much aid in securing the north. However by 1629, the jealous eunuchs at court have smeared his name enough in the emperor's ears to make him suspicious of the ever victorious general.

Hong Taiji noted this distrust, and fed on the opportunity. In one of his ambushes he captured a high ranking Ming general, and during the man's imprisonment, Hong ordered the jailers to talk about Yuan as if he has been instrumental in feeding Ming troop movements to the Manchus, saying that he was ambitious to create his own principality, and would defect to the Manchus anytime in the near future. Then, Hong created situations where the general would escape from his captivity and return to the Imperial court to "warn" of Yuan's treachery.

That winter, the Manchus circumvented Yuan's entire north and breached the Great Wall the west of Shanghai pass. Diving radically down toward the Ming imperial capital. When Yuan heard of this sudden maneuver, he raced from Ningyuan with a harden core of elite soldiers, reaching Beijing days before the Manchu attack and routed an army numbering over 100,000 barely outside the city's walls, but failed to destroy the Manchu army. Though he foiled the surprised invasion, when Yuan entered the imperial capital the whole court was against him. During an audience with the emperor he was arrested, many eunuchs accused him of corruption and many even labeled him with collaborating with then enemy.

Despite almost no evidence against him, Yuan was sentenced to death by a thousand cuts. He would be cut up in public before nearly a million accusing eyes, and then he would have all his titles posthumously stripped. When he was asked his last words, he uttered the poem:


"A life's work always ends up in vain; half of my career seems to be in dreams. I do not worry about lacking brave warriors after my death, for my loyal spirit will continue to guard Liaodong."

It seemed that Yuan had knew the portent of the great despair to come, the coming of strangers, the thirty million screams of his dying countrymen, and the fate of his people, moving from foreign oppression to existential crisis for untold centuries to come.

It took the great general half a day to die from his wounds, until in the end, the headsman struck off his head.

A loyal retainer stole the head from the flagpole and buried it outside Beijing's margins (risking his entire family's fate). The soldier's family, his children would live there for the next 400 years, their houses would be grafted around that humble mound for 17 generations as the world changed and changed again. As China moved from suspicion of their Manchu overlords to embracing them, to the coming of strangers with prismatic eyes and hairs from beyond the seas, to national humiliation under them, to the overthrow of the Manchus, the establishment of the Republic, to the Warlords, Nationalists, and Communists, from the paranoid purges of Mao's 50s to the iconoclastic Cultural Revolution of the 60s and the 70s. The soldier's clan remained beside the mound, until finally in 2010, the site was converted into a national monument.


Jayson Ng said…
You stopped updating. I like the artwork.
Chaoticawesome1 said…
Thanks! I should really get back to it have I? Thought no one read those pieces, but apparently there are peeps interested!
Dmitry said…
First I wanted to say that your blog is awesome! I have devoured all of its articles in a single day. You Sir are a master in telling fascinating historical narratives in a captivating way. I am a history PhD student in Germany and I wish I could write as well! It’s sad that this blog seems so unvisited since Chinese history is extremely interesting and especially in our days Westerners and the world at large would do good in learning more about it.

I wanted to ask if I may ask some questions.

You write that the Manchu killed 30 million Han. Now I do often read similar numbers for their conquest (more often tough it’s 25 million).

Now does this number mean the people killed by Manchu and Manchu controlled Han forces? Or people who died during the conquest from all causes including famine and illness? After all it was the little Ice age and there would have been a population drop regardless of Does it include the violence caused by rebels like Zhang Xianzhong who killed lots of people as well?

Now I doubt that 30 Million is merely the overall population Drop since we just do not know how large the Ming population even was at the time of the Qing conquest.

Its peak is estimated to be between 160 and 200 Million but I wouldn’t be surprised if by 1644 the numbers would have already decreased from peak level (maybe by as much as 20 million?). Now what date should we take as signifying the end of the conquest? 1660? 1683? Now the population at that period is estimated to have been anywhere between 60 and 100 million. Thus the conquest might have led to a drop anywhere between 40 and 140 million (!!!) The second number would make the Manchu the greatest mass murderers in human history, surpassing even the Mongols! Do you have any numbers on Qing massacres in China? Did the Manchu and their Han puppets carry out systematic mass slaughter to subdue regions? As for the Ming population Kent Deng has some numbers in his "Creative Destruction
Chinese GDP per capita from the Han Dynasty to Modern Times". Only 3 population speculations are from after 2000, 2 of them Argue for a high peak Ming population by 1600-1630 (190-200 million), but one of them also states that it had dropped from 192 to 152 between 1630 and 1644.
Old Beast said…
Sir, it's scholars like you that I write my blog for~ let the curious, the thirsty ones come, and tell them of it!

