Ming Dynasty

The Ming Dynasty (time period from 1368 to 1644) was a dynasty in Chinese history founded by Zhu Yuanzhang, emperor Taizu of the Ming Dynasty. Nanjing was the capital at the beginning, and Beijing was the capital during the Reign of Emperor Chengzu of Ming Dynasty. The reign of sixteen Ming Dynasty emperors lasted 276 years. Ming Dynasty was the last dynasty in China ruled by Han group.

Ming Dynasty painting

Ming Dynasty Facts

In Chinese: 明朝

Time period: Jan. 23, 1368 – April.25, 1644

Capitals: Nanjing, Beijing

Population: About 200 million (in late Ming Dynasty)

Main ethnical groups: Han, Zang, Miao

First Emperor: Zhu Yuanzhang 

Administrative center: council of ministers

Last Emperor: Zhu Youjian

The territory of the Ming Dynasty included the Han Region, reaching the Sea of Japan in the northeast, the Xing'an Mountains and Liaohe River Basin in the outer, Yinshan, and the Ming Great Wall in the north, Jiayuguan pass and Hami of Xinjiang in the west, Yunnan, Burma and Siam northern border in the southwest. In addition, the Jimi garrison was established in the Tibetan region and Annan was recovered.

During the Ming dynasty, the autocratic monarchy was strengthened unprecedentedly and the multi-ethnic country was further unified and consolidated. At the beginning of the Ming Dynasty, the abolition of the prime minister and the establishment of the spy agency strengthened the autocratic centralization, but at the same time it fowed the eunuch dictatorship in the middle and later period. The peasant revolt against feudalism in Ming Dynasty also entered a new stage.

In the Ming Dynasty, handicraft industry and commodity economy flourished. A large amount of commercial capital was transformed into industrial capital, and commercial market towns and capitalism sprouted. Culture and art are becoming secularized.

Ming Dynasty Emperors – Timeline with Years

There are totally 16 emperors in Ming Dynasty, including the first emperor Zhu Yuanyang, the great king Zhu Di, the mysteriously missing king Zhu Runwen, the carpenter Zhu Youxiao, and the last emperor of Ming Dynasty – Zhu Youjian.

 Reign Title Dynastic Title Name of the Emperor Reign Years Burial Tomb Remarks
Hong WuMing Tai ZuZhu Yuanzhang31Ming Ming Xiaoling MausoleumThe first emperopr of Ming Dynasty
Jian WenMing Hui DiZhu Yun Wen4UnknownMissing
Yong LeMing Cheng ZuZhu Di22changling MausoleumThe greatest emperor in Ming Dyansty
Hong XiMing Ren ZongZhu Gao Zhi1Xianling MausoleumGentle, kind, but physically weak
Xuan DeMing Xuan ZongZhu Zhan Ji10Jingling MausoleumHe was king for twice, and abolished human sacrifice
Zheng TongMing ying Zong Zhu Qi Zhen13Yuling MausoleumThe only emperor in Ming Dynasty that was not buried in the 13 Ming Tombs
Tian Shun Zhu Qi Zhen7  
Jing TaiMing Dai ZongZhu Qi Yu8Jingtai Mausoleum 
Cheng HuaMing Xian ZongZhu Jian Shen23Maoling Mausoleum 
Hong ZhiMing Xiao Zong Zhu You Tang18Tailing MausoleumA wise king
Zheng DeMing Wu ZongZhu Hou Zhao16Kangling Mausoleum The most controversial emperor in Ming Dynasty; - some say he was very rediculous, while others say he pursued freedom and equality
Jia JIngMing Shi ZongZhu Hou Cong16Yongling Mausoleum
Long QingMing Mu ZongZhu Zai Ji6Zhaoling MausoleumMen of talent come out in succession in the court during Ming Shi Zong's reign.
WanliMing Shen ZongZhu Yi Jun48Dingling MausoleumThe longest reign
Tai ChangMing Guang ZongZhu Chang Luo1 monthQingling MausoleumThe shortest reign
Tian QiMing Xi ZongZhu You Xiao7Deling MausoleumKnown as the "carpenter emperor 
ChongzhenMing Si ZongZhu You Jian17Siling MausoleumThe last emperor of Ming Dynasty

Ming Dynasty Art: Drama, Painting, and Porcelain

In the Ming Dynasty, ancient Chinese literature and art appeared the trend of popularization and secularization, and literature and art flourished unprecedently, which is showcased in poetry, novels, and drama.

