If you are looking to learn more about the Ancient Chinese societies, specifically the Ming Dynasty, this is a comprehensive guide that takes you through everything you need to know about Ming Dynasty. So, keep reading to learn more!
What Was The Ming Dynasty?
The Ming Dynasty reigned ancient China between 1368 and 1644, Ming Dynasty was the last of the Han ethnic dynasties.
Interestingly, The Ming Dynasty’s reign was sandwiched between the reigns of two foreign dynasties – The Yuan Dynasty that was Mongol-led, and the Qing Dynasty, which was a Manchurian Dynasty.
The Ming Dynasty was also the dynasty with the 4th longest time at the leadership help. The dynasty led China for a total of 276 years, taking over the reins as the Mongol-led Yuan Dynasty fell. During its time, this dynasty was able to unite the many ethnic Chinese tribes and even the resistance, and they also enacted policies that saw a steady growth of the economy in terms of art, foreign trade, and literature. Unfortunately, the best efforts of Ming emperors could not allow them to hold the fort for much longer than they had hoped because they were faced with numerous natural disasters, internal rebellions, and wars that weakened China to a great extent, which brought to an end the Ming Dynasty after their defeat by the united and very strong Manchurian forces of the Qing Dynasty.
Why Is The Ming Dynasty Famous?
Although the Ming Dynasty’s rule of China between 1368 and 1644 CE and the replacement of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty was faced with numerous challenges that came from within the nation and from abroad, this dynasty was also able to bring in and see through numerous changes and China underwent an unprecedented amount of growth during Ming Dynasty’s reign.
Some of the notable achievements of the Ming Dynasty that made them quite famous include their construction of a Forbidden City, the Imperial Residence based in Beijing. The dynasty was also responsible for the blossoming arts and literature, as well as the far-flung and remarkable explorations of Zheng He, not to mention the production of the Ming porcelains in classic blue and white.
Their best efforts and great successes notwithstanding, the dynasty still faced most of the old regime problems like infighting, court factions, corruption, as well as overspending by the government. All these led to a very disenchanted peasantry and also fuelled rebellions. These issues led to a politically, economically, and morally impoverished Ming Dynasty that couldn’t hold off the invasion by the Manchurian Qing Dynasty that came into power from 1644CE.
To date, however, the Ming Dynasty remains the dynasty that is well known for the expansion of trade and trade relations to and with the outside world. In other words, the Ming Dynasty established the cultural ties between China and the West.
This is the Chinese dynasty that expanded trade beyond their borders and pretty much made possible foreign trade between China and other countries across the world – but mostly in the West and Japan,
Ming Dynasty Timeline Of Important Events
The Ming Dynasty was ruled by a number of emperors, but the first emperor who founded the Ming Dynasty was Emperor Taizu, whose real name was Zhu Yuanzhang. This emperor is notable in Chinese history because he was born into poverty, and he spent most of his youth wandering in different parts of the country following the demise of his parents while he was young as a result of the many natural disasters around the Yellow River.
These events didn’t break his spirit, though, and because he spent a lot of time begging to be taken in at a Buddhist monastery and he consequently lived in the monasteries for some time. This ended, though, when the monastery was burned down in a bid to quell a rebellion. Then in 1352AD, Taizu found himself a member of a rebel group that had been formed and related to the White Lotus Society. In the rebel group, Taizu rose through the ranks quite fast, and he’d eventually lead a successful invasion on Nanjing, which was also used as the base that would lash out at the regional warlords. He’s ultimate test was against the Mongolian-led Yuan Dynasty rulers. And in 1368, Taizu and his army captured Beijing, and they destroyed their palace, a move that sent Yuan Dynasty’s Mongolian rulers fleeing. Taizu announces the formation of the Ming Dynasty.
Taizu had one of the most disciplined militaries that respected authority. His rule was also that of a very high and fierce sense of justice, and he’d beat up his officials if they failed to kneel before him. He was also a suspicious ruler, and this had him transform his palace guard into some sort of secret police that would work on rooting out conspiracies and betrayals. In 1380, for instance, he launched an internal investigation that would last 14 years, and in the end, have a record 30,000 executions. And to understand just how deep his level of paranoia was, Taizu conducted additional two such excursions, resulting in the killing of at least 70,000 government workers ranging from servants and guards to some of his highest-ranked government officials. Taizu was also known as the Hongwu Emperor.
