Chronologic Timeline of Ming Emperors 1368 AD - 1644 AD ; Descendancy of the Ming House explained.
Imperial Ming-styled Dragon Logo, symbolising the Emperor, his might, longevity of Reign and prosperity. During the early Ming Dynasty China was the most influential trade nation and most important military power in East and South-East Asia.
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Reign: 1367 - 1398 AD , Reign Period Hong Wu (洪武 ; meaning "Inundating Martiality")
Zhu (朱) Yuanzhang (aslo: Zhu Chongba meaning double 8), Name as Emperor (Ming) TaiZu (太祖 ; meaning "Great Forefather of the Ming").
Zhu Yuanzhang, a Han Chinese, was born a poor peasant, the wife of one Zhu WuSi, the owner of a Zhu WuSi owned a small soil-bean manual workshop who was forced to work as a poor tenant to support his family of two sons and three daughters. The Zhu family lived in one of China's Southern Provinces. According to historic tales handed down through historical records the birth was accompanied by a number of unusual phenomena: the documents say that the small cottage was glowing red at midnight which made the neighbors of the Zhu Family think that something had caught a fire. When they hurried to their neighbors rescue the found no fire but only this unusual light. Regardless of the auspicious signs, the new born baby was a burden to the already poverty stricken family. In accordance with the prescribed traditions, the baby was named Zhu Chongba at exactly one month after birth.
As might be expected for the last and youngest child in such a large but financially challenged family, there was little or no money available to support the young Zhu Chongba. He could not be sent to school as his elder brothers and thus throughout early childhood he had to perform child labor for sheer survival. It is noted that at some time he was employed as a "cowboy" for a landlord, working there until he was sixteen.
In the year 1344 AD everything would change for many in China, among them the Zhu Family. That year, not on but two natural disasters occurred. One being a huge flooding of the Yellow River (Huang He) which swept away many with their livelihoods, and the second being a draught and ensuing famine in the important Huai River area, a densily populated and otherwise fertile region situated between the Yellow River and the Yangtze Rivers.
The already stretched and over-corrupt Government administration system of the Yuan Dynasty badly mismanaged both affairs.Where the Yellow River floodings were a frequently recurring problem of which the after effects were insufficiently handled; no repairs to dikes were made for considerable time, the Huai River draughts and famine proved to even more damaging to the crumpling foundations of the Dynasty.
In the case of the Huai River draughts, which led to a stream of refugees out of the affected regions, the Emperor Yuan Shun (元顺帝) issued an imperial rescript, which ordered relief efforts for the disaster-struck areas. As far as the 3rd Yuan Emperor knew, huge quantities of rice and grain were sent in. However, with a corrupt bureaucracy operating underneath the Throne, the relief goods assigned from the imperial court were skimmed and exploited by greedy administrators at every level of the government hierarchy, leaving literally only shells of rice left to be delivered into the hands of famine victims. Naturally, they were outraged.
While the Yuan Emperor in Dadu (Beijing) was left with the solid impression that he had taken sufficient action to appease the people and stop them from revolting against the central authority. As such he received many flattering compliments from his Chancellors praising his charity and love for the people. Thus, while the Emperor felt satisfied, in reality he had just further enraged the people of the Huai River regions, leading to a revolt instead of appeasement. It was the beginning of the end for the Yuan Dynasty although few at court yet realized it.
It was in this period that Zhu Yuanzhang changed careers. Following the death of his father Zhu Wusi, his eldest brother, his eldest nephew, and his dear mother from starvation in the terrible famine of 1344 AD-1345 AD he was left without a means for survival. Not even being able to give his parents a proper burial, and with little or no food Zhu was forced to join a Monastery, thereafter becoming a devout Buddhist Monk with his main activities being study, prayers and the begging for alms. In the year 1347 AD he achieved a promotion in rank after which his main task was the ringing of the Temple Bell.
