Too often in history, Spence continues, the Chinese Muslim communities and their role in the rebel armies that helped topple the Ming dynasty, have been "slighted." On pages 170-172, essayist Morris Rossabi writes that Muslim leader Li Tzu-ch'eng and his rebel armies were crushed by the Ming dynasty in 1638 in Szechwan. But together with Chang Hsien-chung Li built a new army, and their "participation in the revolts of the 1630s and 1640s was the culmination of a large number of Muslim border incursions...provoked by economic factors rather than ethnic or religious issues."
One of the ways in which warriors like Li (who worked with and organized Muslim rebels but is not definitely established as a Muslim) were able to remain powerful is that they "often joined the Chinese rebels" and not very often did they fight battles as a separate Muslim force. This fact has made it difficult for historians to gage just how many Muslims were involved in the final fall of the Ming Dynasty, but indeed, Rossabi asserts, the Muslims played pivotal roles in the transition from Ming to Ch'ing.
Although the Chinese histories make only a few mentions of the Muslim involvement in the fall of Ming during the 1630s and 1640s, the Muslims (p. 188) did offer "indispensable military skills" albeit not a large number of recruits. Was Li a Muslim? Japanese scholarship, Rossabi writes, indicates that Li was raised by an older Muslim female who wanted him to help her with her herd of horses. Li received some instruction in Islamic rituals, but it is believed he didn't get deeply involved in Muslim practices until his participation in the rebellions.
ACADEMICS and POLITICS: Author John Meskill explains that in the early Ming period, the establishment of academies - in part to show the government's respect for Confucius and his descendants - was slow. Between 1368 to 1464 only 69 academies (schools) were either established "repaired, or restored." That added up to one a year. However, in the years 1465 to 1505, another 125 academies were built at a rate of three per year (p. 151). Not all of these "academies" were schools, per se; some were libraries, some were "dedicated to great men...scholar-philosophers..." And these facilities served as meeting places for literati.
On page 152 Meskill explains that by the third quarter of the dynasty, the growth of academies "became luxuriant." Indeed, over a third of the academies of the entire dynasty were founded in the Chia-ching period (1522-66). However, in 1579, the prefect of Ch'ang-chou, Kiangsu, Shih Kuan-min was known to have "collected funds wrongfully" from citizens and had built, without authority, an academic. He was "dismissed" and an order went out to abolish all private academies in the empire. They were to become government buildings; citizen groups were "forbidden to gather for idle purposes..." And inspectors were ordered to "heighten their watchfulness over educational affairs" (Meskill 163).
The effects of this shut-down of schools was huge; 64 academies were converted to government use, and Chang Chu-cheng ordered scholars to "devote themselves to the essentials of government" rather than philosophy and literature. Chang was hostile to liberal education, and this is one example of how emperors pushed their narrow prejudices and bias into the faces of the citizens, and the resulting build-up of frustration was to emerge in a few years.
In conclusion, it is clear that while there is an enormous volume of historical information about the Ming dynasty's demise, there are blanks that need to be filled as to the precise personalities who played major roles in that downfall. Perhaps in the future more information will be forthcoming as to what role the Muslims, as part of the rebel revolts, actually played.
Chan, Albert. The Glory and Fall of the Ming Dynasty. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1982.
Meskill, John. "Academies and Politics in the Ming Dynasty." In Chinese Government in Ming Times, ed. Charles O. Hucker, 149-174. New York: Columbia University Press.
Parsons, James Bunyan. The Peasant Rebellions of the Late Ming Dynasty. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1970.