Book Review—1587: A Year of No Significance (4)

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Dec 4, 2019 16:25
I have written about the first chapter of "1587: A Year of No Significance." Let's consider the second, which is about the young Wanli Emperor's most influential counsellor--Zhang Juzheng.

Zhang was born in the center of China and was famous for his intelligence. The Ming Dynasty generally sought to uphold the confucian adage, "select the best scholars to be officers"(学而优则仕) and Zhang exemplified this. He ranked high in the national selection exam and was selected as senior officer to tutor the young Wanli when Wanli was still a prince. Since the coronation of Wanli's father, Zhang showed his excellent political vision and competence. Most of the officials fell under his spell and got behind him. Wanli chose him to be the Grand Secretary, entrusting
him with many duties. Zhang finally managed to roll out a series of political reforms, among them the far-reaching Single Whip Law, in the hope of rectifying the fiscal situation. In order to reduce corruption and bribery, he promoted the thrift and strengthened the supervision of mandarins. He also helped eradicate the persistent problem of Japanese pirates (倭寇) which had crippled Chinese imports and exports by supporting outstanding generals such as Qi Jiguang and Yu Dayou.

Nevertheless, after he died there was a backlash against his posthumous reputation and family. His opponents claimed that he had applied double standards, leading a luxurious life, in sharp contrast with his first disciple Wanli, who lived thriftily. His corpse was unearthed and even whipped.

The author concluded that Zhang failed in the end because he attempted to get around the mandarins and apply laws to their disfavor.


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