Dynastic Cycles In Chinese History
Dynastic cycle in Chinese history represents a process of establishment, political, cultural, and economic development, rise, and fall of the dynasties. However, dynastic cycle means more than the succession of the rulers. The rise and decline of the dynasties have an impact on the society in general. While the dynasty is powerful and secure, the population experiences prosperity. With the decline of the dynasty, the misery and chaos prevail in the empire. At the same time, each Chinese dynasty faced a number of obstacles on its way that finally led to their collapse. After the replacement of the old dynasty by a new one, the cycle repeats under the influence of the human actions or other factors. At the same time, the cyclical theory gives insights on the development of the Chinese empire. For instance, each new dynasty experienced different factors of integration and disintegration. In addition, people used their knowledge of the past to shape the strategies of the building of the empire. At the same time, people did not have an influence over some of the factors. Consequently, in order to investigate the concept of the Chinese Dynasty Cycle, it is necessary to analyze the causes that led to their decline.
In general, the scholars underline that the reasons for the decline of the Chinese dynasties are the same as for the fall of the other dynasties and civilizations, such as Roman Empire. For instance, while the Chinese dynasties were found by powerful and influential leaders, the progress of the social, political, and economic life was restrained by their self-indulgent and mediocre ancestors. Another factor is represented by bureaucratic corruption that had a negative influence on the population, especially the poor, who experienced economic burdens. As a result, domestic rebellions and foreign invasions had a disastrous impact on the Chinese dynasties. Other reasons include the ethnic tensions between the disparate populations and the influence of the environmental factors. Some of the scholars underline that the causes of the collapse of the Chinese dynasties can be classified into moral and material. Moral reasons of decline are based on the moral traits of a particular ruler. If a leader is wise and fulfills the needs of the population, the citizens support him. However, if a ruler oppresses his nation, the country can experience revolts, peasantry uprisings, and soldier’s rebellions. The material causes include the real policies of a particular dynasty, such as addressing of the urgent social problems or equitable tax collection. In case the bureaucratic management of the urgent social problems does not meet expectations of the population, the dynasty can collapse.
One of the reasons for the decline of the Chinese dynasty is the rivalry between the peasants. In particular, increased density of the population results in the conflicts between peasants and imperial soldiers. In its turn, the skirmishes inside the country lead to the collapse of the ruling dynasty. In fact, the uprisings of peasants represented one of the causes that ended the Tang dynasty. During the late period of the dynasty, the exploitation and oppression of the landowners worsened the relations with the peasants. For example, they experienced increased taxation, which was unbearable under the circumstances of the natural disasters. As a result, the dynasty faced the Huang Chao Rebellion. Despite the fact that the Tang dynasty managed to suppress the rebellion, the empire did not recover from it. In particular, its influence and military power were disrupted. Besides this, the empire had to introduce new taxation system that brought less revenue and determined the economic decline of the dynasty.
The power of the Tang dynasty was also influenced by the seizure of the power by local governors. For instance, the dynasty suffered from the separatist ideas that originated in the regions of Fanzhen. Chinese governors had a practice of establishment the regional military governments, known as Jiedushi, in the frontier areas, aimed at supporting the central regime and eliminating any kind of protests and conflicts. After the number of riots that took place in the empire, the Tang dynasty significantly expanded the amount of Jiedusi, as well as gave the local governments broader rights. As a result, Jiedushi gradually began a series of separatist movements. The competition for the farmland and labor resulted in the clashes between the center and regional governments, which slowly became small kingdoms that possessed military power. The organization of the professional army, which took place under the rule of the Tang dynasty, contributed to the establishment of distinct approach to the profits. In particular, soldiers considered economic reward to be not only the motive to join the army, but also the most important factor in the rebellion of the local governments and military districts against the center. As the center experienced lack of its control, the local governments enjoyed more freedom, authority, and wealth. Therefore, the unification of the country under the rule of the Tang dynasty became impossible.
The decline of the dynasty was also caused by the conflicts between the political representatives. For instance, the officials of the Tang dynasty belonged to two different groups. The first one included the citizens from the noble class. The second group represented the civilian class. Taking into account different origins and political motives of each class, the officials established their parties to defend the policies beneficial for them. However, a different point of view on the state matters did not allow the groups to develop a unified approach to the domestic and foreign policy of the empire. As a result, the disputes between the parties significantly weakened the central regime.
The other reasons of the Tang dynasty collapse included the natural disasters, such as droughts and change of the climate. Moreover, the scholars underline the connection between the climate changes and the dynastic cycles. For instance, according to Fan, the changes in weather conditions can have a negative impact on the dynasty existence, as well as significantly increase the frequency of conflicts, uprising, and wars. In particular, the majority of the dynastic transformations took place when the temperatures were colder. As a result, warmer periods are considered to be more stable. It is determined by the fact that when the climate becomes colder, the decline in harvest is experienced. Such decline has a direct impact on the lives of the population, as the colder weather can eliminate all of the gains that community has already achieved. Finally, the environmental factors and changes of the climate have an impact on the relations with other nations. Cold weather contributed to the expansion of the nomadic influence. While experiencing the colder conditions in the north, nomads were forced to move south and invade their neighbors. When the climate changed in the middle of the 8th century, nomads moved to the northern and central parts of China and contributed to the establishment of various dynasties. As a result, the impact of the climate on the societies can be profound. Specifically, during the Tang dynasty, the temperature changes not only influenced the development of the economy but facilitated the civil unrests within the empire.
