The Wares of the Ming Dynasty

By R. L. Hobson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER X
WAN LI (1573-1619)

Shên Tsung, whose reign name is Wan Li, succeeded his father at the age of ten. Thanks to the arrangements made with the Mongols in the previous reign, China enjoyed a period of peace and prosperity during the minority of the young Emperor. In fact, the revenue at this time was so plentiful that it was found possible to remit arrears of taxation at the end of the first seven years of the reign. Wan Li as a boy is said to have been of an affectionate and lovable disposition; but doubtless owing to the influence of ambitious eunuchs who were the curse of the Ming dynasty, his character must have deteriorated as he grew up, for a censor later on had occasion to stigmatise the "bad temper and licentiousness of the Emperor."

Nor was it long before the political horizon became clouded. Wan Li had the misfortune to find himself in conflict with Noorhachu, who was destined to be the founder of the Manchu dynasty; and the last years of his reign witnessed more than one serious defeat at the hands of this redoubtable Tartar leader. Meanwhile the Japanese invasion of Corea involved the Chinese in a war with the famous Taiko Hideyoshi, which lasted till the death of the latter in 1598 and was marked by more defeats than successes. Internal insurrections were added to the external pressure, and by the end of the long reign of Wan Li the Ming dynasty was tottering to its fall.

Meanwhile there was great activity in the porcelain industry at Ching-tê Chên. The Imperial factory was put under the permanent charge of one of the sub-prefects of the district and oppressively heavy demands were made on the potters on the palace account. Such was the severity of the Superintendent and the burden of the Imperial orders that it is said that the potters made daily intercession in the temple of the God that the Imperial orders might be merciful.

The god worshipped by the potters was named Chao, a potter of the Chin dynasty ( A.D. 265-419) whose super-human skill had caused him to be canonised. He was superseded eventually by the potter T'ung, whose story is evidence of the unhappy state of affairs prevailing at the Imperial

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