Although the joining of the Monastery did provide Zhu with a highly desired opportunity at some form of education, it seems that life at the Temple Monastery was by no means a happy time for him. First of all, he struggled with the deaths of his parents for whom he had been unable to provide the services expected of filial son upon their death. Furthermore, having had little yet still losing all left him wandering about the fairness of his society, and the unfathemable fact that those who labored received few rewards whereas those who idlled and leasured were the powerful who never seem to endure hard times, nor were punished for their mistreatment of others.
Even at his home Monastery, the HuangJue (黄觉) Temple, he found the life was not what is what supposed to be at all.At the Temple he was considered a mere and lowly servant of the senior monks who treat him no better than his landlord. Their behavior and their morals were not uplifting but instead they were decadent. Zhu found that many Monks had seized their prayers instead focussing on the gathering of personal glory and the aquisition of land and wealth. Some of the Monks and High Priests even kept their own small stores and shops, which in a heavily Confucian influenced society was considered a lowly and immoral occupation.
Furthermore, although this was legally allowed during much of Yuan Dynasty era (1271 AD - 1368 AD), Zhu Yuanzhang, gravely objected to the Monks keeping wives and families. As he saw it, all of it was against the formal Buddhist doctrine which he kept in high honor regardless of his internal moral confusions.
According to historical record, Zhu Yuanzhang ended his career as a monk 1352 AD when he joined the rebellious "Red Turban" movement as a soldier. Thus, according to history, when Zhu Yuanzhang joined the HongJin Rebellion against the Yuan Dynasty he was a poor Man.
Once a part of rebel army, Zhu Yuanzhang quickly rose through the ranks. In 1355 AD Zhu Yuanzhang came to power as General and Supreme Commander of the HongJin rebel army, the Red
Turbans, after the death of his superior and predecessor Lu Tzu Hsing. Thoroughly indignant about the discrimination and social exclusion that were practiced by the Mongol Yuan ruling class, the "Red Turbans" or "HongJin" were a rebel group operating in a large area in the lower reaches of the Yangtze (Jiangtse) River. Other rebel groups were present in other parts of the Yuan Empire. Final War broke out when hundreds of thousands of civilians were called upon to work on the construction of dikes, canals and other defenses on the Yellow River (Huang He). A number of Han Chinese groups revolted, but the group led by excellent strategist Zhu Yuanzhang prevailed, dominating over the rival rebel groups assisted by an ancient and secret intellectual fraternity called the Summer Palace people.
After organising a massive revolt in the Yuan Capital City of Khanbalik (Also: Dadu - currently Beijing), the armies of Zhu Yuanzhang swept in and drove the Mongolians from the City, effecting the downfall of the Yuan Dynasty. Many remnant Yuan Dynasty armies remained however, continually causing problems along the Northern Frontier. Rivalling rebel parties also attempted to move into power. All however failed against the strategic talents of Zhu Yuanzhang. Only in 1387 AD, would the whole of chinese territory be recovered for the new Ming Dynasty.
As a result of his peasant origins, the Emperor had great sympathy for their plight and a hatred of the misdoings of the land owning gentry. Hongwu created laws that improved life of the majority of his citizens, the peasants. Land taxes were kept low, and granaries were constructed and stocked to guard against famine. Hong Wu also engaged in maintaining dikes on the Yellow River (Huang He) and the Yangtze River continuing earlier attempts to tame the rivers and avoid yearly flooding disasters. However, economically he lacked the vision to push trade.
Viewing things from a typically Confucian viewpoint, Hongwu felt agriculture should be the country's source of wealth and that trade was ignoble and parasitic. The core economic activity was the production of food and basic materials, whereas arts and crafts were seen as to produce nothing of meaningful value. Although artisans could produce or even invent useful tools (for agriculture), objects of art were seen by Confucians as not adding to the happiness and needs of the people.
One of the results was the simulation of agriculture by the creation of self-supporting agricultural communities as a governement policy during the HongWu Reign. Great land estates of the rich and corrupt were confiscated by the government, fragmented and rented out to free private citizens; private slavery having been outlawed. These policies would be followed by succeeding Emperors, familiar with the family history. Consequently, by the time of the death of the Yongle Emperor (1424 AD), independent peasant landholders predominated in Chinese agriculture and large land owners had lost considerable influence.
