The Donglin Academy, founded in 1604 in Wuxi, just northeast of Suzhou, was a prominent center of political thought in the late Ming Dynasty. In particular, it became a center of so-called "pure criticism" of certain factions and policies at the Imperial Court; disputes between the supporters of the Donglin scholars, and their opponents, consumed much activity at court in the final decades of the dynasty.
Following the death of the Wanli Emperor in 1620, members of the Donglin Academy were among those called upon to serve at court under Wanli's successors, the Taichang and Tianqi Emperors. Drawing upon the teachings of Wang Yangming, Donglin scholars were seen as a good source of moral knowledge on how to strengthen border defenses and domestic economy; however, they frequently berated other officials, and the emperor, on moral bases. The Tianqi Emperor kept himself relatively uninvolved in such disputes; when the Donglin scholars criticized top eunuch Wei Zhongxian, and Wei had at least one official beaten and killed in response, the emperor took no action against Wei. This opened the door to Wei and his followers taking even further action against the Donglin scholars, with no fear of repercussions; between 1624 and 1627, a number of officials were either killed or driven to suicide, before Wei was himself punished, committing suicide himself in 1627.
- Conrad Schirokauer, et al, A Brief History of Chinese and Japanese Civilizations, Fourth Edition, Cengage Learning (2012), 265.
- Jonathan Spence, The Search for Modern China, Second Edition, W.W. Norton & Co. (1999), 18.