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Home > China  Tour
Ming Dynasty

Establishment
In the late period of the Yuan Dynasty (1271 - 1368), a peasant's uprising - Hongjinjun (army with red scarfs wrapped around their heads) uprising broke out. In 1352 when the rebel army captured Haozhou (currently Fengyang in Anhui Province), Zhu Yuanzhang, a local young man from a peasant family joined the army. After that, Zhu served with distinction in the battles. In 1356, Zhu led his army into the city of Jiqing (currently Nanjing in Jiangsu Province), changed the city name into Yingtian and established his own military base there. Through several years' efforts, both the military and economical strength of Zhu's army quickly became stronger. From 1360 to 1367, his army managed to eliminate the remaining separatist military forces. In 1368, Zhu Yuanzhang officially proclaimed himself emperor in Yingtian and founded the Ming Dynasty. In the same year, the Ming army captured Dadu (currently Beijing), the capital city of Yuan, ultimately ending the Yuan Dynasty.

Early Reign
After the founding of the new dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang implemented a series of policies to reduce the peasants' burden and to resume the production of the whole society. On the other hand, he focused much attention on the punishment and prevention of corruption among court officials. Additionally, he sent his sons to supervise the local administration so as to strengthen his hold on imperial power. After Zhu Yuanzhang died, his grandson Zhu Yunwen took over the throne. However, his reign only lasted for four years, ending in a coup launched by Zhu Di, the fourth son of Zhu Yuanzhang. Hence, Zhu Di was Emperor Chengzu of the Ming Dynasty, whose reign was considered as one of the most prosperous periods in the Ming Dynasty. During his reign, an unprecedented encyclopedia called Yongle Dadian was regarded as the biggest and earliest encyclopedia in the world. From 1405 to 1433, Emperor Chengzu sent an eunuch named Zhenghe to lead Ming's fleets across the Indian Ocean. They visited many countries in Southeast Asia, expanding the influence of the Ming Dynasty in the world. Meanwhile, Emperor Chengzu began to construct an imperial palace from 1406 and moved the capital city from Yingtian to Beijing in 1421.        

Decline and Fall
The turning point of the Ming Dynasty from prosperity to decline was the reign of Emperor Shenzong. In the early period, under the wise assistance of a skillful chancellor, Zhang Juzheng, Emperor Shenzong made much improvement in the national economy, agriculture, water conservancy and military affairs. However, after the death of Zhang Juzheng, the emperor began to neglect state affairs. In his late reign, the Ming army was defeated by the leader of the so-called 'Latter Jin' regime - Nurhachu in the Battle of Sarhu. Since then, the Ming court fell into a passive state in confrontation with the 'Latter Jin' set up by Nuzhen ethnic minority.

The end of the Ming Dynasty started with the last emperor, Emperor Weizong's reign - the reign went by the name Chongzhen. The crisis of the Ming Dynasty was caused by the corruption of the court officials and the domination of the eunuchs. In that period, both the exploitation from the ruling class and natural disasters in successive years caused the people to live in extreme hardship.  In 1628, dozens of rebel military forces launched battles in the northern area of Shaanxi Province. One of the leaders of the rebel army, Li Zicheng, was among them and he was deeply trusted and supported by most peasants. In 1644, Li Zicheng captured Xian and founded a new regime called Dashun. In the same year, Emperor Weizong hanged himself in Jingshan Hill of Beijing, signifying the end of the Ming Dynasty.

Economy
Economically, the Ming Dynasty was a period during which the feudal society began to show the declining trend while the capitalism started to originate. In agriculture, both the food output and the implements of production surpassed that of the Song and Yuan Dynasties. From the early period of the Ming Dynasty, the handicraft industry in the southern areas developed rapidly. Especially, the porcelain making industry reached an unprecedented level. Since the reign of Zhu Yuanzhang, it had been a major source of the state finance. The currently famous Jindezhen kiln was once the imperial kiln in that period.

The development of the handicraft industry promoted market economy and urbanization. During the reign of Emperor Shizong and Emperor Shenzong, a great amount of commodities including silk, alcohol, porcelain, tobacco, crops, vegetable and fruits was sold in the market. Meanwhile, many foreign commodities such as clocks from Europe and tobacco from America were on sale in many cities of China. Also, a series of commercial metropolises including Beijing, Nanjing, Yangzhou, Suzhou, Guangzhou, Xian and Chengdu were successively formed. However, the later policy of restraining commerce and the stringent ban on shipping greatly hampered commercial development.

Culture and Science
The culture of the Ming Dynasty developed rapidly, especially in literature. Three of the four great classical masterpieces of Chinese literature - Journey to the West, Outlaws of the Marsh, and Romance of the Three Kingdoms were written in the Ming Dynasty. Besides,  two other well-known novels - Peony Pavilion and The Plum in the Golden Vase were also excellent works in that period. Meanwhile, folk literature prospered, represented by a group of writers such as Tang Yin, Song Lian, Zhang Dai, Wu Weiye and Yuan Hongdao. In philosophy, Wang Yangming's new thoughts called 'philosophy of the mind' formed a new thinking wave which helped shape a new social trend.

Before the 16th century, the scientific development of the Ming Dynasty had been in the forefront of the world. Many scientific books appeared in the early and middle period, namely, medical book Compendium of Materia Medica by Li Shizhen, Song Yingxing's Heavenly Creations about handicraft industry, Xu Guangqi's Complete Treatise on Agriculture and Xu Xiake's Travels of Xu Xiake. All these have been the precious documents for today's study of the ancient technology. Additionally, the military technology was relatively advanced in that period. A kind of gun called 'huochong gun' and powerful artillery were invented in the late period of the Ming Dynasty. It is said that a man named Wan Hoo even tried to fly to the sky by sitting in a chair propelled by gunpowder sticks. Unfortunately, he failed and became the first sacrifice in human conquest of the sky.

 

 

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