Ming Dynasty Drama

The Ming Dynasty drama includes legendary drama and poetic drama set to music, which were developed on the basis of Song Dynasty and Yuan Dynasty drama and Jin and Yuan poetic drama respectively. As two different dram art forms, they are taking different development paths.

The predecessor of ancient legendary drama is Nanxi, which originated in Wenzhou, east Zhejiang province. In the Tang Dynasty, novels were called legends. In the Song Dynasty, legends referred to Pinghua and Zhugong. During the Emperor Wanli period, creation of legend came to a climax, with famous works such as Gao Lian's “A Tade of Jade Clasp” and Zhou Chaojun's “A Tale of Red Plum”. Shen Jing and Tang Xianzu were the most important playwrights of this period. There are 17 kinds of legends written by Shen Jing, such as "The Righteous Hero" and "Red are deep", and 7 kinds of legends exist now. Tang Xianzu's famous works include The Purple Hairpin, The Peony Pavilion, The Handan Chronicle and the Story of Nanke. They are known as "Four Dreams of Jade Ming Tang", among which the Peony Pavilion is the most successful and famous drama in Ming Dynasty.

The development of The Ming Dynasty poetic drama can be roughly divided into two periods. In the early period, from Hongwu to Hongzhi and Zhengde, many works were produced, but their ideological content and artistic achievements were not only far behind that of Yuan Zaju, but also showed a large number of tendencies to advocate feudal morality.

Some new features of poetic drama appeared after Emperor Jiajing. On the one hand, The Northern drama has become extinct by the Emerpr Wanli period, on the other hand, poetic drama has appeared the phenomenon of mixing the north and south in melody. The metamorphosis of the Ming Dynasty poetic drama combined the distinctive features of the Southern drama or the Northern drama. At this time the form of poetic drama gradually got rid of the standard bondage ofYuan Dynasty poetic drama.

Ming Dynasty Porcelain

Ming Dynasty was an important development stage in the history of Chinese ceramics, when Jingdezhen porcelain products occupied the main market of the country. Ming Dynasty Jingdezhen porcelains were very outstanding, especially the blue and white porcelain, regarded as the representative of Ming Dynasty porcelain. The firing technology reached the peak of the development of Chinese blue and white porcelain.

The development of colored porcelain in Ming Dynasty also had a new leap. After The Emperor Yongle and Emperor Xuande, the prevalence of colored porcelain was mainly attributed to the quality of white porcelain in addition to the reasons of color materials and painting technology.

Ming Dynasty painting

Through series of reforms carried out by Ming emperor, the nation's economy soon recovered and progressed to its highest level. Such achievements made Zhu Yuanzhang one of the most outstanding emperors in Chinese history, just like Emperor Wudi of the Han Dynasty and Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty.

The golden age of the Ming Dynasty was under Emperor Chengzu's reign, known as the Yongle period (circa 1402). During this period, Zheng He's voyage to Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean which strengthened greatly foreign relations and promoted the cultural and economic exchanges. Under the Ming dynasty, China experienced one of the greatest economic expansions in its history. This expansion affected every area of Chinese economic life: agriculture, commerce, and maritime trade and exploration.

Ming Dynasty Achievements & Inventions

From the early Ming Dynasty to the middle period, science and technology had a great development, and has been in the forefront of the world until the 16th century.

Scientific works

Scientific works created during this period include: Compendium of Materia Medica by Li Shizhen, Tian Gong Kai Wu by Song Yingxing, Complete Book of Agriculture and Politics by Xu Guangqi, and Small Knowledge of Physics by Fang Yizhi. Xu Xiake's Travel Notes and other works are also valuable documents for us to study and draw lessons from ancient technology.


The Military science and technology of the Ming Dynasty was also more developed. At the end of the Ming Dynasty, there were fire guns and powerful artillery.


The mid-14th century White Ape Offering Three Lights (author is unknown) contains 132 cloud images linked to changes in the weather, most of which are consistent with modern meteorological principles.

Math and Physics

"Comparison of Algorithms in Nine Chapters" was written by Wu Jing in 1450.

In 1584, Zhu Zai's "Lu Lu Jing Yi" was published

In 1592, Cheng Dawei wrote the book "Shu Fa Tong Zong", which first recorded the use of the abacus method to open square and open square.

In 1637, Song Yingxing gave a scientific explanation of the generation and transmission of sound in His book "On Qi · Qi Sound".

