Two examples of civil services taken over by barbarian conquerors.
The taking over of the existing civil service of a conquered polity is an expedient that almost forces itself upon empire-builders when these are barbarians who have won their empire by a sudden stroke and when the conquered polity itself has been a universal state whose imperial civil service has still been a going concern at the time of the conquest. Yet, though, in this situation, the main lines of action may be dictated by circumstances, there will still be some room for the free play of statesmanship. The barbarian empire-builders may be more or less receptive, and the subjugated civil servants more or less pliant; and it is a question of judgment how far the conquering ex-barbarian imperial people is to resign itself to taking over the conquered ex-imperial civil service lock, stock, and barrel as a permanent solution for its own problem of having to administer an empire, and how far it shall venture to reject or modify the institution that has so providentially fallen into its hands, for the sake of trying to preserve at any rate the more valuable elements in its own native communal tradition and êthos.
The Umayyad princes, on whom the sweeping conquests of the Primitive Muslim Arabs had conferred an unexpected dominion over ex-Roman and ex-Sasanian territories, compelled their Christian and Zoroastrian civil servants in the third generation [early eighth century] to substitute Arabic for Greek, Coptic, and Pehlevi as the official language of the public records, without attempting to take over the business of administration themselves [as Muslims]; and, though under the ensuing ‘Abbasid régime – especially from the ninth century of the Christian Era onwards, when the ‘Abbasid Caliphate was declining towards its fall [it did not fall until 1258] – the process of conversion to Islam became a landslide which carried into the Islamic fold a majority of the population of the Caliphate of all classes and occupations, the residual unconverted Christian minority continued to play a part in the civil service, and especially in the revenue administration, that was out of proportion to its eventual numbers.
The Yuan or Mongol dynasty of China was one of the Khanates of the post-Genghis Mongol Empire, from 1271 to 1368.
The others were the Il-Khanate of Persia (1256-1335), the Central Asian Chatagai Khanate (1260 to sixteenth century) and the Khanate of the Golden Horde which ruled Russia (1240-1395) and broke up into several smaller khanates.
The Yuan were succeeded by a native dynasty, the Ming, in 1368. In 1644, the Ming were overthrown by partly-Sinified invaders from Manchuria who established the Qing or Manchu dynasty. The extramural Manchu barbarian polity had been founded by Nurhachi (reigned 1618-25).
Quotations in the remainder of this passage are from Toynbee’s main source for it, “Michael, F.: The Origin of Manchu Rule in China (Baltimore 1942, John Hopkins University Press)”.
In the less abrupt course of the establishment of the Manchu Empire over China, the reciprocal relations of Manchu and Chinese administrative institutions came to be adjusted more subtly.
In the Manchu polity a Chinese-inspired bureaucracy had already prevailed over both the original clan system and the subsequently engrafted feudal system, that had been the Manchus’ own communal heritage, in the organization of the Manchu “banners” [administrative divisions] that had been created in A.D. 1601, forty-three years before the Manchus had embarked on the conquest of Intramural China. To staff a bureaucratic administration of their newly established banners, the Manchu Central Government commandeered Chinese scholar-serfs from the Manchu feudal lords, and, if a new element had not entered into the situation thereafter, the Manchu Power might have followed independently the path that the Ottoman Power took when it provided for the government of its empire by building up the Pādishāh’s [Great Sultan’s or Caliph’s] Slave-Household.
What does this mean? The banners were created before the Manchus invaded China. A Chinese bureaucracy, rather than the traditional Mongol clan system and subsequently engrafted feudal system, ran them, serving the central government. Its members were serfs commandeered from the feudal lords.
(This centralised civil service might have come to resemble the Ottoman rulers’ slave-household. The Ottoman civil service, servile as it may have been, developed, we were told in the last post, a professional and exclusive esprit de corps in a way that the Achaemenian had not.)
In the history of the Manchu Empire [...] this embryonic servile civil service never came to maturity; for the Manchu empire-builders soon came to recognize the expediency, and indeed necessity, of taking Chinese civil servants into the Manchu service as free men enjoying the status that was traditionally theirs under an indigenous Chinese régime.
The epoch-making event that produced this change in the Manchus’ attitude and policy towards Chinese litterati was the desertion in A.D. 1618, from the Ming to the Manchu service, of Li Yung-fang, the Chinese commandant of Fushun, a strategic point just inside the Great Wall at its eastern extremity on the coast of the Gulf of Chihli [or Bohai Sea, a backwater of the Yellow Sea]. The possibility of Li’s adhesion to their cause promised the Manchus so important an advantage that they offered him admission to their service on terms of equality. He accepted the offer, and this bargain created a precedent by which Li’s compatriots benefited from that time onwards. In fact, “the Chinese forced their standards on the invader”. In A.D. 1631, thirteen years before the Manchus’ passage of the Great Wall, a conference of Manchu feudal lords and high officials decided in favour of adopting the traditional Chinese bureaucratic organization for the central government; and the Manchu administrative system was duly Sinified by Prince Dorgon, the son of the founder of the Manchu Power, Nurhachi (regnabat A.D. 1618-25), and the younger brother of Nurhachi’s successor T’ai Tsung (regnabat A.D. 1625-43).