Speaking of Germany, I have to say that German history is my favorite of European histories~ specially the history of the Holy Roman Empire. I just see too many parallels in its form compared to the modern European Union (the Electors are like the big G8 nations) and the cultural clash of the Protestants and the Catholics almost mirrored that of the cultural wars today between the far left and the far right~ and Brexit, Nexit, and other actions mirrored to that of Bohemia's Secession under Frederick V.

I feel the west (and especially America) just does not know that Germany had such strong tradition of regional representative government (like Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth)~ as opposed to the extremely ignorant post 19th century narrative that Germany was somehow a monolithic war-hungry nation of "monsters." Germany rose due to lack of unity, French aggression, and due to its insecurity to prove itself as a Great Power, due to the demonization of England and (especially) France. Long winded comment aside, I think I would like to visit the MittelRhein someday- I'm actually writing an adaptation of the "Water Margin" set in the Thirty Years War at the moment.
Old Beast said…
As for the statistics which I have listed, yes, it includes slaughters and deaths caused not directly by Manchu slaughter but are still associated with it. It was an endless anarchy all around in southern China at the time.

You see, despite the swift Manchu victory in taking Beijing and northern Ming, when they reached the south, they met heavy entrenched resistance from Ming loyalists. Since the Ming royal family still lived, there were always "Southern Ming" Emperors~ like in the case of the Southern Song. So in order for the Manchus to finalize their rule over all of China they had to destroy Ming remnants repeatedly along new defensive lines.

In most of the Ming cities on China's east coast of Jiangsu, Fujian and and in the mountains of Guangxi, Hunan, and Yunnan areas in SW China, most still stubbornly defied Manchu aggression and submitted to Southern Ming. Worse yet, because of the incompetence of the Ming in its last years, there were many peasant rebellions in the area for more than a decade. Generally, in southern China it was anarchy and chaos, where many factions killed each other. Rebels killed Ming remnants, while Ming remnants repressed the mob of rebels, while defending themselves against the Qing columns.

Many former Ming armies surrendered and joined the Qing Banner army. In 1647, one former rebel- turned Ming general- turned Qing general: Li Chengdong would take the large southern city of Canton (Guangzhou) killing Southern Ming (remnant) emperor. In fact, many times, especially in Guangxi and Yunnan, the rebels would have killed so much of locals that many simply surrounded to the Qing when they appeared. The Qing would then impress those who surrendeed to them and use them to slaughtered the rebels.

At one time in 1650 to 1659, Portugese Macau and even the Pope thought of sending relief and intervene on the Ming court's side against the Qing- Macau sent over 300 arquebusiers and slaves to shore up Ming loyalists. In fact, half of the Ming royal family that survived Beijing in 1644 eventually converted to Catholicism, including the new Emperor's mother and sister. John IV of Portugal promised aid- so did the Pope. But upon return to Asia, Portuguese officials decide to ignore king's letter in the interest of trade.

When the Ming lost most of the South, and the rest of the royal family fled to Burma in 1659, they were handed back to the Qing by the Burmese King to be killed. Even then the chaos did not end.

In 1662, Koxinga, or Zheng Chengong, a Ming loyalist pirate attacked the Dutch with his massive fleet of hundreds of ships and took Taiwan for his own as a rebel island fortress, which defied the Manchus for 20 years.


Even when the Qing subdued most of the Southern China in a nominal fashion. Initially it was still a very light hold. Of the many Ming generals (like Wu Sangui and Geng Jingzhong who turned traitor and bent their knees to the Qing had huge armies that were solely loyal to them composed of former Ming royal soldiers and former rebels. They revolted against the Qing and all of them had to be crushed in huge numbers by the Qing.

Ultimately, after 1644, it took nearly 40 whole years to completely crush the Ming and during each decade the slaughter never stopped. However, history does lent an interesting closure to all of these "loose strings." The great Qing Emperor Kangxi eventually crushed all of the Ming rebels and truly made Qing the indisputed master of all of the Sinosphers by 1700.
Dmitry said…
Thank you very much for your answer!

I must say that I am flattered by your interest in German history. And the comparison to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth is a fitting one. It was the lack of central absolutist power and elite identity like it existed in France or England (which lacked a strong state but still had a nationally conscious elite, mostly forged together by the hundred years war.) that led to the drifting apart of the Holy Roman Empire and the disaster that was the thirty years war. Of course climatic reasons did play a role in why the 17th century turned out to be a century of such massive suffering for most of the civilized world. After all what else would unite China (collapse of the Ming, Qing conquest), Europe (Religious wars, rebellions, time of troubles in Russia, devastating war in Poland 1648-1667 that almost lead to the fall of that country and took away its great power status in the favor of Russia.). Even the Ottoman Empire was torn apart by the "Sultanate of women" and unable to exploit the European chaos.

The comparison between the current European situation and the events that led to the 30 years’ war is an interesting one. One tough that I hope proves to be wrong.....

