China: 3000 Years of History, 50 Years of Revolution. Robert Louzon 1998

Chapter VI: The Mongols (1276-1368) and the Ming (1368-1644)

In this chapter, we are dealing with two successive dynasties, one barbarian and one Chinese. We are not only doing this because the first was of fairly short duration, but mainly because the monetary, and consequently the economic, policy of the second was but a continuation, or more exactly, a resumption, of the first.

Thus therefore, under the Mongol Dynasty that took power with Kublai Khan and assumed the Chinese patronymic of Yuan, Mongolia and China were again united in the bosom of the same empire under the same sovereign, just as in Han and Tang times, but now the sovereign was no longer civilised, he was a barbarian; no longer a Chinaman, but a Mongol. The Chinese empire was reconstituted, but it was no longer Chinese; the nomads usurped the place of the settled people, and the shepherds that of the peasants, in order to achieve the apparent synthesis of blending into the same political unity the two mutually antagonistic modes of production; the barbarian had replaced the civilised man in the direction of a political system that permitted an almost peaceful state of coexistence of the one with the other.

But the synthesis was a false synthesis, for both nomads and settled people as such remained counterposed, and their antagonism continued. Irrigators and horsemen were simply roped together by the bonds of the same state, that bridled their antagonism but did not suppress it; they were subjected to a common outside constraint – that of the state – that prevented their differences manifesting themselves under their usual forms, but it could not stop them appearing in another form. So instead of a conflict on the frontiers, there was a conflict within; instead of war against a neighbour, it was rebellion against ‘alien domination'; instead of conquest, it became a struggle for ‘national independence’.

The capital of the new empire was Beijing. From being the capital of northern China over a period of six centuries, apart from one brief interruption, Beijing was to become the capital of all China. As distinct from the old capitals – Chang'an, Luoyang and Kaifeng – Beijing had the advantage of being closer to the sea, a position made necessary by the part now played by maritime commerce in China’s economic activity. It had the further advantage over the Byzantine cities of the south – Nanjing and Hangzhou – of being nearer the regions of Mongolia, the place of origin and base of support of the new masters.

The Mongols’ Domestic Policy: Control and Inflation

During the 60 years that passed between Genghis Khan’s capture of Beijing and Kublai Khan’s coronation, the conquerors, like their predecessors, were progressively sinicised; and the inhabitants of the fields irrigated by the Yellow and Blue Rivers were not to be governed like the tribes of the Gobi or the Tarim. The Mongolian administration of China was therefore Chinese.

It was Chinese in terms of its personnel. The first ruler, Genghis Khan, chose as advisor a Chinese, or rather a former Khitan who had become completely sinicised, Yelü Chucai, [1] who continued his functions under Ogodai, and who was the real ruler of China during the crucial years when it may well have been asked whether China would remain China at all, or whether it would be transformed into a simple pasture land for Mongol herds, a transformation analogous to that to which certain Americans would like to have reduced Germany after the last war. [2]

The Mongolian administration was also Chinese in its social policy, which remained the same as that inaugurated by the Song. The controlled economy was maintained. It was maintained under the double form of price fixing and regularising supply and demand, the state absorbing all surplus products.

However, the Yuan Dynasty added something new to the policy of the Song; this was the devaluation of money. The banknote, which had already existed under the Song – that is, 600 years before it ever appeared in Europe – was compulsory currency from the first years of Kublai’s reign, at the time when he only occupied northern China. As happens with all compulsory currencies, issues of notes followed each other more and more frequently without the production of corresponding commodities, in such a way that the balance between the amount of money issued and the commodities available could only be established by a continual rise in prices. This depreciation in the value of money was the rule throughout the entire duration of the Mongol Dynasty.

In the depreciation of money, there is always a motive of an economic type and a motive of a social type, which, moreover, are always linked together to a greater or lesser extent.