Emperor Jianwen (1399–1402)
Emperor Jianwen took over after Emperor Hongwu as per the wishes of Hongwu, who stated in his will that his grandson Zhu Yunwen would take over as the new ruler after the death of his eldest son.
Emperor Yongle or Chengzu (1403-1433)
Chengzu was Taizu’s son who took over the reins when he was 15. He ignited a Civil war, and this is how he took over the throne. He constructed the forbidden city after moving the dynasty’s capital to Beijing and restored the Grand Canal, as well as the primacy of the Confucian Imperial Examinations to offer official administrative appointments.
Emperor Yongle is also known as the Chinese ruler that headed the country at the start of the Golden Age. He started to rebuild the Grand Canal between 1411 and 1415, a move that increased the commercial success of the North. He also built a huge fleet that he used to set West. The leader of this fleet was the Muslim Eunuch called Zheng He (1371-1433), who was sent out on numerous expeditions for gathering tributes. The fleet also went West for trade, sailing as far as Arabia with Zheng He’s sailors making Hajj at Mecca. He probably got as far as Africa. Overall, 2000 ships were constructed for the trading mission during the reign of Emperor Yongle.
Emperor Xuande (1425-1435)
As the 5th Ming Dynasty emperor, Xuande continued the prosperous path set by the emperors before him. His rule was also peaceful. In 1432, however, he issued a ban on the sea policy, and then the sponsored sailing missions would be canceled in 1432 following the death of Zheng He. Despite the Ming Courts’ decision to stop sending out fleets out West, the Western Europeans came to the Ming Dynasty for trade, and they also taught Christianity. At the time, the demand for manufactured products like silk and porcelain was growing in Japan and the West.
Emperor Xuande was also known for setting up schools for the eunuchs, who in turn got involved in politics.
Emperor Ying (1435 – 1449; 1457-1464)
During Emperor Ying’s reign, there was the Tumu crisis in which a Mongol leader led an invasion of the Ming Dynasty and Emperor Ying in 1449. With the support of the court, Ying’s brother was made Emperor Dai. After Emperor Ying’s release by the Mongols, he remained under house arrest for seven years before he successfully retook the throne in 1457 when Emperor Dai passed away.
Emperor Wu (1505 – 1521)
Early in the 1500s, with Emperor Wu in leadership, there were many Europeans sailing to China for trade – one of these Europeans was Christopher Columbus’s wife’s cousin, Rafael Perestrello, who got to Guangzhou in 1516 for trade. The Portuguese would later arrive in 1517, but these landing parties were jailed. This led to naval battles in which the Portuguese lost.
Emperor Shi (Jiajing) (1521 – 1566)
Emperor Shi’s rule is marked by the deadly earthquake that rocked Shanxi in 1556. This earthquake is considered the deadliest earthquake to date, historically because it killed about 800,000 people in Xi’an, which is 30% of Xi’an population at the time.
This reign also saw Macau concede after the Portuguese successfully got the Ming Court to agree to a treaty-making Macau the legal trading port for the Portuguese – these took place in 1557.
Emperor Shen (Wanli) – (1572-1620)
As the longest-serving emperor of the Ming Dynasty, Emperor Shen’s reign saw the prosperity of foreign trade, with the empire’s fortunes being heavily dependent on trade. The other things that took place during the reign of Emperor Shen’s rule include:
Korea, with the help of the Ming Dynasty, successfully repelled and defeated the two Japanese campaigns between 1592 and 1598. 26 million ounces of silver were paid.
In 1601, the Jesuits’ influence on the Ming Dynasty was only limited to the Ming Court. This was after a Jesuit called Ricci landed in Macau in 1582 and subsequently showed a deep appreciation for the Ming people and their philosophies of Daoism and Confucianism. Their influence resulted in over 10,000 converts by the year 1615, and some of the Jesuits were welcomed to the Ming court. They also tried to introduce western philosophies and science, albeit unsuccessfully.
