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Zhu Yuanzhang -- A beggar, Monk, Soldier and Founder Emperor of Ming Dynasty


Zhu Yuanzhang (1328 -- 1398), hornored as Emperor Taizu of Ming or Hongwu Emperor, was the founder of the Ming Dynasty


Sad and Poor Childhood of Zhu Yuanzhang

Born into a very poor family, Zhu had been working as a peasant for a rich family.


When he was 15 years old, his parents and older brothers all passed away because of hunger and disease.


He and another brother poorly buried their late family members and left their home separately, trying to stay alive.


Then Zhu came into a temple and stayed as a monk, where he learned some reading and writing skills.


Later, the temple couldn’t afford to feed them any more, so he and other monks started to beg for food. 


Three Years of Begging Life Around the Country

Zhu had been a beggar in different places in China for 3 years.


At that time, the Yuan Dynasty’s ruling had been already in danger, plus years of natural disasters and cruel racial unfairness, many uprising armies had been fighting for a long time.


Zhu had seen lots of injured, hungry, homeless and dead people; in addition, he witnessed the cruel treatment to poor civilians, and endless fights and blood.


No one could exactly tell what he had suffered during that period, as a poor kid living in a chaotic society. 


Joining Uprising Army and Marrying to The Love of His Life

When he was 25 years old, Zhu was invited to an uprising army by his childhood friend; so he left the temple, and officially became a soldier.


Afterwards, he changed his name to Zhu Yuanzhang, a sharp and powerful weapon to perish the Yuan Empire.


As a common soldier, Zhu Yuanzhang was very brave and smart; in addition, he also could read and write. Then he got his first promotion, as a group leader of ten warriors.


Soon his courage and personality was highly appreciated by his current general Guo, who then married his adoptive daughter Ma Xiuying to Zhu Yuanzhang.


This woman was the love of his life, she accompanied him from a poor soldier to the emperor of a prosperous and powerful empire. 


Organizing of His First Troop and Keep Winning

Then Yuanzhang went back to his hometown, and recruited his first own army of about 700 people.


They were not professional fighters, which included his childhood friends, refugees, and soldiers from other failed armies. 

So he spent lots of time training his troop, from an inattentive army to a professional and aggressive one. 


During this time, Zhu Yuanzhang encountered his most important and remarkable generals and ministers of the Ming Dynasty; also, he and his wife had adopted many children, some of them grew up to be exceptional generals.


Assisted by those exceptional people and brave warriors, Yuanzhang's army kept winning.


Soon his army expanded to a big troop with over 300, 000 soldiers, but he still respected Guo as his commander, until Guo passed away.


Establishment of the Ming Dynasty 

Zhu Yuanzhang was not only a remarkable general, he was also a thoughtful monarch.


Unlike other armies who would collect food from civilians of their occupied cities, Yuanzhang asked his army to do farm works themselves; they even helped local people to construct water conservancy projects.


By doing this, he gained civilians’ heartiest supports; his warriors became more responsible, competitive, and disciplined. 


Yuanzhang defeated other uprising armies in the southern China and established the Ming Empire, after years of intense wars. 


Then he continued to march northward, under the name of expelling nomads and recovering ancestors’ reign, which effectively inspired most of the northern Han people that were still under Empire Yuan’s ruling.


A few months after the establishment of the Ming Dynasty, Yuanzhang’s army marched toward Yuan Empire’s capital city Beijing.


The last emperor of the Yuan Dynasty Toghon Temür took his people and escaped northward, after reading the divination from the stars.


Then, the Ming Empire occupied most places in China on south of the Great Wall. 

Revenging Wars Against the Former Yuan Dynasty

The escape of Toghon Temür, however, preserved most of his people and their powerful Mongolia cavalrymen troops; they built another government in the north of the Great Wall.


Therefore, Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang initiated eight wars against this new government, in the following 26 years, in order to perish their effective strength. 


Except for a big failure of the second, Ming Empire’s army succeeded in all the other wars, while Mongol army kept losing and retreating. 


In the sixth war, an excellent marshal named Lan Yu led 150,000 of Ming’s soldiers, carried very little food and water, and arrived the current Bell Lake. 


They ambushed the Mongolia government and captured about 80, 000 of their people, including many princes and princesses and other nobles.


After that war, Genghis Khan’s Golden Family officially lost control over the Mongolian Plateau; their kingdom was separated into three regions.


Those three clans all complied to the Ming Empire, respected Ming as monarch and paid tributes; they still had wars with Ming sometimes, but the tributary system and complied relationship barely changed. 


Because of Zhu Yuanzhang’s policy in which soldiers should do farm works and supply themselves, Empire Ming’s armies could almost be self-sufficient under his ruling period.