In the circumstances with which we are dealing, the economic motive was obvious. It arose from 50 years of war, a war that had above all been a war of sieges, the form of warfare in which material destruction is greatest. In order to repair the ruins, it was therefore a matter of absolute necessity to draw on the newly-acquired wealth, and it is well known that inflation is the most convenient and efficacious way of doing this. Inflation, that is to say, the issue of unsecured banknotes, and the rise in prices that results from it, were imposed on a ravaged China by the war with the Mongols, just as they were imposed upon the France of 1918 and of 1945 after the country had been ravaged by its wars with Germany. [3]

The social motive for the same inflation was what we find just as often anywhere else in the history of monetary depreciation, notably in the numerous devaluations of the French livre throughout the Middle Ages and under the Ancien Régime: the need to lessen the burden on the tenant farmer.

When the Mongols entered China, they did what conquerors usually do, what the Hellenes did in Greece in the second millennium before our era, or the English in Ireland during the seventeenth century of the Christian era: they carried out primitive accumulation by reducing the native peasant to the condition of a serf. They appropriated vast estates whose cultivators, the Chinese peasants, from then on had to pay their rent to a Mongol feudal lord. This at least was what happened in the China of the south; in the China of the north the same process had already been accomplished by the Khitan and the Nüzhen, so that the Mongol in turn had nothing to do except merely replace the Nüzhen landlord.

Now whether it was because they did not want to see a rich and therefore powerful aristocracy beside them in rivalry, or whether they merely thought that the prevailing mode of tenure was not conducive to public tranquillity and economic development, Kublai and his successors sought, if not to ruin, at least to impoverish the landlord class. Proof of this lies in the fact that in certain provinces Kublai imposed a direct reduction in the payment of rents. But the depreciation of money is a far more convenient and effective means of achieving the same result without any sudden shock, and without seeming to interfere. This was the second motive for the inflation.

The coexistence of what we see at this time of inflation and a controlled economy deserves special attention. A controlled economy means fixing prices, whilst inflation means raising prices. They are thus two systems in apparent contradiction. In reality, however, they complement each other, each being the antidote of the other.

In practice, the true aim of a controlled economy is to assure the permanence of a stable economy by maintaining every branch of production and every producer in their respective situations. Now inflation, in other words a raising of prices in general, does not alter either the relations between the producers or between the branches of production, nor does it alter the relations between the producers and the non-producers, between ‘industrialists’ and ‘rentiers’ (to use Pareto’s terminology). [4] Consequently, in no way does it prevent a controlled economy from attaining its aim. On the other hand, it lessens the harmfulness of a controlled economy, because the great vice of one is that by maintaining each producer in his place, by suppressing the incentive of competition, it renders the economy stagnant. Now inflation, which continually increases the profits of the producers with the spoil of the rentiers, on the other hand stimulates the activity of the producers, and thus tends to neutralise the effects of slackening due to the control of the economy.

And so it turned out that in the long run, the Mongol period was for China, as all periods of inflation usually are, a period of great activity. We have direct evidence of this in the writings of Marco Polo, who journeyed to and dwelt in China for 20 years during the time of Kublai. This Venetian from the great epoch of Venice was truly astounded, and almost dumbfounded by the economic activity he witnessed, as well as the fact that at a time when only charcoal was known in Italy, Shanxi’s coal was used throughout the whole of northern China as well as in the regions of the Blue River, ‘the river on which sail more ships filled with rich merchandise than are to be found on all the rivers and all the seas of Christendom’. [5]

But prosperity is a very dangerous thing. As soon as it ceases, the violence of the reaction is in proportion to the length of time the period of prosperity has lasted. Inflation cannot go on for ever. By dint of lowering its value, money finally reaches zero, or something close to zero, and at that moment it ceases to fulfil its function as money. New money has then to be created.

This is what happened to the Mongol money during the early years of the fourteenth century. In 1309, it became necessary to do away with the old money and bring in a ‘new franc’. But with the inflation continuing, this second money ended up losing all its value in turn, and it became necessary to go on indefinitely creating new moneys. It eventually became necessary to get rid of paper money, and on this occasion to revert to metal. When ‘gold money’ was thus re-established, inflation necessarily ceased, and at once prosperity also ceased.

