The Manchu Way

We can see evidence of Peter Turchin’s theory of Asabiya in the ethnic stratification of the Qing dynasty. According to Turchin, group cohesion is (or was) central to a population’s ability to effectively organize, exert influence, and dominate.

As the Guardian explains:

Turchin believes that these empires were the product of one factor: social cohesion, or the willingness of groups to cooperate against their opponents.

Turchin calls such solidarity asabiya, an Arabic word used by the 14th-century Islamic scholar Ibn Khaldun to denote “mutual affection and willingness to fight and die for each other”. A courtier of several North African sultans, Ibn Khaldun was the first person to propose that asabiya is the fuel of empire building.

Using modern understanding of how cooperative behaviour develops in groups of organisms, Turchin’s models suggest that asabiya becomes particularly strong on the frontiers of empires, where two civilisations confront one another. This, he says, was how a small group of Cossacks led by Yermak Timofeyevich was able to defeat a much larger army of Tatars in Siberia in 1582.

Social cohesion, of course, is something that needs to be maintained. To do this, the Manchu employed a number of common strategies, which allowed then to maintain strong in group cohesion:

The Qing Dynasty was the second time when the whole of China was ruled by foreigners, the Manchu. The first time was during the Yuan Dynasty when China was controlled by the Mongols. The Qing Dynasty lasted from 1644-1911 A.D. The reigns of the first three emperors of this dynasty were a time of peace and prosperity for China. These three rulers provided strong leadership for 133 years; they were the Kangxi Emperor who reigned from 1662-1722 A.D., the Yongzheng Emperor who reigned from 1722-1736 A.D. and the Qianglong Emperor who reigned from 1736-1796 A.D. In terms of government, the Qing Dynasty adopted the form of government used by the Ming, with only minor adjustments. For example the positions were all dual positions, one Manchu and one Chinese were in the same position, with the Manchu having more power. The form of military organization that the Qing used was one of the best in the world. They organized their troops under banners, each of which was a separate unit. The number of banners grew from 8 in the beginning to 24. These fighting men were personally attached to the emperor, in fact he owned them. They were incredibly loyal to the emperor. The bannermen also functioned as a talent pool from which civil bureaucrats could be chosen.

The Qing were very successful as foreign rulers in China. They maintained their domination of the Chinese by preserving their own identity. They spent their summers in their homeland of Manchuria, which was closed to the Chinese. They banned intermarriage among the Chinese, continued to speak their own language and did not make their documents available to the Chinese. They retained military strength over the Chinese by separating the duties of the Chinese troops and of the Manchu troops. The Chinese were not trained as a striking force. They also had a unique way of keeping the Mongols away. They first immobilized and divided the Mongols under a similar fashion as the Ming had done. However, they then supported the Yellow Lamaist sect of Tibetan Buddhism, which was a popular religion of the Mongols, and focused their attention on Lhasa, as a center of worship.

The effects of the above policies, of course, can be seen in the genetic structure of the modern Chinese population, from Xue, et al., 2005. Recent Spread of a Y-Chromosomal Lineage in Northern China and Mongolia

We reasoned that the events leading to the spread of this lineage might have been recorded in the historical record, as well as in the genetic record. The spread must have occurred after the cluster’s TMRCA (∼500 years ago, corresponding to about A.D. 1500) and, most likely, before the Xibe migration in 1764. Notable features are the occurrence of the lineage in seven different populations but its apparent absence from the most populous Chinese ethnic group, the Han. A major historical event took place in this part of the world during this period—namely, the Manchu conquest of China and the establishment of the Qing dynasty, which ruled China from 1644 to 1912. This dynasty was founded by Nurhaci (1559–1626) and was dominated by the Qing imperial nobility, a hereditary class consisting of male-line descendants of Nurhaci’s paternal grandfather, Giocangga (died 1582), with >80,000 official members by the end of the dynasty (Elliott 2001). The nobility were highly privileged; for example, a ninth-rank noble annually received ∼11 kg of silver and 22,000 liters of rice and maintained many concubines. A central part of the Qing social system was the army, the Eight Banners, which was made up of separate Manchu, Mongolian, and Chinese (Han) Eight Banners. The nobility occupied high ranks in the Manchu Eight Banners but not in the Mongolian or Chinese Eight Banners; the Manchu Eight Banners were recruited from the Manchu, Mongolian, Daur, Oroqen, Ewenki, Xibe, and a few other populations. A social mechanism was thus established that would have led to the increase of the specific Y lineage carried by Giocangga and Nurhaci and to its spread into a limited number of populations. We suggest that this lineage was the Manchu lineage.

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One Response to The Manchu Way

  1. Pingback: The C-factor of Groups « Occidental Ascent

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