Ming Dynasty Clothing: Hairstyles, Dress, Hat, and other Fashion

Ming dynasty clothing is Ming Hanfu. According to the tradition of Han nationality, Zhu Yuanzhang, emperor Taizu of Ming Dynasty, re-established the costume system by inheriting Zhou Dyansty, Han Dynasty, Tang Dynasty, and Song Dynasty.

Ming Dynasty Men Clothing and Hat

Noble men mostly worn green straight wide long clothes, with a square calm scarf on the head. Ordinary men wore short clothes, with wrapped turbans.

At this time, some worn a small octagonal hat with six or eight pieces of cloth combined together, which looked like a watermelon cut in half. Originally worn by servants, it became popular and a fashion trend later in Ming Dynasty because it was convenient to wear. This is the predecessor of skullcap of Qing Dynasty.

Ming Dynasty Dress and Hairstyle for Women

The noblewomen of the Ming Dynasty mostly wore red robes with large sleeves, while the general women could only wear peach, purple and green and some light colors. They wore short skirts and long skirts with silk belts on their waists. Skirts are wide and have many styles, such as pleated skirts, phoenix skirts and moon skirts.

Women’s hairstyle of the early Ming Dynasty basically followed the characteristics of the Song and Yuan dynasties without great changes. However, after the Emperor Jiajing period, women's hair styles were quite different, such as the peach blossom bun, which was a fashionable hairstyle at that time.

Generally speaking, women would comb their bun into a flat circle and then decorate the top of the bun with flowers. Later, the hairstyle evolved into a filigree knot, and the bun was worn high and decorated with pearl jade and emerald. After the peach blossom bun, a variety of styles were created, such as "lazy combing", "double flying Swallow" and "To pillow loose".

Ming Dynasty Architecture: Forbidden City, the Great Wall, Tombs

In the Ming Dynasty, China entered the late feudal society. The architectural style of Ming Dynasty inherited the tradition of Song Dynasty and inspired the engineering practice of official repair in the Qing Dynasty. There was no significant change from the previous tims, but the Ming Dynasty architectural design and planning were mainly characterized by grand scale and magnificent atmosphere.

Both the capitals Beijing and Nanjing, the largest existing ancient city in China, benefited from the planning and management of the Ming Dynasty, and the Forbidden City of the Qing Dynasty was constantly expanded and perfected on the basis of the Ming Palace.

The Ming Dynasty continued to vigorously build the magnificent defense building - the Great Wall, many important sections of the Great Wall and city fortress were built with brick, the construction level reached the highest. The Ming Great Wall stretches 5,660 kilometers from the Yalu River in the east to Jiayuguan in Gansu province in the west. Shanhaiguan pass, Jiayuguan Pass and other famous pass create a masterpiece of unique style in Chinese architectural art. Beijing Badaling section of the Great Wall, Simatai section of the Great Wall and other shows a high artistic value.

Other famous building and architectures of Ming Dynasty include Ming Tombs, Temple of Heaven, The Great Bao en Temple in Nanjing, Toast Temple on Wudang Mountain, Temple of Confucius in Qufu (expanded in Ming Dynasty), Huangshan Hongcun and Xidi Villages, Fujian Tulou buildings.

If you are interested in Ming Dynasty history and ancient Chinese architecture, and plan a history tour to China, never miss the above buildings.

Ming Dynasty Eunuch – Why Did the Ming Court Rely on Eunuchs?

The eunuch system originated in the pre-Qin period and flourished n Ming Dynasty. It seems that the eunuchs of the Ming Dynasty were very powerful, starting with Zheng He, Wang Zhen, Feng Bao, and finally Wei Zhongxian, who reached the peak, controlled the government and invaded the court and the people. And the infamous Dongchang, a well-known institution consists of all eunuchs, did evil enough. There are a lot of TV series and movies are about Dong Chang.

Why were eunuchs so rampant in the Ming Dynasty? We have to start from the Emperor Ming Chengzu - Zhu Di, who seized state power from his cousin Zhu Yunwen with military force. At the beginning of the revolt, Zhu Di obtained most information and understood the situation of the court from eunuchs. So he promised heavy profits to eunuchs, in exchange for information. After seizing power, Zhu Di didn’t trusted Zhu Yunwen’s officials, and there was not prime minister, Zhu Di regarded eunuch as confidants. When he was too busy, he would ask some eunuchs to help. In this way, eunuchs participated in politics of Ming Dynasty.