The ‘Nomads’ of the Sea

From the point of view of external relations, what most of all marked Yuan policy was that for the first time the focus of China’s foreign policy turned towards the sea. Even more than the shifting of the capitals to the east, this policy showed the importance which this ancient agricultural country attached to maritime commerce.

This policy manifested itself, on the one hand, by a failed expedition against Java at the end of the thirteenth century, [6] and, on the other, by something even more important – the two attempted expeditions against Japan in 1274 and 1281, both of which ended in disaster. [7]

The Japanese problem that confronted China was not of a very different nature from the Mongolian problem that had confronted it for thousands of years.

In a nutshell, islanders are essentially sailors; they are the nomads of the sea; the ocean is their domain, just as the steppe is that of the shepherds and horsemen. When the landsman sets out to transport his riches over the sea, it is like when the sedentary man seeks to cultivate the approaches to the steppe; a nomad reaction follows. In the case of the nomad, it manifests itself in ‘plundering raids’, and in that of the islander in ‘acts of piracy’.

The agricultural China of Chang'an during the Han and Tang eras finally protected itself against the raids of the Mongol plunderers by attacking and invading the steppe and annexing it. The commercial China of Beijing during the Mongol era sought to protect itself against the operations of the Japanese pirates in similar fashion by attacking and endeavouring to conquer the islands. But it is much more difficult for a land power to adapt itself to warfare on the sea than for a peasant state to adapt itself for warfare against nomads. France has always been beaten on the sea by England, whilst finding it quite easy, on the other hand, to build up an ‘Arab’ empire. Thus all China’s attempts against Japan were as futile as those of France against England. These attempts were never pressed home, and so the Chinese empire was never to embrace the Nippon archipelago. [8]

The End of the Mongols

The ‘stabilisation crisis’ that China experienced as a consequence of the return to metal coinage was no doubt the underlying cause of the insurrection that broke out in 1352 that was to end Mongol domination. [9] The development of this insurrection differs in two respects from those that had preceded it.

On the one hand, instead of Shandong being its starting point, it began and proceeded almost exclusively south of the Blue River, a fact that affords decisive proof that it was the China of the south that formed the heart of China, for there is no surer measure of the dynamic force of a country or region than its capacity for revolution. On the other hand, if this insurrection, like the previous ones, was closely bound up with a religious movement, that movement was no longer of Daoist origin, but was Buddhist, which demonstrates the importance now attached to this imported religion in the land of Confucius.

Like the other Mongolian peoples who had preceded them, the Mongols of China were Buddhist; and just as in the era of the Tuoba, they made Buddhism into the state religion. It is therefore a curious paradox to see a Buddhist sect becoming the instrument of the destruction of the Mongol dynasty, and moreover, ending up leading a Confucian reaction against Buddhism, which was to become extremely violent and was to last for several centuries. [10]

Like Protestantism, to which it may be compared in a number of ways, Buddhism has always been divided into numerous sects. One of these that existed at this time, the White Lotus, was millenarian; it announced the early advent of a Golden Age. Nothing serves to give greater courage to the oppressed classes than the belief that there is harmony between the revolution to which they aspire and the divine will. The White Lotus thus became the agent of a revolution caused by the arrest of inflation. The movement it launched soon snowballed. Armed bands of various origins and commanded by upstart leaders organised themselves nearly everywhere, often fighting amongst themselves whilst fighting the central power at the same time. In 1356, the leader of one of these bands, a former Buddhist monk named Zhu Yuanzhang, succeeded in making himself master of almost the entire basin of the Blue River. There he made Nanjing his capital, and 10 or so years later, in 1368, he ventured into the basin of the Yellow River. His success there was immediate: he captured Beijing, overthrew the last of the Mongols, and proclaimed himself emperor in his stead. He was the first Ming emperor. [11]

