The many popular risings during the latter half of the period of Mongol rule in China were all of a purely economic and social character, and at first they were not directed at all against the Mongols as representatives of an alien people. The rising under Chu Yuean-chang, which steadily gained impetus, was at first a purely social movement; indeed, it may fairly be called revolutionary. Chu was of the humblest origin; he became a monk and a peasant leader at one and the same time. Only three times in Chinese history has a man of the peasantry become emperor and founder of a dynasty. The first of these three men founded the Han dynasty; the second founded the first of the so-called “Five Dynasties” in the tenth century; Chu was the third.
Not until the Mongols had answered Chu’s rising with a tightening of the nationality laws did the revolutionary movement become a national movement, directed against the foreigners as such. And only when Chu came under the influence of the first people of the gentry who joined him, whether voluntarily or perforce, did what had been a revolutionary movement become a struggle for the substitution of one dynasty for another without interfering with the existing social system. Both these points were of the utmost importance to the whole development of the Ming epoch.
The Mongols were driven out fairly quickly and without great difficulty. The Chinese drew from the ease of their success a sense of superiority and a clear feeling of nationalism. This feeling should not be confounded with the very old feeling of Chinese as a culturally superior group according to which, at least in theory though rarely in practice, every person who assimilated Chinese cultural values and traits was a “Chinese”. The roots of nationalism seem to lie in the Southern Sung period, growing up in the course of contacts with the Juchen and Mongols; but the discriminatory laws of the Mongols greatly fostered this feeling. From now on, it was regarded a shame to serve a foreigner as official, even if he was a ruler of China.
2 Wars against Mongols and Japanese
It had been easy to drive the Mongols out of China, but they were never really beaten in their own country. On the contrary, they seem to have regained strength after their withdrawal from China: they reorganized themselves and were soon capable of counter-thrusts, while Chinese offensives had as a rule very little success, and at all events no decisive success. In the course of time, however, the Chinese gained a certain influence over Turkestan, but it was never absolute, always challenged. After the Mongol empire had fallen to pieces, small states came into existence in Turkestan, for a long time with varying fortunes; the most important one during the Ming epoch was that of Hami, until in 1473 it was occupied by the city-state of Turfan. At this time China actively intervened in the policy of Turkestan in a number of combats with the Mongols. As the situation changed from time to time, these city-states united more or less closely with China or fell away from her altogether. In this period, however, Turkestan was of no military or economic importance to China.