Ming Dynasty (1368 AD – 1644 AD)
During the latter period of Mongol ruling in China , civil war occurred among Mongol princes. Repeated natural disasters were followed by a massive peasant rebellion. The Mandate of Heaven now shifted to Zhu Yuanzhang, a peasant leader who became eminent during the rebellions. After eliminating his rivals, Zhu Yuanzhang established the Ming Dynasty in 1368, which was the last native Chinese dynasty to rule the empire, with his capital city first in Nanjing and later in Beijing. Zhu Yuanzhang was historically known as Emperor Taizu. He adopted "Hongwu" as his reign title.
The beginning of the Ming dynasty was one of Ming military conquests as they sought to perpetuate their hold on power. The Ming reached their summit of power during the first quarter of the fifteenth century. The territory they controlled was smaller than that of the Yuan. However, at the height of their power, they controlled the Mongols in the north, captured the Western Region in the west, conquered Nuzhen in the northeast, governed Tibet in the southwest and established the Jiaojun Prefecture in the south.
Emperor Taizu wanted to control all aspects of government so that any other influence could not gain enough power to overthrow him. With this goal, he eliminated the prime minister's office and secretariat. As a result of this, the emperors were forced to rely on eunuchs for more administration purposes. T he traditional Confucian examination system that selected state bureaucrats or civil servants on the basis of merit and knowledge of literature and philosophy also was revised. Candidates for posts in the civil service or the officer had to pass the traditional competitive examinations in the Classics .
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. 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 . The most extraordinary venture was the dispatch Zheng He 's seven naval expeditions, which traversed the Indian Ocean and the Southeast Asian archipelago. Zheng He led seven expeditions from 1405 to 1433 with six of them under the assistance of Yongle. He traversed perhaps as far as the Cape of Good Hope and, according to the controversial 1421 theory , the Americas . The first expedition in 1405 consisted of 62 ships and 28,000 men--then the largest naval expedition in history. Zheng He's multi-decked ships carried up to 500 troops but also cargoes of export goods, mainly silks and porcelains , and brought back foreign luxuries such as spices and tropical woods. The economic motive for these huge ventures may have been important, and many of the ships had large private cabins for merchants. But the chief aim was probably political, to enroll further states as tributaries and mark the reemergence of the Chinese Empire following nearly a century of barbarian rule.
The Ming 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 land estates were confiscated by the government, fragmented, and rented out; and private slavery was forbidden. New crops such as maize, cotton, and sweet potato were widely cultivated, and industries such as those producing porcelain and textiles flourished.
Another accomplishment of the Ming was the final and lasting construction of the Great Wall. While the Great Wall 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 its length.
The same as previous dynasties, internal power struggles eventually led to the downfall of the Ming Dynasty. On May 26, 1644 , Beijing fell to a rebel army led by Li Zicheng. Seizing their chance, the Manchus crossed the Great Wall after Ming border general Wu Sangui opened the gates at Shanhai Pass , and quickly overthrew Li's shortlived Shun Dynasty , eventually gaining control over China, thus beginning the Qing Dynasty in 1644.