An Empire Again

Like the Han and the Tang dynasties, the new Ming Dynasty, which was to reign for nearly three centuries over the whole of China, thus began its history with the accession of a ‘soldier of fortune’. But there was this difference: this time the soldier of fortune was not a Chinaman of the north, but of the south. Zhu Yuanzhang was the son of a farmer of Anhui, the great province that the Blue River crosses a little before it flows into the sea. Thus it was that for the first time the Blue River mounted the throne in place of the Yellow River. The shifting of China’s centre of gravity was now complete. As though to emphasise this fact, the new sovereign set up his capital at Nanjing. It was also the first time that Nanjing had become the capital of the whole of China, and the first time that the capital of a united China had been a city of the Blue River, and not of the Yellow River, or even further up in the north. This state of affairs was not, however, to endure for long. Another consideration, always the same problem of defence against the barbarians, soon made it necessary to move the capital back nearer the north.

From the external point of view, Ming China was a natural continuation of Song China. The Song marked the start of China’s withdrawal; this withdrawal was to continue under the Ming.

There can be no doubt that, just like the Song in their early days, the Ming in their early days tried out an imperial policy. When the third Ming, Yong Le, transferred his capital from Nanjing to Beijing in 1409, it was symbolic of his whole programme, meaning that he intended to keep a close watch on the nomads of the north, and if need be, to invade their territory. [12]

Yong Le did in fact intervene directly in Mongolia by lending the aid of his armies to the tribes in revolt against the successors of Genghis Khan; he did this in the hope of establishing his own suzerainty over them. And everywhere else, this particular emperor’s foreign policy was active and aggressive. In the south he annexed Tonkin, and he dispatched his warships even to such faraway places as the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. [13]

But times had changed, and the Chinese were no longer able to carry out a consistent policy of conquest. Yong Le only symbolised inert ambition. Less than 30 years after his death, those same Mongol tribes whom he had aided penetrated China in force and inflicted a decisive defeat upon the imperial army, and they even for a time held the emperor himself a prisoner. [14] The progress of events in Tonkin was even swifter; four years after Yong Le’s death, the Annamites in revolt had reconquered Hanoi and so recovered their independence. [15]

So it came about that the Ming never looked as though they wanted to re-establish an empire. On the other hand, the national territory could be safeguarded, notably against the enemy in the east, Japan, which we have already seen coming to the fore under the preceding dynasty, for Kublai’s attack on Japan was to receive its reply three centuries later. During the whole of this time, the Japanese, who had just become briefly united into one centralised state, did not cease scouring the coasts and the establishments of the Blue River and the Canton River, and in the final year of the sixteenth century invaded Korea, from where they threatened China, but they were not able to issue forth from Korea, and they finally had to evacuate it. [16]

The Chinese merchant and the Japanese seaman thus failed equally in their respective attempts to subjugate each other. For three centuries, they had to remain in their established positions and wait for our time for one of them to try his chances against the other once more.

Decay of Thought

If, from a political point of view, the Ming appeared to show progress over the Song, because in contrast with them they ruled uninterruptedly over both the Blue and the Yellow Rivers, their period nevertheless registered a vast retrogression in Chinese civilisation.

Obviously, it was still an age of luxury: it was Yong Le who was to build in Beijing the famous ‘imperial city’, whose palaces and gardens spread out over a considerable distance. [17] But art, a relaxation activity, is not itself civilisation, even if it is a sort of condensation of it, and as a result can provide a fair index of it, as this time presents obvious signs of pronounced decadence. Thus in porcelain, we find an abundance of glittering colours rather than a purity and delicacy of material. Everywhere inspiration was in short supply; to use the expression of an English critic, it lacked the ‘inner fire’ that had inspired the creativity of earlier periods.

But it was in the sphere of philosophy that the decline was most perceptible. The Ming era is marked by a violent reaction against Buddhism, because in spite of its original religion, the Ming dynasty was nonetheless a ‘national’ dynasty, and by that token, in the field of thought as in everything else, it had to represent pure sinicism as against the hybrid sinicism of the Mongols – in other words, Confucianism as against Buddhism. The Confucian literati were the great masters during the whole of this period, but they propagated a very particular kind of Confucianism, permeated by religiosity – mysticism, in other words.

