Southern Ming calendars

2 January 2012

The earliest examples of printing in Taiwan are probably to be found in English libraries (although a complication will be mentioned at the end of this piece). These are the calendars of the Southern Ming dynasty made by the anti-Manchu loyalist regime led by Coxinga and his heirs. Here is a list of all the copies that I have discovered to date:

大明永曆二十五年歲次辛亥大統曆 (1671)

Bodleian Library, Sinica 57
Bodleian Library, Sinica 58
Christ Church, Oxford, Wake Arch.Sup.D7
Magdalen College, Cambridge, Ms.1914
Emmanuel College, Cambridge. Ms.3.2.17
Clare College, Cambridge. G1.3.44
British Library, 15298.a.30
British Library, 15298.a.6(1)

大明永曆三十年歲次丙辰大統曆 (1676)

St John’s College, Cambridge. S.14

大明永曆三十一年歲次丁巳大統曆 (1677)

Bodleian Library, Sinica 88

A short monograph on these calendars (based on one of the 1671 copies) was produced by Huang Dianquan 黃典權 and published in Tainan 臺南 around 1960 with the title Nanming da tongli 南明大統曆.

The history of the Southern Ming period is rather complicated, and is not treated in any detail in general histories of China, or even of the Ming and Qing dynasties. So far as I know, it is the subject of only one monograph in English, Lynn Struve’s The Southern Ming, 1644-1662, published in 1984, a decade after her thesis on the subject.

Why were the calendars produced? Here are the historical facts, as I understand them, insofar as they relate to the production of the calendars.

As the Ming dynasty began to decline, the Manchus, who occupied the area of northeastern China that subsequently became known as Manchuria, began to move southwards, finally capturing Peking in 1644 (one month after the city had fallen to the rebel Li Zicheng 李自成) when the new Qing dynasty was proclaimed. The last Ming emperor Chongzhen 崇禎 hanged himself, but supported by groups of loyalists, some of the Ming princes held out for several decades in south China as emperors of a regime which historians know as the “Southern Ming” 南明.

One of them was the Prince of Tang 唐王, Zhu Yujian 朱聿鍵, who with the support of Zheng Zhilong 鄭芝龍, set up court in Fuzhou, capital of the coastal province of Fujian, in August 1645. Zheng Zhilong was a pirate and trader who had grown rich from his activities in the Taiwan Strait and commanded considerable naval power. Under the Chongzhen emperor he had even been officially charged with coastal defence. But when the Qing armies approached Fuzhou, he accepted a bribe to change his allegiance and abandoned the Prince of Tang, who was captured and executed having reigned for little more than a year.

His son Zheng Chenggong 鄭成功 however, born in Hirado in 1624 by a Japanese wife, remained loyal to the Ming, perhaps because when his father had been put in charge of coastal defence, he had been taken to China where he received a traditional Confucian education, culminating in his appointment to the Imperial Academy 國子監 in Nanking in 1644, the last year of the dynasty. During the brief period when his father was supporting the Southern Ming, the Prince of Tang had even conferred upon him the right to use the imperial surname Zhu with the title “Guoxingye” 國姓爺 (“Custodian of the National Surname”), which the Dutch subsequently Latinised to “Coxinga”, the name by which Zheng Chenggong is generally known in western literature.

Against the wishes of his father, Zheng Chenggong used the family’s military and naval power to bolster the regime of another of the Ming princes, the Prince of Gui 桂王, Zhu Youlang 朱由榔. The Prince of Gui had fled to the southwest following the overthrow of the Prince of Tang, and established another Southern Ming court at Zhaoqing 肇慶 (Guangdong Province) in 1647 with the reign name Yongli 永曆. His reign survived much longer than that of the Prince of Tang, but after some initial success in driving the Qing back north, he was eventually forced to flee to Burma. The Qing pursued him, took him captive, and executed him in 1659.

Throughout this time, Zheng Chenggong had been constructing a formidable power base along the Fujian coast and on the islands of Xiamen (Amoy) and Jinmen (Quemoy). With the Qing forces still in the southwest in pursuit of the Prince of Gui, he felt emboldened to sail with over 100,000 men up the Yangze river, and was only defeated when he had reached the very gates of Nanking. As the Qing armies regrouped and began to advance through Fujian province, Zheng Chenggong decided to retreat to the island of Taiwan, which at the time was held by the Dutch.

