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The Ming dynasty

The Ming dynasty 01 Zhu Yuanzhang proclaimed the Ming dynasty (1368 1644) and established the capital at Nanjing on the Yangtze River. Zhu was the first commoner to become emperor in 1,500 years of Chinese history, taking the name Hong Wu.

Aside from his extreme despotic rule -he killed thousands of civil servants only by suspect of them-, he tried to initiate a course of isolationism supported on the xenophobia and intellectual introspection, characteristic of the popular new school of neo-Confucianism.

Therefore, Chinese culture was kept apart from the world, and the benefits of trade and relations with foreign nations were reduced significantly, but not were completely eradicated. The construction of the current Great Wall is this best example of the Ming thought, a grandiose but useless effort to close the northern borders of the empire and stem the invasion of barbarian tribes.

The Ming economic system gave a great emphasis to agriculture rather than commerce. Traditional land estates from previous dynasties were expropriated by the regime, fragmented, and rented out to the peasants. Private slavery also was forbidden during the Ming era.

In 1402, Zhu Di, Hong Wus son took the throne and began a series of aggressive campaigns and expansionist policies. Known as Emperor Yong-le, he led five campaigns against the Mongols in the north and controlled the turbulence in the south, by sending an expeditionary army. He also ordered the construction of a most large navy of the world and sent the Muslim admiral Zheng He on tribute-collecting voyages into the South China Sea, the Indian Ocean, and the Persian Gulf. Numerous maritime Asian kingdoms sent envoys with tribute for the Chinese ruler. But after Yong-le's death the maritime missions were cancelled as being contrary with Confucian principles. Thus initiative for explorations and world trade passed to the Europeans navigators. In 1557 Portuguese vessels colonized current Macao, where the trade prospered despite the official prohibition.

The Ming dynasty 02 Within China, the Grand Canal was expanded, and became a huge stimulus to domestic trade.

The capital was moved to the north from Nanjing to Beijing, where the imperial palace -Forbidden City- reached its present splendor. It was also through these centuries that the potential of south China was entirely exploited. New crops were extensively cultivated and industries produced porcelain, textiles, iron and printed books. Though, in this Chinese period, the country fell considerably behind Europe in technological and military power.

The Ming began to break down in the mid-15th century, with a succession of weak emperors.
By the early 17th century, after the appalling war against Japanese armies, the Manchu tribes broke the Chinese defense of the Great Wall and invaded the northern empire. The resulting famine originated that peasant and military revolted against the Ming. In 1644 the rebel forces led by Li Zicheng took Beijing and the last Ming Emperor committed suicide.

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