Ming Dynasty

The Ming dynasty began in 1368, and lasted until 1644 A.D. Its founder was a peasant, the third of only three peasants ever to become an emperor in China. He is known as Hongwu Emperor, and led the revolt against the Mongols and the Yuan Dynasty. He was constantly worried about conspiracies against himself, and despite the many moral homilies he gave, favored violence in dealing with anyone suspected of plotting against him or associated with the conspirators. The capital was originally located in Nanjing but the third emperor moved the capital to Beijing.

As a result of his peasant origins, Hongwu created laws that improved the peasant life. He kept the land tax low, and kept the granaries stocked to guard against famine. He also maintained the dikes on the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers. However, economically he lacked the vision to push trade. He supported the creation of self-supporting communities and, in a typically Confucian viewpoint, felt agriculture should be the country's source of wealth and that trade was ignoble and parasitic. 

While retaining the Confucian view that being a merchant is an inferior occupation, Hongwu discarded the belief that military too was inferior and developed a militant class that ranked higher than any civil servant. Maintaining and having a strong military was important because, even though the Mongols had been defeated, they were still a threat to China. The name Hongwu means Vast Military and reflects the increased prestige of the military. 

A great cultural development of the Ming Dynasty was that of the novel. These novels developed from the writings of Chinese story tellers. As a result, they were written in the everyday language, not the language of the nobility. Also, they were divided into chapters at the points where the storyteller would have stopped to collect money. Some of the best known novels of the Ming Dynasty are still read today. Wood-cut and block-printing of art also became more popular at this time. The main market for these prints came from the people who had recently moved into the cities from the country areas. Porcelain production and diversification occurred. Blue and white porcelain became the normal form, but experimentation in two color and even three color porcelain began. Encyclopedias were written containing important information from a variety of fields, such as geography, music and medicine. Dictionaries were also written; the one that had the most influence on the future was written in 1615 A.D. and reduced the number of signs for Chinese characters to 214, as opposed to the 540 plus signs of previous dictionaries. 

Another accomplishment of the Ming was the building of the Great Wall. While Great Walls had been built in earlier times, most of what is seen today was either built or repaired by the Ming. The brick and granite work was enlarged, the watch towers were redesigned and cannons were placed along the wall. 

Hongwu wanted to control all aspects of government so that no other group could gain enough power to overthrow him. With this goal in mind, he eliminated the prime minister's office and secretariat, leaving himself incredible amounts of work. As a result of this, the emperors were forced to rely on eunuchs for more administration purposes. This led to the eunuchs, for the first time, being educated. Families that weren't as wealthy or influential as they would have liked, often gained power when one of the males voluntarily became a eunuch. 

From the very beginning of the Ming Dynasty, money was a problem. At first, paper currency was used. However, Hongwu did not understand inflation and gave out so much paper money as rewards that by 1425 A.D. the currency was worth 1/70 of its original value. This led to a return to the use of copper coins. The government did not make enough coins and counterfeiting became a problem. At this point, the provinces were required to mint their own coins. Unfortunately, some of them added lead to the coins, which depleted their value. Due to the abundance of counterfeit coins, their value again declined. This coin problem was amplified by an increasing need for money due to the growth of trade. 

Although merchants and trade in general were looked down upon, China had established sea routes that were used for trade with Japan and south Asia. Starting in 1405 A.D., Zheng He began a series of seven naval expeditions that went as far as the east coast of Africa. These trips followed established routes and were mainly diplomatic. The last of these voyages was completed in 1433 A.D. At this point, China was far ahead of the rest of the world in naval capabilities. Their ships could carry as many as 500 men. However, after the last voyage was completed none were ever again attempted. In fact, records of the trips were destroyed and shipbuilding was restricted to small-size vessels. As a result, China's coast was frequently attacked by pirates. 

