China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
When underpaid soldiers killed the Grand Coordinator of the northwestern province of Gansu in 1521, the Ming court took alarm. Gansu, one of the Nine Border Garrisons, protected the northwest and the Central Asian trade routes, and the court depended on the Grand Coordinator to manage affairs there. The case was considered closed when after an investigation the court punished both the Regional Commander for embezzling the soldiers’ pay and the mutiny’s ringleaders. The small scale and seeming lack of significant consequences has turned this mutiny into a footnote in Ming history, yet I argue it mattered for both Ming relations with Turfan, a Central Asian state bordering Gansu that had been challenging Ming hegemony in the region for half a century; and the outcome of political infighting in the early Jiajing (r. 1521-1566) period.
The mutiny led to the rise of old Gansu hand Chen Jiuchou who, as the new Grand Coordinator, successfully promoted a hardline policy of stopping trade with Turfan. This culminated in Turfan’s failed invasion of Gansu in 1524. Eventually, Chen’s policy was used by Jiajing’s supporters against Chen’s sponsors, who were their political opponents. Chen was jailed, his sponsors driven from office, and trade with Turfan was restored. Turfan, meanwhile, was sufficiently humbled to seek peace. The 1521 mutiny thus sparked a chain of events that removed a major military threat in the northwest, freeing up soldiers and funds, and stabilized the lucrative Central Asian trade, while also allowing Jiajing to rid himself of political opponents.