“Feudalism had given the Manchus their first integrating power. The acceptance of bureaucracy in the banner and central administration made them a state. It was the Chinese system, Chinese officials and Chinese ideas that enabled the Manchus to conquer China.”
The tottering Ming régime was given its coup de grâce, not by the Sinified Manchu Power beyond the Great Wall which was to succeed, in the event, to the fallen Ming régime’s heritage, but by a rebel [Li Tse-cheng] who had raised his horn in the interior of China. As against the Manchus, Li Tse-cheng, after occupying Peking, had the double advantage of being in possession and being Chinese. In the revolutionary breaks in the history of the Chinese state, native Chinese rebels, no less than barbarian invaders, had found themselves unable to gain possession of the Empire without the use of force, and for this reason the aspirants to supreme power in times of anarchy, whether barbarians or Chinese, had usually been men who had little to lose and who had had to fight to hold even what they had. Li Tse-cheng, the extinguisher of the Ming, conformed to the historic type of successful Chinese rebel in being an illiterate proletarian. On the other hand, the ci-devant barbarian Manchus were by this time in the second generation of Sinification and, in the process, had become men of substance with something to lose and therefore with a motive for hesitating to put their fortunes to the touch by playing for the greater but more hazardous prize of oecumenical dominion. [Footnote: The Manchu Government had even waited till A.D. 1636 to repudiate the suzerainty of the moribund Ming over their extramural principality [...].]
The Manchus’ partial Sinification in the first half of the seventeenth century made them hesitate to invade China without the mandate of the civil service.
In the circumstances, that prize might have remained in the bandit Li Tse-cheng’s hands if the issue had depended on him and the Manchus alone. In the history of the antecedent Sinic Civilization, Liu Pang had become the founder of the Han Dynasty through a very similar career. In the crisis of A.D. 1644, however, the issue was decided otherwise by the suffrages of a third party. The Chinese civil service, and the scholar-gentry from whose ranks they were drawn, could not stomach the illiterate usurper, while they felt that there was a future for them under an ex-barbarian Power which had already given practical proof of its esteem for the Confucian culture by Sinifying itself of its own accord. The Manchus crossed the Great Wall with at least the hint of a mandate to make the Empire safe for the Chinese scholar-gentry against the barbarian from within; and, though there proved to be nationalist-minded elements in the South of China which refused to recognize the Manchus’ cultural mission and which remained unreconciled to the Manchu domination to the end of the story, the unenthusiastic yet efficacious support of the Chinese cultivated class enabled the Manchus to make themselves masters of China and to hold their prize for more than a quarter of a millennium.
“The Manchu State was growing in the Chinese World at the edge of the Chinese Empire. Its development can only be understood in its relationship to the Chinese Empire, as it was – though a conquering force – still a part of China all the time.”
At the same time the Manchus did not become Chinese altogether without reservations. While they adopted the Confucian philosophy and educated their young men in it, they interpreted Confucian virtue in military terms that would have been more acceptable to the Sinic hereditary feudal nobility of Confucius’s day than to Confucius himself or to the latter-day chün tze of the Han Age who bore the by then extinct feudal class’s historic name, while teaching and practising what they believed to be Confucius’s philosophy. T’ai Tsung [the second Manchu Emperor] warned his Manchus against assimilation to the Chinese civilian way of life. “The banners had at first been the Manchu state. Now” – as a consequence of the Manchu Power’s momentous act of taking over the Chinese State as a going concern under the administration of the established Chinese professional civil service – the banners “became a state within a State”. In this equivocal position they did, however, maintain their existence and retain their identity till the Manchu régime in China fell, in its turn, in A.D. 1911.
A footnote in the passage says:
While the Manchus took the Chinese into their service on [...] generous terms at an early date and of their own free choice, the ‘Osmanlis did not take the corresponding step of employing Greeks as freemen, unconverted to Islam, until they were constrained by the breakdown of the Pādishāh’s Slave-Household and by a turn in the tide of war, in favour of the Western Christian Powers, which for the first time made the Ottoman Government feel the need for diplomacy and consequently appreciate the quality of their Greek ra’īyeh for negotiating with Western diplomats on their Ottoman masters’ behalf [page references to passages in earlier volumes].
A Ming portrait, now in the Nanjing Museum, of the official Jiang Shunfu (1453–1504). The decoration of two cranes on his chest indicates that he was a civil official of the first rank.
From 605 (Sui dynasty) until 1905 the Imperial Examination system determined who would enter the Chinese civil service. Examination cells, Guangdong, 1873
A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954