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Ming Dynasty History

Ming Dynasty Emperors in Order



Dynastic Title

Reign Title


Brief Introduction


Zhu Yuanzhang



Xiao Maosoleum

He is the founder of Ming Dynasty.


Zhu Yunwen



Not Clear

He is the grandson of Zhu Yuanzhang and died of murder.


Zhu Di



Chang Mausoleum

He is the fourth son of Zhu Yuanzhang and created the Great Yongle Reign.


Zhu Gaozhi



Xian Mausoleum

He was innovative, but ascended the throne at an old age and died soon after.


Zhu Zhanji



Jing Mausoleum

He inherited the unfulfilled wish from Zhu Gaozhi and created a Great Renxuan Reign.


Zhu Qizhen


Zhengtong (1436-1449)

Tianshun (1457-1464)


He ascended the throne at 9 years old, and was imprisoned by mongols after the Tumu Crisis, retook the throne 7 years later.


Zhu Yinyu


Jingtai (1450-1457)


He replaced his brother Zhu Yinzhen for 7 years.


Zhu Jianshen


Chenghua (1465-1487)


He was conscientious in his early reign, but became obsessed with alchemy and employed some eunuchs to perform his role.


Zhu Youtang


Hongzhi (1488-1505)


He eliminated the corrupt eunuchs and ministers left by his father and made a great progress in social development.


Zhu Youzhao


Zhengde (1506-1521)


During his reign, the Ming Dynasty was facing the both the foreign and domestic threats, but he still indulged himself in women and wine. He died with no heir.


Zhu Youcong


Jiajing (1522-1566)


He was quite open and diligent in the early years, but became obsessed with alchemy, and neglect the state affairs. During his reign, the country faced more invasion and threats from outside.


Zhu Zaihou


Longqing (1567-1572)


During his reign, the minister Zhang Juzheng implemented a comprehensive reform in politics, military and economy, creating a short period of boom.


Zhu Yijun


Wanli (1573-1620)


The reform advocated by Zhang Juzheng was continued for about a decade, but died with the death of Zhang. In later of the period, the country became weaker due to a series of false decisions. Since then, the Ming Dynasty began to decline.


Zhu Changluo


Taichang (in 1620, one month)


He died of so called red pills after ascending the throne for just a month.


Zhu Youxiao


Tianqi (1621-1627)


During his reign, the politics became darker and more corrupt. The treacherous eunuch Wei Zhongxian came into power and hastened the decline of Ming Dynasty. Meanwhile, manchu dynasty was established and grew fast.


Zhu Youjian


Chongzhen (1628-1644)


He tried to save Ming Dynasty and nothing can bring back its good times. Uprisings took place everywhere until Li Zicheng broke into Beijing in March 1644, who was later defeated by armies led by Huang Taiji (Nurhachi’s son, built Qing Dynasty). The emperor hang himself on a tree of Jingshan park. The Great Ming Dynasty officially came to an end.

How was Ming Dynasty built?

In the late Yuan Dynasty, Han Chinese was unbearably oppressed by the overtaxation and ethnic discrimination imposed by Mongolian rulers. Uprisings broke out everywhere. In 1351, a massive flood of the Yellow River broke and hundreds of thousands of people were forced to repair the dikes, which ignited greater resentment and anger amongpeasants. In May, a group named Red Turbans led by Han Shantong and Liu Futong launched a uprising. In the next year, Guo Zixing echoed the revolt and recruitedmore people helping to take over Haozhou (current Fengyang, Anhui province).

A penniless young man named Zhu Yuanzhang joined Guo’s army and made a great reputation among his peers. He gained great trust from Guo and married Guo’s foster daughter Ma Xiuying. Later, Zhu Yuanzhang left Haozhou and began to develop hisown army. In the following few years, competing rebels fought against each other for the control of the country. Under Liu Futong’s support, Han Liner claimed throne and became the King Xiao Ming, appointing Haozhou as the capital city.

