Ming Dynasty

Be sure to visit < http://www.wsu.edu:8080/~dee/MING/MING.HTM >

The Ming ("Bright," "Brilliant") Dynasty replaced the Yuan in 1368 and emerged as another of China's "long-golden" eras. "With the defeat of the Mongols and the reestablishment of an indigenous Chinese ruling house came a reassertion of imperial power..." (Hearn 79). The heroic founder of the Ming Dynasty was Zhu Yuanzhang (pinyin [Chu Yuan-chang in Wade-Giles]). He took the reign name Hongwu, "vastly martial," and proceeded to establish order-peace-unity, and with them prosperity and stability (o-p-u-p + s) The Hongwu (pinyin [Hung Wu in Wade-Giles]) Emperor made it possible for the "great consolidator, to preside over a truly "bright," "brilliant" China! He reigned from 1368-1398. The Hongwu Emperor worked to re-establish the Confucian examination system and promote Confucian scholarship. However, his rule was essentially authoritarian, glossed over with a Confucian facade.

image source < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hongwu_Emperor >

The Yongle (pinyin [Yung Lo in Wade-Giles]) Emperor's reign name translated to "perpetual happiness." He moved the court and capital to Bejing, maintained and policed the Great Wall, built the Forbidden City, sent Zheng He out to impress the world, though apparently he changed his mind about the epic voyages of the Eunuch Admiral and canceled them at the end of his reign. During his reign, China participated in existing global commercial networks, even though his dates place him before the Portuguese or Spanish made their maritime debuts. The Yongle Emperor ruled from 1402-1424, and he contined the traditions of the Hongwu emperor by respecting and sponsoring Confucian traditions and founding schools to disseminate Confucian ideas. Like his predecessor, his Confucian facade covered a military-authoritarian regime. The imperial court sponsored artists and encouraged a return to the style of the Imperial Painting Academy of Sung times. Imperial patrons also "favored...images that would glorify the new dynasty and convey its benevolence, virtue, and majesty" (Hearn 79). Note that both emperors wear imperial yellow for their official portraits. After the reign of the Yongle Emperor, Ming China moved into its complacency-corruption-chaos mode of decline.

image source < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yongle_Emperor>

As you recall from BZ, ch. 27, the Wanli Emperor (1572-1620) granted Spanish missionary Matteo Ricci permission to show him his clocks and even to travel to Beijing. Alas, things began to "fall apart" as the Wanli Emperor neglected his responsibilities and relied more on court eunuchs than the Confucian scholar-bureaucrats. He lived extravagantly in the Forbidden City, enthralled by the voluptuous charms of his favorite concubine. His reign also coincided with the regime of Hideyoshi in Japan, as that notable leader invaded Korea (a Chinese tributary state) and tried to oust the Wanli Emperor from power. Within a generation of the Wanli Emperor's death, Manchus stormed over the Great Wall, overthrew the Ming Dynasty and established their own, Qing ("pure") rule.

image source < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wanli_Emperor >


Exquisitely crafted blue and white porcelain became a hallmark of Ming artists, with frequent use of a dragon motif; the dragon "has long been an emblem of the emperor," symbolizing his power and authority.

(Hearn 83)

A cup carved from nephrite also contains a stylized version of the dragon.

(Hearn 87)

Ming artists continued to create in traditional forms, painting, calligraphy, poetry, and the like. "Shen Chou, the patriarch of Ming scholar artists...painted...images...roguishly observing that he sought to 'steal the secrets of creation'" (Hearn 100). His cat, from "Drawings from Life," represents his efforts "to transcend superficial realism, creating a personal interpretation of his subjects..." (Hearn 100).

(Hearn 100)
And again the Ming fascination with nature (Fairbank plate 9)



One of the most notable accomplishments of the Ming Dynasty, after the emperors moved the capital from Nanjing to Beijing, was the construction of the Forbidden City.


For Links to Forbidden City and Great Wall
http://www.chinahighlights.com/beijing/forbidden-city/ >
< http://www.chinahighlights.com/greatwall/ >

In keeping with the Ming exaggerated conception of imperial regalia were the Ming tombs guarded by massive animals, the Temple of Heaven, and the fantastically decorated, whimsical, beautiful bridge at the Summer Palace outside of Beijing. The spectacular stone figure of a lion in the foreground and camel in the background are just two of the large figures guarding the Spirit Way, "the avenue that leads to the secluded valley in which the emperors built their own tombs" (Gascoigne 196-197). For more < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ming_Dynasty_Tombs >

(Gascoigne 186)
The Temple of Heaven is an architectural masterpiece of the early 15th century built south of the new Ming capital at Beijing after they moved north from Nanjing. The Temple of Heaven is thought to have survived in its original structure from the 15th century to the present day ( Gascoigne 185).


Finally, the Summer Palace, originally designed in Ming times, but a favorite retreat of the Empress Dowager, Cixi, in the declining years of the Qing Dynasty
(Gascoigne 218).

Return to Top


[ Welcome ] [ Shang ] [ Zhou ] [ Qin ] [ Han ] [ Tang ] [ Sung ]

[ Yuan ] [ Ming ] [ Qing ]


Fairbank, John, Edwin Reischauer, Albert Craig. East Asia: Tradition and Transformation. Boston, et. al.: 1973.

Gascoigne, Bamber. The Dynasties and Treasures of China. New York: The Viking Press, 1973.

"Hongwu Emperor." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Online available.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hongwu_Emperor >

Hearn, Maxwell. Splendors of Imperial China. New York: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 1997.

"Wanli Emperor." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Online available.
< http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wanli_Emperor >

"Yongle Emperor." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Online available.
< http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yongle_Emperor >