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By , the gangs were moving east, and the Imperial military proved incapable of stopping them. Soon after, the country was further decimated by flooding, locusts, drought and disease.
Rebellion and riots became commonplace. In , a group of rebels destroyed the dikes of the Yellow River and unleashed flooding that killed hundreds of thousands of people.
As the social order broke down and smallpox spread, two competing rebel leaders, Li Zicheng and Zhang, took control of separate parts of the country and both declared new dynasties.
Later that year, the semi-nomadic Manchu people prevailed over the chaos and became the ruling Qing Dynasty. Cambridge Illustrated History of China.
The Dynasties of China. We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, contact us! Subscribe for fascinating stories connecting the past to the present.
The Han Dynasty ruled China from B. Though tainted by deadly dramas within the royal court, it is also renowned for its promotion of Confucianism as the state religion and opening the Silk Road trade route to Europe.
The Tang Dynasty is considered a golden age of Chinese arts and culture. In power from to A. The Qin Dynasty established the first empire in China, starting with efforts in B.
The empire existed only briefly from to B. The Shang Dynasty is the earliest ruling dynasty of China to be established in recorded history, though other dynasties predated it.
The Shang ruled from to B. In , peasants digging a well near the city of Xian, in Shaanxi province, China, stumbled upon a cache of life-size, terracotta figures of soldiers at what was later determined to be the burial complex of the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty, Qin Shi Huang B.
Sun Tzu is the reputed author of The Art of War It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected.
Born Zhu Yuanzhang in and orphaned at age 16, the man who would found the Ming dynasty survived by begging before becoming a novice at a Buddhist monastery.
Struggles with peoples of various nationalities continued throughout the Ming period. Clashes with Mongols were nearly incessant.
During the first decades of the dynasty, the Mongols were driven north to Outer Mongolia present-day Mongolia , but the Ming could not claim a decisive victory.
From then onward the Ming were generally able to maintain their northern border, though by the later stages of the dynasty it in effect only reached the line of the Great Wall.
On the northeast, the Juchen Chinese: Nüzhen, or Ruzhen , who rose in the northeast around the end of the 16th century, pressed the Ming army to withdraw successively southward, and eventually the Ming made the east end of the Great Wall their last line of defense.
But the brief occupation of Vietnam was met with determined local guerrilla resistance, and the Ming government quickly decided to restore the boundary to its original line.
It never again attempted to push southward. Also during the Ming, Japan became more aggressive. In the 15th century Japanese raiders teamed up with Chinese pirates to make coastal raids in Chinese waters, which were of a relatively small scale but were still highly disruptive to Chinese coastal cities.
The Ming government was gradually weakened by factionalism between civil officials, interference by palace eunuchs, the burdens of a growing population, and a succession of weak and inattentive emperors.
The Manchu drove out Li Zicheng and then remained, establishing the Qing dynasty. Despite the many foreign contacts made during the Ming period, cultural developments were characterized by a generally conservative and inward-looking attitude.
Ming architecture is largely undistinguished with the Forbidden City , a palace complex built in Beijing in the 15th century by the Yongle emperor and subsequently enlarged and rebuilt , its main representative.
The best Ming sculpture is found not in large statues but in small ornamental carvings of jade, ivory, wood, and porcelain.
There were many new developments in ceramics, along with the continuation of established traditions. Three major types of decoration emerged: Much of this porcelain was produced in the huge factory at Jingdezhen in present-day Jiangsu province.
The Ming regime restored the former literary examinations for public office, which pleased the literary world, dominated by Southerners.
In their own writing the Ming sought a return to classical prose and poetry styles and, as a result, produced writings that were imitative and generally of little consequence.
Writers of vernacular literature, however, made real contributions, especially in novels and drama. Chinese traditional drama originating in the Song dynasty had been banned by the Mongols but survived underground in the South, and in the Ming era it was restored.
This was chuanqi , a form of musical theatre with numerous scenes and contemporary plots. What emerged was kunqu style, less bombastic in song and accompaniment than other popular theatre.
Under the Ming it enjoyed great popularity, indeed outlasting the dynasty by a century or more. It was adapted into a full-length opera form, which, although still performed today, was gradually replaced in popularity by jingxi Peking opera during the Qing dynasty.
The imperial navy was allowed to fall into disrepair while forced labor constructed the Liaodong palisade and connected and fortified the Great Wall of China into its modern form.
Wide-ranging censuses of the entire empire were conducted decennially, but the desire to avoid labor and taxes and the difficulty of storing and reviewing the enormous archives at Nanjing hampered accurate figures.
By the 16th century, however, the expansion of European trade — albeit restricted to islands near Guangzhou like Macau — spread the Columbian Exchange of crops, plants, and animals into China, introducing chili peppers to Sichuan cuisine and highly productive corn and potatoes , which diminished famines and spurred population growth.