The outstanding philosopher of the dynasty was Wang Yangming, who lived at the beginning of the seventeenth century. [18] He marked a reaction against reason. He appealed to intuition to grasp what could not be understood, and he regarded success as proof of the truth, not logical demonstration.

Thus we find in Wang Yangming a relationship with which we are perfectly familiar, because it marked Western philosophy at the beginning of the twentieth century – that between Bergson’s mysticism and William James’ pragmatism. [19]

If we require proof of the correctness of the inspiration that we have, then we cannot have recourse to reason, we must demand success instead. Nothing more surely reveals the state of decadence of a people than when it gives birth to and finds credence in such a philosophy. When appeal is made to instinct rather than to reason, when the attempt is made to uncover the laws of nature by introspection rather than by observation, when ‘intuition’ is substituted for ‘clear and distinct ideas’, then intelligence declines, and when intelligence declines, everything else declines.

Systems of thought based on mysticism possess a much greater influence than that possessed by systems of thought based on rationalism. Compare the pan-Asiatic expansion of Buddhism with that of Confucianism closely localised inside China; compare the spread of Christianity with that of Greek philosophy. By a curious contradiction, the faculty of reason – man’s sole universal tool – has always remained very much isolated and confined to certain peoples and to certain eras, and even with these peoples and amongst these peoples and in these eras it has always been restricted to a very small number of persons.

There was therefore nothing astonishing in the fact that the teaching of Wang Yangming emigrated on a wide scale. It secured a notable grip on Japan, where blended with Buddhism it was, according to the British historian Cranmer-Byng, the main cause of the rebirth of the Samurai spirit, the spirit of total sacrifice which, despising anything other than action, obliged each to affirm his faith by signing his own death sentence, the spirit of hara-kiri which so powerfully animated the Zen officers and the pilots of the suicide aircraft operating in the last war. [20]

Melting Money and Latifundia

If the foreign policy of the Ming and the state of Chinese civilisation in their time were reminiscent of the Song, their fiscal policy, on the other hand, was a continuation of that of the Mongols. Since the halt in the depreciation of money had led to the downfall of their predecessors, the Ming made it their first concern to return to it, and to make it more systematic.

The system they brought in was similar to that advocated during 1920-40 in certain parts of central Europe under the name of a ‘free economy’, which irreverent Frenchmen baptised with the name of ‘melting money’. It consisted of the following: banknotes had no further circulation two years after they were issued; they could then be returned to the state, which then exchanged them for others, but with a total value of two per cent less than the notes that had been returned. Thus, if prices remained stable, there was an automatic yearly reduction of one per cent on acquired wealth, or of debts incurred as a result of previous activity over present activity. This moderate reduction, however, proved insufficient, and it had to be accompanied by a still greater reduction – this, too, being operated by an old ‘anarchic’ method – the increase in prices.

This new method of inflation lasted for a good century. Like the previous one, it came to an end by having recourse to making payments in metal money. This was illegal, but the practice became more and more frequent.

On the other hand, the social policy of the Ming differed profoundly from that of almost all their predecessors, in that they did not make any effort to curb the concentration of property. Quite the contrary! The emperors of the Ming Dynasty not only built up enormous tax-free estates for the members of the royal family, but furthermore they did not make any effort to prevent the formation of great wealth by the highly placed government functionaries, whose estates were likewise exempt from taxation, and whose owners were made judges over their own tenant-farmers. China was thus becoming a feudal regime of great autonomous domains independent of the state.

Now this, as we know, is the great sign warning of the end of states. It was this sort of dismemberment of the state, enabling functionaries to transform themselves into feudal lords, which also accounted for the end of the ancient Egyptian empire, as well as of the Roman empire and the empire of Charlemagne. [21]

The Barbarians Intervene

But this process of disintegration was stopped by none other than the barbarians, who thus came to save the Chinese state in spite of itself. The barbarians, who already on two occasions, by the intervention of the Tuoba in the sixth century and of the Mongols in the thirteenth, had recreated the unity of China, were now in the seventeenth century to arrest its feudalisation through the intervention of the Manchus, who restored the system of the small-scale ownership of land.

