Ming Dynasty

Great Ming
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Ming China under the reign of the Yongle Emperor
Capital Nanjing
Language(s) Chinese
Religion Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Chinese folk religion
Government Monarchy
 - 1368–98 Hongwu Emperor
 - 1627–44 Chongzhen Emperor
 - 1368–75 Liu Ji
 - 1544–5, 1548–62 Yan Song
 - 1568–73 Tan Lun
 - 1572–82 Zhang Juzheng
 - 1612–4, 1621–4 Ye Xianggao
 - 1624 Zhu Guozhen
 - 1450[1] 6500000 km2 (2509664 sq mi)
 - 1393 est. 72,700,000 
 - 1400 est. 65,000,000¹ 
 - 1600 est. 150,000,000¹ 
 - 1644 est. 100,000,000 
Currency Chinese cash, Chinese coin, Paper currency (later abolished)
Remnants of the Ming Dynasty ruled southern China until 1662, a dynastic period which is known as the Southern Ming.
¹The numbers are based on estimates made by CJ Peers in Late Imperial Chinese Armies: 1520–1840


History of China
3 Sovereigns and 5 Emperors
Xia Dynasty 2100–1600 BCE
Shang Dynasty 1600–1046 BCE
Zhou Dynasty 1045–256 BCE
 Western Zhou
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   Spring and Autumn Period
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Qin Dynasty 221 BCE–206 BCE
Han Dynasty 206 BCE–220 CE
  Western Han
  Xin Dynasty
  Eastern Han
Three Kingdoms 220–280
  Wei, Shu & Wu
Jin Dynasty 265–420
  Western Jin 16 Kingdoms
  Eastern Jin
Southern & Northern Dynasties
Sui Dynasty 581–618
Tang Dynasty 618–907
  ( Second Zhou 690–705 )
5 Dynasties &
10 Kingdoms

Liao Dynasty
Song Dynasty
  Northern Song W. Xia
  Southern Song Jin
Yuan Dynasty 1271–1368
Ming Dynasty 1368–1644
Qing Dynasty 1644–1911
Republic of China 1912–1949
People's Republic
of China

of China

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The Ming Dynasty, or anachronistically referred to as Empire of the Great Ming, was the ruling dynasty of China from 1368 to 1644, following the collapse of the Mongol-led Yuan Dynasty. The Ming, "one of the greatest eras of orderly government and social stability in human history",[2] was the last dynasty in China ruled by ethnic Hans. Although the Ming capital Beijing fell in 1644 to a rebellion led by Li Zicheng who established the Shun Dynasty, which was soon replaced by the Manchu-led Qing Dynasty, regimes loyal to the Ming throne (collectively called the Southern Ming) survived until 1662.

Ming rule saw the construction of a vast navy and a standing army of one million troops.[3] Although private maritime trade and official tribute missions from China had taken place in previous dynasties, the tributary fleet under the Muslim eunuch admiral Zheng He in the 15th century far surpassed all others in size. There were enormous construction projects, including the restoration of the Grand Canal and the Great Wall and the establishment of the Forbidden City in Beijing during the first quarter of the 15th century. Estimates for the late-Ming population vary from 160 to 200 million.[4]

Emperor Hongwu (r. 1368–98) attempted to create a society of self-sufficient rural communities in a rigid, immobile system that would have no need to engage with the commercial life and trade of urban centers. His rebuilding of China's agricultural base and strengthening of communication routes through the militarized courier system had the unintended effect of creating a vast agricultural surplus that could be sold at burgeoning markets located along courier routes. Rural culture and commerce became influenced by urban trends. The upper echelons of society embodied in the scholarly gentry class were also affected by this new consumption-based culture. In a departure from tradition, merchant families began to produce examination candidates to become scholar-officials and adopted cultural traits and practices typical of the gentry. Parallel to this trend involving social class and commercial consumption were changes in social and political philosophy, bureaucracy and governmental institutions, and even arts and literature.