Consequently, despite of those long term and large scale wars, Yuanzhang never delayed development within his empire.


Great Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang and His Exceptional Policies

As one of the greatest emperors in the history of China, Zhu Yuanzhang’s policies and governance had very obvious personal characteristics.


In accordance with his poverty origin, his sad experiences in his childhood, and everything that he had suffered and witnessed during his 3-year begging life, he truly cared about common people’s well being.


Zhu Yuanzhang created a system which allowed civilians to sue officers directly to the emperor or other superior officers; the government would cover civilians’ travel cost if they wanted to escort law-breaking officers to the capital themselves. 


The best welfare system in the history of China was established under his reign: the government offered free medication, foster care, houses and tombs; people over 70 and people who respected their parents could get free food and money; childless old people would be taken care by the government; the only child of old people would be exempted from national labor services. 


Economically, Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang exempted or lowered taxes, encouraged agriculture, suppressed business, and built many irrigation systems.


He also implemented a huge immigration activity, which evened the population between the north and the south, and cultivated more farmlands.


Another specialty of his governance was his great hatred for corruption.


Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang was very frugal and diligent, and he tried his best to promote this lifestyle to his ministers.


Everything that he had suffered in his early years, most of which, he believed, were caused by greedy officials and the corrupted system.


After Zhu Yuanzhang became the emperor, he enhanced centralized power and combated corruption with very strict penalties: about 150,000 officials were sentenced to death because of corruption, no matter how much they had illegally occupied.


He also established a famous military spy agent to monitor officials, but this was abolished in his late years.


From Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang’s perspective, civilians’ interest triumphed bureaucrats; all of those officials were more like servants, instead of the ruling classes with privileges.  

He also paid attention to education, and had reestablished the Imperial Examination. Many abolished Han etiquettes were recovered as well.


Additionally, he left many outstanding poetry and calligraphy works behind. 

Losing of His Beloved Crown Prince


Besides his wonderful queen, Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang also had a perfect heir named Zhu Biao, he and his beloved queen’s first son.


Zhu Biao was a kind and talented crown prince, whom Yuanzhang loved and supported heartily.


Zhu Yuanzhang sent his best ministers and marshals to teach and serve him. Every time Yuanzhang was leading an army to wars far away, he would trust his crown prince with everything in the home front. 


Zhu Biao always managed everything well, and gained respect and support from all marshals and ministers of the Ming Empire, through his genuine kindness and exceptional political talent. 


However, the capable and contributive crown prince, his favorite and beloved first son, passed away when Zhu Yuanzhang was 62 years old.


Besides the huge grief, this also left Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang a big problem, who should be his next heir.


Slaughtering For His Grandson - New Heir of Empire Ming

Many of his other sons were mature and excellent in military, since most of them had followed Yuanzhang in the battlefields.


But Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang chose his late crown prince’s first son, his beloved grandson, as the legit heir of his empire, and commanded his other sons to support this young crown prince.


Then, Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang did the most controvertial thing in his life, a mass slaughter, after he having decided to nominate his young grandson as the heir. 


At that time, there were many excellent generals with exceptional military accomplishments, who were also related to other of Zhu Yuanzhang’s descendants through marriage. Those people were, Yuanzhang believed, very possible to overthrow the young heir to support their related princes to be new emperors, and then cause more wars.


Consequently, Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang used some excuses to sentence many people, whom he suspected have potential to rebel, to death; tens of thousands people were executed in his last few years. 


As a great emperor, Zhu Yuanzhang probably had not expect this to be a big mistake for the flawless empire that he left to his grandson. 


He believed that his other sons with excellent military skills were excellent enough to protect the Empire Ming.


However, Zhu Yuanzhang overestimated the family bond, while severely underestimated the desire for power and the throne. 

Years later, his beloved grandson's throne was snatched anyhow, by his fourth son Zhu Di

Remarkable Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang's Accomplishments 

Zhu Yuanzhang joined the uprising army as a common soldier when he was 25, and established the Ming Dynasty when he's 40.


Starting from a poverty orphan, to a monk who needed to beg for food, to an excellent general and then a monarch, his achievements were marvelous.


In his 31 years reign, he not only defeated the former powerful empire's effective strength decisively, but also established a brilliant and efficient system, and brought prosperous and stable lives to his people. 


Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang was criticized sometimes for his cruelness in slaughtering corrupted officers and contributive ministers in his late years, however, he highly restrained power of the ruling class, and was always caring and thoughtful to his civilians, which made him an epic politician, and a magnificent monarch in the history of China.


After he departed, many of his strict policies which were aimed at restraining officials were gradually abolished; maybe most emperors still considered themselves as allies of the bureaucracy, which was important assistance of their reign.