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Chongzhen Emperor and Huangtaiji


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#1 Prince of the South

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Posted 13 August 2007 - 07:52 PM

If we look at the period around the end of Ming and beginning of Qing, the fortunes of the two dynasties can be reflected in Ming Chongzhen emperor and Qing Huangtaiji (Tiancong / Chongde emperor)

Chongzhen was susceptible to court intrigues and his use of talent was questionable. After ascending the throne when his brother Tianqi emperor (the carpenter emperor) died, Chongzhen set out to oust chief eunuch Wei Chongxian and his clique. Chongzhen lived a life of caution and trepidation during Wei Chongxian's tenure as the de facto power behind a recluse Tianqi. He had to, in order to survive and deflect any suspicion from Wei (being a royal scion who could pose a potential threat to Wei). As soon as he became emperor, he brought down Wei and assumed the reign of government. Perhaps this episode of his princely years inculcated in him a deep distrust of the people around him, especially talented people who were invested with power, the prime example being Yuan Chonghuan.

Yuan Chonghuan, with a civil official background, was able to defend Ningyuan (one of the few Ming controlled cities in Liaodong area after the fall of Fushun, Shengyang and Liaoyang) from Nurhaci, who was elder and more experienced in military warfare. Nurhaci's 40 over years of success in the battlefields ended in the failure to capture a small city of Ningyuan. Nurhaci died due to the injuries he sustained as much as profound regret and wounded pride. Huangtaiji who succeeded Nurhaci further his father's conquest but while he subdued Korea and was able to breach the Great Wall 5 times raiding, looting and pillaging around Beijing, Hebei (Zhili) and Shandong areas, he hit a blank wall in trying to capture Ming-held Ningyuan with his father nemesis Yuan rooted as an obstacle in Manchu's advance into China proper. However, Huangtaiji, with advice from his Chinese counsel Fan Wencheng was able to remove Yuan in a ruse.

Chongzhen emperor was informed of Yuan's likely betrayal by two eunuchs who were captured by Huangtaiji. Huangtaiji allowed 2 of his men to "leak" out news of Yuan impending betrayal with the two eunuches locked up behind bars but in ear's reach. The eunuches were able (really allowed) to "escape" and they quickly despatched this news to Chongzhen. Chongzhen was outraged and immediately summoned Yuan to Beijing. Yuan was duly apprehended and after a short interrogation, was ordered to be "sliced by a thousand knives", an ultimate inglorious way to die for people who committed high treason. To add insult to injury (excruciating pain really), the crowd watching the execution bid for pieces of Yuan's fresh as they came off his body, eating it with wine, everyone was baying for his blood (and fresh), Yuan the treacherous traitor, so they thought.

Thus ended the life of perhaps the only Ming general that was able to hinder Nurhaci and Huangtaiji, and defended what was left of Ming Liaodong territories north of the Great Wall. What painful irony! In perspective, the Ming was also facing peasant rebellions in the west (Li Zicheng et al) beside the imposing threat of Manchu Qing and their allies the Mongols. Despite the difficulties facing the Ming, Chongzhen killed Yuan, arguably his most loyal and able, and a high-ranking offical and general at that time. We have to mention that when Ming generals were despatched off to military expedition, they were accompanied by court eunuchs whose roles were not to fight but to be the emperor's eyes and ears. As mentioned before, Chongzhen was highly suspicious especially those who were vested with powers by him, and these eunuchs assisted him in keeping these powerful generals in check. How ironic that it was Chongzhen who himself removed the "Great Wall" (Yuan) and gifted the advantage to the Qing...and Huangtaiji was able to remove Yuan, a great stumbling block, without the loss of a drop of blood or a strand of hair (exaggerated, but nonetheless literal)

Huangtaiji, on the other hand, was a military strategist and had great respect for talents. Instead of killing Chinese generals whom he captured, he first tried to seek their surrender. Although there were Ming generals who were willing to die (for Ming and their emperor), considerable number of them did surrender. Huangtaiji knew very well that in order to conquer China, he would have to utilise the Han Chinese too. How shrewd, as this policy reaped success. For example, when Zu Dashou tricked Huangtaiji that he was willing to surrender, Zu managed to escaped to Jinzhou. This enraged Huangtaiji. And when Jinzhou was being seiged, Hong Chengchou was sent to relief Zu but were also besieged at Songshan. Hong was betrayed by one of his men who opened the city gate for the Manchus to enter, and Hong was captured. Zu also surrendered subsequently in neighbouring Jinzhou (after they had to eat death soldiers and horses, and used their bones for firewood). Instead of killing Zu, Huangtaiji went against the Manchu princes and beiles who were aghast that he let the man who humiliated him live. Huangtaiji persuaded Hong to surrender, when Hong eventually did, he also managed to bring Zu's brothers who were under Hong to the Qing side. Zu then duly surrendered. This is the brilliance of Huangtaiji. He kept alive Hong and Zu, and they were instrumental in Qing's subsequent conquest of China. Wu Sangui, who was under Hong, was later persuaded by Dorgon to surrender and opened Shanhai Pass. What was most ironic was when Songshan fell, the assumed death of Hong Chengchou was reported to Chongzhen who lamented his death and loss, and actually directed a temple to be inaugurated to commemorate Hong's "death"! Looking at the fate of Yuan and Hong, we could catergorically tell what Chongzhen really was as an emperor under the micoscope of historic appraisal of his reign.