Unlike the Tang dynasty, the collapse of the Yuan empire was mainly determined by the corruption that was present at both local and central levels. Despite the fact that the corruption was found in the previous dynasties, during the Yuan rule, it reached unprecedented scale. The officials became morally degenerated and were not ashamed to take the bribes openly. The corruption was also facilitated by the practice of taking gifts introduced by the Mongolian nobles. As a result, the clerks in governmental offices could easily change their decision on people’s fate depending on the size of the bribe they receive. During the last years of the dynasty rule, the situation with corruption has worsened. The officials tried to receive money from people under any kind of pretext. For example, the citizens had to pay for the first visit of the governor or give a bribe as a birthday gift. The efforts of the rulers to address the problem of corruption were not successful. In particular, some of the initiatives included the relocation of the corrupt officials to the remote areas of the empire. As a result, the officials not only continued established practices but made an impact on the conduction of the affairs in the local administrations. Moreover, the anti-corruption policies were tolerant. Comparing with the Tang dynasty, where severe violations of the official duties were punished by death penalty, the Yuan dynasty abandoned this practice. Thus, the officials could freely pursue the corruption activities imposing economic burdens on population.
Moreover, the Yaun dynasty represented Mongol ruling that did not have success in preserving armed strength. The attempts to rule the empire through the representatives of the Mongol nation and elimination of the Chinese gentry failed, and the abuses against the population resulted in mass revolts. Consequently, the fall of the Yuan dynasty was determined by the inability of the Mongols to modify their rule and adapt to the Chinese environment. In addition, the population of the empire did not support the invaders and their policies.
However, there were other factors that contributed to the collapse of the Yuan dynasty. Similarly, to the Tang rulers, the Yuan emperors experienced peasants uprising as a result of the heavy taxation, corruption, and unfavorable weather conditions. The first uprising under the rule of dynasty occurred in 1325. It was led by the representatives of the lower orders, such as peasants, cloth-sellers, fishermen, and salt smugglers. The uprising was organized against rich people mainly, as well as against distribution of the money and possessions among the representatives of the rich classes only. In the subsequent years, the uprisings began in Honan, Kaingsu, and Shantung. At the same time, the revolts of the population had various intentions, including religious purposes and proclamations of the restoring of the Sung dynasty.
Besides this, similarly to the Tang dynasty, the Yuan rulers experienced the increasing of the local governments’ authority. The only difference was that the Tang dynasty established military governments to protect the borders of the empire, and during the Yuan rule, the local formations were used to control the population. However, the local governments of the Yuan dynasty also became an independent power, which fought for more freedoms and authority. As a result, the empire suffered from the internal division of power that significantly disrupted the central authority, as well as the economic positions of the empire. In particular, during the fighting between the power struggles, the inner transportation structure in the country was damaged. The collapse of the system resulted in the mass starvations that took place all over China and millions of deaths.
Finally, similarly to the Tang dynasty, the Yuan rulers experienced the sequence of climate changes and natural disasters that had an impact on the well-being of the population. Since the 1330s, when the climate started becoming gradually colder, the famine, diseases, and flooding became frequent and resulted in the political instability in the empire. In particular, climate cooling had a negative influence on people who started starving due to the limited opportunities of the production of crops and herds. Moreover, the agricultural problems contributed to the social unrest aimed at expressing opposition to the ruling dynasty. Besides this, climate change also contributed to the occurrence of plagues through the temperature-driven droughts, as well as facilitated the frequency of floods. Thus, the example of the Yuan dynasty underlines the existence of connection between the climate changes and the dynastic cycles.
Consequently, the collapse of the Tang dynasty was caused by the policies of the rulers, including the unpopular taxation initiatives and transformation of the army, civil unrests and riots, rivalry of the local governments, and changes in the climate that disrupted the economic potential of the empire. Similarly, to the Tang dynasty, the Yuan empire experienced a negative influence of the climate changes and a sequence of the revolts. At the same time, there are distinct factors that contributed to the collapse of Yuan dynasty. In particular, the established rule of Mongols, as well as increased corruption, was not supported by the population. As a result, the analysis of the reasons of the Chinese dynasties collapse demonstrates that both human factors and the impact of the environment cause the decline of the empire. The combination of the unfavorable conditions resulted in the collapse of the powerful Chinese dynasties. However, while the decline of the dynasties created obstacles to the economic development of China, it also benefited the empire. Nevertheless, the country managed to solve the problems of provisioning the capital, experienced the increasing of the metropolitan population, and established new a trading system.