I haven’t read the "Water Margin" yet, although I do plan to. May I inquire about the details? At first glance the plot of the "Water Margin", that of men for one reason or another finding themselves on the other side of the law and establishing their own order, is hard to find parallels to in Germany of that time (although one could find parallels in Poland, Russia or even France).

I hope you come around to visit Germany, history is at every corner here, even though so much was destroyed during WW2. I hope to visit China somedays myself. A friend of mine is currently teaching English in Lin’an. It was when I tried to help her with knowledge of the history of the civilization she was dwelling in that I got interested in Chinese history in general and the Song dynasty in particular (As a half Russian (even one living in Germany almost all of his life), I thought I had enough reasons to "dislike" the Mongols, now I am starting to believe that they might have set back human progress by centuries trough the destruction of the Song and forced China down a path is has started to leave not that long ago. All in all, the warlords that have emerged out of the Eurasian steppe put all the totalitarian tyrants of the 20th century to shame when it comes to sheer brutality and destructiveness. No one of them came even close to killing 10% of mankind.

As for the Qing conquest. Would you say tough that the Manchu and their brutality was the cause of a majority f these deaths? Would there have been so many peasant revolts in the late Ming had the Manchu not pressured them from the north, forcing them to raise taxes? Would the death toll have been smaller if not for the invasion from the north? And if yes then by how much? I only ever hear of the Yangzhou massacre (with some disputing the numbers of 800 000). Are any other largescale depopulations caused by Qing troops known?

And yes I did hear about the Christian southern Ming. Actually I even heard that the Chongzen emperor did convert at one time but kept it hidden from most of his subjects. It does seem that the Ming and much of the intellectual elite of their time were quiet open to the west. Now a China that would have gone "full Peter the great" would have probably come to dominate the world rather quickly so us Europeans might have to say a "thank you" to the Manchu for preventing it (at least we got 2 centuries of absolute supremacy).
Dmitry said…
I wanted to ask you how large you see the chance of the late Ming, if surviving taking a route towards westernization. After all they were far more open towards western military or even shipbuilding technology then the Qing were, who’s army in the first Opium war barely had firearms at all (and the canons that were around were often made out of bamboo), making many British officers ask themselves how this could be the "country that invented gunpowder". Did the Qing due to their character as a conquest dynasty have to take special care of not going against neoconfucian orthodoxy? The "Chinese rites controversy" did certainly contribute a lot. Still there were always Jesuites in China and the Qing emperors were well informed about the avalanche of scientific, military and technological progress that was happening in the west in the 18th-19th centuries, they could observe how a joint stock company with a handful of mercs, took over all of India! And still they did nothing. Just as they did nothing about the rampant population growth that started under the late Ming due to the introduction on new world plants. To me it seems that the Taiping rebellion was a preordained event, which had little to do with the defeat in the first Opium war but rather would have occurred anyway due to the impoverishment the Chinese population was going through at that time. It also does seem to me that without western support the Qing would have fallen.

Thank you again for your answer!

Dmitry said…
Also I wanted to ask if in your opinion had Wu Sangui not died he would have been able to at least carve out his own realm in southern China?

A divided China, in a state of conflict might have been forced to adapt Western technology rather early. The Qing did remove most of the old steppe enemy, the Mongols (partly because the Mongols martial barbarism was itself weakened by the adaptation of Buddhism), while the Russians took care of the rest and there were no other enemies left.

I did for instance read about the theory that part of the explanation for the comercialism, opennes and high economic development of the Song lay in the fact that they had to compete with 2 semisinified barbarian empires
Old Beast said…
That is an interesting answer~ one in which I have often contemplated. Simply because a desperate nation that is failing and looking for new solutions and new allies are much more likely to adopt new foriegn beliefs and foriegn answers (just look at how Buddhism spread throughout China during the Chaos between the Han and Sui dynasties or how the Portugese influenced Japan during their Warring States.)

I'd bet the Ming would be more open as opposed to the Qing~ think about it, as an ursusping ethnic minority that suddenly conquered a giant nation of disgruntled (and rebellious) Han, they would not want the Han to get their hands on Western cannons and fire arms, or have independent contact with the west.

As a power that want to brand themselves as protectors of traditional Chinese values that honors Chinese ancestors and Confucian traditions, they have no interest to see Christianity (which deemed traditional Chinese ancestral veneration) as pagan and must cast aside. They already are having a hard time ruling the Han with an iron fist, (they even tried to make Han women not bind their feet but gave up) if you insult their culture and try to break their 2000 year old traditions apart as foriegn overlords, you are going to see giant rebellions. As you mentioned before, the Taiping rebellion seemed to be a pre-ordained event. It's true. The Qing had several good emperors, but to the Han citizendry, who had to wear the pigtal que haircut in submission and defeat, all they needed was a reason to overthrow their foriegn overlords (after all the Bannerman clans~ all the Manchu warrior clans) do not have to pay taxes and are largely kept in the military elite~ it's almost exactly the same frustration the French peasants felt about the First and Second Estate before the French Revolution.

