Ming (mĭng) [key], dynasty of China that ruled from 1368 to 1644. The first Ming emperor, Chu Yüan-chang (ruled 1368–98), a former Buddhist monk, joined a rebellion in progress, gained control of it, overthrew the Mongol Yüan dynasty, and unified all of China proper. He set up a strong, centralized government and carried out economic recovery programs. He abolished the office of prime minister, thereby strengthening the autocratic power of the emperor. The emperor Yung Lo (reigned 1402–24) moved (1421) the capital from Nanjing to Beijing, which developed into a magnificent city. The dynasty, which never created a viable taxation policy, always had fiscal problems. Seven great naval expeditions, under the command of the Grand Eunuch Cheng Ho, were sent at considerable cost to SE Asia, India, the Persian Gulf, and E Africa for tribute and trade (1405–33). These voyages ceased in 1433 and never resumed. Christian missionaries penetrated the Chinese hinterlands, and Europeans, such as Matteo Ricci, brought Western ideas to the Ming court. The Ming was generally a period of stability and prosperity. There were notable achievements in literature, philosophy, and the arts. Wang Yang-ming (1472–1529), the great Ming neo-Confucian philosopher, developed an activist approach to moral training and self-cultivation. The huge Yung-lo Encyclopedia (Yung-lo ta-tien), which included all major works in Confucian classics, history, philosophy, and miscellaneous subjects, was compiled in the early 15th cent. Four great novels, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, The Water Margin ( All Men Are Brothers ), Journey to the West, and The Golden Lotus, were written in this period. Drama in the Southern style, painting, and architecture reached great heights. The delicate monochromatic porcelain of the Ming period is often considered the finest achievement of Chinese ceramics. Incompetent emperors, oppressive taxation, and factionalism in government in the later years of the dynasty incited revolts among peasants in the border regions and prepared the way for the Manchu conquest of China (see Ch'ing).

See R. Huang, 1587: A Year of No Significance (1981); F. F. Mote and D. Twitchett, ed., The Cambridge History of China (Vol. 7, 1988).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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