The Ming in Chinese History

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Ming Autocracy in Chinese Political History

  • After Song, Mongol Dynasty in China
  • Used China as treasury for funding Conquest
  • Eventually, a man arose from Chinese peasantry to overthrow the Mongol rule
  • His name was ...

Zhu Yuanzhang & Ming Founding (1368 - 1644)

  • Great leader (becomes Ming Taizu afterwards)
  • Confucian historians called him a great tyrant
  • Born in 1328 as a commoner between the two great rivers
  • Popular dissatisfaction with Mongol rulers reaching a fever pitch
  • 1340's were time of great economic hardship and confusion
  • His family all die from lack of food (major famine)
  • Joined a Buddhist monastery as a means of survival
  • Became connected with Secret Societies and Rebel Armies
  • Joined a rebel army -> "Red Turbans"
  • Became the leader of the Rebel group
  • Gathered around him a number of important military men, and scholars
  • Scholars were a sign of his intent to create a government
  • He basically developed a Confucian brain trust
  • He captures Nanjing in 1357
  • Using Nanjing as a base, him attacks and destroys all of the other rebel armies
  • In 1368, he captures the Mongol capital at Beijing
  • Only person other than Liu Bang to become emperor from a commoner status
  • Approach to leadership -> blends Legalist and Confucianist styles of governance
  • With a pity and inspiration from an identification with the suffering of the Common People

Emperor Ming Taizu (r. 1368 - 1398)

  • Once he became leader, he became very Confucian -> Paternalistic
  • Employed Legalist measures in order to guide the people towards living well -> Harsh laws

Economic Measures

  • Works to repair the agricultural infrastructure in China
  • Transport networks re-established
  • Dykes, Dams, Resovoirs, Canals were built
  • Large tracts of land restored to cultivatable land -> triples size of agrable land
  • Re-established Forests in China and by encouraging the planting of trees
  • Emphasized the agrarian economy of China over Commerce and trade

Tax Laws

  • Re-established tax systems with new registration

Fish Scale Registers

  • Completed in 1387 -> Meant to establish an equitable taxation scheme
  • Also meant to ensure that the wealthy would pay taxes at proper rate

Efforts at Local Control

  • Ming Taizu believed that it was his responsibility to make his local population an honorable people
  • Tried to make sure people stayed in places they were born

Yellow Registers

  • Alloted lifestyles to local families
  • Three Groups of Households in a local area
  • Born into a lifestyle, fixed for perpetuity
  1. Soldier
  2. Craftsman
  3. Peasant


  • One Li contained 110 Households
  • Li Captains (chosen from jia heads)
  • Each Jia head represented 1 of 10 leading households)
  • Jia were small units of 10 households
  • Taxes were collected in this way
  • Each level of taxation hierarchy was responsible for collecting correct tax amount from the household sets
  • Extra-government (not officially governmental)
  • Meant to keep government at a distance from every day experience of life in China

Placards of People's Instructions

  • Way of enforcing and instructing the ideals of the Emperor and his beliefs about how society should function
  • Elders were given responsibility for maintaining the honorable behavior of local society
  • Certain ideals were held above others and posted on these placards


  • Pavilions placed around the Country
  • Held local individuals to public record
  • Good and bad actions were recorded at these pavilions in detail to show good and bad examples of behavior
  • Listing of names connected honor and shame with certain people

Wine Cermonies

  • Annual meetings in which the most honorable people were seated inside of a place of honor
  • People who were bad placed outside
  • Ritualized moral order into social order

Great Warnings

  • Semi-religious text that was written by Emperor to show moral ideals
  • Suggested that men should be honorable and content in their livies
  • Believed that being content in their station in life would make people happy
  • Cosmos were used to re-inforce Ming's rule

Fears of Bureaucracy

  • Ming Taizu felt a particular resentment towards the scholar class
  • Believed that scholars and bureaucrats were the people holding his ideas for China back
  • Hu Weiyong -> Used as a Prime Minister (liason between bureaucrats and kings)
  • Ming Taizu then launched 14 year investigation on Hu's family and contacts
    • Killed 2500 of these peoples
  • Thereafter eliminated the position of Prime Minister
  • Personal Secretary roles -> created new bias in bureaucracy towards the government
  • Secret Police -> Created of Eunuchs to watch over bureaucrats with authority to arrest and kill bureaucrats
  • Chinese bureaucrats looked down on the castrated Eunuchs

New Rituals

  • Imperial throne raised
  • Established elaborate system of rituals for approaching the throne
  • Ketou -> "Kowtow" : Certain systems of kneeling before the Emperor

Impact of Ming Taizu's Reign

  • By the end of his career -> Ming Taizu was paranoid and crazy
  • Harsh measures put in place for benefit of his people
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