By the 16th century the Ming economy was stimulated by trade with the Portuguese, the Spanish, and the Dutch. China became involved in a new global trade of goods, plants, animals, and food crops known as the Columbian Exchange. Trade with European powers and the Japanese brought in massive amounts of silver, which then replaced copper and paper banknotes as the common medium of exchange in China. During the last decades of the Ming the flow of silver into China was greatly diminished, thereby undermining state revenues and indeed the entire Ming economy. This damage to the economy was compounded by the effects on agriculture of the incipient Little Ice Age, natural calamities, crop failure, and sudden epidemics. The ensuing breakdown of authority and people's livelihoods allowed rebel leaders such as Li Zicheng to challenge Ming authority.


Revolt and rebel rivalry

The Mongol-led Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368) ruled before the establishment of the Ming Dynasty. Alongside institutionalized ethnic discrimination against Han Chinese that stirred resentment and rebellion, other explanations for the Yuan's demise included overtaxing areas hard-hit by inflation, and massive flooding of the Yellow River as a result of the abandonment of irrigation projects.[5] Consequently, agriculture and the economy were in shambles and rebellion broke out among the hundreds of thousands of peasants called upon to work on repairing the dykes of the Yellow River.[5]

A number of Han Chinese groups revolted, including the Red Turbans in 1351. The Red Turbans were affiliated with the White Lotus, a Buddhist secret society. Zhu Yuanzhang was a penniless peasant and Buddhist monk who joined the Red Turbans in 1352, but soon gained a reputation after marrying the foster daughter of a rebel commander.[6] In 1356 Zhu's rebel force captured the city of Nanjing,[7] which he would later establish as the capital of the Ming Dynasty.

Zhu Yuanzhang cemented his power in the south by eliminating his arch rival and rebel leader Chen Youliang in the Battle of Lake Poyang in 1363. After the dynastic head of the Red Turbans suspiciously died in 1367 while a guest of Zhu, the latter made his imperial ambitions known by sending an army toward the Yuan capital Dadu (present-day Beijing) in 1368.[8] The last Yuan emperor fled north to Shangdu and Zhu declared the founding of the Ming Dynasty after razing the Yuan palaces in Dadu to the ground;[8] the city was renamed Beiping in the same year.[9]

Instead of the traditional way of naming a dynasty after the first ruler's home district, Zhu's choice of 'Ming' or 'Brilliant' for his dynasty followed a Mongol precedent of an uplifting title.[7] Zhu Yuanzhang also took Hongwu, or 'Vastly Martial,' as his reign title. Although the White Lotus had enabled his rise to power, Hongwu later denied that he had ever been a member of their organization and suppressed the religious movement after he became emperor.[7][10]

Reign of the Hongwu Emperor

Hongwu made an immediate effort to rebuild state infrastructure. He built a 48 km (30 mile) long wall around Nanjing, as well as new palaces and government halls.[8] The History of Ming states that as early as 1364 Zhu Yuanzhang had begun drafting a new Confucian law code, the Da Ming Lü, which was completed by 1397 and repeated certain clauses found in the old Tang Code of 653.[11] Hongwu organized a military system known as the weisuo, which was similar to the fubing system of the Tang Dynasty (618-907). The goal was to have soldiers become self-reliant farmers in order to sustain themselves while not fighting or training.[12] The system of the self-sufficient agricultural soldier, however, was largely a farce; infrequent rations and awards were not enough to sustain the troops, and many deserted their ranks if they weren't located in the heavily supplied frontier.[13]

Although a Confucian, Hongwu had a deep distrust for the scholar-officials of the gentry class and was not afraid to have them beaten in court for offenses.[14] He halted the civil service examinations in 1373 after complaining that the 120 scholar-officials who obtained a jinshi degree were incompetent ministers.[15][16] After the examinations were reinstated in 1384,[16] he had the chief examiner executed after it was discovered that he allowed only candidates from the south to be granted jinshi degrees.[15]

In 1380 Hongwu had the Chancellor Hu Weiyong (胡惟庸) executed upon suspicion of a conspiracy plot to overthrow him; after that Hongwu abolished the Chancellery and assumed this role as chief executive and emperor.[17][18] With a growing suspicion of his ministers and subjects, Hongwu established the Jinyi Wei, a network of secret police drawn from his own palace guard. They were partly responsible for the loss of 100,000 lives in several purges over three decades of his rule.[17][19]