Ming Shi-Lu (Veritable Records)

The following are short records produced by Ming officials, documents that recorded the activities of the government, compiled after an emperor died from the 'Daily Records' from the imperial court and provincial records. The pieces below--dated to the events discussed--were actually compiled in 1418, 1430, and 1509.

If the authors are a number of government officials collating these stories decades after the event occured, what sort of skepticism should you have while reading? Are there any passages in the documents that make you suspicious about the accuracy or bias of the records?

What sort of imperial activity is being described here? What evidence exists below that show that the Ming ran an empire? What techniques did they use, according to these documents, to manage such a huge polity?


3 Feb 1369 [during the reign of the Hong-wu Emperor]

The Prefect Yi Ji was sent to make known an Imperial proclamation in Annam. The proclamation read: "In their rule over the realm, the Kings and Emperors of the past, wherever the sun and moon shone, whether far or near, looked upon all people, equally and without distinction. China was thus made stable, all persons on the four sides were in their appropriate place and there were none who did not declare themselves subjects. But since the Yuan [Mongol] rule abandoned the eternal principles, there has been fighting throughout the realm for 17 years and news has been difficult to communicate to the four sides, near or far. I established myself to the east of the [Yangtze] river, swept away the competing chieftains and settled the relations between the yi [a Chinese lumping of many southerners, called Burmese, Thai, or Vietnamese today] and the Chinese. The officials and people thrust me forward and supported me. I am now the ruler of China, where I have established the dynastic title `Great Ming' and have changed the era name to Hong-wu. Recently the Yuan capital has been overcome and pacified and all within the borders are united, thus constituting our legitimate succession. And now our relations with all both near and far are those of security and freedom from concerns, as we all enjoy the blessings of an era of Great Peace. There is only the matter that you of the four yi, with your chieftains and commanders, being far away, have not learned of this. I am thus issuing this proclamation so that you will be fully aware of the situation."

14 Mar 1369 [Hong-wu Emperor]

Wu Yong, Yan Zong-lu and Yang Zai were sent as envoys to the countries of Champa, Java and Japan. An Imperial letter was conferred on A-da-a-zhe, the king of the country of Champa. It read: "On the fourth day of the second month of this year (12 Mar 1369), Hu-du-man [the Champa envoy] arrived and presented tigers and elephants. I am now fully aware of your sincere sentiments. However, before Hu-du-man arrived, my envoy was already on his way to you. I sent my envoy to you as I wished to inform you of events. Previously, our country was seized and occupied by hu for 100 years. They caused yi and di to gradually spread in the four directions, and they discarded the constant relationships of our country of China. Thus, I took up arms to punish them. Fighting for over twenty years, I exterminated them, brought peace and became ruler of China. All under Heaven is now at peace, but I fear that the yi in the four directions have not heard of this. Thus, I have sent envoys to report this to the various countries. ... Now I am sending you a copy of the calendar Da Tong Li and 40 bolts of fine silks and silk gauzes interwoven with gold thread. I am also sending a special messenger to escort your envoy on his return and to instruct you in the Way. If you are able to accord with the Way of Heaven, the people of Champa will be at peace in their lives, you will long maintain your position and your prosperity will be passed on to your sons and grandsons. The one on high (上帝) will truly be watching and you must not be remiss in your exertions." Hu-du-man and his attendants were also given fine silks and silk gauzes in appropriate quantities. The Imperial letter conferred upon the king of the country of Java read: "The legitimate succession to rule of China was usurped by hu and for 100 years the obligations of morality were ignored and the principles were turned upside down. I thus took up arms to punish them and after twenty years, all within the seas is now settled. I have received Heaven's mandate and am now ruler of China. ...".


24 Jun 1369 [Hong-wu Emperor]

The Fu-jian Branch Secretariat was established, with the eight prefectures of Fu-zhou, Ting-zhou, Zhang-zhou, Quan-zhou, Jian-ning, Shao-wu, Xing-hua and Yan-ping subordinate to it. It was ordered that Cai Zhe, a vice commissioner in the Secretariat take up the post of administration vice commissioner. The Emperor said: "...The territory of Fu-jian borders the great ocean and it is rich in people and resources. The fan ships come and go from there and there are many people who trade privately with them. In the past many officials fell into criminal ways through the avenue of bribery. Now it is ordered that when you proceed there you must firmly guard against falling into such ways."....

