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Ming Dynasty

Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD) was the last dynasty in China ruled by ethnic Hans. Ming was another peak in China’s dynastic history. It was established by Zhu Yuanzhang, Emperor Hongwu, who led the revolution against the Mongols and the Yuan Dynasty. Zhu Yuanzhang, a great strategist and politician with a legendary life, reached his dream of emperor step by step. 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.

How did Zhu Yuanzhang establish Ming Dynasty?

Zhu Yuanzhang, the founder of Ming Dynasty was usually compared with Liu Bang, the founder of Han Dynasty. Not only did their dynasties were both the peak in Chinese dynastic history, but also they were both born in humble and built great dynasties from nothing, thanks to their talents, bravery and horses for courses.

Zhu Yuanzhang was born in a destitute peasant family in Zhongli (today’s Fengyang, Anhui Province) as the youngest son. He grew up in great hardship, as his family did not have enough food. Several of his siblings were even "given away" by his parents.

map of Ming

When he was 16 the Yellow River broke its banks and flooded the lands.This was quickly followed by the plague in which his father died, followed shortly by his mother and all but one brother. In order to survive, he had to become a novice monk at a local Buddhist monastery, the Huangjue Temple. Zhu could not stay in the monastery for long period, as the monastery ran out of money and he was forced to leave. The next few years were hard. He traveled, begged for food, and saw, first-hand, the troubles of the people. After some three years he returned to the monastery and stayed there until he was about 24 years old. During this time with the Buddhist monks he learned to read and write. In later years, while he remained sympathetic to Buddhism, he himself did not become a Buddhist.

Zhu Yuanzhang

Institutionalized ethnic discrimination practiced by Yuan government against Han and a series of natural stirred resentment and rebellion. 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.

A number of Han groups revolted, including the Red Turbans in 1351. The Red Turbans were affiliated with the White Lotus, a secret Buddhist society. Zhu Yuanzhang joined the Red Turbans in 1352. His talent and ability were widely recognized and then he married the foster daughter of a rebel commander. In 1356, Zhu's rebel force captured the city of Nanjing, 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. In 1368, Zhu Yuanzhang declared himself emperor in Nanjing, marking the establishment of Ming Dynasty.
In the same year, Zhu sent an army toward the Yuan capital Dadu (today’s Beijing). 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. The city was renamed Beiping in the same year.

What were the achievements of Ming Dynasty?


The Ming dynasty was a magnificent period in the history of China’s traditional culture, and a period of transformation in traditional Chinese society. The Ming Dynasty was a period of cultural restoration and expansion. The reestablishment of an indigenous Han ruling house led to the imposition of court-dictated styles in culture.
Yongle Encyclopedia” (“Great Canon of Yongle Era” or “Vast Documents of Yongle Era”) was a Chinese compilation commissioned by Zhudi, Emperor Yongle of Ming Dynasty in 1403 and completed by 1408. It was the world's earliest and largest general encyclopedia.

Yongle Encyclopedia

“Yongle Encyclopedia” was a massive collation of excerpts and works from the mass of Chinese society, culture and knowledge, designed to include all that had ever been written on the Chinese canon, history, philosophy and the arts and sciences. 2,000 scholars worked on the project, incorporating 8,000 texts from ancient times up to the early Ming Dynasty. They covered an array of subjects, including agriculture, art, astronomy, drama, geology, history, literature, medicine, natural sciences, religion, and technology, as well as descriptions of unusual natural events. The encyclopedia, which was completed in 1408 at Nanjing Guozijian (Imperial University in Nanjing), comprised 22,937 manuscript rolls or chapters, in 11,095 volumes occupying roughly 40 cubic meters (1400 ft³) and using 3.7 billion Chinese characters.

Another great cultural development of the Ming Dynasty was novels. These novels developed from the writings of Chinese storytellers. As a result, they were written in spoken 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.

In Ming painting, the traditions of both the Southern Song painting academy and the Yuan scholar-artist were developed further. While the Zhe (Zhejiang Province) school of painters carried on the descriptive, ink-wash style of the Southern Song with great technical virtuosity, the Wu (Suzhou, Jiangsu Province) school explored the expressive calligraphic styles of Yuan scholar-painters emphasizing restraint and self-cultivation.

The Ming Tombs

Valuing the presence of personality in a work over mere technical skill, the Ming scholar-painter aimed for mastery of performance rather than laborious craftsmanship. Large-scale landscapes, flower-and-bird compositions, and figural narratives were particularly favored as images that would glorify the new dynasty and convey its benevolence, virtue, and majesty.