After the death of Guozixing, Zhu Yuanzhang inherited his army and was promoted by the King Xiaoming as a vice marshal. At this time Yuan dynasty shambled, there was only one big competing rival remaining, Chen Youliang. In 1360, Zhu Yuanzhang had a conclusive fight with him in Poyang Lake, which greatly destroyed Chen’s force. Three years later, Chen Youliang died along with his army. Zhu Yuanzhang was raised to be King Western Wu. In 1366, the King Xiao Ming and his greatest supporter Liu Futong wasdrowned in Guobu River, leaving the new kingdom leaderless. Zhu Yuanzhang actively proposed himself and further enhanced his influence among the army by eliminating the remaining small rivals. In 1368, Zhu Yuanzhang ascended the throne and established Ming Dynasty in Yingtianfu (current Nanjing). In the same year, his force broke into Yuan Dynasty capital Dadu (current Beijing) and razed all the Yuan palaces to the ground.

Reign of the Hongwu (Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang) - New Era

After ascending the throne, Zhu Yuanzhang immediately lowered the taxation and took measures to rebuild the infrastructure. He also dismissed a lot of corrupt ministers and officers to help economy grow. To further stabilize the kingdom, Zhu Yuanzhang sent troops to evict Mongols to deep north and made sure they won’t invade again.

When Zhu Yuanzhang stabilized the whole realm, he began to renovate the internal administrations. Although he promoted a lot of deserving subordinates, he still held suspicions on their honesty and made a lot examples to show his intolerance of corruption, among which two were exceptional. In 1380, he had his chancellor Hu Weihong executed under accusation of scheming a conspiracy against his rule. Later, more ministers in relation to Hu Weiyong, close or far, were put to death, totaling 30,000 people. The other example is that a great general named Lan Yu was executed for being insolent and domineering. There were over 15,000 people executed.

To reinforce the imperial power, he abolished Chancellery and grasped all powers to himself. Everything, big or small, shall be presented to him to decide. He also developed a network of secret police called Jinyiwei to monitor all his ministers and subjects.

Reign of Yongle (Emperor Zhudi)

In 1398, Zhu Yunwen (Zhu Yuanzhang’s grandson) assumed the throne and changed the dynasty era as Jianwen. To strengthen the imperial power, Zhu Yunwen plotted to take actions to weaken the power of areal seigniors. A couple of lords were disentitled or forced to commit suicide. King Yan Zhu Di (emperor’s uncle) , the militarily mighty took the first strike and schemed a rebellion against his nephew. He personally led the army to attack Nanjing and burned the palaces to the ground. Zhu Yunwen’s body remained unfound. To make sure no one dared to rebel his rule, Zhu Di oppressed the dissenters especially the ministers who used to serve Emperor Jianwen. He also restored the secret guarding system his father established and built the Dongchang (another secret service) to better surveil his ministers and subjects. Those guards from Jinyiwei or Dongchang only took orders from the emperor directly.

In 1405, Zhu Di changed Beiping to current name Beijing and began to design the imperial palace - the Forbidden City. In 1416, Zhu Di demoted the Nanjing to the second capital and made public of Beijing being the new capital. In 1420, the Forbidden City was completed and in the next year, Beijing became the capital city of Ming Dynasty.

During the reign of Emperor Yongle, Ming Dynasty reached its prime times. Emperor Yongle made great achievements in defending the national borders. He personally led army to fight against the remaining forces of Mongol tribes and made sure no one tribe could grew powerful enough to revolt the central government. He also greatly expanded the Ming Dynasty territory. Ming Dynasty reached its prime times.

To show how strong the Ming Dynasty was, Zhu Di entrusted Zhenghe, an admiral commander, to voyage to current southeastern Asia. Zheng He had 7 times of such expeditions in his life time, and went to over 30 countries, greatly propagating the great Ming Dynasty and increasing the fiscal revenue of central government. Although there were fleets sent to foster economic relationships in Chinese history, Zheng He’s Expedition was unprecedented and the grandest.

Zhu Di also attached great importance in culture inheritance. He ordered minister Xie Jin and other 3,000 scholars to compile an encyclopedia. Eventually a great book named The Yongle Canon was completed, Zhu Di personally wrote a prelude for it. This book has 22,877 chapters, about 370,000,000 characters, involving astrology, geology, medical skills, religions, philosophy, classics, history, artistry and more.