30 December 1369 [Hong-wu Emperor]

The Han-lin Compiler Luo Fu-ren and Zhang Fu, a secretary in the Ministry of War, were sent to present an Imperial proclamation to instruct the kings of the countries of Annam and Champa. The proclamation stated: "I [Zhu Yuanzhang/Hong-wu] was originally one of the ordinary people. When all under Heaven became disordered, I took up arms to protect the village. I did not expect the heroes to flock around as followers. I commanded them for several years and my territory increased daily, while my troops grew in strength. Then my ministers and the people favored and supported me as ruler of all under Heaven, so that I succeeded to the legitimate rule. This has been so for three years. Of all the foreign lands which have come to offer tribute, the first was Annam, followed by Korea and then by Champa. All have been able to submit memorials acknowledging themselves subjects. This accords with the ancient system and I am extremely pleased. Recently, Champa sent the grand councillor Pu-dan-ma-du to come and offer tribute. He reported that Annam had attacked them with troops and I saw that [report] my heart was not at ease. I bear in mind that your two countries, from antiquity until now, have had a fixed boundary; your two states cannot be made one by force. This is the will of Heaven. Moreover, your lands are separated from China by mountains and seas. The truth of the reported military incursions is thus difficult to immediately assess. It seems to me that you two have maintained your succession for long generations, protecting your lands and caring for your people. You have esteemed the Way of Heaven while respecting and serving China. Your former kings certainly must have left their testamentary injunctions to you, so that you do not need to await my edicts to know how to act. I am the ruler of all under Heaven. I control disorder and assist those in peril. These are things which principle dictates. I am now sending an envoy to examine this matter and to instruct you in the proper way to show your awe of Heaven and to not act beyond your own status. If you take up arms against each other and fight on for years without resolution, it will indeed bring calamity to your people, and the One on High (上帝), who loves life, will indeed be displeased. It is thus likely that, above, Heaven would change its countenance, while below the people would harbour resentment. Thereby, calamity would be unavoidable. Rulers of these two countries, you should both listen to my words, each observing the Way, and be content in your present circumstances. Thus, you and your sons and grandsons will enjoy everlasting prosperity. Would that not be desirable?" When the proclamations arrived, the two countries heeded them and ordered that the troops cease fighting.

5 Feb 1384 [Hong-wu Emperor]

The Yun-nan native chieftain Shen Bao was appointed as vice prefect of Yong-chang Prefecture...

2 Dec 1384 [Hong-wu Emperor]

The Yun-nan Provincial Administration Commission advised: "Of the major and minor native officials under our jurisdiction, some have inherited their posts and some have been appointed. For example, the Jing-dong Prefect E Tao and the A-mi Subprefectural Magistrate He Ning have inherited their posts, while the Assistant Magistrate Zhao He of Luo-ci County in Yun-nan Prefecture and the Police Officer Li Zhi of Pu-chang Police Office in Yao-an Prefecture were appointed. Those who have inherited posts have long lived in their territories and they have their own stores and means of livelihood. It is thus not necessary to provide them with salaries and allowances. Those who are appointed have generally come to sojourn (流寓) in these areas and because they have won the support of the local people we are employing them for a time. If we do not give them salaries, they will have no means of sustaining a livelihood. The law officials are more likely to accept bribes. They are also divided into the two grades of salaried and unsalaried. At present, there is no basis on which to apply the laws in handling crimes by the native officials. It is requested that the fixing of regulations be deliberated upon." The Emperor ordered the six ministries to jointly deliberate upon this. They proposed: "Appointed native officials who commit offences should have their punishments decided in accordance with those for circulating officials, while in respect of the offences committed by those who inherit posts, the offices should not be permitted to arbitrarily punish them. First, depositions should be taken so as to ascertain the facts, and final deliberations should be memorialized. When due punishment is flogging or a lesser punishment, details should be recorded in their files. When banishment is due, they should be transferred to another place." These proposals were set down as orders.

10 Oct 1397 [Hong-wu Emperor]

Dao Gan-meng of the Lu-chuan/Ping-mian Pacification Superintendency rebelled and drove off the Pacification Superintendent [chieftain] Si Lun-fa. Initially, the people in Ping-mian did not believe in Buddhism. A monk went there from Yun-nan and spoke well about the effects of one's actions in successive lives [karma] . Si Lun-fa placed great trust in his words. Also some border troops from Jin-chi fled to his territory. They were familiar with cannons (火砲) and guns (火銃). Si Lun-fa was pleased with their abilities. Thus he gave them gold belts and, with the monk, placed them above the various tribes. Dao Gan-meng hated them and thus, together with his subordinates, rebelled. He then led his troops to attack Teng-chong Prefecture. Si Lun-fa, afraid of Gan-meng's power, fled to Yun-nan and the Xi-ping Marquis Mu Chun sent him to the capital. [In 1398, Dao Gan-meng was captured by "Forward General for Subduing the Lu" (and his forces), returned to Nanjing, and beheaded. ]

