Jump to content
Chinese-forums.com
Learn Chinese in China

Altair

Beijing as the Ming Capital

Recommended Posts

Altair

I recently read this thread about Yuan Chonghuan (袁崇煥) and also read a Wikipedia article about the Russo-Japanese War at the end of the 19th century. The second article had a map which shocked me, because it showed that Beijing was practically at the border of such a large country.

I have read that the Yongle (永乐) Emperor moved the capital to Beijing in order to keep a closer watch on the border, but this seems quite drastic and quite risky. If the Great Wall was thought of as the boundary of China, or even as the boundary of the core of China, wouldn't people feel insecure about having the capital right next to it?

Was moving the capital a successful strategy, because it took so long for an invasion to succeed, or was it ultimately a bad strategy, because it made the capital vulnerable to the Manchu invasion that eventually did take place?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Site Sponsors:
Pleco for iPhone / Android iPhone & Android Chinese dictionary: camera & hand- writing input, flashcards, audio.
Study Chinese in Kunming 1-1 classes, qualified teachers and unique teaching methods in the Spring City.
Learn Chinese Characters Learn 2289 Chinese Characters in 90 Days with a Unique Flash Card System.
Hacking Chinese Tips and strategies for how to learn Chinese more efficiently
Popup Chinese Translator Understand Chinese inside any Windows application, website or PDF.
Chinese Grammar Wiki All Chinese grammar, organised by level, all in one place.

Outofin
the Yongle (永乐) Emperor moved the capital to Beijing in order to keep a closer watch on the border.

Another reason was that he thought the palace in Nanjing was inauspicious.

but this seems quite drastic and quite risky.

That's a good point. Though it's very common that ancient Chinese located the capital in Beijing to defend from the north. If the capital is in south, where do you put your armies? Around capital, or along the Great Wall? And, like Song, even though Beijing fell, they had a chance to retreat to Hangzhou.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
bhchao

The Yongle Emperor lived his youth in the Mongolian steppes, may have fought Mongols himself, and was therefore tough as nails. Relocating the capital from Nanjing to Beijing may have been a natural choice for him.

He considered the Mongols a grave threat to China when in fact their power had greatly diminished after Genghis and Kublai Khan's death. He picked the wrong enemies to fight with and should have foreseen the Manchu encroachment into China Proper.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Ian_Lee

You guys may have read Chinese history through modern perspective.

When Emperor Yongle moved the capital to Beijing, his decision was very bold.

Beijing, which had been serving as capitals for non-Han Dynasties -- Liao, Qin and Yuan -- for over 400 years before Ming, was basically quite an alien territory under the eyes of Ming.

And common sense could tell that by early Ming's time, Great Wall must have been dilipidated since it had lost its function because it was located way inside the territory of Liao, Qin and Yuan.

Only under Yongle did the Great Wall start its great refurbishment.

But Yongle's move was bold because no Han-based dynasties ever put its capital as far north as Beijing before him.

And it took a lot of gut because Ming regime, which consisted of Middle and Southern Chinese (Emperor Zhu was born in Anhui), might not know what were exactly in the minds of those northern Chinese whom had been under centuries of rule of nomad-based regimes.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
bhchao

That is a valid hypothesis. However I think moving the capital to Beijing had more practical advantages than having the capital at Nanjing. One advantage was easy deployment of infantry to counter "alien" invasions from the north. By having the capital at Beijing, Yongle would have an easier time coordinating his forces against the northern pastoral nomads. Thus the time it took his troops to respond against northern incursions would be greatly reduced since they were there on the spot, rather than being located all the way in Nanjing.

Beijing was also a very strategic location at that time. That could be one explanation of Yuan Chonghuan's successes since he had overall command of forces at a strategic spot.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
ala
The Yongle Emperor lived his youth in the Mongolian steppes, may have fought Mongols himself, and was therefore tough as nails. Relocating the capital from Nanjing to Beijing may have been a natural choice for him.