Tumu Crisis

In 1436, the 9-year-old Zhu Qizhen ascended the throne and thus the Zhengtong era began. The eunuch Wang Zhen gained trust of the emperor and seized the power. He grew more imperious that he abolished the rule that eunuchs are forbidden to engage in any political matters set by Emperor Hongwu. He even compelled other ministers to call him “Wongfu” (a respected senior patriarch). During this time, the Oirat tribe in western Mongolian area grew strong. In 1449, the tribe leader launched a invasion to northern Ming territory. Wangzhen instigated Emperor Yingzong to fight against the Oirats personally. The emperor took his advice and led an army of 200,000 warriors to the war area, leaving the national affairs to his brother Zhu Qiyu. In August, the message came back to the capital that the royal army was defeated and the emperor was heading back to the capital. When the remaining army made to the Tumu Fort, the Oirat force caught up and captured the emperor. Wang Zhen was killed by general Fan Zhong. This is the Tumu Crises, an alleged transition point of Ming Dynasty.

The Oirats held the Zhengtong Emperor for ransom, which proved to be useless as Zhu Qiyu, with the help of general Yu Qian, ascended the throne under the era name of Jingtai (1449-57). The new emperor reorganized the frontier defence and disposed more forces to protect Beijing. In October of 1449, the Oirats came near Beijing, but were rigorously rebelled by Ming forces led by general Yu Qian. In 1450, Oirats released emperor Zhengtong, who was disrespected by his brother and put into house arrest until a coup against Emperor Jingtai was succeeded (the Wresting the Gate Incident). Emperor Zhengtong restored his throne under the era name of Tianshun.

Decline of the Ming Dynasty

Reign of Wanli Emperor (1572-1620)

Zhang Juzheng’s Reform

In 1573, 10-year-old Zhu Lijun ascended the throne and became Wanli Emperor. The Queen Mother acted as a regent and she applied a couple of able advisers and minsters. One of the most capable ministers was Zhang Juzheng. He proposed a series of reforms regarding the internal administration, state economy, and military affairs, creating a short period of prosperity. After his death in 1852, there was no one skilled enough to fit his shoes and continue the reform. Wanli Emperor began to attend the court affairs independently and most of the policies advocated by Zhang Juzheng were abolished and the Ming Dynasty began to decline.

Dispute of Throne Successor and Wanli Emperor’s Indolence to National Affairs

Wanli Emperor’s indecision of choosing between his eldest son Zhu Changluo and third son Zhu Changxun to inherit his throne made ministers very impatient. According to tradition, the eldest son should be natural heir, but Wanli Emperor preferred his third son. The ministers urged the emperor to decide sooner so as to prepare the prince for the task. Finally in 1601, Wanli Emperor was forced to officially select Zhu Changluo to be the next emperor and his preferred son was raised as King Fu. The latter was not resigned with the arrangement; he stuck around the capital until the Wooden Stick Case. Wanli Emperor’s resentment to his ministers reached a point that he decided to withdraw himself from most court affairs, except the critical ones. He was found constantly absent from the important administrative meetings and avoided the personal contact with most ministers. The Ming Dynasty became darker and the society contradictions are more obvious.

Dispute of Donglin Society

Wanli Emperor’s insolence to the state affairs had many consequences, one of which is the shortage of ministers in the cabinet. Gu Xiancheng, in charge of official distribution, was a honest and righteous minister. He opposed the emperor for trying to make the third prince Zhu Changxun to ascend the throne, which made him unfavored by the Wanli Emperor. When Gu recommended a couple of competent ministers (all of them were disliked by the emperor) to fill the cabinet, the emperor was enraged and dismissed Gu Xiancheng. When Gu got back to his hometown Wuxi, he began to advocate his political views in Donglin Academy and gained a lot of admirers. Gu Xiancheng and his supporters established the Donglin Society to spread knowledge and discuss current affairs. They even attracted some sitting ministers. The rising of Donglin Society threatened the other societies, thus suffered all kinds of persecutions. The influence of Donglin Society continued for three dynasty eras to die out until the flagitious eunuch Wei Zhongxian came to power.