7 Oct 1406 [Yong-le Emperor]

The eunuch Ma Bin and others were sent carrying orders with which to instruct Zhan-ba Di-lai, the king of the country of Champa. The orders read: "Your grandson Bu Po-liang-wei-jiao-lan-de-sheng-na-mo and others whom you sent, have come to Court and offered tribute of local products. They have also said that the Li bandits of Annam have attacked and occupied your territory, driven off and seized people and livestock and been endlessly oppressive. Thus they submitted your request that troops be sent to punish Annam. The Li bandits have killed successive rulers of that country, usurped the throne, taken on a dynastic title and adopted a reign title, made things difficult for the people and produced indignation throughout the country. Chen Tian-ping, the grandson of a former king, was driven off by the Li and placed his life in the hands of the Court. The Li bandits requested than Chen be returned to that country so that they could serve him as their lord. As I promote sincerity, I was not suspicious and I sent people to escort him back. However, en route, the bandits intercepted him and killed him. The Li have opposed the orders of the Court and their crimes mount to Heaven. These crimes cannot be tolerated or excused. Thus, I have already sent the Cheng-guo Duke Zhu Neng, regional commander and "General for Subduing the Yi", and others to lead the Great Army in punishing their crimes. I have ordered that they must eliminate the Li in order to bring peace to the people. You should strictly guard the borders and prevent the bandits' escape through strategic points. Those people from Annam who have previously gone to live in Champa will not be punished. However, no fugitives who arrive in future are to be concealed. If you apprehend the bandit Li and his son and their evil cohorts, bind them and send them to the capital. You will be amply rewarded for your efforts. You should exert yourself in this." A silver seal plated in gold, silk gauze headwear, a gold belt, 100 liang of gold, 500 liang of silver, two sets of clothing made from patterned fine silks interwoven with gold thread as well as brocaded fine silks, silk gauzes and other goods were conferred upon him.

27 Oct 1406 [Yong-le Emperor]

Imperial orders were sent to the Cheng-guo Duke Zhu Neng, regional commander of the force being sent on expedition to punish Annam. The orders read: "The military matters are set and the previous orders have all been acted upon. You should examine the situation carefully and then proceed. When you meet the enemy, if they resist you with weapons, kill them without leniency. However, those who submit, those who receive you and those who run away to hide, are not to be killed. In this way, you will manifest my love for mankind."

19 Nov 1406 [Yong-le Emperor]

On this day, the Xin-cheng Marquis Zhang Fu, deputy general of the right of the force being sent on expedition to punish Annam, and others, leading the troops, departed from Ping-xiang, passed through Po-lei Pass and offered a sacrifice to the mountains and rivers within the borders of Annam. The spirits were advised of the crimes of the Li bandits, that they had killed the rulers, treated the people harshly, encroached on China's territory and insulted the superior.

The Vice Commissioner-in-chief Han Guan was instructed to set up a base below the pass to supervise the government troops arriving from Guang-xi and other areas, the transport of grain, the building of roads, the felling of trees to repair and build bridges and the despatch of mobile troops to spy and patrol. The Assistant Commissioner -in-chief and Rapid Attack Commander Lu Yi and others were sent forward to Ai-liu Pass as an advance force. Here were found massed over 30,000 of the bandit troops with their backs to the hills and protected by stockades. They had dug ditches, and in defence were firing poison arrows and rolling down stones and logs. Yi supervised the troops in advancing for the attack and the troops proceeded with shields protecting the flanks. They took 40 heads and over 60 captives, and the remaining bandits scattered. With this, the Great Army took the pass and left troops to guard it.

[Story of how the Li bandit family seized the Annamese throne by assassinating the royal family.] When the [Yong-le] Emperor first came to the throne, he demonstrated his virtuous power by cherishing those in the distance. The Li bandits, father and son, sent an envoy to the Court and, concealing their crimes, requested orders. Li said that the Chen line had come to an end and that he was the son of a woman of the Chen family and was temporarily handling state affairs. The Court had to act in a sincere way as it did not know of his rebellion and sedition. However, the grandson of the former king of Annam had been forced away and had fled to Laos from whence he came to the capital. He accused Li of crimes and evil doings, which at first the Court did not believe. However, following admissions by the envoys from Annam, his charges were confirmed.

