Seeing the US’s partisan fight unfolding in front of everybody, I feel I need write a piece of history from China’s Song Dynasty (BC 960-1279) and Ming Dynasty (BC 1368－1644). During both dynasties later stage, both experienced severe partisan flight which accelerated the demise of both governments. Mongolia invaded and killed Song Dynasty and Manchu invaded and killed Ming Dynasty.
The parties in the fights both declared they were fighting for the best of the country’s interest. In reality, they were some kind of coups fighting for the establishment’s interest only ( There were definitely some positive outcomes from the fight without doubt). When the outside forces invaded and they still could not unite such that both of them were destroyed at the demise of the dynasty.
Partisan flight in China’s Song Dynasty (Year 960-1279)
The high echelons of the political scene during the Song dynasty left a notorious legacy of partisanship and strife among factions of state ministers. The careers of low-grade and middle-grade officials were largely secure; in the high ranks of the central administration, “reverses of fortune were to be feared,” as Sinologist historian Jacques Gernet put it. The Chancellor Fan Zhongyan (989–1052) introduced a series of reforms between 1043 and 1045 that received heated backlash from the conservative element at court. Fan set out to erase corruption from the recruitment system by providing higher salaries for minor officials, in order to persuade them not to become corrupt and take bribes. He also established sponsorship programs that would ensure officials were drafted on their merits, administrative skills, and moral character more than their etiquette and cultured appearance. However, the conservatives at court did not want their career paths and comfortable positions jeopardized by new standards, so they rallied to successfully halt the reforms.
Inspired by Fan, the later Chancellor Wang Anshi (1021–1086) implemented a series of reforms in 1069 upon his ascendance to office. Wang promulgated a community-based law enforcement and civil order known as the Baojia system. Wang Anshi attempted to diminish the importance of landholding and private wealth in favor of mutual-responsibility social groups that shared similar values and could be easily controlled by the government. Just as scholar-officials owed their social prestige to their government degrees, Wang wanted to structure all of society as a mass of dependents loyal to the central government. He used various means, including the prohibition of landlords offering loans to tenants; this role was assumed by the government. Wang established local militias that could aid the official standing army and lessen the constrained state budget expenses for the military. He set up low-cost loans for the benefit of rural farmers, whom he viewed as the backbone of the Song economy. Since the land tax exacted from rural farmers filled the state treasury’s coffers, Wang implemented a reform to update the land-survey system so that more accurate assessments could be gathered. Wang removed the mandatory poetry requirement in the civil service exams, on the grounds that many otherwise skilled and knowledgeable Confucian students were being denied entry into the administration. Wang also established government monopolies for tea, salt, and wine production. All of these programs received heavy criticism from conservative ministerial peers, who believed his reforms damaged local family wealth which provided the basis for the production of examination candidates, managers, merchants, landlords, and other essential members of society. Historian Paul J. Smith writes that Wang’s reforms—the New Policies—represented the professional bureaucratic elite’s final attempt to bring the thriving economy under state control to remedy the lack of state resources in combating powerful enemies to the north—the Liao and Western Xia.
Winston W. Lo argues that Wang’s obstinate behavior and inability to consider revision or annulment of his reforms stemmed from his conviction that he was a latter-day sage. Confucian scholars of the Song believed that the ‘way’ (dao) embodied in the Five Classics was known by the ancient sages and was transmitted from one sage to another in an almost telepathic manner, but after it reached Mencius (c. 372–c. 289 BC) there was no one worthy of accepting the transference of the dao. Some believed that the long dormant dao could be revived if one were truly a sage; Lo writes of Song Neo-Confucianists, “it is this self-image which explained their militant stand in relation to conventional ethics and scholarship.” Wang defined his life mission as restoring the unity of dao, as he believed it had not departed from the world but had become fragmented by schools of Confucian thought, each one propagating only half-truths. Lo asserts that Wang, believing that he was in possession of the dao, followed Yi Zhi and the Duke of Zhou‘s classic examples in resisting the wishes of selfish or foolish men by ignoring criticism and public opinion. If unflinching certitude in his sagehood and faultless reforms was not enough, Wang sought potential allies and formed a coalition that became known as the New Policies Group, which in turn emboldened his known political rivals to band together in opposition to him. Yet factional power struggles were not steeped in ideological discourse alone; cliques had formed naturally with shifting alliances of professional elite lineages and efforts to obtain a greater share of available offices for one’s immediate and extended kinship over vying competitors. People such as Su Shi also opposed Wang’s faction on practical grounds; for example, Su’s critical poem hinting that Wang’s salt monopoly hindered effective salt distribution.
Wang resigned in 1076 and his leaderless faction faced uncertainty with the death of its patron emperor in 1085. The political faction led by the historian and official Sima Guang (1019–1086) then took control of the central government, allied with the dowager empress who acted as regent over the young Emperor Zhezong of Song (r. 1085–1100). Wang’s new policies were completely reversed, including popular reforms like the tax substitution for corvée labor service. When Emperor Zhezong came of age and replaced his grandmother as the state power, he favored Wang’s policies and once again instituted the reforms in 1093. The reform party was favored during the reign of Huizong (r. 1100–1125) while conservatives were persecuted—especially during the chancellery of Cai Jing (1047–1126). As each political faction gained advantage over the other, ministers of the opposing side were labeled “obstructionist” and were sent out of the capital to govern remote frontier regions of the empire. This form of political exile was not only politically damaging, but could also be physically threatening. Those who fell from favor could be sent to govern areas of the deep south where the deadly disease malaria was prevalent.
Partisan flight in China’s Ming Dynasty (Year 1368-1644)
The movement was established in 1604, during the Wanli era of Ming, when Gu Xiancheng (1550–1612), a Grand Secretary, and Gao Panlong (高攀龍, 1562–1626), a scholar, restored the Donglin Academy in Wuxi with the financial backing of local gentry and officials.
The motivation for restoring the Academy was concern about the state of the bureaucracy and its inability to bring about improvement. The movement represented a resort to moral Confucian traditions as a means of arriving at fresh moral evaluations. Thereafter the Academy became a centre of dissent for public affairs in the late Ming and early Qing periods. Many supporters of Donglin were found in the bureaucracy and it became deeply involved in factional politics. The movement got momentum when the Donglin Academy in Wuxi was joined by the academies of the nearby Wujin and Yixing.
Many of the academy’s creators were among the mandarins who a few years previously had forced the Wanli Emperor to appoint his first-born son, Zhu Changluo (the future Taichang Emperor) as the heir to the throne, even though the emperor himself would rather have the throne go to Zhu Changxun (the emperor’s son from his favorite concubine, Lady Zheng).
During the reign of the Tianqi Emperor, Donglin opposition to the eunuch Wei Zhongxian resulted in the closure of the Academy in 1622 and the torture and execution of its head, Yang Lian, and five other members in 1624. The accession of the Chongzhen Emperor restored the fortunes of the Donglin faction. Later during Chongzhen’s reign, Donglin partisans found themselves opposed to the Grand Secretary Wen Tiren, eventually arranging his dismissal in 1637.
The Donglin movement represented growth of the literati influence on the political life in late Imperial China. In this, it was inherited by the Suzhou-centered Fushe movement (復社) before the fall the Ming dynasty, and by the Changzhou School of Thought during the Qing. China’s defeat in the Opium War (1839–42) served for revival of interest to the Donglin movement, as a prominent instance of literati solidarity.