While Chongzhen put to death Yuan Chonghuan, Huangtaiji was able to use his enemies-turned-subjects to assist him in the building of the empire. This cannot be more important. While Huangtaiji was an able leader, he was also enlightened, benevolent and charismatic. Being a Manchu, he managed to have Han Chinese working for him, this showed that racial and cultural differences were not hindrance or barriers to the brilliance and greatness of Huangtaiji. Whereas Chongzhen, being a Han, could not even trust his loyal and able Han generals, how could he even imagine to turn his empire around facing local and external threats? How aptly he was to die a tragic death, committing suicide. Perhaps this was the best outcome for such a short-sighted and narrow-minded emperor. This actually also implied the integrity of Hong Chengchou and Wu Sangui, were they traitors? While some were willing to die for King and country (nothwithstanding the how good or not the king was) others were prepared to live and serve in other ways. Blind loyalty and patroitism does not pay everytime, as Yuan Chonghuan could testify. Wu Sangui would surely had profoundly appraised the fate of both his superiors before him, Yuan Chonghuan and Hong Chengchou, the fate of Ming and Qing (and also Shun), between death and life, before he made the difficult decision to surrender to the Manchus.

The fortunes of the Ming and Qing dynasties can really be manifested in their respective leaders.

Edited by Prince of the South, 13 August 2007 - 11:25 PM.


#2 sima old bandit

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Posted 14 August 2007 - 08:53 AM

If we look at the period around the end of Ming and beginning of Qing, the fortunes of the two dynasties can be reflected in Ming Chongzhen emperor and Qing Huangtaiji (Tiancong / Chongde emperor)

The fortunes of the Ming and Qing dynasties can really be manifested in their respective leaders.


The Ming had been in decline before Chongzhen was even on the throne. While he was not a great emperor, to his credit he was hard working especially compared to some of his predecessors. He just wasn't capable of ruling in time of crisis nor good enough to revive an ailing dynasty. Thus, to place all the blame on Chongzhen i feel is somewhat unwarranted.

#3 utsumi

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Posted 14 August 2007 - 11:17 AM

The Ming had been in decline before Chongzhen was even on the throne. While he was not a great emperor, to his credit he was hard working especially compared to some of his predecessors. He just wasn't capable of ruling in time of crisis nor good enough to revive an ailing dynasty. Thus, to place all the blame on Chongzhen i feel is somewhat unwarranted.



Yes, I agree with this opinion.

Qing dynasty is just a lucky robber. If there isn't Zicheng Li, who led a anti-government insurgence, Ming may develop much better. Across Chongzhen's reign period, he spent most of time on solving those insurrectionarie. These insurrectionary didn't see nation's crisis, they just emphasize their advantages. When Qing's troop marched before Beijing city, Zicheng Li fell back and left chinese people into the abyss of Qing's hell.

#4 Prince of the South

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Posted 14 August 2007 - 06:27 PM

I absolutely agree that the Ming dynasty's decline started way before Chongzhen. Chongzhen cannot be solely blamed for Ming's decline. I did not blame Chongzhen for Ming's decline but their demise (ie end). There is a subtle difference here. Just as we cannot blame Qing's decline on Ci Xi alone, because the root of Qing's decline started way back, some might even say to the latter period of Qian Long's reign. But what we can say Ci Xi should be responsible for Qing's demise.

I thought it is significant in the way 2 opposing emperors of different ethnic and cultural background had conducted themselves differently and their actions and policies manifested in the fortunes of their respective dynasties. The initial post highlighted this. Especially the way they utilise and employ people under them. There is a saying, yongrenbuyi yirenbuyong - "one should not suspect the person you employ, if you are suspicious about the person, do not employ him". This is reflected aptly on both emperors. I use the examples of Chongzhen with Yuan Chonghuan, and Huangtaiji with Hong Chengchou to reflect this point.

