History of Hainan (海南) Province (3) Hainan in the Yuan and Ming Dynasties
This page was last updated on: June 1, 2017
History of Hainan (海南) Province of China
Hainan Province of China
Soundbonus - Popular Chinese Folk Song 'The Beautiful Nandu River', By Unknown Chinese Artist.
A Schematic Map of the Eurasian Trade Routes existing in the 13Th Century (Yuan Dynasty).
Clearly depicted on the Map are the land-bound trading routes through Central Asia known as the Silk Road (the path of Marco Polo and others) and the Maritime Trade Routes that operated between the Arabian Peninsula, the Indian Ocean and Coastal Cities, the Straights of Malacca and South-China Sea's. As shown Maritime Trade to China mainly entered through Southern Harbors, then was distributed internally by use of the Grand Canal, the Yangzte River and the Yellow River.
- CLICK MAP TO GO TO FULL VERSION -
By the time that Marco Polo reached China's Capital Dadu (Beijing) in 1266 BC through an overland journey, Chinese Maritime technology was already well advanced and included the compass, making navigation and sailing to neighboring regions and territories a fairly routine business. The Foreign (Mongol) Yuan Dynasty held sway over all of China , which was thus known as the Cathay Khanate, and over much of the rest of the Eurasian Continent. The landbound routes lay open, but there was even more extensive maritime contact with the Chinese coastal provinces, the indonesian islands, trading cities on the Indian Coast, in Persia - which had fallen under control of the Mongol Khan Timur Lenk, and on the Arabian Peninsula.
Hainan, although severed from the mainland, was an
important stop over on some routes. As a result, on his final return home to Italy in 1295 AD, Marco Polo was able to avoid the dangerous and strenuous overland pathways of what later would become known as the Silk Road and travel in relative comfort and speed to the Persian Coast. The voyage departed from the large Chinese Seaport of Zaitun (Today: Quanzhou in Fujian Province), quite likely the largest sea-port in the world at the time, but bypassed Hainan Island on its eastern side.
In the early Yuan Dynasty (1271 AD - 1368 AD), Huang Daopo, the legendary weaver in Chinese history, achieved her excellence by learning weaving techniques from the Li People on Hainan. Running away as a child bride from her home in Shanghai, she came to Hainan and lived with the Lis there. Returning to Shanghai, she passed on the Li weaving techniques to others and invented a cotton fluffer, a pedal spinning wheel and looms, which were the most advanced spinning and weaving machines in the world at the time.
Many years later, not at the beginning of the successful Ming Dynasty, but nearer to its inevitable demise of corruption and gross mismanagement, Hainan Island received yet another formerly high ranking exile. In this case it was the loyal and pious Confucian Scholar Hai Rui.
Hai Rui was not as immensely talented as for instance Su Shi (Su Dongpo), nor was he as well connected as the former. Hence, Hai Rui's career started much later - when he was 39 years old, and was not built on 'Guangxi' (Good family background and connections to persons in important positions) as with Su Shi, but rather was won by fairness and Confucian moral example, founded directly on the sympathies of the (more) common people. It is said among Chinese People today that Hai Rui built his reputation on uncompromising adherence to an upright morality, scrupulous honesty, poverty, and fairness. He was a man who served the People and the Nation. He was a true Confucian scholar in a centuries old Chinese tradition that last (almost) until this day. This won him widespread popular support from the commoners, but made him many enemies in the bureaucracy and within the highest circles at court.
What happened to Hai Rui however is remarkably similar to what had already happened to Su Shi centuries earlier. Hai Rui's activism and moral uprightness inspired by Confucianism had inconvenienced and thus annoyed some other officials, however his position remained untouchable until Hai Rui, as with Su Shi, was callous enough to embroil himself in politics in the way of political activism. According to accepted history, Hai went even further than Su Shi and eventually submitted a memorial impeaching the Jiajing Emperor (Shizong Reign Period) himself. He did so in the year 1565 AD, creating an uproar at Court. It was an unheard of outrage to directly criticize the Emperor and not surprisingly, Hai Rui was initially sentenced to death shortly there after (in 1566 AD). In fact, the only reason why he lived was that the Emperor died himself in early 1567 AD, restarting the usual procedure of the reviewing of all officials, condemned and exiled included. Not long after the death of the Emperor, Hai Rui, having quite the group of sympathizers in the group of disenfranchised Confucian Scholars at Court who had been marginalized by the ever greedy and tricky court eunuchs, was even released from captivity altogether.