Most of all you mentioned the 18th and 19th century. Well, think about this~ by the beginning of the 20th century, many of the Han who had journeyed to the west, be they characters like Sun Yatsen and the Soong Family who did business in Hawaii, or many Chinese students in Japan. were advocating for a new form of government~ Republicanism, and the democratic process.

Now think from the perspective of the Manchus~ who were no more than 10% of the population. To have democracy in their land equals the end of them by popular consent. No way are they going to allow that, their privileged, but mostly their legitamacy as the head of many vassal ethnic groups is solely rested in the Monarchist model. It's the same condition as the Habsburgs of Austro- Hungary.
Old Beast said…
As to IF the Ming would consider fully converting.

After sometime thinking about it I'll say~ maybe, maybe if they somehow reclaimed their lands. During their fall the influence of western technology and western allies was everywhere.

In this article you see examples like Yuan Chonghan using western cannons to a great and devastating effect. By the end of the dynasty the Ming also adopted western muskets to a large degree, (mostly breech loading swivel cannons with mug reloading chambers) So from a technological perspective, it would seem that western tech had become the saving grace of the empire.

Now to a cultural perspective. Did you know that many of the Ming royal family~ after the death of the last Ming Emperor, had converted to Catholicism?

"Before the fall of Canton, Southern Ming court had send Italian Jesuit missionary Francesco Sambiasi and Chinese convert and court eunuch Pang Tianshou 庞天寿 (Baptized name: Achilles ) to Portugese enclave of Macau seeking help.

Francesco and Achilles were able to persuade Portuguese to send 300 arquebusiers + 5 artillery pieces under the command of Nicolas Ferreyra. 25 year old Nicolas Ferreyra was born of Chinese Catholic parents on Macau. Ming Prince Youlang was made emperor Yongli at city of Guilin. Portuguese forces from Macau were placed under the immediate command of Chinese Christian general Jiao Lian 焦琏 (Baptized name: Lucas) and his Christian commander Ch'u Shih-Ssu (瞿式耜).

Soon city of Guilin came under siege of former rebel turned Ming general turned Qing general Li Chengdong. Li has a ruthless reputation for massacring Yangtze Delta town of Jiading 3 times for resisiting Qing rule. Ch'u Shih-Ssu put the 300 Portuguese arquebusiers and artillery men to effective use in defense of Guilin, soundly defeated Li's Qing army.
Jesuit Priest Andreas Wolfgang Koffler that accompanied Portuguese arquebusiers from Macau were able to capitalize this victory and convert Ming royal family. Empress Dowager and Empress were Christened Maria and Helen respectively. Crown Prince were baptized as Constantine. Yongli emperor himself didn't want to give up the polygamy lifestyle, did not convert." The Ming royal family was eventually captured by the Burmese army as they tried to escape through Burma and handed back to the Qing, where the last self proclaimed South Ming emperor was executed.

Reading that~ If anything, they were on their last straws and would gamble with change in order to turn their fortune around.

If the Southern Ming remnants were able to repel the Manchus from the Ming heartland and regain their realm, they may not be guarenteed to have embrace the west or western schooling or Christianity. However~ they will certainly remember their friends and the technology that saved their lives. I have a feeling whatever the senario, if the Ming won through the help of westerners, the West may definitely have a much bigger influence in China for the next 400 years. At least it would reverse the isolation of the Ming.
Old Beast said…
I would highly doubt that. And I would rest my answer solely in one element~ Timing.

Wu eventually did rebel against the newly enthroned Kangxi Emperor, which prompted Kangxi to crush him with everything the Manchus had. I would argue by then it was too late.

Wu had foolishly believed that by bending his knee and secretly gathering up a large private army he was going to eventually emerge on top. But he failed to realize that by the time he faced Kangxi- Kangxi had inherited a realm that was pacified in three directions except with Taiwan. Kangxi saw through him as a direct threat and quickly tried to strip his power away, which prompted the Revolt of the Three Feudatories. By then Kangxi was ready, and already gathered his armies to utterly crush Wu. It was a right move on Kangxi's part, all of the founding emperors of various dynasties of China would have agreed. Usually they first turn on their royal uncles and the old guard veteran generals. But in the case of Wu he was an untrustworthy traitor.
Old Beast said…
In regards to your points about the Mongols.