Edited by Prince of the South, 14 August 2007 - 06:42 PM.


#5 Wujiang

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Posted 14 August 2007 - 08:04 PM

Yes, I agree with this opinion.

Qing dynasty is just a lucky robber. If there isn't Zicheng Li, who led a anti-government insurgence, Ming may develop much better. Across Chongzhen's reign period, he spent most of time on solving those insurrectionarie. These insurrectionary didn't see nation's crisis, they just emphasize their advantages. When Qing's troop marched before Beijing city, Zicheng Li fell back and left chinese people into the abyss of Qing's hell.


You seem to think that Li Zicheng was the only real rebel at the time. It wasn't. The problem of Ming was within Ming itself. If it wasn't Li Zicheng, it would have been someone else. The cause of rebellion are rarely the purely the leadership of the rebel leader but the anger and desperation of civilians in which allows the leader to exploit. And the anger and desperation comes from the political and economic climate that was the result of the government's actions. Hence, Ming was going to break itself up anyway, Li just happens to be the guy to nudged it over the edge. It could have been any other guy.

Also, I think that it is rather irresponsible for you to refer to Qing in such a negative manner without backed up sources. From the start to mid-Qianlong reign, Qing's rule of chinese lifted to a level of zenith that surpassed all previous dynasties through chinese history. GDP, living stardards of civilians as well as actual landmass were all at the very peak of china's 4000 years of history. Yes, well passing that of Tang and Han. In comparison, the immensed corrupted nature and paranoid environment of the later Ming era was among the darkest days of chinese history. Whlie later Qing did follow the corruption path during its later years, the transition century from Ming to Qing actually benefited the Han people immensely rather than 'left chinese(Han actually, Jurchens are chinese as well) into the abyss of Qing's hell'.
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#6 Prince of the South

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Posted 14 August 2007 - 10:08 PM

Whlie later Qing did follow the corruption path during its later years, the transition century from Ming to Qing actually benefited the Han people immensely rather than 'left chinese(Han actually, Jurchens are chinese as well) into the abyss of Qing's hell'.

This statement is true if you also applied it to the end of Ming, Ming decadence and downfall also left Chinese "into the abyss of hell", as in every dyansty's decline and demise in thousands years of Chinese imperial past.

I believe people tend to think negatively of Qing was because we are not far off in time to the end of Qing, defeat and humiliation by western powers (also read China's backwardness and stagnation etc), the fact Manchus are a minority ethnicity (some deemed alien) and also the proliferation of literature (especially during last decades of Qing and 50-60 years after 1911) where authors and historians had their own agendas. Correct me if i am wrong, wasn't Sun Yat-sen a bit racist in one of his many slogans in "expel the Tatars, restore China"? 「驅逐韃虜,恢復中國,創立合眾政府」的口號,企圖以排滿思想為其革命事業鋪路 <edit>

If you look across the academic spectrum, most historians would agree that Kang Xi was one of the best emperors China ever had and that the "Kang-Qing golden age" one of imperial China most glorious periods.

Edited by Prince of the South, 14 August 2007 - 11:45 PM.


#7 Wujiang

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Posted 14 August 2007 - 10:17 PM

I dont' think Chongzhen's lack of faith in anyone was 'really' his charcter problem. Everyone in the Ming court was corrupted. He had no reason to trust anyone. A corrupt civil official would pose a much lesser threat if than corrupt military general with an army backing him. The decline in character and virtue of the Ming court has been going on for some time already by then and it is naive to believe that Chongzhen could have really changed the mentality of people.

In comparison, corrupt was no where near as rampant in the Qing court. Huang Taiji's luxury of trusting his people was born from the fact that his people were actually trust worthy. The incorruption climate was strong and people were actually looking outwards to the threat of Ming rather than inwards to the threat of each other and the profit they are reap from the national treasury.
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#8 Prince of the South

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Posted 15 August 2007 - 12:19 AM

Everyone in the Ming court was corrupted

This seems to be a sweeping statement. If everyone was "corrupted" that makes corruption not a problem isn't it? On the other hand, if everyone was not corrupt, then it would make corruption a problem. What is corrupt or being corrupted? Or are we viewing the "corruptness" of the Ming court in today's concept? That applies to corruption during the Qing. How was it worse? Are we now less corrupt than the people of the past (especially in China).

