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What is the Ming Dynasty?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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The Ming Dynasty was a period in Chinese history which lasted from 1368 to 1644. This period is often regarded as a time of flowering for Chinese culture, since the arts and sciences exploded during the Ming Dynasty. Numerous fine examples of works of art dating to this period can be seen on display in museums around the world, demonstrating the full range of Ming Dynasty culture. China's government also underwent some radical shifts, including the move of China's historic capital to Beijing from Nanjing.

Establishment of the Ming Dynasty followed the collapse and overthrow of the Yuan Dynasty, a period when China was ruled by the Mongols. Zhu Yuanzhang, a Han Chinese peasant, took control of China during a period of revolt, and very effectively squashed the competition. He may have started out as an illiterate peasant, but he became a Buddhist monk and an extremely powerful, if autocratic, leader. Yuanzhang took the title of Hongwu Emperor when he established the Ming or “Brilliant” Dynasty.

During this period, a wide range of public works projects were accomplished, ranging from the repair of major landmarks such as the Great Wall of China to the establishment of the Forbidden City in Beijing. The Hongwu Emperor advocated a strong separation between cities and rural areas, pushing for an increase of production on Chinese farms to create a surplus which could be stored and used for trade. He also cracked down on corruption in the civil service and established standards which were used in the evaluation of candidates for civil service positions.

One of the greatest accomplishments of the Ming Dynasty was a reorganization of the Chinese military, which resulted in a rise in social status for members of the military. Soldiers had traditionally been regarded as marginal members of society, but under the Ming Dynasty, the military expanded radically and became much more organized, turning China into a heavily fortified nation. China also experienced an age of exploration during this period, sending ships to numerous regions of the world and exchanging information and cultural artifacts with numerous societies.

The arts flourished during the Ming Dynasty, with artists producing paintings, exquisite porcelain, ornate lacquer, and numerous other works along with novels and plays. This period also marked the production of several dictionaries, along with a flowering in philosophy and the sciences.

There were some serious flaws which emerged during the Ming Dynasty, and ultimately led to its downfall. China's government became heavily centralized, and later emperors had trouble putting down revolts and controlling the Chinese population in remote areas. China also went to war with Japan in Korea, which created further destablization, giving the Manchus an opportunity to rise to power and establish the Qing Dynasty, the last imperial dynasty in China.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Historical Index researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By dbuckley212 — On Jan 23, 2011

The Hui Muslims were an important part of both the Ming and Yuan dynasties. These were descended from travelers and traders from central Asia, and were employed by both sides to fight over China. Eventually, the Ming won, and the Hui loyal to the Yuan were executed or fled. To this day, the Hui Chinese comprise an important part of Chinese culture in this Eastern "melting pot."

By JavaGhoul — On Jan 21, 2011

A Portuguese cousin of the wife of Christopher Columbus was the first modern Western merchant and explorer to establish naval trade relations with southern China during the Ming Dynasty. What would ensue was a long history of economic exploitation of the Chinese people, leading up to the Opium trade and the boxer rebellion.

By ShadowGenius — On Jan 21, 2011

During the Ming dynasty, the battlefield of Korea saw much bloodshed between Koreans and Chinese on one side and Japanese on the other side. This is another historical echo which has continued to this day: larger powers taking advantage and using Korea for their own ends. Korea has a long and bloody history of being bullied and pulling through. This has strongly influenced Korean ethos and self-perception in the world.

By Qohe1et — On Jan 18, 2011

This period was much like an echo of past Chinese history, when the Han Dynasty overthrew the previous empire. The Han Dynasty was also led by a peasant rebel. The next great peasant leader of China following the Ming dynasty was Mao Tse-Tung, who aided in kicking the Japanese out of China and establishing a Communist regime. The image of a peasant hero has been a strong one in Chinese history.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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