Emperor Tianqi (1620 – 1627)
Emperor Tianqi’s reign was riddled with earthquakes and famine – there were many earthquakes in the 1600s, with the ones recorded between 1621 and 1627 having a strength of over 7 on the Richter Scale. There was also extreme famine faced in Northern China as a result of the extremely cold and dry weather that ended up shortening the growing season. These changes in climate took place worldwide, and the period is now known as the Little Ice Age.
Emperor Chongzhen (1627-1644)
Emperor Chongzhen was Ming Dynasty’s last emperor, and his reign was characterized by invasions, high poverty levels, and rebellion. The main issues faced during Emperor Chongzhen’s reign include:
A monetary crisis in 1639 came about because of the limitations put up by the emperor on Japanese shogun foreign imports as part of the dynasty’s isolationist policy. This policy also led to limited trade options, hence the monetary crisis faced by the empire. Silver’s value jumped up, and inflation meant that the poor/ farmers were unable to pay taxes.
There was also the civil rebellion of the Late Ming Dynasty. Between 1606 and 1645, a peasant soldier known as Li Zicheng mutinied his fellow soldiers in the Western Shaanxi after the government’s inability to ship supplies to them. With his rebel troops, they took over Hubei.
Then there was the great epidemic that broke out in 1641, and 90% of the affected population died.
A rival base for rebels in Sichuan Province’s Chengdu region also attacked the dynasty up to 1647, and though they didn’t win, they crippled the dynasty.
Then there was the invasion by the Manchurians who won over the Ming dynasty in 1644, leading the way to the Qing Dynasty.
Why Did The Ming Dynasty Rebuild/ Repair The Great Wall Of China?
One of the things that the Ming Dynasty did was to rebuild the Great Wall of China. Throughout China’s history, the maintenance of the Great Wall was rather inconsistent, and by the time the Ming Dynasty was taking over the reins, the wall was in dire need of repairs. The repairs were particularly important because the citizens of the Ming Dynasty were constantly threatened by the Mongols. And with the wall believed to be the most effective defense system, they could put in place to protect the citizens from further Mongol invasions, the repairs on the Great Wall were kicked off.
And thanks to the Great Wall and countless other Mongol invasions and clashes with the Ming army, the Mongols were captured in 1449 under the reign of Emperor Zhengtong.
How Did The Ming Dynasty Change China?
The dynasty placed focus on drama, arts, literature, architecture, and the renowned Ming dynasty porcelain that were exposed to the rest of the countries they traded with thanks to the sailing by the Muslim Eunuch called Zheng He. Christianity was also introduced to China for the first time by the Ming Dynasty.
Why Did The Ming Dynasty End Maritime Voyages?
The end of the maritime voyages was politically and financially motivated since the government didn’t make much money from the excursions. The treasure fleet was considered too costly an expense.
10 Interesting Facts About The Ming Dynasty
The Golden Age was born during the Ming Dynasty
This Dynasty was the 4th Longest-serving dynasty that ruled China between two foreign dynasties – the Yuan Dynasty, led by the Mongols, and the Qing Dynasty, run by the Manchurians.
Confucianism and Neo-Confucianism Examinations were taken seriously, and officials got appointed only after taking the examinations and passing.
The Ming Dynasty had some of the most intelligent and also well-educated officials.
The capital of the Ming Dynasty was changed to Beijing from Nanjing by Emperor Yongle.
The Ming Dynasty, under the rule of Emperor Hongwu, started the Pro-Peasant Policy that ensures that even the peasants were given land.
The Ming Dynasty’s Treasure Expedition Fleet is believed to have reached as far as Arabia and Africa.
The Dynasty opened China to foreigners, mostly Portuguese, and Christianity was introduced to China during the reign of the Ming Dynasty.
Culture and traditional Chinese traditions flourished during Ming Dynasty’s reign.
Ming Dynasty is known for a clothing type known as the Hanfu clothing. This clothing style was common between 1368 and 1644, but today, it is the type of clothing that is considered the most versatile and the best representation of traditional Chinese ways.
Embroidered Uniform Guard
Also called the brocade, the embroidered uniform was the secret police of the imperial governments serving the Ming Emperors. The uniformed guard was established by Emperor Hongwu in 1368, and their role was the collection of military intelligence. They wore distinct golden yellow uniforms that had a tablet that was worn on the torso to carry a very special blade, which was the guards’ weapon of choice.
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