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    Bello, David 2017. Milk, Game or Grain for a Manchurian Outpost. Inner Asia, Vol. 19, Issue. 2, p. 240.

    Ginn, Geoffrey and Spearritt, Peter 2016. The Encyclopedia of Empire. p. 1.

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  • Print publication year: 1988
  • Online publication date: March 2008

4 - The Chien-wen, Yung-lo, Hung-hsi, and Hsüan-te reigns, 1399–1435

Summary

INTRODUCTION

The period from 1399 to 1436 spans the reigns of four descendants of the founding emperor. The short Chien-wen reign (1399–1402) which was ended precipitously by usurpation, preceded the Yung-lo reign (1403–25), an era of imperial consolidation and expansion; the Hung-hsi reign (1425– 26), which lasted only nine months, was followed by a period of stability and retrenchment during the Hsüan-te reign (1426–36). There were, then, two short interludes separating the three major reigns of the early Ming.

Despite the disorder brought about by the civil war of 1399–1402, there are more continuities with the past than discontinuities in the political, social, economic, intellectual, and cultural developments that occurred during these thirty-seven years. That is to say, institutional arrangements and policies under these four Ming emperors were largely shaped by the vision of the dynastic founder and by the policies he set in motion to realize it. Changes in earlier policies and systems did occur, particularly during the reign of the Yung-lo emperor; but under his successors certain of these were curtailed or abandoned, and what further changes did occur were for the most part moderate adjustments carried out within the framework of established institutions and traditions. This style of government established a tradition of conservatism at court early in the dynasty; at the same time it fostered dynastic stability and preserved intact both the lands and the spirit bequeathed by the founder of the dynasty.

The transfer of the imperial capital from Nanking to Peking under the Yung-lo emperor remains the most significant institutional change of this period. Although the Hung-hsi emperor attempted to return the court to Nanking, Peking became the imperial capital once again in the following reign, and it remained thereafter the capital of the Ming empire. Another major change occurred in the office of the grand secretaries: to fill the gap that existed between the throne and the imperial bureaucracy – a gap created when the founding emperor did away with the secretariat in 1380 – the grand secretaries began to advise the throne on matters of policy.

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