Three Expeditions During Wanli Emperor’s Reign

1.Korea War Against Japan

In 1592, the Japanese feudal lord Toyotomi Hideyoshi sent army to invade Wangjing (current Seoul, capital of South Korea) and proceeded to Pyongyang (current capital of North Korea). The Korean King failed to defend his territory and asked help from Wanli Emperor. Ming court issued several armies to fight for Korea and finally in November of that year, the Japanese invaders was evicted.

2.Battle of Ningxia

The battle of Ningxia refers to the suppression of Bo Bai’s rebellion against the central court. Bo Bai used to be an Oirat leader who pledged loyalty to Ming Dynasty. In 1592, he launched a rebellion against the imperial governance, which was crashed by the joined army of Ming Dynasty. Bo Bai hang himself, his sons and other generals were captured.

3. Battle of Bozhou

Bozhou is located in a strategical spot of borders of Sichuan, Guizhou and Hubei provinces. Since Tang Dynasty, Yang Family was appointed to reside here. Since 1590, the relationship between Yang Yinglong (patriarch of Yang Family) and Ming government deteriorated. In 1596, Yang Yinglong launched a public rebellion against the central government. In 1600, the joint army of central government defeated the Yang’s army and stabilized the area. This battle has almost drained the last fiscal and military resources of Ming Dynasty. It greatly increased the decline of the Ming Dynasty.

Eunuch Wei Zhongxian (1568-1627)

Although the founder emperor of Ming Dynasty has prohibited eunuchs from engaging any political affairs, eunuchs since Yongle Emperor’s reign managed to find ways to meddle. They gained trusted from emperor and acted as the intermediary between the emperor and ministers. Many ministers even have to bribe them to meet the emperor or get their messages to the emperor.

These eunuchs were independent from the civil bureaucracy. They were even put in charge of the imperial workshops and collect the provincial taxation.

In 1621, Zhu Youxiao ascended the throne under era name of Tianqi. He was a natural carpenter and he spent most of his time studying how to make furniture or artifacts. The eunuch Wei Zhongxian took advantage of the emperor’s hobby and always presented the important issues to the emperor while he was studying the carpentry. The emperor casually spoke to him that he could decide those issues. Wei Zhongxian began to grasp power to himself. He made alliance with many ministers and persecuted a lot of opponents especially the members of Donglin Society. He also ordered temples built everywhere in his honor. His families and friends had benefited a lot from his position. He was put to death by Chongzhen Emperor.

Rising of Manchu

In 1583, Nurhachi unified all the Nuzhen tribes and established Jin Dynasty in 1616 under the era name of Tianming, with Hetula city (current Xinbin county) as its capital.

In 1618, he declared war against the ruling Ming emperor.

In 1621, Nurhachi occupied Liaoyang and Shenyang, moved his capital to Liaoyang.

In Spring of 1625, Nurhachi removed the capital to Shenyang, making it the political center of Jin Dynasty.

1635, Huang Taiji (Nurhachi’s son) abolished the old ethnic name into Manchu.

In 1636, Huang Taiji changed the title of reigning dynasty Jin to Qing Dynasty.

Fall of the Ming Dynasty

In 1644, the peasant army led by Li Zicheng broke into Beijing, forcing the Chongzhen Emperor (last Ming Dynasty Emperor) to hang himself on a tree in Jingshan Park. Li Zicheng built Dashun Dynasty and assume himself to be the emperor. General Wu Sangui of Ming Dynasty was attacked by both the peasants army and Manchu army, he surrendered to Manchu rulers and invited them to Beijing. With the help of Wu Sangui, the Manchu army broke into Beijing and destroyed the new Dashun Dynasty. The Ming Dynasty officially fell into the dust.

For More Chinese History

1. Timeline of Chinese Dynasties

2. Early Dynasties of China - Xia Shang and Zhou Dynasties

3. Qing Dynasty - The Last Dynasty in China