In order to monitor officials, enhance his rule, Zhu Di restored the Jinyi Guard system, and set up the East Factory at the same time, allowing the eunuch legitimately intervene in political affairs. From then on, Jinyi Guard and East Factory began to fight.

What’s more Emperor Xuande, Zhu Zhanji taught eunuchs to read and write, breaking the last barrier for eunuchs to participate in government. Eunuchs became an indispensable part of politics.

There is another important reason for the eunuch intervention in Ming Dynasty. That is, most of the Ming dynasty emperors were lazy, and there is no prime minister synergy emperor to deal with politics. Emperor Zhu Di was a “model worker”, but not all the emperors in Ming Dynasty. Cabinet was built later, and grand secretary of the cabinet was equivalent to the prime minister. In order to contain the cabinet, or to be lazy, the emperors gave the rights of the eunuch greatly. The most powerful were two eunuchs -- one acting on behalf of the emperor to review, the other acting on behalf of the emperor to seal. The power of the eunuchs reached the peak in Ming Dynasty, as well as in the entire Chinese history.

The Most Famous Eunuchs in Ming Dynasty

#1, Zheng He (郑和)

- Serve Emperor Ming Chengzu – Zhu Di

Zheng He, a native of Yunnan province, grew up beside Zhu Di when he was young. He joined Zhu Di in the northern and southern wars. He was a meritoso in the "Jingnan Battle" and was regarded as a confidant of emperor Zhu Di. However, more importantly, Zheng He himself had the qualities and conditions suitable for the position of commander-in-chief, leading the fleet to the Western Seas.

In 1404, Zheng He was promoted to the rank of eunuch of the imperial College for his meritorious service. Zheng He was a wise man who knew how to fight. Zhu Di trusted zheng He deeply. From 1405 to 1433, Zheng He made seven voyages to the Western Seas, accomplishing a great feat in human history. In 1433, Zheng He died in Guri state on the west coast of India, and his ashes were buried in the Underground Palace of Hongjae Temple in Nanjing, which is now known as the Tomb of Zheng He in Niushou Mountain in Nanjing.

Zheng He was the most famous and influential eunuch in Chinese history.

#2, Liu Jin (刘瑾)

Serve Emperor Zhengde & Emperor Wuzong

Liu Jin committed crimes during the Reign of Emperor Hongzhi and was sentenced to death according to law, but was later pardoned and allowed to serve Emperor Wuzong in the East Palace. After several promotions, Liu Jin was appointed the highest position of eunuch.

When he was in power, he took the opportunity to be good at government and was the first of the "eight tigers". He was called the "Standing Emperor" and the "Sitting Emperor". After Liu Jin was arrested, millions of taels of gold and silver, as well as illegal items such as false seals and jade belts were found in his house,. He was considered the richest man in the world at the time.

Liu Jin was sentenced to death by dismembering the body into 3,357 pieces, which were cut in three days. After the execution, the small pieces of meat were bought and eaten by the people who had suffered from it, with one cent for a piece of meat.

#3, Wei Zhongxian (魏忠贤)

Serve Emperor Wanli & Emperor Chongzhen

Wei Zhongxian was elected to the Palace during the Reign of Wanli. Then he begged to be meal official of wang Cairen, mother of the emperor's eldest grandson, and then met Weichao, another powerful eunuch. The wet nurse of the emperor's eldest grandson, Ke Shi, always “served” Weichao in private – couple between eunuch and maid of honor. After Wei Zhongxian entered the palace, Ke Shi conspired with him. Therefore, Ke Shi ignored Wei Chao and loved Wei Zhongxian, and they formed a deep relationship.

Later, Wei Zhongxian mastered the power of the court, and constantly used his influence on the emperor. Because Wei Zhongxian and his partisans was fighting against Donglin party (the right party at that time), the populace further considered Wei Zhongxian party as evil party.

Wei Zhongxian was called "nine thousand nine hundred years old". But after Emperor Chongzhen succeeded to the throne, he hit and punished eunuch party. Wei Zhongxian was accused ten crimes. In the end, Wei Zhongxian hanged himself, and the rest of the party was also cleaned up.

Other famous eunuchs in Ming Dynasty include Wangzhi of the reign of Emperor Ming Xianzong, Fengbao of the reign of Emperor Jiajiang, Wang Chen’en of the reign of Emperor Chongzhen, Wangzhen of the reign of Emperor Xuanzong, Chenju of the reign of Emperor Shenzong, Wang’an of the reign of Emperor Guangzong, and Cao Huachun of the reign of Emperor Chongzhen. 

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