Despite the loss of Beijing and the death of the emperor, the Ming were not yet totally destroyed.
However, there were several pretenders for the Ming throne, and their forces were divided. These scattered Ming remnants in southern China after were collectively designated by 19th-century historians as the Southern Ming. Zhu Shugui proclaimed that he acted in the name of the deceased Yongli Emperor. Later the Qianlong Emperor bestowed the title Marquis of Extended Grace posthumously on Zhu Zhilian in , and the title passed on through twelve generations of Ming descendants until the end of the Qing dynasty in In , after the overthrow of the Qing dynasty in the Xinhai Revolution , some advocated that a Han Chinese be installed as Emperor, either the descendant of Confucius, who was the Duke Yansheng ,      or the Ming dynasty Imperial family descendant, the Marquis of Extended Grace.
Described as "one of the greatest eras of orderly government and social stability in human history" by Edwin O. Reischauer , John K. Fairbank and Albert M. Craig ,  the Ming emperors took over the provincial administration system of the Yuan dynasty, and the thirteen Ming provinces are the precursors of the modern provinces. Departing from the main central administrative system generally known as the Three Departments and Six Ministries system, which was instituted by various dynasties since late Han BCE — CE , the Ming administration had only one Department, the Secretariat, that controlled the Six Ministries.
The Hongwu Emperor sent his heir apparent to Shaanxi in to "tour and soothe" xunfu the region; in the Yongle Emperor commissioned 26 officials to travel the empire and uphold similar investigatory and patrimonial duties. By these xunfu assignments became institutionalized as " grand coordinators ".
Hence, the Censorate was reinstalled and first staffed with investigating censors, later with censors-in-chief.
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By , the grand coordinators were granted the title vice censor-in-chief or assistant censor-in-chief and were allowed direct access to the emperor. Censors had the power to impeach officials on an irregular basis, unlike the senior officials who were to do so only in triennial evaluations of junior officials.
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Although decentralization of state power within the provinces occurred in the early Ming, the trend of central government officials delegated to the provinces as virtual provincial governors began in the s. By the late Ming dynasty, there were central government officials delegated to two or more provinces as supreme commanders and viceroys, a system which reined in the power and influence of the military by the civil establishment.
Governmental institutions in China conformed to a similar pattern for some two thousand years, but each dynasty installed special offices and bureaus, reflecting its own particular interests.
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The Ming administration utilized Grand Secretaries to assist the emperor, handling paperwork under the reign of the Yongle Emperor and later appointed as top officials of agencies and Grand Preceptor, a top-ranking, non-functional civil service post, under the Hongxi Emperor ruled — The imperial household was staffed almost entirely by eunuchs and ladies with their own bureaus. The eunuchs were divided into different directorates in charge of staff surveillance, ceremonial rites, food, utensils, documents, stables, seals, apparel, and so on.
Although the imperial household was staffed mostly by eunuchs and palace ladies, there was a civil service office called the Seal Office, which cooperated with eunuch agencies in maintaining imperial seals, tallies, and stamps. The Hongwu emperor from to staffed his bureaus with officials gathered through recommendations only.
After that the scholar-officials who populated the many ranks of bureaucracy were recruited through a rigorous examination system that was initially established by the Sui dynasty — However, the government did exact provincial quotas while drafting officials. This was an effort to curb monopolization of power by landholding gentry who came from the most prosperous regions, where education was the most advanced.
The expansion of the printing industry since Song times enhanced the spread of knowledge and number of potential exam candidates throughout the provinces. For young schoolchildren there were printed multiplication tables and primers for elementary vocabulary; for adult examination candidates there were mass-produced, inexpensive volumes of Confucian classics and successful examination answers.
As in earlier periods, the focus of the examination was classical Confucian texts, while the bulk of test material centered on the Four Books outlined by Zhu Xi in the 12th century. The exams increased in difficulty as the student progressed from the local level, and appropriate titles were accordingly awarded successful applicants.
Officials were classified in nine hierarchic grades, each grade divided into two degrees, with ranging salaries nominally paid in piculs of rice according to their rank. While provincial graduates who were appointed to office were immediately assigned to low-ranking posts like the county graduates, those who passed the palace examination were awarded a jinshi 'presented scholar' degree and assured a high-level position. The maximum tenure in office was nine years, but every three years officials were graded on their performance by senior officials.
If they were graded as superior then they were promoted, if graded adequate then they retained their ranks, and if graded inadequate they were demoted one rank. In extreme cases, officials would be dismissed or punished. Only capital officials of grade 4 and above were exempt from the scrutiny of recorded evaluation, although they were expected to confess any of their faults. There were over 4, school instructors in county and prefectural schools who were subject to evaluations every nine years.
The Chief Instructor on the prefectural level was classified as equal to a second-grade county graduate.
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The Supervisorate of Imperial Instruction oversaw the education of the heir apparent to the throne; this office was headed by a Grand Supervisor of Instruction, who was ranked as first class of grade three. Historians debate whether the examination system expanded or contracted upward social mobility.
On the one hand, the exams were graded without regard to a candidate's social background, and were theoretically open to everyone. In practice, 90 percent of the population was ineligible because of lack of education. However that upper 10 percent had equal chances for moving to the top.