The growth of Portuguese , Spanish , and Dutch trade created new demand for Chinese products and produced a massive influx of Japanese and American silver.
This abundance of specie remonetized the Ming economy, whose paper money had suffered repeated hyperinflation and was no longer trusted. While traditional Confucians opposed such a prominent role for commerce and the newly rich it created, the heterodoxy introduced by Wang Yangming permitted a more accommodating attitude.
Zhang Juzheng 's initially successful reforms proved devastating when a slowdown in agriculture produced by the Little Ice Age joined changes in Japanese and Spanish policy that quickly cut off the supply of silver now necessary for farmers to be able to pay their taxes.
Combined with crop failure, floods, and epidemic, the dynasty collapsed before the rebel leader Li Zicheng , who was defeated by the Manchu-led Eight Banner armies who founded the Qing dynasty.
The Mongol -led Yuan dynasty — ruled before the establishment of the Ming dynasty. Explanations for the demise of the Yuan include institutionalized ethnic discrimination against Han Chinese that stirred resentment and rebellion, overtaxation of areas hard-hit by inflation , and massive flooding of the Yellow River as a result of the abandonment of irrigation projects.
Zhu Yuanzhang was a penniless peasant and Buddhist monk who joined the Red Turbans in ; he soon gained a reputation after marrying the foster daughter of a rebel commander.
With the Yuan dynasty crumbling, competing rebel groups began fighting for control of the country and thus the right to establish a new dynasty.
In , Zhu Yuanzhang eliminated his archrival and leader of the rebel Han faction, Chen Youliang , in the Battle of Lake Poyang , arguably the largest naval battle in history.
Known for its ambitious use of fire ships , Zhu's force of , Ming sailors were able to defeat a Han rebel force over triple their size, claimed to be ,strong.
The victory destroyed the last opposing rebel faction, leaving Zhu Yuanzhang in uncontested control of the bountiful Yangtze River Valley and cementing his power in the south.
After the dynastic head of the Red Turbans suspiciously died in while a guest of Zhu, there was no one left who was remotely capable of contesting his march to the throne, and he made his imperial ambitions known by sending an army toward the Yuan capital Dadu present-day Beijing in Hongwu made an immediate effort to rebuild state infrastructure.
In Hongwu had the Chancellor Hu Weiyong executed upon suspicion of a conspiracy plot to overthrow him; after that Hongwu abolished the Chancellery and assumed this role as chief executive and emperor, a precedent mostly followed throughout the Ming period.
Some , people were executed in a series of purges during his rule. The Hongwu emperor issued many edicts forbidding Mongol practices and proclaiming his intention to purify China of barbarian influence.
However, he also sought to use the Yuan legacy to legitimize his authority in China and other areas ruled by the Yuan.
He adopted many Yuan military practices, recruited Mongol soldiers, and continued to request Korean concubines and eunuchs. In Qinghai , the Salar Muslims voluntarily came under Ming rule, their clan leaders capitulating around The Hui troops under General Mu Ying , who was appointed Governor of Yunnan, were resettled in the region as part of a colonization effort.
Roughly half a million more Chinese settlers came in later periods; these migrations caused a major shift in the ethnic make-up of the region, since formerly more than half of the population were non-Han peoples.
Resentment over such massive changes in population and the resulting government presence and policies sparked more Miao and Yao revolts in to , which were crushed by an army of 30, Ming troops including 1, Mongols joining the , local Guangxi see Miao Rebellions Ming dynasty.
After the scholar and philosopher Wang Yangming — suppressed another rebellion in the region, he advocated single, unitary administration of Chinese and indigenous ethnic groups in order to bring about sinification of the local peoples.
After the overthrow of the Mongol Yuan dynasty by the Ming dynasty in , Manchuria remained under control of the Mongols of the Northern Yuan dynasty based in Mongolia.
Naghachu , a former Yuan official and a Uriankhai general of the Northern Yuan dynasty, won hegemony over the Mongol tribes in Manchuria Liaoyang province of the former Yuan dynasty.
He grew strong in the northeast, with forces large enough numbering hundreds of thousands to threaten invasion of the newly founded Ming dynasty in order to restore the Mongols to power in China.
The Ming decided to defeat him instead of waiting for the Mongols to attack. In the Ming sent a military campaign to attack Naghachu ,  which concluded with the surrender of Naghachu and Ming conquest of Manchuria.
The early Ming court could not, and did not, aspire to the control imposed upon the Jurchens in Manchuria by the Mongols, yet it created a norm of organization that would ultimately serve as the principal vehicle for the relations with peoples along the northeast frontiers.
