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Ming Dynasty


The Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) followed the Yuan Dynasty and preceded the Qing Dynasty in China. The dynasty was founded by the Zhu family.

 Among the populace there were strong feelings against the rule of "the foreigners", which finally led to a peasant revolt that pushed the Yuan dynasty back to the Mongolian steppes and established the Ming Dynasty in 1368. This dynasty started out as a time of renewed cultural blossom: arts, especially the porcelain industry, reached an unprecedented height; Chinese merchants explored all of the Indian Ocean, reaching Africa with the voyages of Zheng He. A vast navy was built, including 4 masted ships displacing 1,500 tons; there was a standing army of 1 million troops. Over 100,000 tons of iron per year were produced in North China. Many books were printed using movable type. Some would argue that Early Ming China was the most advanced nation on Earth.

Founding of the Ming Dynasty

Led by Hongwu,s peasant rebellion, the Han Chinese pushed the Yuan dynasty back to the Mongolian steppes and established the Ming Dynasty in 1368. Hongwu, the founder of the Ming Dynasty, was one of the only two dynasty founders who emerged from the peasant class. The other one was Han Gaozu of the Han Dynasty. (Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping are the two other peasant revolutionaries to have ruled the world,s most populated nation.)

Orphaned as a teenager, young Zhu (later Hongwu Emperor) entered a Buddhist monastery to avoid starvation. Sometime during this period Hongwu joined a secrect Buddhist society, known as the White Lotus. Later, as a strongwilled rebel leader, he came in contact with the well-educated gentry Confucian scholar from whom he received an education in state affairs. He then positioned himself as defender of Confucianism and neo-Confucian conventions and not as a popular rebel. Despite his humble origins, he emerged as a national leader against the collapsing Yuan Dynasty. Defeating rival national leaders, he proclaimed himself emperor in 1368, establishing his capital at Nanjing and adopting Hongwu as his reign title.

Having fought off the calamities of the Mongol invasion, and given the realistic threat to China still posed by the Mongols, Hongwu reassessed the orthodox Confucian view regarding the military as an inferior class to be subordinated by the scholar bureaucracy. Simply put, maintaining a strong military was essential since the Mongols were still a threat. As an aside, the name Hongwu means "Vast Military" and reflects the increased prestige of the military.

With a Confucian aversion to trade, Hongwu also supported the creation of self-supporting agricultural communities. Neo-feudal land-tenure developments of late Song and Yuan times were expropriated with the establishment of the Ming dynasty. Great landed estates were confiscated by the government, fragmented, and rented out; and private slavery was forbidden. Consequently, after the death of Yongle Emperor, independent peasant landholders predominated in Chinese agriculture.

Under Hongwu, the Mongol bureaucrats who had dominated the government for nearly a century under the Yuan dynasty were replaced by the Han Chinese. The traditional Confucian examination system that selected state bureaucrats or civil servants on the basis of merit and knowledge of literature and philosoph