The move to Beijing was strongly opposed by many people in authority or influence at the time, but Yongle ultimately could not be swayed, it probably had something to do with his birthplace and the fact his mother was Korean.

That is a valid hypothesis. However I think moving the capital to Beijing had more practical advantages than having the capital at Nanjing. One advantage was easy deployment of infantry to counter "alien" invasions from the north. By having the capital at Beijing, Yongle would have an easier time coordinating his forces against the northern pastoral nomads. Thus the time it took his troops to respond against northern incursions would be greatly reduced since they were there on the spot, rather than being located all the way in Nanjing.

It was not a practical choice because the entire capital of Beijing had to be built from scratch, materials were shipped from all over China to Beijing. This move would prove a huge cultural shift for Chinese civilization; when the capital went to Beijing, China became more totalitarian and centralized than ever before in history, leading to its precipitous decline.

The northern nomad threat was no longer there by the 1400's, the Manchu's were no threat at the time either. If anything, having the capital in Beijing made it EASIER for the Manchus to conquer all of China. It's stupid putting your capital at the border of your enemies, especially when wars then were land-based. Had the capital been in Nanjing, the Manchus would've never successfully conquered all of China. Even the Japanese, in the age of naval and air warfare, could not conquer all of China when the capital was in Nanjing. The Manchus had no navy. By the time they invaded their way to Nanjing, Nanjing would have long been prepared or evacuated. We would not see a sudden loss as we did with the capital in Beijing.

If the capital was not moved to Beijing, China today would have a much smaller population (most likely not past 400 million today) and a much smaller territory (without Tibet, Xinjiang, Manchuria/Dongbei, Inner Mongolia). China would have been less centralized and repeat civil wars from 1600's on would probably be inevitable, China might have had an easier time modernizing and industrializing, more similar to Japan's experience of modernization.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Outofin
If the capital was not moved to Beijing, China today would have a much smaller population (most likely not past 400 million today) and a much smaller territory (without Tibet, Xinjiang, Manchuria/Dongbei, Inner Mongolia). China would have been less centralized and repeat civil wars from 1600's on would probably be inevitable, China might have had an easier time modernizing and industrializing, more similar to Japan's experience of modernization.

What a statement, as if you have seen.:-?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
ala
What a statement, as if you have seen.

Ifs, woulds and mights are hypothetical subjunctive statements. This entire discussion has been hypothetical.

- China's population before the Qing dynasty was not over 100 million. Qing dynasty was highly stable, it is unlikely any other dynasty would have matched this stability.

- China didn't fully secure Xinjiang, Tibet, Mongolia, Manchuria before the Qing dynasty. If the Manchurians did not succeed in occupying all of China, it is unlikely that regions like Mongolia and Xinjiang and of course Manchuria would have submitted to Chinese rule. Mongolians and Koreans then were more willing to submit to Manchurians than to the Han Chinese.

- The loss of the capital of Beijing to the Manchurians led to quick losses for other cities. The loss of Nanjing during WWII to the Japanese, did not lead to the entire collapse of China. In both incidences, the foreign invasions occurred during domestic civil war/unrest.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
bhchao
It's stupid putting your capital at the border of your enemies, especially when wars then were land-based. Had the capital been in Nanjing, the Manchus would've never successfully conquered all of China.

I see your point, yet Kaifeng was the capital of Northern Song and it still fell to the Jurchens. Is Kaifeng at almost the same longtitude as Nanjing? Hangzhou is even further south than Nanjing, and it fell to the Mongols during Southern Song.

The decision to move the capital to Beijing may also have been influenced by the fact that the bloody purges of Zhu Yunwen's supporters took place in Nanjing. Even people who took the civil service exams during Zhu Yunwen's reign were seeked out and massacred.

Yongle may have felt uncomfortable residing in Nanjing, the city where he usurped the throne from Zhu Yunwen and where so many people hated him for the events that happened following the usurpation.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Ian_Lee

There is reason why most regimes didn't choose Nanjing as capital.