To be successful young men had to have extensive, expensive training in classical Chinese, the use of Mandarin in spoken conversation, calligraphy, and had to master the intricate poetic requirements of the eight-legged essay. Not only did the traditional gentry dominated the system, they also learned that conservatism and resistance to new ideas was the path to success. For centuries critics had pointed out these problems, but the examination system only became more abstract and less relevant to the needs of China.
Scholar-officials who entered civil service through examinations acted as executive officials to a much larger body of non-ranked personnel called lesser functionaries.
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They outnumbered officials by four to one; Charles Hucker estimates that they were perhaps as many as , throughout the empire. These lesser functionaries performed clerical and technical tasks for government agencies. Yet they should not be confused with lowly lictors, runners, and bearers; lesser functionaries were given periodic merit evaluations like officials and after nine years of service might be accepted into a low civil service rank. Eunuchs gained unprecedented power over state affairs during the Ming dynasty. One of the most effective means of control was the secret service stationed in what was called the Eastern Depot at the beginning of the dynasty, later the Western Depot.
This secret service was overseen by the Directorate of Ceremonial, hence this state organ's often totalitarian affiliation. Eunuchs had ranks that were equivalent to civil service ranks, only theirs had four grades instead of nine. Descendants of the first Ming emperor were made princes and given typically nominal military commands, annual stipends, and large estates. Although princes served no organ of state administration, the princes, consorts of the imperial princesses, and ennobled relatives did staff the Imperial Clan Court , which supervised the imperial genealogy. Like scholar-officials, military generals were ranked in a hierarchic grading system and were given merit evaluations every five years as opposed to three years for officials.
This was due to their hereditary service instead of solely merit-based and Confucian values that dictated those who chose the profession of violence wu over the cultured pursuits of knowledge wen. In the early half of the dynasty, men of noble lineage dominated the higher ranks of military office; this trend was reversed during the latter half of the dynasty as men from more humble origins eventually displaced them. Literature , painting , poetry , music , and Chinese opera of various types flourished during the Ming dynasty, especially in the economically prosperous lower Yangzi valley.
Although short fiction had been popular as far back as the Tang dynasty — ,  and the works of contemporaneous authors such as Xu Guangqi, Xu Xiake, and Song Yingxing were often technical and encyclopedic, the most striking literary development was the vernacular novel. While the gentry elite were educated enough to fully comprehend the language of Classical Chinese , those with rudimentary education — such as women in educated families, merchants, and shop clerks — became a large potential audience for literature and performing arts that employed Vernacular Chinese.
Jin Ping Mei , published in , although incorporating earlier material, marks the trend toward independent composition and concern with psychology. Theater scripts were equally imaginative. Informal essay and travel writing was another highlight. Xu Xiake — , a travel literature author, published his Travel Diaries in , written characters , with information on everything from local geography to mineralogy. In contrast to Xu Xiake, who focused on technical aspects in his travel literature, the Chinese poet and official Yuan Hongdao — used travel literature to express his desires for individualism as well as autonomy from and frustration with Confucian court politics.
This anti-official sentiment in Yuan's travel literature and poetry was actually following in the tradition of the Song dynasty poet and official Su Shi — They drew upon the techniques, styles, and complexity in painting achieved by their Song and Yuan predecessors, but added techniques and styles. Well-known Ming artists could make a living simply by painting due to the high prices they demanded for their artworks and the great demand by the highly cultured community to collect precious works of art.
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Renowned artists often gathered an entourage of followers, some who were amateurs who painted while pursuing an official career and others who were full-time painters. The period was also renowned for ceramics and porcelains. The major production center for porcelain was the imperial kilns at Jingdezhen in Jiangxi province, most famous in the period for blue and white porcelain , but also producing other styles.
The Dehua porcelain factories in Fujian catered to European tastes by creating Chinese export porcelain by the late 16th century. Individual potters also became known, such as He Chaozong , who became famous in the early 17th century for his style of white porcelain sculpture. Carved designs in lacquerware and designs glazed onto porcelain wares displayed intricate scenes similar in complexity to those in painting.
The houses of the rich were also furnished with rosewood furniture and feathery latticework. The writing materials in a scholar's private study, including elaborately carved brush holders made of stone or wood, were designed and arranged ritually to give an aesthetic appeal. Connoisseurship in the late Ming period centered on these items of refined artistic taste, which provided work for art dealers and even underground scammers who themselves made imitations and false attributions.
The dominant religious beliefs during the Ming dynasty were the various forms of Chinese folk religion and the Three Teachings — Confucianism , Taoism , and Buddhism. The Yuan -supported Tibetan lamas fell from favor, and the early Ming emperors particularly favored Taoism, granting its practitioners many positions in the state's ritual offices. Islam was also well-established throughout China, with a history said to have begun with Sa'd ibn Abi Waqqas during the Tang dynasty and strong official support during the Yuan. The advent of the Ming was initially devastating to Christianity: in his first year, the Hongwu Emperor declared the eighty-year-old Franciscan missions among the Yuan heterodox and illegal.
During the later Ming a new wave of Christian missionaries arrived — particularly Jesuits — who employed new western science and technology in their arguments for conversion. They were educated in Chinese language and culture at St.
Paul's College on Macau after its founding in The most influential was Matteo Ricci , whose " Map of the Myriad Countries of the World " upended traditional geography throughout East Asia, and whose work with the convert Xu Guangqi led to the first Chinese translation of Euclid 's Elements in The discovery of a Nestorian stele at Xi'an in also permitted Christianity to be treated as an old and established faith, rather than as a new and dangerous cult.