Through the support of his fellow Confucian Scholars inside the Ming Court, Hai Rui was reappointed under the succeeding Longqing Emperor (Muzong Reign: 1567-1572 AD) but, as his activism had only increased, was soon forced to resign from office in 1570 AD after 'complaints' were made over his overzealous handling of land-tenure issues. In reality, Hai Rui had handled the case assigned to him in an exemplary way, intervening in the corrupt schemes and morally abject ways of local officials and sentencing several of them to death, which was greeted with enthusiasm by the local population.
Unfortunately for Hai Rui, in this he may have been drawn in over his head because of the good guanxi or powerful connections of one of the executed. In the aftermath of the case itself, it turned into an affair when the left behind family of the condemned moved to bribe disloyal court officials (eunuchs not by coincidence) to dismiss Hai Rui from office, which is exactly what happened.
The thoroughly corrupt court which ended the Dynasty within the next century would rather get rid of the annoying and honest Hai Rui. He was thus sent into exile, officially presented as a retirement, and spent the next 15 years on Hainan Island. It would become his most lengthy posting. Although Hai Rui was finally brought back to Court in 1585 AD to serve yet another Emperor, the Wanli Emperor (Shenzong Reign), Hai Rui died in office two years later on November the 13Th of 1587 AD. Eventually, the body of Hai Rui was transported back to Hainan Island, where it was enshrined inside the Tomb of Hai Rui, a Temple and Tomb complex which can be found in the suburbs of the City of Haikou.
The Hai Rui Tomb was constructed in 1589 AD, only two years after his death, enshrining the fallen but still lauded official among some of his peers. According to historic accounts, on the day Hai Rui, their admired official, was laid to rest inside his tomb, all the people in Haikou ceased their own matters to attend the funeral, everyone crying and grieving. When the coffin was carried to the very spot where the present tomb is situated, the rope of the coffin broke and people believed this was the place that Hai Rui chose for himself. Thus the tomb was built on that spot.
Today the Tomb, restored after its near destruction, covers an area of over 4,000 square meters (4784 square yards), its layout designed according to the level of the official titles at that time. Some of the original constructions in the tomb garden remain intact. It is the number one historic tourist attraction on the Island.
Thus Hai Rui (23 January 1514 AD – 13 November 1587 AD) (simplified Chinese: 海瑞; Arabic: ﻫَﻰْ ژُﻮِ) was a famous Chinese official of the Ming Dynasty. Since his death in Exile, his name and legacy have been passed down in history as a model of honesty and integrity in office and Hai Rui reemerged as an important historical character held up as criticism against immoral and power-greedy rulers throughout the centuries. Being the examplary model of a Confucian Scholar as they should come, Hai Rui is also known by his honorary title Hai Qingtian, meaning (the) "incorruptible official".
His name and this example would return to haunt the 'New Emperor', communist party leader Mao Zedong himself in the 1960's, leading to yet another chapter in the story of Hai Rui and Hainan Island, as well as unleashing grave political turmoils on the Nation as Mao Zedong unleashed the now notorious 'Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution' Era (officially 1966 AD - 1976 AD).
Although in general history the official year that Christianity reached the Island of Hainan is still held to be 1633 AD, Chinese historians agree that the first education in the fundamentals of Christianity on the island had already started as early as in 1593 AD, the year when an influential and highly ranked Government Official retired from the port city and former Ming Capital of Nanjing to his native Hainan Island. This official, one Wang Honghui (Life: 1541 - 1617 AD) had been a Minister of the Official Ministry of Rights in Nanjing, and through his functions thus had had close contact with the Christian Missionaries already by that time established in various cities in the south such as Zhaoqing and Shaoguan (at the time: Shaozhou) in Guangdong Province, in Zhejiang Province and also Nanjing in Jiangsu Province. According to information related through official Church Reports and also the later generations of the family of this official, upon his retirement and leaving from office, Wang Honghui first traveled down to the coastal city of Shaoguan in Guangdong where he purposefully visited the locally established Christian Missionary Church to meet with the locally established and in circles of Government Illuminati of the time highly esteemed Christian Father Matteo Ricci.
