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Chapter Two explores how court officials tried to come to terms with Zhu Di’s deep engagement with the steppe and its leaders. Zhu Di’s five steppe campaigns were more than military conflicts. Zhu Di visited the sites – sometimes ruins – of former Yuan palaces and lodges. He offered commentary on the Yuan ruling house, which accentuated his status as successor to the Great Yuan and as a ruler uniquely qualified to pass judgment on fellow sovereigns. Zhu Di’s actions challenged civil officials in many ways. They had to praise a sovereign who openly flouted the founder’s precedents. They celebrated the emperor’s newest subjects, men who drank blood, consumed raw liver, and exulted in physical strength. Court ministers’ writings depicted a style of rulership obviously connected to men from afar in ways that simultaneously satisfied their sovereign’s demands and minimized dangers to the polity and to themselves.
The Conclusion offers observations about what the study’s main findings reveal about Ming rulership and the Ming throne’s place in east Eurasia. It argues that the Ming throne actively sought allies in Eurasia through political patronage, economic support, and a rhetoric that highlights the ties of good faith and loyalty between the emperor and Mongol nobles at home and abroad. The Conclusion also briefly critiques New Qing History exceptionalism, suggesting that the Ming throne’s engagement in Eurasia is one chapter in a far longer story of China’s deep ties to neighboring polities.
Using the unusually rich historical sources generated by the Tumu crisis, Chapter Four offers a reconstruction of Ming rulership in east Eurasia in the mid-fifteenth century. Chapter Four demonstrated that the fifteenth century’s first half saw a multigenerational, multifaceted competition among Mongol, Oirat, and Ming ruling elites to turn the Chinggisid legacy to their advantage. Each developed a genealogy or pedigree of rulership, which it advertised to its neighbors. The best-documented example, that of the Ming dynastic house, trumpeted the superior attributes of the rulership of Zhu Yuanzhang and his descendants. Just as emphatically, the Ming throne denied the qualifications of rival lords such as Toqto’a-Buqa and Esen. The Ming ruling family and its close supporters tried to persuade several audiences, including Jurchen chieftains, the Choson throne, and Oirat and Mongol leaders, of its historical vision of the past and the present.
Chapter Three is a group biography of Mongols in the early Ming throne’s service. Zhu Di and his advisers depicted Esen-Tügel’s decision to join the Ming dynasty in 1423 as a submission, which proved Zhu Di’s superior attributes of rulership. The emperor’s martial prowess, munificence, and ability to recognize men of outstanding ability regardless of their origin won the allegiance and service of a proven Mongol warrior and leader. As was often the case, this dramatic moment – an oath of personal fealty – commanded chroniclers’ attention, but the bigger story had yet to unfold. Imperial patronage continued for much of the remainder of the fifteenth century. It took material form in housing, wages, and personal gifts. It also came in the guise of tax exemptions, prestigious titles and posts, opportunities for advancement, and the throne’s conspicuous protection. Successive emperors displayed their favor through material, financial, political, and honorific means. Such patronage extended to hundreds of Mongolian men, their families, and their descendants for decades and decades. Men from afar embraced this face of rulership. At the same time, it was a pattern of behavior that many civil officials rejected, in part because they felt that such generosity came at their expense.
The introduction discusses the core issues and organization of the book. It argues that despite long-standing stereotypes about Chinese isolation, the Ming court was fully engaged in foreign relations in Eurasia and that relations with Mongol nobles in particular figure prominently in the perception and representation of Ming emperors’ identity and style of rulership.
Zhu Di’s experience as imperial prince shaped his rule’s style and substance. He interacted with Mongolian men as subordinates, advisers, allies, negotiating partners, rivals, and traitors. He was known among them as Lord of Yan. Breaking with his father’s example, Zhu Di repeatedly campaigned in person on the steppe as emperor. There he met with steppe leaders, hosted banquets, conducted grand hunts, and organized vast military reviews. He spoke openly of his motives and objectives on the steppe, not just to audiences at home but also with Korean, Jurchen, Mongol, Moghul, and Timurid leaders. He inserted himself into a Chinggisid world as east Eurasia’s premier ruler and patron.
Chapter Five uses the Tumu crisis to shed light on two more facets of Ming rulership in east Eurasia. The first is the Ming court’s deep commitment to secure allegiance among neighboring elites, and the second is the striking commensurability between the Ming throne and Mongol (including Oirat) nobles. Both issues throw into relief contemporary awareness that Ming rulership did not occur in isolation but rather coexisted with other centers of power and authority. Ming rulers strove to shape the perceptions and actions of neighboring lords, great and small. Drawing on its military, economic, ritual, and rhetorical resources, the Ming court established itself as east Eurasia’s premier patron. The Oirats’ rise showed that the Ming court’s influence might be challenged, but in the mid-fifteenth century, no one – even Esen – seriously contemplated toppling, much less replacing, the Ming dynasty.
On the eve of the early modern age, Ming emperors ruled around one-quarter of the globe's population, the majority of the world's largest urban centers, the biggest standing army on the planet, and the day's most affluent economy. Far from being isolated, the Ming court was the greatest center of political patronage in East Eurasia, likely the world. Although the Ming throne might trumpet its superiority, it understood its need for allegiance from ruling elites in neighbouring regions. In this major new study, David M. Robinson explores Ming emperors' relations with the single most important category of Eurasian nobles: descendants of Ghengis Khan and their Mongol supporters. Exploring the international dimensions of Chinese rule, this revisionist but accessible account shows that even rulers such as the Ming emperor needed allies and were willing to pay for them.
Chapter 1, “Eurasia after the Fall,” provides a synthetic analysis of the Mongol legacy in eastern Eurasia during the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. It focuses on two related issues: (a) the Mongolian diaspora of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and (b) fourteenth-century evocations of the Mongols in the rhetoric of rulership.
Chapter 8, “South of the Clouds,” moves from the Mongolian steppe to Yunnan, the southwestern kingdom of the Prince of Liang, a Chinggisid noble and Great Yuan supporter. In the mid-thirteenth century, the Mongols conquered Yunnan, a previously independent kingdom (Nanzhao), as part of its broader war against the mighty Song dynasty in China. Mongol governance in Yunnan shaped power sharing among local elites in ways that influenced their response to Daidu’s fall in 1368, the Great Yuan’s diminished power, and the Ming court’s efforts to win recognition. This chapter charts Zhu Yuanzhang’s diplomatic and military offensives in Yunnan with particular attention to his attempts to turn local experience of Mongol rule to his advantage.