By the beginning of the seventeenth century, because the consequences of the latifundia system had become unbearable, armed bands of expropriated peasants, created by destitution, sprang up everywhere. From 1620, Sichuan and Guizhou in the west and south-west, and Shandong in the north-east were in full revolt. Ten years later, the former two provinces drove out their governors, whilst the leader of the rebels in Shandong established his power over the whole of the eastern part of Jilin. Old China, that part comprising the north-eastern provinces of Shanxi and Henan, fell into the hands of the rebels under the leadership of one Li Zicheng, who was soon strong enough to march on Beijing, which he captured in 1644. Incapable of putting up any kind of resistance, the Ming emperor committed suicide, and his position was left vacant. [22]

But there were still ‘loyalists’. Just as under the Tang, and as in all eras and in all countries, as in France 150 years ago, the party of the fallen sovereign did not hesitate to appeal to the ‘foreigner’ in an effort to recover its privileges. Now it was just at this time that a Tungus tribe, the Manchus, were in full flower. Having descended from the forests of northern Manchuria, during the preceding 20 years the Manchus had possessed themselves of the vast plains of southern Manchuria, which beyond the Gulf of Jilin form an actual continuation of the Great Plain of China, from both the geological and the geographical point of view. Learning of the death of his emperor, the Chinese general who had the task of resisting the Manchus immediately ceased hostilities and pleaded with the barbarians to unite with him in order to drive the ‘usurper’ from Beijing. [23] This was no sooner said than done, but once in possession of the city the Manchus refused to leave, and forthwith proclaimed their own khan emperor in 1644. He was to be the first sovereign of the Manchu Dynasty, called Qing, which was to be China’s last. [24]

Thus, for the third time, the barbarians came to rule over the whole of China. On the first occasion, they were barbarians who were almost completely sinicised (the Tuoba); on the second, they were shepherds who had just emerged from their steppes (the Mongols); this time, they were hunters who had come out of their forests. Their power was to last considerably longer than that of their barbarian predecessors, the Sui and the Yuan, and for nearly as long as the Ming, almost three centuries, right up to 1912.


1. Yelü Chucai (1190-1244), a sinicised Khitan, administered northern China under Genghis Khan and Ogodai.

2. In neither case was this fear imaginary: to begin with the Mongols had forbidden land cultivation in the area of Beijing in order to allow grass to grow to supply their horses. [Author’s note] The reference here is to the plan advocated by US Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, that the heavy industry of the Ruhr should be completely dismantled at the end of the Second World War. [Editor’s note]

3. The franc suffered massive depreciation in the aftermath of the First World War. When it was finally stabilised by Poincaré in 1926, it was worth less than a fifth of its pre-war value. After the Second World War, the depreciation of the franc was effected by bringing in a new franc and degrading the value of the old.

4. Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923) was an Italian economist and sociologist. His theories about the distribution of power and income between the various élites in society were described in his Trattato di sociologia generale (1916).

5. Marco Polo (1254-1324), who came from a family of Italian explorers, arrived at the court of Kublai Khan in Shangdu in 1276, and left China in 1292. He described his travels in his famous book, Il Millione (English translation, The Travels of Marco Polo).

6. In 1292, Kublai Khan sent an expedition to conquer the Javanese Kingdom. After using the Mongol forces to restore the royal line, the king of Java’s son-in-law turned on them and drove them into the sea.

7. The Japanese were greatly assisted by stormy weather ('divine wind’) in repulsing Kublai’s attacks upon them in 1274 and 1281.