I dont' think Chongzhen's lack of faith in anyone was 'really' his charcter problem

The Chinese emperor is the most powerful person in the empire. He is the law maker, the chief of army, the ultimate judge, preside over life and death, and deemed a demi-god. Thus you can see how a lack of quality in one or two department might spell danger to the regime and dynasty because he was the ultimate power. And if an emperor was suspicious of his own men and lack faith and trust in his officials, are these not "really" problems? How would you feel if you work for a manager/CEO that is suspicious and does not trust you? I think you would be jumping ship in no time. Specifically, Chongzhen's deep suspicion of people whom he invested with power was a real problem for him and his empire, killing Yuan Chonghuan just gave him no way back in saving his empire. Remember, Wu Sangui's superiors were both Yuan and then Hong Chengchou. One was killed after wrongly accused of beng a traitor and died an inglorious death, and the other surrendered to the Qing and was actually being commemorated with a temple built for his "loyalty" by no one other than Chongzhen. Is this not a problem? Being overtly suspicious, distrust and lack of faith are massive character flaws.

Huang Taiji's luxury of trusting his people was born from the fact that his people were actually trust worthy

Why? I think it is more of shangliangbuzheng xialiangwai - "the uprightness of the secondary beams depend on the uprightness of the MAIN beam" (roughly) which means it is more of Huangtaiji being trustworthy and that he drew towards him men that were trustworthy rather than the other way round. So when it applied to the Ming, if Chongzhen spelt distrust and lack of faith, same went for the people under him.

The decline in character and virtue of the Ming court has been going on for some time already by then and it is naive to believe that Chongzhen could have really changed the mentality of people

Why not? You probably read about Qing Taizu Nurhaci. Nurhaci in 40 odds years united the Jurchens who were after a period of nearly 400 years (after the fall of Jin Dynasty in 1234) of disunity, distrust amongst tribes, constant infighting, intense rivalries between petty tribes and clans and being subjected to divide and rule by the Ming Dynasty.

Chongzhen did great by removing Wei Zhongxian and reduced the powers of eunuch tampering in court affairs, credit to him. However, in turning the fortunes of the dynasty around his abilities were found wanting as he lacked obvious leadership, charisma and his use of talents and people around him were disastrous to say the least.

But of course Chongzhen was nowhere near Nurhaci which is exactly my point, so that is what I believe one of the main reason for Ming ultimate demise in his reign.

IMO only

Edited by Prince of the South, 15 August 2007 - 12:39 AM.


#9 Whsie

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Posted 16 August 2007 - 01:15 AM

In comparison, corrupt was no where near as rampant in the Qing court. Huang Taiji's luxury of trusting his people was born from the fact that his people were actually trust worthy. The incorruption climate was strong and people were actually looking outwards to the threat of Ming rather than inwards to the threat of each other and the profit they are reap from the national treasury.

I wouldn't say all of them are trust worthy, particulary Dorgun and his brothers who want some revenge for their mother.
Plus, at that time, Han officials were despised by the court, yet Huang Taji was willing to trust them. To me, it's more of Huang Taji's talent of using people. Jin Yong once said that the only people who match up to Huang Taji in using people are Genghis Khan, Tang Taizong, and Han Gwuangwudi.

#10 wlee15

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Posted 19 August 2007 - 06:52 PM

I wouldn't say all of them are trust worthy, particulary Dorgun and his brothers who want some revenge for their mother.
Plus, at that time, Han officials were despised by the court, yet Huang Taji was willing to trust them. To me, it's more of Huang Taji's talent of using people. Jin Yong once said that the only people who match up to Huang Taji in using people are Genghis Khan, Tang Taizong, and Han Gwuangwudi.


Actually the Jurchens had a strong belief in that great people should be accompanied in death, so it would have been fairly natural for wives, guards and servants to die with their lords.

#11 Prince of the South

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Posted 19 August 2007 - 10:24 PM

Actually the Jurchens had a strong belief in that great people should be accompanied in death, so it would have been fairly natural for wives, guards and servants to die with their lords.

Abahai's death to accompany Nurhaci in the netherworld is "controversial" because it seemed the 4 great beiles made that decision shortly after Nurhaci died. Two other concubine of lesser rank died too. Abahai had 3 sons, of which 14 year old Dorgon and 12 year old Dodo, were favourites of Nurhaci, and quite unlikely, it was said, he wanted Abahai to die with him.

The last person to be buried with human sacrifices in the Qing Dynasty was in Shun Zhi reign. The death of Donggo (daugther of Osi), Shun Zhi favourite concubine, were accompanied by eunuchs and palace maids. Shun Zhi was absolutely heartbroken and died within a year himself. I don't think the Donggo concubine could be said to be "great".




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