Because except Ming, no other regimes that established capital in Nanjing could unify and rule the whole China.

And actually Nanjing could be quite vulnerable. When China was totally without any coastal defense and in a semi-colonial status, foreign battleships could cruise the Yangtze and anchor in any ports close to Nanjing. In fact, it just took weeks for the fall of Nanjing after Japan changed its tactics and landed in Hangzhou Bay after their Shanghai offensive had become a stalemate in 1937.

For national security sake, the capital should be in Chongqing.

In terms of geographical center for the whole country, the capital should be in Lanzhou.

In terms of geographical center just for China Proper, the capital should be in Wuhan.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
bhchao
Because except Ming, no other regimes that established capital in Nanjing could unify and rule the whole China.

This is quite true because Liu Bang shrewdly placed his base of operations near Xianyang, the old Qin capital, to give himself a strategic advantage over Xiang Yu. He occupied all the mountain passes leading into Xianyang. That strategic move helped give Liu Bang an advantage over Xiang Yu.

And actually Nanjing could be quite vulnerable. When China was totally without any coastal defense and in a semi-colonial status, foreign battleships could cruise the Yangtze and anchor in any ports close to Nanjing. In fact, it just took weeks for the fall of Nanjing after Japan changed its tactics and landed in Hangzhou Bay after their Shanghai offensive had become a stalemate in 1937.

Very true. Foreign warships used the Yangtze to cruise all the way to Nanjing and even prepared to shell the city during the Opium War.

For national security sake, the capital should be in Chongqing.

Had the capital been in Chongqing in 1937, Chiang Kai-shek would not need to wage an all-out battle at Shanghai since the capital would be hundreds of miles in the mountaineous interior, instead of being in close proximity to an amphibious landing site.

Chiang could then use his knowledge of the terrain in Sichuan province to bog the Japanese down and devise traps for them using his geographical advantage (should they come advancing towards Chongqing). He wouldn't need to use all his best troops simultaneously like he did at Shanghai. He would have the time to plan which battles to fight, when and where.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
ala
Had the capital been in Chongqing in 1937, Chiang Kai-shek would not need to wage an all-out battle at Shanghai since the capital would be hundreds of miles in the mountaineous interior, instead of being in close proximity to an amphibious landing site.

Had the capital been in Chongqing at the first place, the Japanese would have stopped fighting as soon as it occupied the coastal cities and the cities along the Yangtze (Shanghai, Nanjing, Wuhan, Changsha). There would be no stalemate. The Japanese would have won. Chongqing is backwater. The battle at Shanghai convinced the Japanese that the invasion would be harder than expected, that there was still a resistance, and it drastically harmed American relations with the Japanese (Battle of Shanghai and Nanjing Massacre). The Japanese had planned to conquer China in a couple of months; had the capital been in Chongqing, the Japanese would've seen little resistance and the whole matter would've been finished by that time. It was a good move to have the capital in Nanjing and then evacuate to Chongqing when all else failed, this made stalemate POSSIBLE. Otherwise the Japanese would've just ignored your Chongqing capital, and the ROC would've felt like Dalai Lama in exile.

The point is this: don't put capitals in backwater regions of your country; you are detached from your core economic/productive/industrial zones when you do so, making both parts vulnerable. Beijing during the Ming Dynasty was backwater. Also Manchus don't have a navy, so they can't just easily go up the Yangtze and sack Nanjing. Had the capital been in Beijing during WWII, there would be no place nor time to even evacuate when the Japanese came as the Japanese had Manchuria already. A north-south invasion would have been far easier to achieve than the Japanese's east-west invasion of China.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Ian_Lee

If Beijing was inappropriate to be the capital of Ming, then probalby it is more unfit to be the capital of contemporary PRC.

The economic and financial regions have shifted from Manchuria in 1950s to the Yangtze River Delta and Pearl River Delta at present.