8. Even Formosa, which is only 200 kilometres from the Chinese coast, was not to be annexed to China until the end of the seventeenth century, and even then it was never really conquered, right up to the time the Japanese were to take it from China in 1895 to incorporate it into their island kingdom. [Author’s note]

9. Guo Zixing began a peasant revolt in Anhui in 1352. He was succeeded by Zhu Yuanzhang, who conquered most of the north in 1355. In 1368, the last Yuan emperor fled to Mongolia.

10. Zhu Yuanzhang began his career as a mendicant Buddhist monk. Since he had risen to power by means of the Maitreya Society, he understood the subversive potential of sectarian Buddhism, and renewed the Yuan prescription of the White Lotus and the White Cloud sects in 1370.

11. Zhu Yuanzhang, better known as Hong Wu (Emperor Tai Zu, 1368-1398), proclaimed his Ming ('Bright’) dynasty after driving out the Mongols in 1368, and conquered the rest of the country shortly afterwards.

12. Yong Le (Emperor Cheng Zu, 1402-1424) opened up fields for cultivation in the north and formally declared Beijing the capital in 1421. He attempted to assert Ming control over the Turkic and Mongolian peoples of the north and west.

13. Between 1407 and 1428, the Ming navy conquered Annam and added it to the empire. From 1403 to 1453, Admiral Zheng He was sent on repeated expeditions, penetrating as far as the Red Sea in search of allies against a threatened attack by Tamerlane.

14. In 1449, Emperor Ying Zong (Zhu Qizhen, 1435-1449, 1457-1464) was captured whilst leading his army against an attack by Esen, chief of the Oirat Mongols. He was later released and restored to the throne.

15. A Ming fleet was defeated at the mouth of the Red River in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1420, and after a further series of defeats the Chinese had to relinquish their hold on Annam in 1428.

16. In 1592, the Japanese warlord Hideyoshi invaded Korea, and the Chinese sent armies to assist the Koreans. In 1598, Hideyoshi died, and the Japanese withdrew shortly afterwards.

17. Yong Le began the construction of the Imperial City at Beijing in 1421. It took three-and-a-half years to build, employing 250 000 artisans and nearly a million peasants.

18. Wang Yangming (real name Wang Shouren, 1472-1528) advocated the theory of ‘innate knowledge’ in his books Record of Learning and Questions on the Great Learning.

19. Henri-Louis Bergson (1859-94) was a French philosopher. In his L'Évolution créatrice (1907), he argued for the impact of instinct and intelligence on evolution. William James (1842-1910) was a professor at Harvard University. In his Essays in Radical Empiricism, he put forward the most thoroughgoing pragmatism as a rule of understanding. He denied that truth or reality existed outside of this framework.

20. ‘And if you take away the influence of Chinese ideals on Japanese art, literature and ethics... what of permanent value would remain from the past? If we are to answer this question and do justice to the native spirit of Japan we must find meaning in the ancient cult of Shinto, and trace its development through Bushido into its flowering in the seventeenth century when grafted with the doctrine of Oyomei (the Japanese name for the Chinese philosopher Wang Yang Ming) by his Samurai disciple Nakae Toju.’ (Launcelot Cranmer-Byng, The Vision of Asia, London, 1934, p286)

21. Central power disintegrated in ancient Egypt during the twenty-second Dynasty (c945-713BC) when the Libyan ‘Princes of Ma’ set up semi-independent principalities. The great landowners of the late Roman Empire were able to accumulate local power by extending their hold over the peasantry through the patronage system. In 843, the Carolingian Empire was split into three parts at Verdun, but within each of the divisions only the counts had real power.

22. The last Ming emperor, Chong Zhen (Zhu Youjian, 1627-1644) hanged himself on Coal Hill behind the palace when Li Zicheng captured Beijing.

23. Wu Sangui, the Ming commander at the Shanhaiguan Pass, appealed to the invading Manchus to save the dynasty from the insurgent peasants.

24. The Manchu khan Aisin-Gioro Fu Lin (Emperor Shi Zu, 1644-1661) proclaimed the Qing, China’s last imperial dynasty, in 1644. It was only overthrown in the ‘Double Tenth’ Revolution of 1911.