Yeah, you are not wrong. I'm sure many European historians marvels at their religious tolerance. But religious tolerance is nothing new to China~ or the Sinospher for thousands of years when compared globally to the 0-1900 A.D

All in all, while the revisionists fawn and marvel at the Mongols in apologetic, I must say as a net negative~ they made my people worse. The Ming were such authoritarian bastards because of the military rigidity and social rigidity of the Mongols~ for instance, Slavery, which was abolished in China since the Tang dynasty were reintroduced. Also a caste system of ethnic groups~ where the Mongols and steppe people ruled on top, Turks and Tibetans second, then Northern Chinese, finally Southern (most educated) of Chinese. And the last one cannot even hope to enter into office of military and government, and many were sold as indentured servants and slaves~ famines in the south kills millions regularly, all while the Khans sent most of the nation's wealth and men to endless (and pointless to the Chinese) steppe wars with their Mongol cousins. Imagine being tethered to that~ you mentioned you have Russian ancestry? Surely its similar to the Golden Horde~ I mean even relatively free Russian Princes like Alexander Nevsky still had to pay his Mongol overlords tributes right?

It is my belief that the Chinese became more brutish as a result of the Mongol occupation. Don't get me wrong, Chinese themselves have been both consistently authoritarian and supremely arrogant, but the Mongols did not help one bit at all.
Dmitry said…
About the Mongols. It is interesting how the Mongols who literally killed over half the people anywhere they invaded are praised for "being tolerant" to the wretched remnants that managed to survive.

For polytheists religious tolerance of a sort is indeed a relatively normal thing and a majority of Mongols outside of Mongolia proper did become Muslim within a century anyway.

Like most Steppe Empires they were unable to establish anything permanent and their empire soon broke into warring bits, who themselves soon broke into even more warring bits. Their wars depopulated the Middle East, Russia, China and India even more. Steppe Empires do seem to be highly unstable, mostly held together by very strong and charismatic leaders who can provide loot and victory.

As for Russia, their initial invasion was devastating. Completing the depopulation of the productive Dnieper basin black earth region and the driving of masses of Refugees north into the "Finnish forests", were principalities like Moscow would arise trough this stream and were the Nomads had a harder time reaching. Besides the tribute there were also regular raids on Russian land due to Mongol infighting or the need to keep the horde satisfied trough loot. With the exception of Novgorod and Pskov much of Russia was cut from the trade routes with western and central Europe...let alone the cultural degradation that slavish bowing to the horde created or the much crueller punishments of law its influence introduced to Russia (I think something similar happened to China as well). Mongol devastation did also lead to the Lithuanians taking control of the western principalities of the Rus, which would in turn lead to their separate development and the split into Russians, Ukrainians and Belarus as well as many wars after the Golden horde was no more. And let us not also forget the Tatar slave raids after that. Under Ottoman protection the Crimean Tatars did survive until the late 18th century and in that time managed to abduct and sell somewhere between 3 and 5 million people from Russia and Poland into slavery. Considering that the average population of these regions at that time was 20 million it was a substantial bloodletting.

As for China the Ming do indeed seem lightyears away from the Song. I mean, the difference in the abundance of Song inventions and a near lack thereof under the Ming. Or the Song emperors rule in accordance with a certain Mandarin consensus compared to the absolutism of the Ming and especially the Qing (Kowtowing did I think only appear in China with the Mongols?). All in all the differences are to striking to be ignored. Modern historians praises for the Mongols while at the same time demonization of "western imperialism" have probably more to do with ideology then serious scholarship.
Dmitry said…
What does often surprise me about modern scholarship and the "great divergence debate" is how the factor of invasions by warlike nomadic or seminomadic peoples is so often ignored or minimized.

Due to archaeology we now have a rather clear picture of how massively the fall of Rome did throw the west back. The postmodern ideas about some harmonious symbiosis created between Romans and Germanic, Slavic or Arab invaders has been proven wrong by the clear signs of decline in all measures of civilisation. Sometimes larger sometimes smaller, but nearly always present.

But after the fall of the Roman empire Western Europe was mostly free from barbarian invaders. The Magyars and Vikings being converted to Christianity and assimilated into an agricultural lifestyle. Border areas like the Balkans, Russia, Poland or Hungary were certainly devastated again and again but it was not in these areas that the sophisticated economy, science and technology of the West did arise.

China on the other hand had to endure several "fall of Rome" like events. Considering the devastation of one such event on Europe I would say that this factor is probably the most important one in explaining why the west did manage to get ahead after 1500. Probably a more important one then for instance the difference between core philosophical doctrine or attitude towards trade and merchants.

If this is true then the neglect of the military that seems to be partially ingrained in Confucian ideology would have played a key role in the process since it Prevented China from successfully defending itself against the threat from the steppes.
Old Beast said…
Well we have to also keep in mind, the history that we are talking of (at least the tradition of it) is largely from a western European and English POV. I mean we are speaking a common English language are we not?

