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Image: Hongwu - The first Ming Emperor

Image: The Great Wall at Shanhai, near where the Manchu invaders were let through

Image: Emperor Wanli

Image: Emperor Shunzhi, the last Ming Emperor

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Hand-held, trigger-operated crossbow from the 2nd century BC, Han Dynasty
Chinese History
Imperial China - Ming
Ming (1368 – 1644)

After the demise of the Mongols, the Ming Dynasty reinvented China; bringing with them culture, arts and excellence of skills and thinking. Your treasured china may be named after this Dynasty?

The Ming had a large standing army of between 1 million and 2 million troops, as well as a large and active Navy. They wished to enlarge the Empire, and ruled over Vietnam for several decades. They also looked to the West, but made no significant territorial gains.

They continued to protect their Northern borders for attack, especially from the Mongols and Jurchen Jin. The mongols in particular harried China from 1449, and a century later even reached the gates of Beijing before being repelled. The Great Wall was extended and repaired, and what you see today is of Ming construction. The brick and granite work was enlarged, the watch towers were redesigned, and cannons were placed along its length. The East coast had to be protected also, this time from Japanese pirates, hence the Great Wall even extended into the sea in certain places

Click to Enlarge: Map of the Ming Empire circa 1580
Map courtesy of Wikipedia

In a major shift away from the policies of previous Empires, the Ming shifted the interest away from foreign trade, and instead focused upon the land and taxation. Land became the property of the Emperor, and large estates were broken up - thus removing many wealthy landowners and preventing the Warlord threat from arising again in the future. Land was rented out to peasants, and slavery was abolished. This led to flourishing private enterprise, and with it came markets to towns all over China

So far so good then! However, the administration of the Empire became a large factor in daily Ming life, taking up much of the Emperors time. A large bureaucracy was created, which generated much paperwork; and in later times, so unwieldy that is led to the Empire's eventual demise. The Ming became so caught up in their bureaucracy that they were unable to adapt to the changing social environment. Before this they did some remarkable things, like inventing the moveable type printing press, which was honed over years, and used first wooden, then brass, and finally ceramic die which were created by the Emperor himself.

Trade was important to the Ming, and whilst some trade filtered through the Silk Roads, it was not as before, and not under Chinese control except via Guangzhou. In the far Southeast trade was fully exploited, and The Pearl River became the centre of Ming overseas commerce. Otherwise and further North, most trade was with the Japanese - hence the pirates no doubt. The Grand Canal was overhauled with the direct result that trade improved, especially in relation to iron. The route of the Canal in Beijing was altered to allow better trade, and this required a new water source - that was achieved with great ingenuity. The Forbidden City was also extended, and is what you see today (Except for later French looting)

However, the Ming did look outside their immediate borders, and Zheng He assembles a fleet and sails the known world. Trading relationships are established with Southeast Asia, India, East African States and Chinese control reaches as far as Turkestan.. China is 'Open' during the beginning of this Dynasty, but later it becomes more paranoid and 'Closed'. A great shame really, as the voyages of Zheng He were starting to show great rewards

Whilst famine was not a problem, the Shaanxi earthquake of 1556 that killed approximately 830,000 people was a terrible disaster. However, unlike their Yuan predecessors, the Ming Emperor Qi Jiguang rose to the task. He also finally put an end to the Japanese pirates

Things started to go wrong during the reign of Emperor Wanli (r. 1572–1620). At first he was very dutiful, but constant bickering and harassment by his senior official led to him withdrawing from public life - of which he was the centre of course. Therefore it came to pass that the civil servants had to communicate with him via eunuchs. The Eunuchs rose in power, and were granted rights and privileges above those of the civil servants, even to the extent of collecting provincial taxes. By the end of his reign, the eunuch Wei Zhongshan was virtually ruling by proxy. Wanli was succeeded by Chongzhen, who immediately had Wei dismissed. However, the eunuch problem persisted and undermined the Empire right until the end

Also undermining the Empire were the activities of the British, Dutch, Spanish and French. They were having their own fights in other regions of the world, and what was most important to them was control of Silver. Now, Chinese economy was based on Silver, and this was mainly imported. The imports dried up, the price of silver rocketed, and the country ran out of cash. Ordinary peasant use copper coins for daily trading, but had to pay taxes in silver. Between 1630 and 1650 the price of silver soured over 3, 000%, compared to the value of copper. Peasants couldn't pay taxes. Unrest within the Empire grew, and nobody had the wit to change the internal monetary system

The final throws of Empire came with peasant rebellions that followed: A drought, famine, flooding and plague. Large sections of the military deserted, leaving the Empire open to attack. 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.

The Jurchen, or Jin, or Manchu as they were now called, were simply biding their time, and gathering support from disgruntled Chinese to the North. They finally entered China via a gatehouse of the Eastern Great Wall, when the gates were opened for them from within. These Gatehouses were elaborate affairs designed for defence. They consisted of layered areas of courtyards linked by mazes, with high walls patrolled by soldiers to monitor the killing grounds beneath. Not one shot was fired, and the Manchu were escorted through. They hastened to Beijing, were the gates also fell open to them. The Ming Emperor hanged himself in his garden, and the Qing Empire was born
This information is as supplied by Wikipedia, as dated March 2009 or later, and/or other reliable sources.

Maps (Unless stated otherwise) are provided in association with Thomas Lessman

Please check this information yourself as it may alter without notice, and whilst we try our best to ensure it is correct, please do not hold us responsible for any errors - this is intended as a simple guide only
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