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Tsing Hua Journal of Chinese Studies
ISSN 0577-9170; DOI 10.6503/THJCS


Coal Mining during the Ming Dynasty: The Interaction Between Environmental Change, Governmental Measures, and Social Influence

Vol. 37 No. 1   12/2007    


Coal Mining during the Ming Dynasty: The Interaction Between Environmental Change, Governmental Measures, and Social Influence


Chung-lin Ch'iu









Key words

Ming dynasty, logging of forests, fuel issue, opening of coal mines, government role, social influence


  This article discusses the relationship between coal mining and environmental change, governmental measures, and social influence during the Ming dynasty. Due to the long-term logging to the forests in the five provinces in Northern China during the Ming dynasty, fuel for community use had decreased with each passing day, and the price of firewood and charcoal had increased daily. The people started to convert to the use of coal, and the government also started to adjust the coal tax. Many local officials also sought to actively look for coal mines to open up. Between 1596 and 1605, the Wanli Emperor sent out eunuchs to open up mines all over the country, causing serious social unrest. The coal mines that were opened during the Ming dynasty continued to be used until the Qing dynasty.

   In the regions to the south, due to the relatively better natural conditions and more luxuriant forests, the issue of lack of fuel was considerably less serious. Although coal was still mined in several places, there were several sources of fuel, and it was not necessary to rely completely on coal. During the period when the eunuchs were opening up mines, the Southern areas also suffered disruption. After the eunuchs were recalled, some members of the gentry in the Nan-Zhili and Zhejiang area took a negative attitude towards the opening of mines. They often used feng shui as a reason to apply to the local officials to seal up the mountains, and did the same in relation to coal mining. Nevertheless, even though the local government had issued prohibition orders, many merchants and mine owners continued to mine for coal, and members of the gentry continued to petition the official to re-issue prohibition orders. The previous officials and the new officials, however, adopted different positions as to whether to allow the opening of coal mines, and thus an interesting tripartite relationship was formed among the members of the gentry, the mining merchants, and the officials. It is necessary to point out that the prohibition of opening of mines by the local officials was not completely due to reasons of feng shui; it sometimes was due to reasons of local securíty.



Author: Chung-lin Ch'iu
Genre: Article
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