I have to mention that W Europe is rather...(I hate this word because its so subjective but I think it fits on a sentimental level) "Privileged" of having other people as shields against the relentless tide of steppe invaders. I have always felt the W Europeans were a bunch of naive cloistered ivory tower scholars and overtly trusting ladies, who simply~ through distance, and fantasy borne of such great distances began to regard beings of horror and mortal threat as~ (Mongols) "Great Multicultural Conquers!" (as if someone wising to position themselves as the capstone of a racial pyramid over hundreds of races and kingdoms is not about forcefully abducting multiple ethnicities~ slavery bad for west, grand for Mongols!) or (Samurais) as "Extremely honorable peerless warriors" (as opposed to exoticized feudal strongmen = a bunch of mafia enforcers who'd easily betray their lord's house on the turning of a coin)

May I say that when Scottish people complains about the "extreme tyranny" of the British, and when I ask them why they say the British wouldn't lent them houses, barred them entrance to the power structure, and made them fight on many fronts, taxed them high or when the Finns hated the Swedish for having ruled Finland as a province for hundreds of years. Or when the Southerners in America complain that they had been "raped" by the Union and totally ruined by "Northern Agression" (on a war they started and was ultimately collectively pardoned for). And have those people in the same breath would fantasize about "the honorable samurai" or the "Great Mongol conquers" any Asian who's listening to them would probably give them the evil eye? Like~ fellows, your worst case scenario for your ancestor's suffering was still a drop in the bucket for us. At least Poland and Serbia gets what I am talking about~ they know what if felt like to be dismembered and occupied.

I mean look up all the wars Japan was involved in throughout its history, I would encourage you to find a single instance where a native Chinese polity invaded Japan in 3600 years of China's history. In both raids and invasions, Japan has been the instigators of invasions for over 5 times- uncalled for and done with total brutality. Same goes for the steppe people~ most of the way the dynamic went between a Chinese polity and a steppe polity has the steppe empires arcing down, and the Chinese sending retaliatory marches up north.
Old Beast said…
About the barbarian invasion into Europe in the so called "Dark Ages."

I'd almost say that Great Migration never stopped until the year 1000 with the conversion of the Magyars and the Christianization of Stephen I of Hungary. Even though documents were scarce, I believed invasions and forced migrations never stopped even after the fall of W Rome.

The Angles, Jutes, and many nordic ancestors invaded England repeatedly, the Asiatic Avars repeatedly tore through modern Hungary and slammed against the Frankish underbelly. Same goes for the Saxons and the Frisians, who raided the Frankish north constantly. Same goes for the many Slavic ancestors, the Obotrites, and the Lechs (Polish ancestors) caused a lot of problems on N Germany's frontiers. in the SE Sclavenians, Anteans repeatedly hammered the eastern lines of Europe. For western Europe, I'd say it's less that the tide stopped, but simply that the local "established" barbarian strongmen (converted to Christianity etc) like the Franks and Lombards simply were able to throw them back in an endless see-saw actions that when zoomed out looked like a consistent boarder. I think modern scholars don't think of these people much because a good number of them don't have a modern people to claim them as ancestors, nor nations that were survived in their image.

To the last point~ I think Western Europe was also saved by the Byzantine Empire as a southern defensive line. It is in my opinion that barbarians are always capable of contending (and repelling) other barbarians in small numbers. But the Byzantines held of~ organized Turkic (as in early Turks) Khaganates, Arab caliphates, and the Bulgars, these were truly organized and dangerous foes that would have no problem displacing much of the fragmented Europe.
Dmitry said…
In defence of Western Europeans I do have to say that the positive assessment of the Mongols is a fairly recent one. It began in Russian emigrant circles (so called "Eurasian movement"), it was one of them who wrote one of the first praising biographies of Dschingis khan, one that the SS leader Himmler loved and gave to all of his senior or close "officers" as a gift.

The new promongol historiography seems to be nourished by two sources. First comes a desire for iconoclasm. To show how "everyone before me got it all wrong but now finally I and I ALLONE am not plagued by prejudice racism/sexism/orientalism ect.ect" And the cultural leftist "social justice" ideology that is currently dominant in academia. Everyone who looks like an "underdog" is lifted up. This is also true for how various Germanic tribal principalities that divided the western roman empire got praised as multicultural harmonious paradises so much superior to the arrogant and "racist" roman rule.....Thankfully this tendency is currently in decline because Archaeology is very clear on the point that the ancients were right when they saw civilisation collapsing and darkness falling. This happened to the east later on. But slowly the invasions of Slavs, Avars and Muslim Arabs did finish it off, reducing a roman state to a Greek rump with an inferior level of development that survived via massive militarisation of society (theme order).

