Friday, February 17, 2006

The initial Ming attempts to win Yunnan over (1369-1380)

The first communications between the Ming dynasty and Yunnan were prescient of Yunnan’s future. Ritualistic language in formal letters of "instruction" signaled the beginning of Ming rule along the Tai-Yunnan-Burma frontier. Submission to the Ming was the next inevitable step in the cosmological order:

"From ancient times, those who have been lords of all under Heaven have looked on that which is covered by Heaven, that which is contained by the Earth and that on which the sun and moon shine, and regardless of whether the place was near or far, or what manner of people they are, there was no place for which they did not wish a peaceful land and a prosperous existence. It is natural that when China is governed peacefully, foreign countries would come and submit (來附)”…I am anxious that, as you are secluded in your distant places, you have not yet heard of my will. Thus, I am sending envoys to go and instruct you, so that you will all know of this" (14 Jul 1370, my italics).

The Mongol prince Balaswarmi, a remnant of the Yuan dynasty, ruled over Yunnan from the capital in Kunming. He ruled indirectly over an ethnically diverse collection of small polities and chieftainships in Yunnan. The most powerful of these states was controlled by the Tuan family who ruled over the area surrounding Dali (Cambridge History of China, vol. 7, p.143-44).

The Ming Shi-lu reports that envoys were sent to instruct the inhabitants of Yunnan in 1371 (MSL 8 Oct 1371). In 1372 the famous scholar Wang Wei offered terms of surrender to Yunnan as an envoy. The envoy Wang Wei was murdered in 1374 and another mission was sent in 1375. Once again the mission failed. A diplomatic mission was sent to Burma in 1374, but because Annam was at war with Champa the roads were blocked and the mission was recalled (MSL 1 Jan 1374). By 1380 the Ming were no longer wording their communications as if Yunnan was a separate country (Wade, 2004, 4). Initial gentle promptings were soon to be followed by military force.