By the end of the Hongwu reign, the essentials of a policy toward the Jurchens had taken shape. Most of the inhabitants of Manchuria, except for the wild Jurchens, were at peace with China.
In , the Ming dynasty under Yongle Emperor established the Nurgan Regional Military Commission on the banks of the Amur River , and Yishiha , a eunuch of Haixi Jurchen derivation, was ordered to lead an expedition to the mouth of the Amur to pacify the Wild Jurchens.
After the death of Yongle Emperor, the Nurgan Regional Military Commission was abolished in , and the Ming court ceased to have substantial activities there, although the guards continued to exist in Manchuria.
By the late Ming period, Ming political presence in Manchuria had waned considerably. The Mingshi — the official history of the Ming dynasty compiled by the Qing dynasty in — states that the Ming established itinerant commanderies overseeing Tibetan administration while also renewing titles of ex-Yuan dynasty officials from Tibet and conferring new princely titles on leaders of Tibetan Buddhist sects.
Wylie states that censorship in the Mingshi in favor of bolstering the Ming emperor's prestige and reputation at all costs obfuscates the nuanced history of Sino-Tibetan relations during the Ming era.
Modern scholars debate whether the Ming dynasty had sovereignty over Tibet. Some believe it was a relationship of loose suzerainty that was largely cut off when the Jiajing Emperor r.
The Ming sporadically sent armed forays into Tibet during the 14th century, which the Tibetans successfully resisted. The Hongwu Emperor specified his grandson Zhu Yunwen as his successor, and he assumed the throne as the Jianwen Emperor — after Hongwu's death in The most powerful of Hongwu's sons, Zhu Di, then the militarily mighty disagreed with this, and soon a political showdown erupted between him and his nephew Jianwen.
Under the pretext of rescuing the young Jianwen from corrupting officials, Zhu Di personally led forces in the revolt; the palace in Nanjing was burned to the ground, along with Jianwen himself, his wife, mother, and courtiers.
Zhu Di assumed the throne as the Yongle Emperor — ; his reign is universally viewed by scholars as a "second founding" of the Ming dynasty since he reversed many of his father's policies.
Yongle demoted Nanjing to a secondary capital and in announced the new capital of China was to be at his power base in Beijing.
Construction of a new city there lasted from to , employing hundreds of thousands of workers daily. Beginning in , the Yongle Emperor entrusted his favored eunuch commander Zheng He — as the admiral for a gigantic new fleet of ships designated for international tributary missions.
The Chinese had sent diplomatic missions over land since the Han dynasty BCE — CE and engaged in private overseas trade , but these missions were unprecedented in grandeur and scale.
Yongle used woodblock printing to spread Chinese culture. He also used the military to expand China's borders. The chief eunuch Wang Zhen encouraged the Zhengtong Emperor r.
However, this scheme was foiled once the emperor's younger brother assumed the throne under the era name Jingtai r. Holding the Zhengtong Emperor in captivity was a useless bargaining chip for the Oirats as long as another sat on his throne, so they released him back into Ming China.
Tianshun proved to be a troubled time and Mongol forces within the Ming military structure continued to be problematic. On 7 August , the Chinese general Cao Qin and his Ming troops of Mongol descent staged a coup against the Tianshun Emperor out of fear of being next on his purge-list of those who aided him in the Wresting the Gate Incident.
While the Yongle Emperor had staged five major offensives north of the Great Wall against the Mongols and the Oirats, the constant threat of Oirat incursions prompted the Ming authorities to fortify the Great Wall from the late 15th century to the 16th century; nevertheless, John Fairbank notes that "it proved to be a futile military gesture but vividly expressed China's siege mentality.
The financial drain of the Imjin War in Korea against the Japanese was one of the many problems — fiscal or other — facing Ming China during the reign of the Wanli Emperor — In the beginning of his reign, Wanli surrounded himself with able advisors and made a conscientious effort to handle state affairs.
His Grand Secretary Zhang Juzheng —82 built up an effective network of alliances with senior officials. However, there was no one after him skilled enough to maintain the stability of these alliances;  officials soon banded together in opposing political factions.
Over time Wanli grew tired of court affairs and frequent political quarreling amongst his ministers, preferring to stay behind the walls of the Forbidden City and out of his officials' sight.
The Hongwu Emperor forbade eunuchs to learn how to read or engage in politics. Whether or not these restrictions were carried out with absolute success in his reign, eunuchs during the Yongle Emperor's reign and afterwards managed huge imperial workshops, commanded armies, and participated in matters of appointment and promotion of officials.
The eunuchs developed their own bureaucracy that was organized parallel to but was not subject to the civil service bureaucracy.