Historically steppe people have plagued western Europe rather rarely and in this I agree with you lies Western Europe’s main privilege and advantage compared to all other civilisations (Even by 1700 just about the entire noneuropean civilized world was ruled by Turkic, Mongol or Tungusic barbarians, with the only major exception being Japan, that interestingly managed to close its once massive gap in development to China in the 17-18th centuries see Table 6 of In cases they did appear on the wests doorsteps their ways of waging war and their entire culture did scare the Europeans to the bone. The Hunns did become a symbol of the worst possible savagery, so much so that European powers if waging wars against each other tended to call their enemies "Hunns" and their leaders "Attila" (See for instance how often booth Louis XIV and Napoleon were called this name. The Mongols didn’t get into western Europe but they depopulated the east so thoroughly that it had such a low population density it wasn’t really touched by the black death (which was another of the mogols "gifts") in the 14th century. Interestingly the USSR in WW2 was systematically portrayed as the new Mongol horde by the Nazis, Stalin as the new Dschingis khan. When addressing the Japanese the German ambassador to Tokyo even wrote in a proclamation that "We are together fighting the same enemy our ancestors fought without knowing of each other in the 13th century"...Now calling the Russians "Mongols" is probably the greatest insult one could throw at them. Considering that when the Mongols invaded the lands of the Rus (even tough constantly devastated by the Kumans from the "Wild field" (Russian name for the great Eurasian steppe) had a population between 8 and 10 million while 260 years later when Ivan III (the great) broke free and united the warring principalities the same lands (including the once under Polish-Lithuanian rule) had a mere 5-8 million people. Russia was only able to develop a large population and start catching up with the west, creating science and innovative art after the last nomad horde to its south, the Crimean Khanate was vanquished and the black earth lands north of the black sea could be colonized. Thus it is no surprise that the heroic warriors of the Russian peasant folktales like Ilia Murometz exclusively fight the Nomads from the Steppes and not for instance the Poles, the struggle against whom did concern the peasantry to a far lesser degree.

Dmitry said…
The German national epos is strongly fixed on the battles against the Magyars, compared to the Huns and Avars a rather weak Turkic tribe, the speakers of whaus language now have so strongly mixed with Slavs and Germans that DNA tests cant find Turkic traces in modern Hungary. Still despite their weakness they could rather easily defeat the clumsy forces of the Germanic semi civilized early feudal states, and the few victories achieved against them were the product of luck or Magyar overconfidence. still when they were finally defeated by Otto I (the great) it did mark the beginning of Europa’s recovery. While the English national epos is strongly focused on fighting back the Vikings, the Germans, while also raided from the north, did always consider the Magyars to be the stronger and more dangerous enemy, an enemy who did even more damage then the wild Vikings. One just has to remember Wagners Opera "Lohengrin", in which heavenly forces of the order of the Grail send a holy knight to the aid of the "first German king" Heinrich der Vogler to fight the Magyars.

In this list the Awars are strangely absent. I think this has to do with the fact that at their prime they primary raided the Balkans and while freely raiding the Frankish kingdom and smaller Germanic entities, the Germanics back then went much into writing. The eastern Roman Empire was a much richer and more inviting target. And while the Awars were weaker than the Huns, they wernt much weaker. Emperor Maurice’s systematic campaign that shattered their mighty empire was a masterwork of organisation and strategy of a sort that in my eyes surpasses even Ceasers conquest of Gaul. Despite his murder by his own soldiers the Awar Empire was broken and reduced to the status of a regional band of plunderers in the Panonian plain like the Magyars later would become. This is also why after Maurices death the colonisation of the Balkans by Slavs did mostly occur by independent Slavic tribes. Was he not assassinated I might very well imagine that the Empire might have weathered the storm and started a new campaign to reconquer the west. In such a case Europa’s history might have very well taken a “Chinese” turn of one unified empire that held most of the members of one cultural circle in political unity.
While weaker than the Turkic Khaganate or the Xiongnu confederation of Han Wudis time, it was the strongest steppe adversary the west would face for a long time. As you rightly said, Barbarians usually stick to tradition in warfare, not aproaching it like a science. Meanwhile civilized states like Rome or China were able to adapt to new threats by changing ways of warfare. Thus European early and even mid feudal cavalry was handicapped against steppe adversaries and Maurices victories against the Awars were indeed central for Europe’s future.
Dmitry said…
When in the 11th century the invasions of steppe peoples and Vikings mostly stopped, the West did experience a great revival. Population grew massively as did cities or book production
Now much of it had to do with the introduction of paper that the Muslims took away from the Tang. Still the first paper mills appear in Europe only in the very late 12th century while the revival can be seen starting earlier. Some historians attribute it all to 3 field crop rotation without being able to explain why a technology that developed in the 9th century only started to bear fruits in the 12th.....

