Taking advantage of the turmoil at the end of the Yuan regime, Zhu Yuanzhang, leader of the Red Turbans army, rose in power. Having defeated his many rivals, Zhu established the Ming Dynasty in 1368. The Ming Dynasty had 16 emperors, lasted 277 years and fell in 1645. The Ming had two capitals - Yingtian (present-day Nanjing) as its southern capital and Bianliang (present-day Kaifeng in Henan) as its northern capital. In 1398, Emperor Jian Wen ascended the throne but was deposed in 1402 by Emperor Chengzu who removed his capital from Nanjing to Beijing in 1421.
Political System of the Ming Dynasty
The Ming abolished the Branch Secretariats and replaced them with three offices - the Administrative Commissioner's Office, the Judicial Commissioner's Office, and the Military Commissioner's Office in local. These three offices were independent each other. In 1380, the Central Secretariat and the Office of Prime Minister were abolished in central government. All the significant state affairs were handled by the emperor. The Chief Military Commission was restructured into five Military Commands - Central, Front, Rear, Left and Right, which were in charge of the troops in the capital and those of each dusi as well. The reorganization of the bureaucracy strengthened the emperor's power. Afterwards, the Central Secretariat gradually came into being during the reigns of Yongle, Hongxi, and Xuande period. The Central Secretaries took part in state affairs, with the emperor having the final say in all decisions. Meanwhile, palace eunuchs became increasingly powerful. Through organizations such as the jinyiwei (the Brocaded Guards or the Imperial Guards), the Eastern Depot, the Western Depot, and the Inner Depot (Security Departments), they were not bound by state laws, just being accountable directly to the emperor. they controlled officials at all levels, meddled in court affairs, and even exercised unauthorized power in the Emperor's name.
China under the Ming was smaller than the Yuan in territory. But at its height, it controlled the Mongols in the north, captured the Western Region in the west, conquered the Nüzhens in the northeast, governed the Tibet in the southwest and established the Jiaozhi Prefecture in the south. During the Ming period, Zheng He's long voyages to Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean made the Ming much more influential abroad than the Tang and no less influential than the later Qing. In its far-flung regions, the Ming provided military protection and appointed local officials there, thus promoting the unification and development of all nationalities within its territory.
Economy of the Ming Dynasty
The Ming rulers encouraged the development of agriculture by reducing conscription and taxes. Government encouraged peasants to reclaim wasteland and promoted the cultivation of cash crops, such as cotton and others water conservancy projects were constructed in all parts of the country. The area of farmland was much larger than further dynasty. Rice was grown very widely in southern part of China. Corn, sweet potato, peanut and tobacco were introduced in south, and extend north. Land and population control was accomplished through the use of the "Yellow and Fish-scale registers", which effected in enhancing productivity. After the mid-Ming period, social production achieved further increase, while the Yellow Register got corrupted. The new "single whip method" of taxation, advocated by Zhang Juzheng and his followers, was introduced to aid economic development. In agriculture and handicrafts, the elements of the commodity economy increased day by day, and wage labor developed on a larger scale. Silk and cotton weaving developed very quickly. Songjiang was the biggest center of cotton weaving. Suzhou and Hangzhou were the biggest centers of silk weaving. Porcelain making during the Ming got a lot achievement, and very famous in the world, Jingdezhen was the nationwide pottery-making center. Mining got new development. Especially, gunpowder was put into use of mine. And coke was use of a kind of fuel in mine. There were many mining center appeared. The metal handicraft was featured with the Xuande Lu and cloisonné. The development of garden buildings, the abundance of timber and the improvement of carpenter’a tools brought up the developed furniture handicraft of the Ming Dynasty, which was known for its simple and unsophisticated shape, perfect handicrafts and refined style. Commerce was very flourish. There were thirty or more commercial centers appeared in all of China, and many markets. During the Yongle reign (1403-1424), the Ming made continuous efforts to expand overseas. Zheng He (1371-1435) led large armadas abroad seven times, reaching as far as the eastern coastline of Africa, arrived in thirty or more areas and countries. But the Ming also banned individuals from engaging in foreign trade. To overcome the ban, merchants often staged armed revolts and even ganged up Japanese pirates to harass the coastal areas. In the later years of the Jiaqing reign (1522-1566), the Ming army, led by Qi Jiguang and other generals, succeeded in driving these Japanese pirates out. In 1567, the Ming lifted the ban on individual foreign trade and allowed private business in Japan and Southeast Asian countries.
