This is first time I have written something on the blog that was requested by someone else. My knowledge on this matter came from a book and few articles I recently read in order to write this. If there are mistakes, please feel free to correct me.
|The Seal of Jingyi Wei - Source: Mtime|
The tradition of the secret police was restarted by his son, Emperor Yongle, the third emperor of the Ming Dynasty as he had usurped the throne from his nephew, Emperor Jiangwen. However, Yongle took it further than his father ever did and not only returned the Jingyi Wei's power, but also created a new branch of secret police. Unlike Emperor Hongwu, Yongle used eunuchs in the leadership position instead of elite soldiers to form this new branch - the Eastern Depot.
The Eastern Depot is commonly called Dong Chang (東廠) in Chinese although the full name is dongjishichang. The Eastern Depot was established as a separate department with espionage being a primary function as well as also observing and eradicating political threats. The organization reports directly to the emperor and unlike other Chinese governmental institution, is not encumbered by governmental bureaucracy. Because of this, the organization is dreadfully effective with a eunuch known as the qin chai zongdu dongchang guanxiao banshi taijian (commonly known as the governor of Eastern Depot or zongdu dongchang in Chinese 總督東廠). The other officials within Eastern Depot are comprised of senior Jingyi Wei officers.
|The depiction by renowned Chinese actor Donnie Yen of the governor of Eastern Depot in popular culture|
|The Badge of the Eastern Depot - Source: Mingchao Baike|
Members of the Eastern Depot normally carries two Chinese broadswords made especially for the Eastern Depot. The higher the rank of the officer, the better the quality of the weapon. These swords, called xiuchun dao, are traditionally carried in a single sheath. Legend claims that the words "Dong Chang" were carved into the handles, one on each handle respectively. Then, these words would be turned inwards towards each other so they are not easily visible.
The political threats normally targeted by the Eastern Depot include the army, officials, aristocrats and scholars. If dissents or potential political enemies are discovered, the Eastern Depot would then report them to the emperor. Individuals of lower status who were identified by the Eastern Depot as a threat can be directly arrested and even executed by the Eastern Depot without intervention from the judicial system. For those of higher social status, imperial authority must be granted prior to any trials or interrogations. This power made the Eastern Depot extremely powerful but also highly unpopular during the Ming Dynasty.
Of the two secret police organizations, the Eastern Depot undoubtedly had more authority when compared to Jingyi Wei. Their treatment of alleged dissents are infamous within Ming China for their brutality which contributes to their low esteem in the eyes of both the general public and other officials. This unpopularity was furthered because of rumors of corruption and frameups for the governor of Eastern Depot's personal gain. Despite their controversial reputation, Ming emperor's continued to fear potential threats to their power. Because of this, Emperor Zhengde authorized the creation of two additional espionage depots, the Western Depot (complement the Eastern Depot) and the Inner Branch Depot (spies on the Eastern & Western Depots as well as the Jingyi Wei). The creation of the Inner Branch Depot probably best epitomizes the paranoia of the Ming emperors.
If you are interested in this subject, I would recommend chapter 5 entitled "Eunuchs and the Ming Intelligence-Gathering Apparatuses" in Tsai, Shih-shan Henry, T he Eunuchs in the Ming Dynasty he Eunuchs in the Ming Dynasty, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996. Not a bad read.