Recognizing that Wang Honghui and Matteo Ricci had already met on earlier occassions as a part of the function of both figures, Father Matteo mentions the occassion of this highly important and honorable visit in his writings (Regni Chinensis Descriptio).
According to story, Wang Honghui's visit lasted an entire day during which he conversed with the clergy and also Father Matteo Ricci. An interesting point of the disccusions that day, among things, was the apparent interest of Wang Honghui in the mathematics and astronomical skills revealed by Matteo Ricci and piers, resulting in his interest in- and promise to introduce father Matteo Ricci at the Beijing Court in order to help create a more accurate Chinese Calendar.
Although at the time Wang Honghui was by no means an official convert to Christianity, it appears that he was at the very least one of those Chinese officials who were interested if not inspired by some of the aspects of the Christian Faith.
Allas, the two are not known to have met again, but in the aftermath of this historic visit and meeting, Wang Honghui is known to have succesfully continued his journey home bound to Xian'Gou Town in Ding'An County of Hainan Island. Subsequently, in the year 1600 AD, while his friend Matteo Ricci awaited in Tongzhou near Beijing for his aspired invitation to the Ming Imperial Court, Wang Honghui officially in retirement opened his own school in Ding'An County naming it the "Friendship Academy". It is theorized that Wang perhaps derived the name from one of Matteo Ricci's writings targeted at the Chinese audience of scholars, the one entitled "Amacitia".
Although it is unknown what exactly was tought at this Friendship Academy is unknown, however it is very possible that beyond the basic Chinese Scholarly lessons of Confucianism and Daoism, there may have been room for the discussion of various other faiths including the Christianity as so genuinely praised by father Matteo Ricci. It is also possible that Wang Honghui taught his students some of the basics of the Christian Faith, as they had been communicated through discussions with and the writings of Matteo Ricci.
In 1633 AD Christian Missionary work on Hainan Island began in earnest. In that year, Wang Rulong, a son of the earlier mentioned former Minister of Rites Wang Honghui, alike his father returned from the mainland to Hainan Island in order to go and enjoy his retirement. With his route leading through the Portugese Port of Macau and having been baptized during his time in the Ming Capital of Beijing, Wang Rulong is reported to have visited the St. Pauls Cathedral of Macau with the aim of asking for a Christian Priest to accompany him to Hainan Island in order to help instruct his family members there in the proper rituals and theories of Christianity. Although, the nature of the request was initially misunderstood, soon after two Priests were selected and charged with the first mission of preaching Christianity on Hainan Island. One father Pedro Marquez was selected as the main Priest, hwoever as Marquez did not speak any Chinese, the more experienced Domingo Mendez was sent along for support and to serve as interpreter during the mission.
As a result of the earlier historic connections made, the location of the first Christian Mission on Hainan Island became the home village of the Wang Family in Ding'An County on the north side of the island.
The year 1634 is recorded as the year that the entire Wang Family was baptized, thus becoming the first family Christian Family to live on Hainan Island.
In the following year the dysfunctional Priest Marquez was replaced by Bento de Matos, who subsequently set up base in Qiongzhou (not too far from Ding An near current day Haikou) where he converted quite a few people. In the period 1635 - 36 three Churches were set up on Hainan Island, among them one in Qiongzhou and one in Ding'An County Town where as a result of the de Matos work and earlier events the entire town chose to convert to Christianity and be baptized.
Although with this Christianity seemed off to a great start on the Island, in that same period already, Government Forces were already working against Christian Missionaries who had thought themselves well established in Guangdong Province on the mainland. With missionary activities banned on the mainland and churches under siege quite a few missionaries chose to evade problems by moving over to Hainan Island, which soon was the only part of China which could still boast some success in the mission of conversion to Christianity and its beliefs.
Under siege from a disenfranchised local population, Priest Matos was forced to return to Macau in the year 1840. Although he assigned a locally baptized man named Marcel as his replacement to handle affairs in his absence, the man was soon poisened by locals putting an end to any further missionary work on the island in this period.