Science and Culture of the Ming Dynasty
During the middle era of the Ming Dynasty, the development of society, economy and overseas trading demanded expanded production and technological reform of traditional commodities. As a result, an innovation as well as a summation of science and technology was needed urgently. The novel and pragmatic feature of western science and technology, such as astronomy, calendar making, the manufacture of firearms, mechanical principle, water conservancy, architecture and cartography, which were passed on by European Jesuits, evoked the thirst for knowledge of those scholar-officials who were particular about real learning, The science and technology of the Ming Dynasty thereby started heading for modern times.
Evident progress could be found in natural science. There appeared a great book on material herb medicine entitled Ben Cao Gang Mu (Outline of Herb Medicine) compiled by a pharmacist named Li Shizheng. There were 1,892 herbs (374 were new), 11,097 prescriptions, which were five times as muchas those done by predecessors, and included more than 1.100 illustrations. The outline summarized all the knowledge on medicine and the experience of pharmacology of last 2,000 years in China, and proposed a new understanding of many medicines. It touched on such subjects of natural science as chemistry, mineralogy, crystallography, environment and organism as well as inheritance and variation.
In 1583, Matteo Ricci, an Italian Jesuit, came to the Xiangshan County in Guangdong. It was this time that Western thought and learning started spreading in China. Chinese intellectuals, such as Xu Guangqi and Li Zhizao, began to receive these thought and learning. Xu guanqi devoted his whole life to th research on practical science and was eager to learn and introduce western science and technology, he translated in collaboration with Ricci Matteo Euclidean Geometry written by Euclid and introduced the geometric system in western mathematics, In Similarities and Dissimilarities of Measurements and Pythagorean Theorem, he compared the Chinese way with the western way and tightened up the ancient testifying method. In astronomy, Xu laid emphasis on inspection with instruments. Adopting advanced instruments as well as way of calculation, he conducted members of the calendar department to draw up the Stellar Chart, including all the celestial bodies, which was quite developed at that time.
The most important book on agriculture in the Ming Dynasty was A Compendium of Farming by Xu Guangqi. This book cost of farming, land system, farm work, water conservancy, agriculture, growing mulberry and raising silkworms, sericulture, cultivation, animal husbandry, manufacture and relief policy in years of famine and so on.
The Travel Notes of Xu Xiake is the rarest of all books on science by Xu Xiake. He carefully observed and recorded each of the areas he had visited- rivers and streams, geomorphology and geology climate ecology and the distribution of animals and plants.
The book Expositions of the Works of Nature was written in Ming Dynasty by SongYingxing. It is an encyclopedia on agriculture and handicraft industry. This book discussed the cultivation as well as the harvest and processing of crops, elaborated on the making of salt and the refining of sugar, the pressing of oil, the making of wine, production of clothing and the making of dyes, expounded the manufacture of such items as bricks and tiles, porcelains, boats and vehicles, the manufacture of military weapons, and the making of red and black dyes, discussed the mining, smelting and forging of metals and the utilization of lime, and coal.
The Ming government supported the Cheng-Zhu school of Neo-Confucianism. But by the mid-Ming, the study of the mind, founded by Wang Yangming, had become the main stream of thought. This school valued human feelings and values. Another school, the Taizhou school led by Wang Gen, maintained that "people's daily life is truth" and gained strong popular support. At that time, money-worship and pleasure-pursuit were people's major concerns. Popular literary works such as Common Words to Enlighten the World, Popular Words to Admonish the World, Illustrated Words to Instruct the World, and the Golden Lotus, strongly advocated the urge to free the mind and the body, which is human nature. Intellectuals became more conscious of the world around them and founded various social organizations. They showed a strong desire to participate in politics and other social pursuits. The Donglin Party and later the Fu Society became influential forces at court.
The decline of the Ming Dynasty
The late Ming saw many vagrants in rural areas, who evaded taxes, escaped conscription, abandoned their farms and opposed the government, thus forming a huge destructive force. In the cities, the masses and itinerants joined together and sped up the disintegration process of the Ming's traditional social structure. The society as a whole was undergoing transition. During the reign of Emperor Congzhen (1628-1644), the peasant army led by Zhang Xianzhong and Li Zicheng became the biggest threat to the Ming court. In 1644, Li Zicheng conquered Beijing but was then driven west by the Qing (Manchu) army which had crossed the Shanhai Pass of Great Wall with the help of Wu Sangui, a defected Ming general. Despite strong resistance from the Ming army during their southward march, the Qing troops finally captured Nanjing and put an end to the Ming Dynasty.