Ming Dynasty — Epoch of All Round Prosperity

Forbidden City the Imperial Palace of the Ming Dynasty

Forbidden City the Imperial Palace of the Ming Dynasty, Photo from the Official Site of Palace Museum.

 

What Is Ming Dynasty?

 

Ming Dynasty (1368 — 1644) was one of the most prosperous empires in the ancient history of China when culture, economy, science, poetry, art, and technology all developed preeminently. 

 

Ming lasted for 276 years and had been ruled by 16 emperors.

Part of Painting "Prosperous City Nanjing of the Ming Dynasty"  (Nan Du Fan Hui Tu), By Artist Qiu Ying (1497 — 1552)

Part of Painting "Prosperous City Nanjing of Ming"  (Nan Du Fan Hui Tu), By Ming Artist Qiu Ying (1497 — 1552) — National Museum of China

 

Facts About the Ming Dynasty

 

  • Ming is believed as one of the kingdoms that achieved the throne in the most orthodox, righteous way. 

 

The founding emperor of Ming, Zhu Yuanzhang (also honored as Hongwu Emperor), was born into a poverty family. 

 

From a beggar, a common soldier, to a general, and then to the emperor of the big empire, he made it through his extraordinary talent. ​

 

  • Besides emperors, the entire ruling class of Ming was strictly selected through the Imperial Examination.

 

  • Royal family members and nobles were not allowed to be involved in politics.

  • Queens of Ming usually came from ordinary or lower-class officials’ families.

 

This was aimed at preventing powerful clans of queens to manipulate politics. 

Unearthed Phoenix Crown of Queen Xiaoduan (the Queen of Emperor Wanli) of the Ming Dynasty

Phoenix Crown of Queen Xiaoduan (the Queen of Emperor Wanli) of Ming — National Museum of China (Photo by Dongmaiying)

  • Every man, including people from the dependent countries of Ming, could participate in the Imperial Examination.

 

During the exam, the Ming government provided students with food and accommodation. 

 

  • Officials of Ming were not well paid; even those very famous, powerful ones had to do farm work themselves to provide for the family.

 

Some of them then would run businesses, while some turned to corruption. 

 

  • A soldier could inherit his father’s title in the military, but he had to pass the tournament examination to keep it. 

Unearthed Jade Seal of Prime Minister Wang Xijue (1534 — 1611) of the Ming Dynasty

Jade Seal of Prime Minister Wang Xijue (1534 — 1611) of Ming — Suzhou Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

  • Every official, even the most powerful prime minister, should return to their hometown after they retired.

 

This way, they couldn’t obtain any political privileges or form big political groups. 

  • Challenging and criticizing emperors were highly encouraged during the Ming era; they were considered the representative of integrity, honor, and courage.

  • Factional conflicts were quite intense in the last few decades of the Ming; those political factions in Ming Court were mainly based on their geographical relations. 

Ivory Tablet (Hu Ban) that Higher Rank Officials Hold When they Met with the Emperors in the Ming Dynasty

Ivory Tablet (Hu Ban) that Higher Rank Officials Hold When They Met with the Emperors of Ming — Ningxia Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

  • Ming had fought against foreign regimes, including England, Spain, Portugal, Japan, Netherland, etc. Ming Empire all won in the end. 

 

  • Ming’s Capital city was moved to Beijing by Emperor Zhu Di. Since then, Beijing had been besieged and in danger several times, but had never been occupied, until Ming ended. 

  • Ming had the most dependent countries in Chinese history. 

Lotus Shaped Purple Glaze Writing Brush Wash of the Ming Dynasty

Lotus Shaped Purple Glaze Writing Brush Wash of Ming — Capital Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

  • Elizabeth I of England had sent a letter to the Wanli Emperor, suggesting developing trade between China and England.

 

But the ship of the envoy encountered a big storm in the sea, and this letter didn’t reach Ming.  

  • Names of royal family members of Ming were required to include the Five Elements (metal, wood, water, fire, and earth), and follow the theory that the element in the father’s name should generate the son's.

 

With the royal family having more and more people, the existing Chinese characters were not enough for this standard.

 

Therefore, more Chinese characters involving the Five Elements were created, and most of them formed the ones in the Chinese Periodic Table of Elements.

Royal Nine-tasselled Crown (Jiu Liu Mian), Unearthed From Tomb of Prince Zhu Tan, the Tenth Son of Hongwu Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang of the Ming Dynasty

Royal Nine-tasselled Crown (Jiu Liu Mian), Unearthed From Tomb of Prince Zhu Tan, the Tenth Son of Hongwu Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang of Ming — Shandong Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

  • During the Ming era, the earliest, biggest encyclopedia Yong Le Da Dian was edited and published.

 

 

  • Royal Printing Press of Ming also did business for a while; they had printed books for everyone who paid money, including rebellion propaganda materials.

 

All booksellers were free of tax. 

Exquisite Carved Lacquer Tray of the Ming Dynasty

Exquisite Carved Lacquer Tray of Ming — Zhejiang Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

  • Ming had a very good welfare system:

 

Under the financial support of rich families and nobilities, free medical care and graveyards were provided to all civilians. 

 

People over 70 years old could have one of their sons exempted from tax so that this son could pay more attention to taking care of his parents. 