In order to recover from rule of the Mongols and the wars that followed it, the Emperor Hongwu enacted pro-agricultural policies. The state invested extensively in agricultural canals, reduced taxes on agriculture to 1/30 of the output, and later to 1.5% of agricultural output. Ming farmers also introduced many innovations such as water-powered plows, and new agricultural methods such as crop rotation. This led to a massive agricultural surplus that became the basis of a market economy.
The Ming saw the rise of commercial plantations which produced crops suitable to their regions. Tea, fruits, paint and other goods were produced on a massive scale by these plantations. Regional patterns of production established during this period continued into the Qing dynasty.
Although images of autarkic farmers who had no connection to others may have some merit for the earlier Han and Tang dynasties, this was not the case for the Ming dynasty. During the Ming dynasty, the increase in population and the decrease in quality land made it necessary that farmers make a living off cash crops. Many of these markets appeared in the rural countryside, where goods were exchanged and bartered.
Markets of urban-rural type also developed in Ming Dynasty, in which rural goods were sold to urban dwellers. This was particular the case when landlords decided to reside in the cities, and use income coming from rural land holding to facilitate exchange in the cities. Another way this type of market was used was professional merchants who bought rural goods in large quantities.
Another type of market was the “national market” which was developed during the Song dynasty but particularly enhanced during the Ming. This market involved not only the exchange described above, but also products produced directly for the market. Unlike earlier dynasties, many Ming peasants were no longer producing only products they needed; many of them produced products for the market, which then they sold at a profit.


The Ming manufacturing industry was more varied and advanced than that of the Song.Wood-cut and block-printing of art became more popular at that 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. Ming iron production surpassed all previous dynasties

Foreign Relations

The greatest diplomatic highlight of the Ming Dynasty was the seven voyages to the western ocean led by Zheng He. Beginning in 1405, Zhudi (Emperor Yongle) entrusted his favored eunuch commander Zheng He as the admiral for a gigantic new fleet of ships designated for international tributary missions.
In order to service seven different tributary missions abroad, the Nanjing shipyards constructed two thousand vessels from 1403 to 1419, which included the large treasure ships that measured 112 m (370 ft) to 134 m (440 ft) in length and 45 m (150 ft) to 54 m (180 ft) in width.

Zheng He's fleets visited Arabia, East Africa, India, Malay Archipelago and Thailand, dispensing and receiving goods along the way. It improved the links and communications among Asian people.


The Ming engaged in much overseas trade, especially with both Europe and Japan. The Ming Dynasty had 31% of the world GDP, according to Joseph Needham, a respected sinologist. The amount of silver flowing into the Ming dynasty was estimated at 300 million taels, which is equivalent to more than 190 billion dollars in today's money. In addition to silver, the Ming also imported many European firearms, in order to ensure the modernity of their weapons.

china in Ming Dynasty

The Ming saw the rise of several merchant clans such as the Huai and Jin clans, who disposed of large amounts of wealth. The gentry and merchant classes started to fuse, and the merchants gained power at the expense of the state. Some merchants were reputed to have a treasure of 30 million taels. Trade and commerce thrived in this liberalized economy, and was aided by the construction of canals, roads, and bridges by the Ming government.

Bencao Gangmu

One of the most prolific writers and innovative medical practitioners of the Ming period was Li Shizhen (1518-93). A native of Qizhou (today’s Huanggang City, Hubei Province), he was born into a family of physicians, the vocation often passing down in families for generations. He had a reputation as an herbalist, pharmacologist and physician, and also as a botanist, zoologist and mineralogist. He was a great humanitarian, promoting the Confucian principle that care should be extended to everyone.

Of the seventeen works that Li published, the “Bencao Gangmu” (Compendium of Materia Medica) is the most well known and regarded. He revised the classification of drugs, expanded the list of known drugs, corrected previous errors, and created guidelines for the collection, preparation and use of drugs. Li unveiled 374 new drugs in his text in a list of 1,892 and included over 1,000 illustrations. The book summarized most of drug information available in the 16th century.
Li Shizhen was also a well-respected physician and maintained a critical approach in his work. He believed that the mind had an important influence on the body. He was the first to identify gallstones. He used ice to reduce fever and developed techniques of disinfection. He paid more attention to his work to the prevention of illness rather than to its cure.

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