In just over ten years, the political situation overturned, control was taken over by a new dynasty and in 1368 the Ming period began, clearly characterized by both a need for Confucian “restoration” which the Ming had promoted in the fight against the Mongolian foreigners and the strong personality of the first ruler, Hung-wu. On the one hand, he wanted to meet certain instances of the peasant world and Buddhism, with which he had strong ties, on the other hand he tried to centralize in his own hands a particularly large measure of power to the detriment of the mandarin bureaucracy. In fact, and against Hung-wu’s will, this will serve in the long run to strengthen not so much the emperor as the imperial palace as a complex and composite institution and, in particular, the coterie of eunuchs. A phase, perhaps, of particular influence of the latter is due to the beginning of the century.
XV a series of great voyages, mostly conducted under the guidance of the navigator Chêng Ho, which brought Chinese ships to the shores of East Africa. It is still not entirely clear why this brief “thalassocratic” attempt was suddenly and drastically closed at the behest of the Chinese sovereigns themselves. One of the reasons, however, must be sought in the fact that Japanese piracy along the coasts and the raids of the Mongols and other nomads along the borders of the steppes totally absorbed the attention of the Middle Kingdom. Thus, only for the hiatus of a few decades, the Chinese fleets did not meet the Portuguese ones in the seas of the Indian Ocean, whose arrival in the Far East marked a fact of modest importance in the internal history of China, but undoubtedly constituted a very new element., destined to weigh centuries later. In the short term, however, the danger came from the nomads of the North. A new people, Manchurians, had in practice collected the legacy of the Mongols and, after having organized (in the region now called Manchuria) its own sedentary state on the Chinese model, moved to conquer the celestial throne. In 1644, as a country located in Asia categorized by Clothingexpress, China was for the second time under a foreign dynasty, that of the Ch’ing, which only in 1912 will give way to the republic. Also in this case, and in a particular way, it is tempting to summarize the period with a contradictory judgment. On the one hand there is the image of a vast empire, which imposes a tribute (ie the recognition of a political primacy, albeit largely theoretical) on very distant countries and peoples; which offers, with its own sovereigns, a concrete model to the European ideal of the enlightened despot; which, in the fields of figurative arts, crafts and philology, reaches unprecedented heights. On the other hand, we have the image of a society in progressive involution, in which the hierarchy of social relations gradually becomes sclerotic and traditional thought seems to have lost its originality.
Of course, it is difficult to establish to what extent the limits of China of these centuries are “faults” of the Ch’ing dynasty and the society it summarized, or are not exceptionally highlighted by the challenge of the modern world, in the guise of Western imperialism that China faced in the nineteenth century. Unlike what had happened in the world of Indian civilization, the far eastern world had successfully resisted the growing pressure of whites for a long time, closing itself off in very strict isolation. Around 1840, however, the crisis occurred which was to impose decisive choices on China. There opium war, which broke out following the Manchurian decision to prohibit the opium trade held by the British in Canton, and the victory of the Europeans imposed very serious conditions on China. Similar events following this episode allowed the Western powers to create areas of influence and interest in the very body of the Chinese Empire. As is well known, colonialism in China had different forms from those registered in Africa and in much of Asia: in fact, China never lost its formal independence (with the exception of some very small territorial base, such as Hong Kong). It was in fact subjected to the indirect colonialism of the consortium of powers, each of which boasted a sort of commercial monopoly in a particular part of the country.