During the succeeding Ming Dynasty (1368 AD - 1644 AD) maritime operations would become even more important as -for various political reasons China found itself isolated from its land neighbors and the land bound silk road remained blocked. Especially and only the early Ming Dynasty therefor saw what is considered the (so far) historic highpoint of Chinese maritime history in the shape of the Voyages of Treasure Fleets, under overall command of the Emperors aide and Admiral Zheng He. It was one of the three (over-)ambitious projects of the new Era of the Ming Dynasty, proclaimed to the World by its new Emperor Zhu Di (Reign Title: Yongle) in the year 1403 AD.
At the Time, Hainan was called Qiongzhoufu (瓊州), fine jade land, with three prefectures of this "fine jade land" named Danzhou, Wanzhou, Yazhou and 10 counties under administration on the Island.
During the years following 1403 AD, the world oceans saw no less than 7 expeditions, which launched huge fleets from the coast of South Chinese Provinces. Although the main fleet's home port was the main Naval Bastion and former Capital of Nanjing (Jiangsu Province), ships were constructed in- and men were recruited from ports throughout the South, especially from what today are Fujian, Zhejiang and Guangdong Provinces, who had been ordered to provide as necessary, by Imperial Decree. In some instances, Hainan, today still home of China's largest fishing fleet, has been named as a possible source of skilled personel.
Hainan is never mentioned as a destination nor as a stop over point during any of these 7 maritime explorations. There are no left over Maps, as most documents were destroyed. The only other way that Hainan Island is mentioned in relation to the Zheng He treasure fleets (and parts there of) is as a location where former crew men went to celebrate their retirement and procreate. Today some on Hainan Island, especially among the fishermen, claim ancestry from one of the crewmen of the Great Fleets.
Claims that the fleets under command of Zheng He have contributed to the opening of the sea route along the eastern side of Hainan Island are false. As Marco Polo's experience and those of others prove, the sea route was in use long before that time.
Interestingly, during the later Reign Periods of the Ming Dynasty, under different Emperors, the situation of extensive maritime exploration and development was entirely reversed. Where during the Rule of Zhu Di (Yongle), China became connected to the world as never before, all contacts were halted on Imperial Decree not much later. From that period on, travel beyond China's coastal waters was expressely forbidden, a crime punishable by death. In some provinces a wide strip along the coastline simply became inhabited.
Where Hainan had been 'unlocked' previously, and swept up into something resembling a local but international world, it now briefly reverted to the status of total backwater that had been its mark for centuries if not millenia.
During the second half of the Ming Dynasty Era, piracy along China's coastline ran rampant, becoming a major problem for Hainan, the coastal south as well as Formosa (Taiwan) and the Pescadores Islands.
In the historic year 1557 AD, during the Jiajing Reign Period (1521 AD - 1567 AD)(Shizong Emperor) of the Ming Dynasty, Portugese ships having bypassed Hainan Island on their way from India arrived at Macau, which was to be their designated trading port for doing business with the Chinese Ming Dynasty Empire. With their King and Court working hand in hand with the (Jesuit Order of) the Roman Catholic Church, this was also the year that the Christian Faith entered China for the first time.
A first Catholic Cathedral was built in Macau by the year 1560 AD and as a result of all circumstances, Macau became the main destination and first port of call for waves of arriving Christian Missionaries whos mission it would be the bring the Christian Faith to Eastern Asia (China and Japan). For the time being however, the doors into mainland China remained closed for Portugese Traders as well as religious folk.
As is recorded in the annals of the Christian Church, Hainan Island was not much of interest to the Christian Missionaries, however as early as the year 1560 AD, Baltasar Gago a Portugese Christian Missionary who had seen 8 years of service in Japan (between 1552 AD - 1560 AD) on his way back to his homelands found himself intercepted by a tropical storm in the South China Sea and subsequently stranded on Hainan Island, as had many other maritime travelers during previous centuries. Luckily for him, Father Gago found civilization well established on the island and within a mere 2 months he was able to return to Macau in order to proceed his initally planned voyage home.
In the year 1583 AD (11th year of the Wanli Reign Period (1572 AD - 1620 AD)(Emperor: Shenzhong) of the Ming Dynasty), one Father Oropesa was sent from (Manila in) the Philippines back to the Vietnamese Coast in order to preach there. On route Oropesa and various Portugese Missionaries of Franciscan denomination again found themselves in trouble on the South China Sea subsequently blown of course to land on the coast of Hainan Island. As historic reports reveal again they had little intention of staying on Hainan Island in order to base and spread the faith from there.