For people over 80, the government would provide full or partial financial support, based on their children’s financial conditions. 

Awards and honors would be given to people over 100, which made sure all the elders could be taken care of and highly respected. ​

Some free public houses were built for homeless people, but this policy hadn't been implemented very long or nationwide. 

Exquisite Furnitures Unearthed From Tomb of Prince Zhu Tan of the Ming Dynasty

Exquisite Furnitures Unearthed From Tomb of Prince Zhu Tan of Ming — Shandong Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

 

Brief History of the Rise and Fall of the Ming Dynasty

 

Establishment of the Ming Empire by Civilian Zhu Yuanzhang

Zhu Yuanzhang was a poor orphan and then a monk that begged for food for years; later he joined an uprising army in the late Yuan Dynasty (1271 — 1368), as a common soldier. He fought bravely, got promoted, and married the love of his life Ma Xiuying

 

Soon, he started to recruit his army and kept winning. After his army defeated all other uprising forces, he built his Kingdom Ming in the city of Nanjing and claimed himself the Emperor.

 

Zhu Yuanzhang, now the Hongwu Emperor (or Emperor Taizu of Ming), then sent his army to march northward to fight against the Yuan Empire. 

 

At the same time, the last emperor of the Yuan Dynasty Toghon Temür took his entire government and army, escaped northward to the outside of the Great Wall, and built another Kingdom named the Northern Yuan. 

Then Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang commanded his army to keep fighting against the Northern Yuan, several times. Until General Lan Yu eliminated the Golden Family and the main force of the Northern Yuan and achieved the final success.

 

The new empire Ming was open-minded, independent, and prosperous, in which people could have stable, wealthy lives.

The largest palatial architecture in the Medieval Era, The Forbidden City of Nanjing (about 101. 35 million square meters), was constructed in the capital city soon. 

Unearthed Stone Dragon Stigma of the Relic of The Forbidden City of Nanjing (Built in 1366 — 1392) of the Ming Dynasty

Unearthed Stone Dragon Stigma of the Relic of The Forbidden City of Nanjing (Built in 1366 — 1392) of Ming — Nanjing Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Changing of Capital City and Flourishing of the Empire

 

Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang gave the throne to his grandson, a talented, nice young monarch, who tried to take power away from other royals. 

This displeased one of his powerful uncles, the fourth son of Ming's founding emperor Zhu Yuanzhang. 

This ambitious and aggressive prince Zhu Di, who later initiated a war, snatched the throne, moved Ming’s capital to Beijing, and built the Forbidden City of Beijing as Ming’s new royal palace. 

The new emperor Zhu Di, respected as Yongle Emperor or Emperor Chengzu of Ming, cruelly murdered those supporters of his nephew emperor, such as the intelligent Confucianist Fang Xiaoru, and the beloved husband of Princess Zhu Changning.

As a sovereign, however, Zhu Di was quite remarkable. He invented the Cabinet System in the central government and sent the great navigator Zheng He and his unparalleled fleet to epic adventures. 

 

He also took his favorite grandson Zhu Zhanji to the battlefields and taught him in person how to fight in a war, as well as how to manage a country.​

 

Therefore, After Emperor Zhu Di passed away, his son and grandson were both excellent sovereigns who further flourished the empire.

Part of the Court Painting "Zhu Zhanji Xing Le Tu" (690 cm × 36.7 cm), Presenting Emperor Zhu Zhanji's Entertainment Activities in the Royal Palace — The Palace Museum

Crisis of Ming and the Great Savior Yu Qian

The grandson of Emperor Zhu Di, however, almost buried the Ming Empire.

 

This was Emperor Zhu Qizhen, who led the Ming’s main force and marched northward, trying to fight against the invasive nomadic regime. He took many intelligent generals with him, but he only listened to his favorite eunuch. 

In the end, tens of thousands of good soldiers died without a decent fight, the strongest main force of the Ming perished, the emperor himself got captured, and the nomadic troop soon marched outside of Beijing City. 

The Ming government then, led by hero Yu Qian, enthroned Zhu Qizhen's younger brother as the new emperor, successfully defeated the enemy, and saved the Ming Empire from being perished. 

Firearm (Huo Chong) Produced in 1450 to Protect Ming

Firearm (Huo Chong) of Ming that Produced to Protect the Capital City During this War — National Museum of China

Prosperity and Development

After Zhu Qizhen was sent back, he was imprisoned by his brother for seven years. Until some speculators helped him take the throne back when his brother was sick.

 

He then became a fine monarch, and so was his son. 

His grandson was Emperor Zhu Youcheng, a perfect, remarkable monarch that further developed the empire. Ming soon recovered from the former huge loss and reached a peak under his reign.  

Philosophy, art, and science all developed well; great philosopher Wang Shouren and exceptional artist Tang Yin all left their masterpieces during this period. 

Zhu Youcheng, honored as Hongzhi Emperor or Emperor Xiaozong of Ming, was also the first and only Monogamous emperor in Chinese history, who deeply loved his queen and their only son Zhu Houzhao

Zhu Houzhao, respected as Zhengde Emperor or Emperor Wuzong of Ming, was one of the most controversial monarchs, who was documented as being spoiled and extremely ridiculous, but had achieved exceptional accomplishments. 

During this period, the Empire Ming was stable and well-developed.