The Ming Dynasty was the 10th major dynasty of Ancient China and is often called the last of the “great Chinese” dynasties.
It lasted 76 years, from 1368-1644 AD, and was followed by the Qing Dynasty. The Ming Dynasty began when the Yuan Dynasty fell.
The Yuan Dynasty was the first foreign-led Chinese dynasty after the country was captured by the Mongols and Genghis Khan.
Many Chinese did not like the Mongols, due to the discrimination they faced from their government, and following a period of natural disasters in China, a peasant uprising began.
The peasant uprising – the Red Turban Rebellion – that took power from the Yuan Dynasty was led by a man named Zhu Yuanzhang.
He went on to establish the Ming Dynasty in 1368 AD. After ascending to the role of emperor, Zhu took the name Hongwu as his title.
The Ming Dynasty continued on from Hongwu’s bloodline.As with so many other great Chinese dynasties, the Ming Dynasty was an era of great public works.
For example, the Great Wall of China was almost completely rebuilt by the Ming Dynasty. Most of the Wall that remains today consists of parts that were assembled in the time of the Ming.
The restructured Wall would also prove to be a vital piece of defense for the country in years to come.
The Grand Canal was rebuilt for the third time under the Ming Dynasty, as well. The canal was revamped and re-dug to improve trade links throughout the country, which had a great impact on the economy of China.
It was also during this dynasty that the Forbidden City was built. The Forbidden City was a huge public works project within the city of Beijing.
The Forbidden City consisted of almost 1,000 buildings spread over 185 acres of land, and it was all devoted for use as the emperor’s palace. It took 15 years and over 1 million workers to complete.
Though this was arguably a massive waste of money for a government that had spent so long struggling for peace, the Forbidden City was a status symbol of China’s wealth and is still a popular tourist attraction today.
Another similarity the Ming Dynasty shared with the great dynasties of old is that art flourished during its reign.
Literature, paintings, music, poetry and porcelain works became more sophisticated and widely available in this time; some of the world’s most valuable pottery was produced in this era.
These “Ming vases” were made of blue and white porcelain, and were highly valued at the time throughout the world.
Three of the four “Great Classical Novels of Chinese Literature” were published during this dynasty as well: these were Outlaws of the Marsh, Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Journey to the West.
The Ming Government was run by an organization called the civil service. This system is similar to what we have in the Western World nowadays, where the government has many “branches” of specialized workers who work on taxation, banking, statistics, etc.
To get a job with the civil service, applicants had to take exams. The better you did in the exam, the better the job you would get.
Some people would study for years to earn one of these prestigious positions. The exams often covered a number of subjects, but a significant portion of the testing was on the teachings of Confucius – a Chinese philosopher whose work remains famous to this day.
The Ming Dynasty enjoyed almost three centuries of relative peace until its decline began. Starting in 1600, with the rise of a group called the Manchus, the government collapsed due to corruption and betrayal; many Ming officials turned traitor and sold information to the Manchus which allowed them to win their battles.
The imperial capital of Beijing fell in 1644 to a rebel army led by Li Zicheng – after which the Manchus invaded for real, and overthrew Li’s brief Shun Dynasty.
Despite the loss of Beijing and the death of the Emperor, the Ming still had a chance to win back control; the cities of Nanjing, Fujian, Guangdong, Shanxi, and Yunnan could all have been strongholds of Ming resistance.
However, the loss of the Emperor meant that the leaders of these cities were unable to work together; and the Ming Dynasty collapsed under the weight of its own mistakes.