If you look at similar size countries, no other capital is so far away from its most important financial/industrial/manufacturing center as PRC is.

Maybe there ought to be a capital relocation.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
gato

Moving the capital south does not seem to be in the works. What is being done to supply the dry north with southern water, the so-called "南水北调" project. One wonders if encouraging people to move south might be more cost effective and sustainable.

http://www.usc.cuhk.edu.hk/wk_wzdetails.asp?id=2406

 北京缺水形势十分严峻,人均水资源量不足400立方米,仅为世界人均水平的1/30,在全世界120个国家的大都市中居100位以后。20世纪中叶以来,北京已发生了3次供水危机,据专家预测北京正面临第4次水资源危机的威胁:一是用水需求超出了区域水资源的承载能力;二是上游用水量增加导致入境水量急剧减少;三是水资源过量开采导致生态环境恶化;四是市内水污染不断加剧,造成水资源更加紧张。尽管北京将采取各种节水与挖潜措施,但是如遇到中等干旱年或特殊干旱年,到2010年缺水量仍将达到4.9~7.7亿立方米。考虑到申奥成功,各项有关建设的力度将迅速加大,用水量也将大幅度提高,因此,在今后几年里北京供水缺口将会更大。2008年奥运会期间,北京的用水量也会大量增加。加快南水北调工程进度,保证足够和清洁达标的水资源供给,将成为北京成功举办奥运会的重要条件。

http://www.usc.cuhk.edu.hk/wk_wzdetails.asp?id=2600

中国的水资源问题

"南水北调" from Wikipedia

http://news.sina.com.cn/c/2005-05-11/02586604180.shtml

南水北调中线工程2010年完工 北京人将喝长江水

http://tech.tom.com/2006-01-04/004U/09402215.html

21世纪经济报道:南水北调的山东难题

http://www.zaobao.com/special/forum/pages1/forum_lx050517b.html

南水北调与节约用水

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
bhchao

Moving the capital southwards to the Pearl River Delta region does not seem realistic despite the region's economic preeminence.

As history illustrates, which Ian pointed out, no government has unified China in the past with a capital that is far south of the Yangtze.

This may be a matter of pure coincidence. Wei conquered Shu and Wu during the Three Kingdoms period. This victory over the other two kingdoms may be purely attributable to leadership and tactics, rather than the geographic locations of the Three Kingdoms.

The Ten Southern Dynasties fell to Sui Yangjian (a northerner who had his base near Xian) just before he unified the country and paved the way for Sui, and eventually Tang to take control.

The KMT had its roots in Guangdong, but the capital of the ROC was never intended to be so far south in Guangdong. Chiang Kai-shek had to launch a Northern Expedition against the warlords in the north in order to unify China. That failed, and the warlords in the north, like Feng Yu-hsiang and Yan Xishan, fought Chiang repeatedly during the 1930's.

New York is the financial capital of the US. Yet it's fair to say that moving the capital of the US back to NYC would not make sense today.

Seoul is one of those capitals where all the important institutions of the country (financial, economic, and political) are centered in one city. Even President Roh is contemplating moving part of the governmental administrative functions further south, which many politicians oppose. Seoul is one of those rare cities where financial and political institutions are so tightly integrated in one setting that it is difficult to imagine having the capital elsewhere, despite the city being 30 miles away from the DMZ.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
ala
This may be a matter of pure coincidence. Wei conquered Shu and Wu during the Three Kingdoms period. This victory over the other two kingdoms may be purely attributable to leadership and tactics, rather than the geographic locations of the Three Kingdoms.

Hehe, wasn't Wu 吴 the longest lasting of the Three Kingdoms? Wei 魏 was conquered by the Jin 晋.

Wei managed to conquer Shu 蜀汉 just before falling to the Sima clan, but not Wu.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
bhchao

You're right! I made mistake. Wu fell to Jin after a Wei court official usurped the throne and founded Jin.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and select your username and password later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Click here to reply. Select text to quote.

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


×
×
  • Create New...