He landed there in April 1661 with a force of 25,000 men, and by the following year had driven the Dutch out. But within months of consolidating his position there, he died on 23 June 1662 at the age of only thirty-seven, and was succeeded by his son Zheng Jing 鄭經, who continued to hold out against Qing occupation for almost two decades. Zheng Jing died in 1681, and power then passed briefly to his grandson Zheng Keshuang 郑克塽, who surrendered to the Qing when they finally conquered Taiwan in 1683.

Although the government of Taiwan by the Zheng family was largely military, the civil apparatus of imperial government was established at least in name. The family continued to use the Yongli reign title of Prince Gui, holding the Southern Ming empire in trust, as it were, pending the arrival of better days. The production of calendars was one of the most important imperial functions in traditional China, something I have already touched on in this blog, and was used by the Southern Ming to bolster the legitimacy of the expatriate regime. The extant examples all date from the time of Zheng Jing, and are printed in indigo (lan 藍), which Frances Wood has told me was used as a sign of mourning for the passing of the Ming Dynasty on the mainland.

How did the calendars get to England?

The extant copies were all almost certainly obtained and brought to England by East India Company merchants; those for 1671 certainly were, and are the result of a specific donation from Zheng Jing himself, documented in The English factory in Taiwan, 1670-1685 (Taipei: National Taiwan University, 1995).

At the end of May 1670, Henry Dacres (the Company’s agent in Bantam) sent Ellis Crisp with two ships, the pink Bantam and the sloop Pearl, to establish an English factory in Taiwan, in response to an invitation from Zheng Jing inviting foreign merchants to trade there. He arrived in Taiwan on 23 June.

The Pearl returned to Bantam on 13 November, and the Bantam on 29 January 1671. A “Coppie list of the King of Tywan’s present to the Worshipfull Henry Dacres, Agent” dated “4th January 1670/71 anno” records the fifty “almanacks” among other things (p.79, document 12). These presents were presumably taken back on the Bantam when it sailed on 29 January.

The footnote on p.79 is wrong to say that the 25th year of Yongli is equivalent to 1670. Perhaps the error is due to the fact that in 1671, the Chinese new year did not begin until 9 February, so that when Crisp was given the calendars for Dacres, it was still the 24th year of Yongli, which indeed corresponds in the main to 1670.

Who collected them?

The Chinese books that came to Europe in the 17th century, and particulary during the early part of the century, were collected mostly for their curiosity value. But by the end of the century, that was beginning to wane. The calendars, however, were almost certainly sought after because of their connection (albeit not understood) with astrology, in which several of those associated with them had an interest.

Robert Boyle’s copy is one of the fifty given to Henry Dacres, and he may have received it as a director of the East India Company. But although he is regarded as one of the founders of modern chemisty, he was also an alchemist and took an interest in philosophy and theology. Elias Ashmole was definitely interested in astrology, and was given his calendar by the mathemetician and astrologer Henry Coley, a townsman who even published his own almanacs.

At the beginning of this piece I mentioned a complication regarding the claim that the earliest examples of printing in Taiwan are probably to be found in English libraries. It is this. Yang Yongzhi 楊永智 (in 明清時期台南出版史, 台灣學生書局, 2007) refers to copies of the Southern Ming calendar for 1667 and 1683 as being “in the collection of the Kanda family” (“由日本神田家珍藏”, p.16). Presumably “the Kanda family” 神田家 refers to the great bibliographer Kanda Kiichirō 神田喜一郎 or his heirs. The collection of Kanda Kiichirō is now at Otani University in Kyoto, and its contents have been published (神田鬯盦博士寄贈図書目録, 1988). Unfortunately, this work makes no mention of the calendars, but they must surely exist, as Yang Yongzhi referred to them only five years ago. They would be both the earliest and the latest examples of the calendar, and I would very much like to know where they are.

One Response to “Southern Ming calendars”

  1. mongooseocean Says:

    I am so happy to find your blog. I was looking for some information of 大明一統志 and the internet led me to your blog. The reason why I really like your blog is that you have helped readers to see the book more than the contents inside the book. There’s so much knowledge about any old Chinese book one wants to learn before being able to read its contents. In Vietnam, there are thousands book written in Old Chinese, just like many books you are talking about here. I have long hoped to see a blog or a project, similar to yours, which showcases old books in Vietnam. Your work is greatly inspiring.


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