[The Li bandits deceive the Chinese again, and murder the grandson of the Annam king.]

When the envoy informed of this, the Emperor was greatly enraged and he ordered the generals to take 800,000 troops to eliminate the rebellious bandits. This army for punishing the tyrannical must make known the truth of these crimes. The first crime is that Li Ji-li and his son twice killed kings of Annam and seized the country. ... The third crime is that they did not respect the calendar of the Court, changed the dynastic title to Great Yu without authority and recklessly honoured themselves by commencing to use the reign title "Yuan-sheng" (元聖). The fourth crime is that they looked on the people of the country as their enemies, imposed excessive punishments and draconian laws, tyrannically killed the innocent, levied exorbitant taxes and exploited endlessly. This resulted in the people having no means to carry on and they went hungry and without clothing. The dead filled the ditches and gullies and many people fled to other areas. The fifth crime is that although for generations they had been surnamed Li, they turned their backs on their ancestors and took it upon themselves to change their surname. ... The ninth crime is that, although for generations Ning-yuan Subprefecture has been offering tribute to China, the Li bandits, relying on strength, snatched away seven of its stockades, assumed control over the people and took prisoners of its men and women. ... The eleventh crime is that they have caused the native officials of various areas to flee and have made corvee [forced] labor demands, and have despatched soldiers to search for and capture yi, causing them to all flee in alarm. ... The fifteenth crime is that they further attacked four administrative divisions in Champa, including Ban-da-lang, Bai and Hei (Alt: and Bai-hei) and plundered all of the people's livestock. ... The seventeenth crime is that although Champa is a feudatory subject of China, and had received a seal and robes from the Court, the Li bandits produced their own silver seal plated in gold, a "jiu-zhang" (九章) crown and robes, a jade belt and so on, and forcibly bestowed these on the king. ... The twentieth crime is that they showed deceit and lack of respect when sending tribute to China. They did not send an attendant minister, but selected criminals, pretended they were officials and sent them as envoys. These are the major crimes. The others cannot all be listed. The crimes of the Li bandits, both father and son, indicating their lack of respect as ministers, reach to Heaven and extend without end. The Heavenly principles will not tolerate this. The people of the various countries have seen great suffering year after year and they are to be pitied. The sending of the Imperial troops is intended to console your people in their suffering and restore the Chen family. The generals and troops are under strict instructions not to commit even the slightest crime. They will safely guard things as they were before. Do not be falsely frightened or suspicious...."

17 July 1505 [Hong-zhi Emperor]

... when formerly the Supervising Secretary Lin Xiao went as envoy to [Siam], the ruler refused to face North on his knees. Xiao was then secluded and died of hunger. We were unable to go and punish the ruler's crime. The Emperor's orders and the state's dignity must be valued. It seems that in the countries across the seas, when they are without troubles they dispense with sending tribute to the Court and enthrone themselves. When they experience troubles, they use tribute missions to come and request enfeoffment. Now, why is it that Champa has come and urgently requested [assistance]? ... As to the people who have fled to Guang-dong, the Ministry of War has sent a despatch to the grand coordinator requiring him to investigate the matter. The report has not yet been submitted. If on this basis they detain our envoy and seek those who have fled, then an Imperial envoy will be held hostage for a few unimportant yi. ... The Ministry of Revenue should also be instructed to send a despatch to the grand coordinator of Guang-dong/Guang-xi requiring him to castigate Annam, instruct it in what will bring calamity and what will bring prosperity, and require it to return all of the land it has occupied. As to the fugitives and fan attendants, the grand coordinator should again be required to soothe and instruct them and send them back. This is a way of showing concern for those from the distance and will not bring harm to China's majesty." The memorial was sent to the Ministry of War which, after collective deliberation, advised: "On the death of a king of a country, the regulations require the sending of a family member (族屬) to advise of the death. This has not been done. ... We should instruct the Guang-dong Provincial Administration Commission to send a despatch to this country requiring investigation and a report. Then, the matter can be deliberated upon and arrangements made." This was approved.

Source: Zhong-yang Yan-jiu yuan Ming Shi-lu
via Geoff Wade, translator, Southeast Asia in the Ming Shi-lu: an open access resource, Singapore: Asia Research Institute and the Singapore E-Press, National University of Singapore, http://www.epress.nus.edu.sg/msl/ entries: 1, 300, 301, 304, 853, 857, 2067, 2584, 2587, 2729, 3104.


Return to Calendar