新书 | A Million Horses: Raising Government Horses in Early Ming China

A Million Horses: Raising Government Horses in Early Ming China

  • Noa Grass


First Online: 07 November 2019

Part of the The Palgrave Macmillan Animal Ethics Series book series (PMAES)


Horses were a military necessity and an economic problem for the Ming dynasty. After conquering China from the Mongol Yuan dynasty, the new rulers needed a formidable cavalry with which to face their enemies who, though retreating deep into the steppe, remained a threat. Devoting large tracts of good land to grazing came at the expense of agricultural production. In addition, since indigenous Chinese horses were generally inferior to their Central Asian and Arabian counterparts, superior mounts were regularly acquired from foreign sources. Past research in this field has concentrated on the purchase of horses through tributary relations and periodical horse markets, but devoted little attention to horse rearing within Ming territory. As contemporary records demonstrate, large-scale horse ranches were established along the northern border, and a significant portion of the population in the two metropolitan centers worked in the imperial stables. Annual reports for the years 1403–1424 show a continuous rise in the horse population, surpassing one and a half million. With this in mind, this chapter argues that these numbers could not be reached simply through the acquisition of foreign horses. Indeed, in order to explain this unprecedented rise, it is necessary to examine domestic rearing. This paper focuses on border ranches. The northern and western borders provided plenty of grazing land and water, caused little disturbance to the agricultural economy, while still remaining within the dynasty’s defensible territory. They were also a vital aspect of the strategic military policy of the dynasty. With the necessary addition of imported horses, the domestic horse administration formed an immense economic and administrative endeavor that supported early Ming military might.


Horses Ming dynasty China Military farms Horse rearing Military

Abbreviations used in this chapter are: TZuSL—Taizu shilu; TZoSL—Taizong shilu; RZSL—Renzong shilu; XuZSL—Xuanzong shilu; XianZSL—Xianzong shilu; XiaoZSL—Xiaozong shilu.

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I would like to thank the Azrieli Foundation for its generous support of this project, and the colleagues and staff of department III at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science for their valuable comments and help.


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