Ancestors: 900 Years in The Life of A Chinese Family - Ming Dynasty

Ming Dynasty

Qin Xu (1410–1495) was a well-known rustic poet of Wuxi. He was the founder of the Blue Mountain Poetry Society, a local group of intellectuals who disdained political ambitions. Frank Ching interweaves the story of Qin Xu with the story of his son Qin Hui (1434–1496), who passed the metropolitan examinations at age twenty-six and went on to a distinguished career in government. Ching also relates the story of the bamboo stove.

Qin Jin (1467–1544) served the Ming government in a variety of postings in the early 16th century. The son of a Wuxi schoolteacher, Qin Jin passed the metropolitan examinations in 1493 and became a government official. He served as governor of Huguang Province from 1514 to 1520. During this time, he personally led government forces in a series of campaigns to exterminate bandits in the region. In 1523 Qin was serving as minister of rites in Nanjing when he took the risky move of writing an official memorandum directly criticizing the policies and conduct of the Jiajing Emperor. Far from ending his career, one consequence of the memorandum was a promotion to a cabinet position in Beijing. He became known as a minister who often opposed the Jiajing Emperor’s policies. Over the next few years, Qin was forcibly retired, then reinstated, this time as minister of works. He retired to Wuxi in 1536.

Qin Liang (1515–1578) passed the metropolitan examinations in 1547 and became a prefectural judge in Nanchang, where he became known as a careful and scrupulous official. He was transferred to Beijing in 1551, but he incurred the wrath of the Jiajing Emperor when he refused to take part in the Daoist ceremonies the emperor favored. He was badly beaten with a bastinado. He retained his position in Beijing for several years, and helped supervise the expansion of the Beijing city walls. He was transferred to Nanjing in 1558, but demoted to a position in Zhejiang Province in 1563, probably as a result of his close association with the disgraced former Grand Secretary Yan Song. He retired permanently from the civil service in 1566, and devoted the rest of his life to writing, including a major revision of the local history Wuxi Gazeteer.

Qin Yao (1544–1604) was the son of Qin He, who had achieved renown for leading the defense of the town of Wukang from pirates in the 1550s. Qin Yao passed the metropolitan examinations in 1571 and quickly rose high in the civil service, partly because he was a favorite of the powerful Grand Secretary Zhang Juzheng. Qin became governor of the Nankan area of Jiangxi in 1586 and soon took part in several victories with local bandit armies. In 1589 he served as governor of famine-stricken Huguang Province for several months. He was shocked at the sight of corpses lying by the roads, and successfully lobbied Beijing for relief. The following year, Qin, who had built up an enormous personal fortune, was accused of bribery and embezzlement. His career was effectively over. He retired to Wuxi, where he spent the rest of his life.

Qin Yong (1597–1661) was a student at the Donglin Academy in Wuxi, where he was a favorite student of academy founder Gao Panlong. In 1637 Qin became magistrate of Qingjiang district, in Jiangxi Province. As magistrate, Qin wrote a history of Qingjiang which traced the region’s history back to the beginning of the Ming Dynasty. In 1643 Qin was reassigned to be the magistrate of Fenglai District in Shandong Province, but shortly afterwards the Ming Dynasty collapsed. Qin remained loyal to the Ming, and lived peacefully in retirement in Wuxi for the remainder of his life.

In the same chapter, Frank Ching also tells the story of Qin Yong’s nephew Qin Xian (1616–1698), who declared allegiance to the warlord Li Zicheng immediately after Li chased the Ming out of Beijing in 1644, in the mistaken belief that Li would found a durable new dynasty. In reality Li’s rule lasted only a month before he was defeated by the Manchu invasion. Having cast his lot with Li, Qin Xian had no prospects of employment with the newly established Qing Dynasty. Qin retired to Wuxi for the remaining fifty-four years of his life.

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