As another result of the Emperors lack of economic, from the very beginning of the Hongwu Reign, money posed a problem and a challenge. As a solution to the scarcety of circulating coins, paper currency was invented in China. However, such fenomenon as inflation were not yet understood. In fact, The Emperor handed out so much paper money as rewards that by 1425 A.D. the currency was worth 1/70 of its original value. The ensuing crisis inevitably led to a return to the use of copper coins. However, with the government still unable to produce enough coins for circulation, economic growth faltered. Counterfeiting began occuring becaming another problem burden. At this point, the provinces were required to mint their own coins. Unfortunately, some of them added lead to the coins, which depleted their value. Due to the abundance of counterfeit and inadequate lead coins, the value of currency once again declined. Spiraling out of control the coin problem was amplified by an increasing need for money due to the growth of trade.
As expected from a Military Man and trained Martial Artist, Hongwu kept a powerful army organized on a military system known as the Wei-so system. The essence of this system is to maintain a strong army while avoiding bonds between commanding officers and soldiers. Thus, it was an elitist and rigid system, rather than a democratizing one.
Death & Succession : There is a chinese tale regarding the succession of Zhu Yuanzhang, founding Emperor of the Ming Dynasty. According to this legend .... Which ever way it was, after the death of Zhu Yuanzhang, problems soon arose for the Ming.
Similar to the founder of the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 221 AD), the Hong Wu Emperor himself relatively uneducated and unprivileged in early life, was deeply suspicious of the educated courtiers around him, often suspecting these well-behaved "gentlemen" of intrigue or plotting against the Empire and the Throne furthering merely their own goals. A brutal ruler, he thus initiated a thorough clean-up of the remains of the corrupted and broken Yuan Empire. Throughout his Reign Period Zhu Yuanzhang is known to have exerted an extremely authoritarian regime earning him the nickname "the tyrant of Nanjing". Furthermore, upon taking head of the of the imperial administration he started immediate rigorous reforms by abolishing crucial ministries and secretaries. To control the highest officials at the court, he installed the so-called Brocade Guards (Jinyiwei), a kind of secret service staffed with the only power-group at Court that were beyond his suspicions he trusted. These were the eunuchs.
Thus, as the only alternative group within the Palace, the often lowly educated eunuchs once more rose in power at Court, becoming a group that would eventually ensure the fall of the Dynasty.
The following Reign of Hong Wu was a violent one. After establishing the Dynasty and naming it "Ming" (meaning "Bright" in mandarin Chinese), the Emperor set about stabilizing his rule. Among his methods, the ruthless elimination of anyone suspected of threatening his rule and reforms. Both the suspect officials and their families and even remotely connected relations were eliminated entirely. The Emperor being a very suspicious man, especially of court gentry, the list was long, very long. In the cleansing campaign, a process in which The Yinjiwei were instrumental, hordes of Chinese Officials lost their lives and their extended families along with them. In one case alone, over 20,000 people were killed. Due to earlier experiences and familiar with the history of earlier dynasties Hong Wu had a loathing of Confucian Officials. This group had however already been marginalized and disempowered during the later years of the preceeding Yuan Dynasty, Buddhism being favored by Mongolian Tribes of the Time.
Along with the political cleansing campaign a system of strict laws and state controlled censorship was instituted ("Benevolent tutelage by Government"), judicial authority was strengthened further stabilizing the Empire politically. For administrative purposes the Ming Empire was divided into 13 provinces, each with a governor who directly answered to the Emperor.
Furthermore, under Hongwu the Military was significantly strengthened in position. While retaining the Confucian view that being a merchant is an inferior occupation, Hongwu abandoned the tradition and belief that military men were inferior in social rank. Instead developed a militant military class giving them positions ranking higher than any civil servant and constituting a major social change.