Chinese Rule Restored by the Ming

The Yuan dynasty declined after the death of Kublai Khan, which occurred in 1294. Most Chinese despised the foreign Mongol rulers. Confucian scholars retreated into their own world, seeing little to gain from the barbarians. Heavy taxes, corruption, and natural disasters led to frequent uprisings. Finally, Zhu Yuanzhang (dzoo YOO AHND zahng), a peasant leader, forged a rebel army that toppled the Mongols and pushed them back beyond the Great Wall. In 1368, he founded a new Chinese dynasty, which he called the Ming, meaning “brilliant.”

Ming Policies

Early Ming rulers sought to reassert Chinese greatness after years of foreign rule. They initially moved the capital to Nanjing, which they felt possessed more characteristics of the Chinese, but eventually moved it back to present-day Beijing. The Ming restored the civil service system, and Confucian learning again became the road to success. The civil service exams became more rigorous than ever. A board of censors watched over the bureaucracy, eliminating corruption and disloyalty.

Illustration of a bearded man in robe with dragon motif and black cap, seated in a chair on an elaborate rug.

Zhu Yuanzhang ousted the Mongols and led China as the Hongwu emperor, shown here, for 30 years. He founded the Ming dynasty, which ruled China for almost 300 years.

Economic Revival

Economically, Ming China was very productive. The fertile, well-irrigated plains of eastern China supported a population of more than 100 million. In the Chang River valley, peasants produced huge rice crops. Better methods of fertilizing helped to improve farming. Reshaping the landscape helped as well. Some farmers cut horizontal steps called terraces into steep hillsides to gain soil in which to grow crops. In the 1500s, new crops reached China from the Americas, especially corn and sweet potatoes.

Chinese cities, such as Nanjing, were home to many industries, including porcelain, paper, and tools. The Ming repaired the extensive canal system that linked various regions, made trade easier, and allowed cities to grow. New technologies increased output in manufacturing. Better methods of printing, for example, led to the production of a flood of books.

White vase with a blue serpent decorations and a narrow opening from a wide girth.

Asian and European markets greatly valued Ming porcelain, such as this dragon-figured vase. Such global trade helped fuel the flourishing Ming economy.

During this period, the Ming also carefully limited the extent and duration of trade with Europeans. Over time, one Chinese trade practice significantly impacted global trade. By accepting only silver or gold in exchange for goods in high demand in Europe, such as silk, tea, and porcelain, the Ming caused a massive flow of precious metals into China. First, China traded silk and tea for silver from Japan. Then, in the 1500s, vast quantities of silver from Spain's new territories in the Americas were shipped across the Pacific to the Philippines (claimed by Spain in 1565) to purchase Chinese goods.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments