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Blood and History in China

The Donglin Faction and its Repression, 16201627

John W. Dardess

Publication Year: 2002

From 1625 to 1627 scholar-officials belonging to a militant Confucianist group known as the "Donglin Faction" suffered one of the most gruesome political repressions in China's history. Many were purged from key positions in the central government for their relentless push for a national moral rearmament under the Tianqi emperor. While their martyrs' deaths won them a lasting reputation for heroism and steadfastness, their opponents are remembered for fatally degrading the quality of Ming political life with their arrests and tortures of Donglin partisans. John Dardess employs a wide range of little-used primary sources (letters, diaries, eyewitness accounts, memorials, imperial edicts) to provide a remarkably detailed narrative of the inner workings of Ming government and of this dramatic period as a whole. Comparing the repression with the Tiananmen demonstrations of 1989, he argues that Tiananmen offers compelling clues to a rereading of the events of the 1620s. Leaders of both movements were less interested in practical reform than in communicating sincere moral feelings to rulers and the public. In the end the protesters succeeded in commemorating their dead and imprisoned and in disgracing those responsible for the violence. A work of unprecedented depth skillfully told, Blood and History in China will be appreciated by specialists in intellectual history and Ming and early Qing studies.<

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. v

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pp. vii

I first wish to thank Samuel Chu and the ACLS-sponsored conference he organized at the University of Hawai‘i in 1993. That conference, whose theme was “The Continuing Relevance of Traditional Chinese Institutions in the Context of Modern China,” prompted me to revisit the Donglin affair and to discover how much of that story had never been told. I also thank Wei Sheng, Peter...

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pp. 1-8

In Seventeenth-century China, the name “Donglin” meant three different but partly overlapping things. It stood for an ethical revitalization movement; it referred to a national Confucian moral fellowship; and it also labeled a Beijing political faction, whose activities are the main focus of this book. The name comes from the Donglin (“East Forest”) academy of Wuxi county, located about fifty...

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Chapter 1: The Ming Throne Imperiled: The Three Cases

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pp. 9-30

In the summer of 1620, Ming government at its highest level came close to a point of meltdown. Many opinion makers of the time asserted that the ultimate blame for that lay with Zhu Yijun, better known as the Wanli emperor (r. 1573–1620). For decades, Wanli liked to do things, or not to do things, in his own way. He hated being pressured. Ming house law, the Ancestral Instructions...

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Chapter 2: Beijing, 1620–1624: The Storm Clouds Gather

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pp. 31-71

The death of their patron Taichang in September 1620, after a reign of just one month, gave a severe jolt to the Donglin partisans’ hopes for political and moral dominance over the affairs of Ming China. However, Yang Lian and the other Donglin men had played so forceful a role in guarding the succession of his young son, the Tianqi emperor, through the “removal from the palace” crisis that...

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Chapter 3: Political Murders, 1625

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pp. 72-100

In Mid-July 1624 , the political stalemate in Beijing was blown apart by means of a verbal high explosive: the shattering “Twenty-four Crimes” memorial submitted by Yang Lian. The twenty-four crimes were imputed to palace eunuch Wei Zhongxian. The memorial was addressed to Tianqi, and it asked him, in effect, how he could continue to protect and abet a national criminal. The repercussions...

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Chapter 4: The Murders Continue: 1626

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pp. 101-125

It is almost beyond belief that the shocking arrests, doubtful charges, tortures, and secret murders of six leading Donglin figures in 1625 failed to satisfy the Beijing authorities’ desire for retribution. Obviously, however, the authorities felt that they had not yet done enough. The year 1626, therefore, saw a second and equally grim round of arrests and murders, this time targeting seven of...

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Chapter 5: Repression, Triumph, Joy, Collapse (1625–1627)

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pp. 126-149

The Tianqi regime openly prided itself on three main achievements. First, it had worked mightily to cleanse China of the Donglin and all its lingering influences. Second, it had managed to finish the expensive rebuilding of three decaying palaces in the Forbidden City. Third, after years of Ming defeat, it had scored two encouraging military victories in Manchuria (at Ningyuan and Jinzhou).

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Chapter 6: A Reversal of Fortunes

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pp. 150-169

On October 2, 1627, the Tianqi emperor’s younger half-brother, Zhu Youjian, assumed the throne under the reign title Chongzhen. (As things turned out, his was the last reign of an intact Ming China.) He was sixteen years old, but, unlike Tianqi, he played an assertive part in government from the very beginning of his reign. He also seems to have kept his own counsel. He certainly tolerated...


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pp. 171-193


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pp. 195-203

Index [Includes About the Author]

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pp. 205-209

E-ISBN-13: 9780824861643
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824824754

Publication Year: 2002