History of Ming Dynasty 1368–1644

Han people resumed their rule during the Ming Dynasty. Ming Dynasty had made great achievements in overseas expeditions during the period 1405-1433 led by Zheng He, a close confidant of the emperor of the Ming Dynasty. According to Gavin (2003), Zheng He sailed the largest fleet the world had ever seen from China on March 8, 1421. The fleet reached American Continent 70 years before Columbus and circumnavigated the globe a century before Magellan. (Map of Ming Dynasty)

The first emperor of the Ming Dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang, was a homeless when he joined the Red Turban rebellion in the lower Yangtse region. Similar to the first emperor of Han Dynasty, he was very suspicious of the educated courtiers around him. This harsh governmental style was partly due to the influence of governmental institutions of the previous Mongol period that were marked by a strong centralization.

Zhu Yuanzhang began with popular policies by cutting taxes and fair government. He also repaid his political debts by awarding his supporters with lavish appointments in high positions. However, he had toppled most of his own appointees before his death. Zhu Yuanzhang had brought civil service entrance examination standard to a new plateau with his more elaborate curriculum. He meticulously compiled his law code in 20 years. These efforts were a mixed blessing to society.

Zhu Di, uncle to the rightful new emperor Zhu Yunwen, wrestled the throne from his nephew in a four-year bloody civil war. He crowned himself emperor in 1402. He had led successful northern expeditions against nomadic tribes, and in 1421 he then moved his capital to Beijing to further secure his kingdom.

The turning point of the Ming Dynasty from prosperity to decline was the reign of Emperor Wanli. In the early period, under the wise assistance of a skillful chancellor, Zhang Juzheng, Emperor Wanli 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 Manchu in the Battle of Sarhu. Since then, the Ming court fell into a passive state in confrontation with Manchu.

The end of the Ming Dynasty started from the last emperor, Emperor 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, rebel military forces launched battles in the northern area of Shaaxi Province. Among them, one of the leaders of the rebel army was named Li Zicheng, 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 Chongzhen hanged himself in Jingshan Hill of Beijing, signifying the end of the Ming Dynasty.

Official language used in Ming Dynasty

Old Mandarin

List of Ming Dynasty Emperors

Zhu Yuanzhang, the Hongwu Emperor (1368-1398)
Zhu Yunwen, the Jianwen Emperor (1398-1402)
Zhu Di, the Yongle Emperor (1402-1424)
Zhu Gaochi, the Hongxi Emperor (1424-1425)
Zhu Zhangji, the Xuande Emperor (1425-1435)
Zhu Qizhen, the Zhengtong Emperor (1435-1449 and 1457-1464)
Zhu Qiyu, the Jingtai Emperor (1449-1457)
Zhu Jianshen, the Chenghua Emperor (1464-1487)
Zhu Youtang, the Hongzhi Emperor (1487-1505)
Zhu Houzhao, the Zhengde Emperor (1505-1521)
Zhu Houcong, the Jiajing Emperor (1521-1566)
Zhu Zaihou, the Longqing Emperor (1566-1572)
Zhu Yijun, the Wanli Emperor (1572-1620)
Zhu Changluo, the Taichang Emperor (1620)
Zhu Youjiao, the Tianqi Emperor (1620-1627)
Zhu Youjian, the Chongzhen Emperor (1627-1644)

Ming Dynasty clothing

Men in Ming Dynasty wore long robe. Women in Ming Dynasty wore shirt, coat and skirt. They could wear light color, but couldn’t wear deep red and yellow.

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Central Academy of Fine Arts
Xian Jiaotong-Liverpool University