As in previous dynasties, internal power struggles eventually led to the downfall of the Ming Dynasty. Groups formed among the eunuchs and the nobility that worked to gain sole power and place one of their leaders as emperor. Weak leaders were overpowered and children were often placed on the throne who had no control over their empire. At this time, the Manchu were also beginning to attack Chinese cities that existed in Manchuria, eventually gaining control first of the whole of Manchuria and then in 1644 over China, thus beginning the Qing Dynasty.

List of Ming Dynasty Emperors

Personal name                  

Posthumous name

Temple name

Era name              

Reign years             

Zhū Yuánzhāng

朱元璋

Gāodì

高帝

Tàizǔ

太祖

Hóng

wǔ

洪武

1367–1398

Zhū Yǔnwén

朱允炆

Rangdì

讓帝

Huizong

惠宗

Jiànwén

建文

1398–1402

Zhū Dì

朱棣

Wéndì

文帝

Chéngzǔ or Tàizōng

成祖 or太宗

Yǒnglè

永樂

1402–1424

Zhū Gāochì

朱高熾

Zhāodì

昭帝

Rénzōng

仁宗

Hóngxī

洪熙

1424–1425

Zhū Zhānjī

朱瞻基

Zhāngdì

章帝

Xuānzōng

宣宗

Xuāndé

宣德

1425–1435

Zhū Qízhèn

朱祁鎮

Ruìdì

睿帝

Yīngzōng

英宗

Zhèngtǒng

正統

1435–1449      

Tiānshùn

天順

1457–1464

Zhū Qíyù

朱祁鈺

Jǐngdì

景帝

Dàizōng

代宗

Jǐngtài

景泰

1449–1457

Zhū Jiànshēn

朱見深

Chúndì

純帝

Xiànzōng

憲宗

Chénghuà

成化

1464–1487

Zhū Yòutáng

朱祐樘

Jìngdì

敬帝

Xiàozōng

孝宗

Hóngzhì

弘治

1487–1505

Zhū Hòuzhào

朱厚照

Yìdì

毅帝

Wǔzōng

武宗

Zhèngdé

正德

1505–1521

Zhū Hòucōng

朱厚熜

Sùdì

肅帝

Shìzōng

世宗

Jiājìng

嘉靖

1521–1567

Zhū Zǎihòu

朱載垕

Zhuāngdì

莊帝

Mùzōng

穆宗

Lóngqìng        

隆慶

1567–1572

Zhū Yìjūn

朱翊鈞

Xiǎndì

顯帝

Shénzōng

神宗       

Wànlì       

萬曆

1572–1620

Zhū Chángluò

朱常洛

Zhēndì

貞帝

Guāngzōng

光宗

Tàichāng

泰昌

1620

Zhū Yóujiào

朱由校

Zhédì

悊帝

Xīzōng    

熹宗

Tiānqǐ

天啟

1620–1627

Zhū Yóujiǎn

朱由檢

Lièdi

烈帝

Sīzōng

思宗

Chóngzhēn

崇禎

1627–1644      

Zhu Cilang        

朱慈烺

Daodi

悼帝

Shunzong

順宗

Yixing

義興

         1644

Emperors of the Southern Ming Dynasty

Personal name

Temple name

Era  name

Reign years

Most known name

Zhū Yóusōng

朱由崧

Ānzōng

安宗

Hóngguāng

弘光

16441645         

Prince of Fu

福王

Zhū Yùjiàn

朱聿鍵

Shào

zōng        

紹宗

Lóngwǔ

隆武

16451646         

Prince of Tang

唐王

Zhū Chángfāng

朱常淓

None given     

None given, but sometimes referred to as the Regency of the Prince of Lu (Luh)

1645–1646

Prince of Lu (Luh*) 

潞王

Zhū Yǐhǎi

朱以海

Yìzōng

义宗

Gēngyí

庚寅

16451655

Prince of Lu (Lou*)

魯王

Zhū Yùyuè

朱聿


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