Li Shanchang

Li Shanchang (Chinese: 李善長; pinyin: Lǐ Shàncháng; Wade–Giles: Li Shan-ch’ang; 1314–1390) was a Chinese politician of the Ming dynasty, part of the West Huai (Huaixi) faction, and one of the six dukes in 1370.[1] Li Shanchang was one of Emperor Hongwu‘s associates during the war against the Yuan dynasty to establish the Ming dynasty.[2]

Li Shanchang


A Qing dynasty illustration of Li Shanchang in the Wanxiaotang Huanchuan, by Shangguan Zhou
Left Grand Councilor
In office
Preceded by Position created
Succeeded by Xu Da
Personal details
Born 1314
Died 1390 (aged 7576)
Occupation Politician

The emperor was “bored with Li’s arrogance” in old age. The Zhu family emperor then purged and executed Li along with his extended family and thirty thousand others, accusing him of supporting treason.[3][4]

Li Shanchang organized ministries, helped draft a new law code, and helped compile the History of Yuan and the Ancestral Instructions and the Ritual Compendium of the Ming Dynasty. He helped established salt and tea monopolies based on Yuan institutions, launched an anti-corruption campaign to eliminate political opponents, restored minted currency, opened iron foundries, and instituted fish taxes. He made revenue by oppressing the people in the process.

He was a doubtful classicist, and was still charged with drafting legal documents, mandates, and military communications. The History of Ming biography states that his studies included Chinese Legalist writings. Most of his activities seem to have supported Hongwu Emperor‘s firm control of his regime. He was tasked with purging political opponents, anti-corruption, and rooting out disloyal military officers. His reward and punishment system was influenced by Han Feizi, and Li Shanchang had a kind of secret police in his service. At times he had charge of all civil and military officials in Nanjing.[5]

. . . Li Shanchang . . .

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Li was a marginal figure in Dingyuan County until his recruitment by the Emperor Hongwu, who was passing through the area with his army. Li discussed history with him, namely, the qualities of the founding Han Emperor Gaozu of Han, and the emperor invited Li to take over the secretarial and managerial duties of his field command. He proved able and energetic, often staying behind to transfer army provisions. He was given first rank among officers with the titles of Grand Councilor of the Left and “Dynastic Duke of Han”. Comparisons between the Emperor Hongwu and Gaozu became a theme of the Ming Court and its historians.[6]

One history holds that, after the navy in Chaohu surrendered to the emperor, Li urged ferrying the soldiers to capture the southern area of the Yangtze River. Then Li gave an advance notice to prevent the army from violating the military discipline. The duplicates of his notice were plastered everywhere in the occupied city, Taiping. Consequently, the troops garrisoned there in an orderly fashion.

The emperor asked Li to assume responsibility for administrative affairs in 1353,[7] granting him overall institutional authority long before codification work started. Li’s petitioning Emperor Hongwu to eliminate collective prosecution reportedly initiated the drafting. Hongwu ordered Li and others to create the basic law code in 1367, appointing him Left Councilor and chief legislator in a commission of 30 ministers. Hongwu emphasized the importance of simplicity and clarity, and noted that the Tang dynasty and Song dynasty had fully developed criminal statutes, ignored by the Yuan dynasty. Li memorialized that all previous codes were based on the Han code, synthesized under the Tang, and based their institutions on the Tang Code.[8]

Following the drafting of the code, Li personally oversaw any new stipulations,[9] including a system of fixed statutes made to combat corruption.[10] He joined with Hu Weiyong against Yang Xian, another chancellor. Their efforts contributed to Yang’s death, making Li the most powerful figure next to the emperor at the court in 1370. He quarreled with the great classical scholar Liu Bowen, causing the latter to resign from public office.[11]

. . . Li Shanchang . . .

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. . . Li Shanchang . . .

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