The eunuch Wei Zhongxian — dominated the court of the Tianqi Emperor r. He ordered temples built in his honor throughout the Ming Empire, and built personal palaces created with funds allocated for building the previous emperor's tombs.
His friends and family gained important positions without qualifications. Wei also published a historical work lambasting and belittling his political opponents.
The Chongzhen Emperor r. During the last years of the Wanli era and those of his two successors, an economic crisis developed that was centered on a sudden widespread lack of the empire's chief medium of exchange: The Portuguese first established trade with China in ,  trading Japanese silver for Chinese silk,  and after some initial hostilities gained consent from the Ming court in to settle Macau as their permanent trade base in China.
In the new Tokugawa regime of Japan shut down most of its foreign trade with European powers, cutting off another source of silver coming into China.
These events occurring at roughly the same time caused a dramatic spike in the value of silver and made paying taxes nearly impossible for most provinces.
In the s a string of one thousand copper coins equaled an ounce of silver; by that sum could fetch half an ounce; and, by only one-third of an ounce.
Famines became common in northern China in the early 17th century because of unusually dry and cold weather that shortened the growing season — effects of a larger ecological event now known as the Little Ice Age.
Making matters worse, a widespread epidemic spread across China from Zhejiang to Henan, killing an unknown but large number of people. A Jurchen tribal leader named Nurhaci r.
During the Japanese invasions of Joseon Korea in the s, he offered to lead his tribes in support of the Ming and Joseon army. This offer was declined, but he was granted honorific Ming titles for his gesture.
Recognizing the weakness of Ming authority north of their border, he united all of the adjacent northern tribes and consolidated power in the region surrounding his homeland as the Jurchen Jin dynasty had done previously.
By , Nurhaci's son Huang Taiji renamed his dynasty from the "Later Jin" to the " Great Qing " at Mukden , which had fallen to Qing forces in and was made their capital in Shortly after, the Koreans renounced their long-held loyalty to the Ming dynasty.
A peasant soldier named Li Zicheng mutinied with his fellow soldiers in western Shaanxi in the early s after the Ming government failed to ship much-needed supplies there.
In , masses of Chinese peasants who were starving, unable to pay their taxes, and no longer in fear of the frequently defeated Chinese army, began to form into huge bands of rebels.
The Chinese military, caught between fruitless efforts to defeat the Manchu raiders from the north and huge peasant revolts in the provinces, essentially fell apart.
Unpaid and unfed, the army was defeated by Li Zicheng — now self-styled as the Prince of Shun — and deserted the capital without much of a fight.
On 25 April , Beijing fell to a rebel army led by Li Zicheng when the city gates were opened by rebel allies from within.
During the turmoil, the last Ming emperor hanged himself on a tree in the imperial garden outside the Forbidden City.
This occurred shortly after he learned about the fate of the capital and an army of Li Zicheng marching towards him; weighing his options of alliance, he decided to side with the Manchus.
After being forced out of Xi'an by the Qing, chased along the Han River to Wuchang , and finally along the northern border of Jiangxi province, Li Zicheng died there in the summer of , thus ending the Shun dynasty.
One report says his death was a suicide; another states that he was beaten to death by peasants after he was caught stealing their food.
Despite the loss of Beijing and the death of the emperor, the Ming were not yet totally destroyed. However, there were several pretenders for the Ming throne, and their forces were divided.
These scattered Ming remnants in southern China after were collectively designated by 19th-century historians as the Southern Ming.
Zhu Shugui proclaimed that he acted in the name of the deceased Yongli Emperor. Later the Qianlong Emperor bestowed the title Marquis of Extended Grace posthumously on Zhu Zhilian in , and the title passed on through twelve generations of Ming descendants until the end of the Qing dynasty in In , after the overthrow of the Qing dynasty in the Xinhai Revolution , some advocated that a Han Chinese be installed as Emperor, either the descendant of Confucius, who was the Duke Yansheng ,      or the Ming dynasty Imperial family descendant, the Marquis of Extended Grace.
Described as "one of the greatest eras of orderly government and social stability in human history" by Edwin O.
Reischauer , John K. Fairbank and Albert M. Craig ,  the Ming emperors took over the provincial administration system of the Yuan dynasty, and the thirteen Ming provinces are the precursors of the modern provinces.
Departing from the main central administrative system generally known as the Three Departments and Six Ministries system, which was instituted by various dynasties since late Han BCE — CE , the Ming administration had only one Department, the Secretariat, that controlled the Six Ministries.
The Hongwu Emperor sent his heir apparent to Shaanxi in to "tour and soothe" xunfu the region; in the Yongle Emperor commissioned 26 officials to travel the empire and uphold similar investigatory and patrimonial duties.
By these xunfu assignments became institutionalized as " grand coordinators ".