The Great Wall Sign

Travel to the great wall in China

The Ming Dynasty

The Ming Dynasty ruled over China for 276 years (1368-1644) after the fall of the Yuan Dynasty. The Empire of the Great Ming has been described as one of the greatest times of social stability and well organized governments in history. The Ming Empire was the last dynasty in China's history that reigned over by the ethnic Han Chinese. China exerted political and cultural influence in Eastern Asia, the Turks on the west and Vietnam and Myanmar on the south. Even after the fall of the Ming Dynasty which led to the fall of the primary capital of Beijing in 1644 to the Shun Dynasty, there were still loyal regimes of the Ming Empire who were collectively known as the Southern Ming and lasted until 1662.

th Ming dynasty tombs
The ming tombs.

Revolt and rebel rivalry


In 1351 several Han Chinese groups including the Red Turbans revolted against the Yuan Dynasty in 1351. The Red Turbans allied with a Buddhist secret society known as the White Lotus. In 1352 Zhu Yuanzhang, a Buddhist monk, joined the Red Turbans and improved his standing among the rebels by marrying a rebel commander’s foster daughter. Zhu’s rebel force seized the city of Nanjin in 1356, which was later established as the capital of the Ming Dynasty.

In 1363 Zhu Yuanzhang defeated his arch enemy Chen Youliang, the leader of the Han faction in one of the largest naval battle in history known as the Battle of Lake Poyang in which the Han rebel force, about three times the size of Zhu’s force were eliminated in the battle. Zhu Yuanzhang had easy control of the Yangtze River Valley after destroying the last opposing rebel force which helped him solidify his rule in the south. The leader of the Red Turbans died mysteriously while visiting Zhu, which left Zhu as the likely successor with no other rival remotely capable of contesting his succession to the throne. In 1368 Zhu sent an army to Dadu, the Yuan capital. The palaces of Dadu were razed to the ground while the last Yuan emperor fled to Shangdu in the north. The city of Dadu was renamed Beijing in the same year and Zhu Yuanzhang took the era name Hongwu meaning Vastly Martial.


The Reign of Emperor Hongwu


During his rule Emperor Hongwu implemented military, educational and administrative reforms with power centered in the emperor. One of the very first projects was the rebuilding of the state infrastructure. The emperor built a 30 mile wall around the city of Nanjing as well as government halls and new palaces. The emperor organized a military system similar to that of the Tang Dynasty’s Fuming system. The Ming military system was known as weisuo.

In 1380 upon suspicion of a conspiracy plot to dethrone him, the emperor ordered the execution of the Chancellor Hu Weiyong. He then abolished the chancellery and took over the reigns as chief executive and emperor. This system of governing was mostly followed during the Ming era. The emperor distrusted his ministers and subjects and established a network of secret police known as Jinyiwei. The jinyiwei executed 100,000 lives over three decades.




The Ming Dynasty revamped the imperial examination system by making the test more detailed and rigorous. The Ming government found institutions known as ‘guozijian’ and made them the only path to taking the imperial examinations. To become an official, individuals needed to go through three different stages. These were the provincial, metropolitan and palace examinations. The only people able to participate at the provincial level were students of ‘guozijian’. The Ming government gave great attention to administrative procedures in managing the imperial examinations.


Literature and Arts


The Ming era saw a thriving literature, poetry, painting, music and Chinese opera in the flourishing commercial lower Yangzi Valley. The most impactful literary development was putting together the vernacular novel. The Ming era was a period of cultural expansion and restoration. An indigenous Chinese ruling house was reestablished, and court-dictated styles in arts were imposed. Chinese paintings in the Ming dynasty emulated the artistic styles of the Southern Song Imperial Painting Academy. Flower and bird compositions, large scale landscapes and figural narratives were the preferred images for conveying the Ming dynasty’s benevolence majesty and virtue.


The Great Wall of China


The Great Wall of China was constructed mainly in the Ming Dynasty. This ambitious project took more than 100 years to complete. The walls were well constructed and uniquely designed to be an effective defense system. The Ming emperors focused on building the Great Wall of China while they were in power. The main focus was to prevent invasion by the northern ethnic tribes like the Dada, Nuzhen and Wala.


The Ming Dynasty Architecture


During the Ming era buildings and city layouts followed the Song style and continued patterns from previous eras. China reached new heights with its architectural achievements, and The Great Wall of China continued to be fortified. The wall was extended 5660 kilometers. The wall was constructed to the Yalu River on the east and the Jiayuguan on the west. Parts of the Great Wall such as the Badaling and Simatra featured great artistic value.


The Ming government started the construction of the Ming Dynasty tombs in 1409 and ended in 1644 with the fall of the Ming Empire. The tombs were constructed over 40 square kilometers, each situated at the foot of a separate hill. The tombs are linked to each other by a road known as the Sacred Way.


Rebellion, Invasion, Collapse.


In 1616, Nurhaci, a Jurchen tribal leader, started with a small tribe and rapidly took over the Manchurian tribes. Nurhaci recognized the unraveling of the Ming authority in the northern border and took advantage of the situation by uniting all the northern tribes along the border. Nurhaci severed relations with the Ming regime and declared war with the Ming when grievances he documented and sent to the Ming court were ignored.


In the early 1630s Li Zicheng, a peasant soldier also rebelled with his fellow soldiers after the Ming government denied them much needed supplies. Li Zicheng was captured in 1634 by one of the Ming dynasty generals and later released on condition that he rejoined the service. The agreement was short lived when some of his fellow rebels were executed on the order of a local magistrate. Li Zicheng and his rebel army killed the officials in retaliation and continued their rebellion against the Ming government. Li Zicheng and his team were based in Rongyang in central Henan province.


In 1640, starving Chinese peasants, who were not able to pay their taxes, organized themselves into huge bands of rebel factions. The Chinese army overwhelmed with trying to contain the Manchu raiders from the northern border and huge rebel factions in the provinces essentially gave up and deserted the capital when they were faced by Li Zicheng and his rebel army. The last Ming emperor committed suicide and Beijing fell to the rebel army. The Manchu raiders seized the opportunity and crossed the great wall when Wu Sangui, the Ming border general, let them in at Shanhai Pass.


Southern Ming Dynasty


Despite the fall of Beijing and the death of the Chongzhen emperor, there were several Ming strongholds in Nanjing, Guangdong, Fujian, Shanxi and Yunnan. The Southern Ming Dynasty,a Ming loyalist regime remained in southern China from 1644 to 1662