Also I do agree that the Byzantine Theme state did absorb a majority of the force of the early Muslim Kalifate, a force that could have probably conquered much of Europe otherwise. Barbarian societies are usually at their weakest when they start their first steps towards civilisation. Usually warlike barbarians like for instance the Germanics or the Celts of Brennus times let alone Steppe nomads live for war. If they practice agriculture its of the small scale slash and burn kind. Violence is norm, the weak are culled and men spend a large part of their time fighting, training for war or hunting. Its entire social structure is organically oriented for war and requires no stimulation or interference to produce masses of ready warriors. But when such a people starts farming their society is confronted with challenges it didn’t previously experience. Men become focused on farming and the noble class starts to discourage violent behaviour to keep peace and order to keep productivity high. Still such societies often can’t plan ahead social organisation and still rely on just calling men into war...Only to see that their warriors run in all directions if faced with a formidable enemy. It was in such a transition phase that Caesar conquered Gaul and this is the main reason why he took it over so easily (which he himself actually admits)....Actually when he got the Proconsulate in the southern strip that the Romans already controlled, Germanic tribes were already invading Gaul, rather easily beating and conquering the Celts, making a roman takeover a strategic necessity to not have the likes of the Teutons and Kimbers, who not that long ago almost destroyed the republic as direct neighbours to Italy. Sooner or later a warrior noble class arises. Making the armies of Western Europe of 1200 much smaller than the hordes the Germanics once fielded...despite the former having several times the population of the later.....
Dmitry said…
While warfare between European states was certainly harmful to economy and population (even in the gallant 18th century of cabinets wars), it was only truly devastating in the 17th century of mercenary armies and religious wars. And even here it was primary Germany that suffered large scale depopulation. Still this kind of warfare did shock Europe quite a bit and led to large scale changes in the ethics and rules of warfare. Eastern Europe did have to endure depopulating wars far more often, let allone China or India. As for the Middle east, between the Roman peak and 1800 it actually declined in population while the rest of Eurasia grew. Arabs, Turks, Mongols, other Turks, Pashtuns, Tatars, etc., ect,ect…..

As for Japan there was indeed a certain fascination for it in the late 19th and early 20th century among many Europeans. Here was a society that was clearly civilized but whaus moral system did seem in some ways admirable but in many other was horrifying. Still the Meiji oligarchy did try hard to appear western and the Brutality of the Japanese of this era was still rather mild compared to what happened when various captains who got too much victory to early in the Russo Japanese war took over the place and started to restore "national traditions". In the Russo-Japanese war the Japanese did behave rather civilized and very different from the 1930s-1940s when the horrors the Japanese unleashed on Asia surpassed what any European power did there a century earlier in brutality by an order of magnitude. What does indeed surprise me is how compared to the Germans the Japanese did manage to get out of the war with a clean reputation in the west. Which is probably due to a combination of not carrying about peoples different to oneself and leftist attitudes of "only the White men can do evil".

Now I do have a question about Japan tough. Now I know rather little about Japanese and Chinese history but when I read about Japanese history and the History of the Chinese Tang dynasty I couldn’t shake off the thought that the Japanese were not only more influenced by Tang China then by any other Chinese dynasty but that in a way Japans future history could be seen as a "how the Tang would have developed had there never been a crackdown of Buddhism in the late Tang or the Song reduction of the hereditary nobility and creation of the bureaucratic state of scholar officials."
Dmitry said…
It’s not only that Japanese clothing, architecture and even sitting habits are far more closer to the Tang even at 1800 then all these things in China itself but the central role of Zen Buddhism, a specifically Chinese form of Buddhism, the powerful role of the Monasteries, the high position of all things military and the slow disintegration of the central imperial state and its replacement by a hereditary military nobility seems something that did find its accomplishment in Japan but which was stopped in China trough reconstruction and reforms. Granted, the Tang were at first not exactly isolationist, but they were well on their way to it in their later period. Now the comparison is far from perfect but at least to me there are some strong similarities and I wanted to ask you what you thought of this?

Returning to the Steppe topic. It seems to me that converting to any Religion but Islam (itself a product of Nomads and seminomads and thus very fitting to their worldview) does vastly diminish their martial prowess. Now Lamaism is certainly an especially vicious form of Buddhism, full of barbaric elements. Still Lamaism did turn Tibet from a powerful barbarian empire (one that gave the Tang much more trouble than the Turkomongols to the north interestingly enough) into a rather impotent land of monasteries which got conquered by anyone and everyone who cared to take it. It does seem to me that Alten Khan, by wanting to curb the chaotic agression and anarchism of his people to create a functioning state had actualy opened the Mongols up for conquest. If that was true then the Qing conquest of the Mongols was just as much a product of internal Mongol developments as of the Manchu Bannermens prowess. Also it did always seem strange to me how a rather small detachment of flintlock armed Cossacks could conquer the Burjat tribe of Mongols with relative ease. Muslim nomads did back then still put up a much better fight. It was only with the creation of a regular army in Russia in the late 17th century that the "age of easy victories" against these peoples began.

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