- Ming Taizu (r. 1368–98) and the Foundation of the Ming Dynasty in China by Hok-lam Chan
This variorum collection of eight articles written by Hok-lam Chan, all focused on Zhu Yuanzhang and the early years of the dynasty he founded, comes to us in the same year as his passing. For anyone interested in the Ming dynasty, this will be an important collection of seminal works. One of the great assets of these Variorum Collected Studies volumes is that they bring together articles that may be difficult to obtain or little known outside of specialist circles. This volume is particularly helpful since it selects some of the most outstanding studies by Hok-lam Chan on the focused period of the early Ming. This is important because Hok-lam Chan’s erudition extended well beyond the Ming, and he was prodigious in his writing. Hok-lam Chan began his professional work of some forty-four years researching the non-Han conquest dynasties Jin and Yuan, only later moving into the Ming era. A brief scan through a recently published [End Page 423] bibliography of Chan’s work indicates his catholic interests and enormous productivity; he authored some nine monographs and collections and ninety essays and articles in Chinese. His English-language contributions were equally prolific with twelve monographs or collections and fifty-eight essays and articles.1
The first of the eight articles reprinted here, “The ‘Song’ Dynasty Legacy: Symbolism and Legitimation from Han Liner to Zhu Yuanzhang of the Ming Dynasty,” was originally published in 2008. The article examines the symbolic legitimation of the new Ming dynasty, both in its own right and as understood and portrayed by the historian Wu Han (1909–1969). Chan’s careful study of Zhu Yuanzhang’s legitimizing strategy shows that it was based on and responded to two earlier anti-Mongol states that preceded the Ming, both of which invoked and pretended to restore the Song dynasty. Chan argues that while Zhu owed his own political success to his initial affiliation with Han Liner’s rump Song state, he also found it necessary to dissociate himself from that regime. He decreed that the Song cosmic cycle had run its course, and he adopted the title Ming to signify that shift. At the same time, he embraced fire and red as symbols of his own political identity and legitimacy, and in doing so he decoupled those symbols from the age-old formula of the cyclic rotation of cosmic powers in the Five Agents theory.
Chan then goes on to discuss the erroneous association of the dynastic title Ming with Manichaeism as emanating from the historian Wu Han. Through careful historiography, Chan shows that association could not have been the case. Rather, we need to understand the dynastic title Da Ming as a reference to the Great Radiance in which the Amida Buddha, as the king of the Radiant Buddhas, is seen.2 Zhu Yuanzhang’s choice of Da Ming “simultaneously dislodged his political linkage to the Han-Song regime and paid homage to the Mingwang messianic legacy of the White Lotus-Maitreya sect on the one hand, and the Confucian state worship to the sun and moon to seek Heaven’s blessings on the other.”3 Thus, Zhu Yuanzhang was, indeed, a crafty and pragmatic politician.
In the next article in this collection, “Naqaču the Grand Marshall, a Mongol Warlord in Manchuria during the Yuan-Ming Transition,” published in 2009, Hok-lam Chan looks at the transition from Yuan to Ming through the lens of events managed by this prominent Mongol general. This study is interesting not least because Chan makes extensive use of the official Koryo dynastic history (Koryo sa) as well as the Ming Taizu shilu. Naqaču’s story is fascinating on its own because he became a powerful independent warlord in the Liaodong Peninsula. Chan’s treatment also reveals the contours of...