2012 New History
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The Positions of the Southern Ming Regimes in Chinese History: Views of Emperor Kao-tsung of the Ch’ing Dynasty

Koon-piu Ho

Department of Chinese, Hong Kong University

Ever since the Manchus entered into China proper, the Manchu rulers had been consistently trying hard to claim their ruling of the country as legitimate. They stressed that the peasant rebels had already brought the Ming dynasty to an end before the Manchus ever tred on China. The Manchus, therefore, obtained the Mandate of Heaven to rule China directly from the rebels' hands, not from the Ming royal family. The fact that the Ming dynasty collapsed in the hands of  rebels and that  the Manchu ruling of China was in line with the will of Heaven and the needs of people, rendered all the Southern Ming regimes illegitimate entities.

Such official attitudes towards the historical positions of the southern Ming regimes remained unchanged until the middle of the Ch’ien-lung era. Instead of denouncing all of the regimes, Emperor Ch’ien-lung granted the Hung-kuang regime a legitimate position. He also prohibited his imperial historians from adopting derogatory terms in addressing the Lung-wu and Yung-li regimes even though he did not himself consider them legitimate successors of the Ming dynasty.

Emperor Kao-tsung claimed that his views on the regimes were “perfectly impartial and absolutely correct .” He made use of his position as the emperor to suppress the prevailing ideas among the Han Chinese which insisted that all those regimes were legitimate successors of the Ming dynasty. The reason was that, if the regimes were legitimate, the first seventeen years of the Ch'ing dynasty (i. e., 1644-1661) would be in turn illegitimate in Chinese history. Thus, in recognizing the legitimacy of the Hung-kuang regime, Emperor Kao-tsung was actually making a small concession for a greater advantage since the Hung-kuang regime had only a short life of one year.

Although Emperor Kao-tsung had amended the official version of legitimate successions during the Ming-Ch’ing transition, his views on the fall of the Ming dynasty and the establishment of the Ch’ing dynasty in China were merely repetitions of his ancestors'. The amendment was also not sincere as none of the regimes were granted new historical positions in the revision of the imperial sanctioned Ming-shih later.


Key Words: legitimacy, Emperor Kao-tsung, Southern Ming regimes