III. The Postclassical Period, 500–1500 > E. East Asia, to 1527 > 2. China, 960–1521 > d. The Early Ming
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
d. The Early Ming
The MING DYNASTY was founded by ZHU YUANZHANG (b. 1328, r. 1368–98), who reigned as Taizu, the second time a peasant had risen all the way to emperor. Owing to poverty, Taizu had become a Buddhist monk, but later he turned to rebellion against the Mongols, leading a huge band of followers in south China to conquer the north, the first time the country was reunited through conquest from the south (the only other time was by the Chinese Communists). He first took Nanjing (1356) and set up a government there, and then he expanded to force the Mongols out of Beijing (1368), Manchuria (1387), and Xinjiang (1388), as well as through western and southwestern China. He kept Nanjing as his capital. He changed the practice of reign titles, so that there would be only one per reign, his being Hongwu. He furthered the two earlier trends toward the centralization of power and the opening of the avenues of access to bureaucratic advancement. The early Ming launched expansion drives on the borders and overseas, while working to minimize contacts between Chinese and foreigners; these restrictions abated by the mid-15th century.  1
After a short second reign, Taizu's son Chengzu, or Yongle (b. 1360), seized the throne. He proceeded to have Beijing rebuilt and to have the Grand Canal refurbished to handle traffic in supplies and foodstuffs, and he then ordered the capital moved to Beijing (1421). He began the process of building up the Grand Secretariat. Yongle led a series of military missions into Mongolia (1410, 1414, 1422–24); he sent expeditions south against Dai Viet and annexed it (1406); and he tried to quell the coastal raiders known as “Japanese pirates,” forcing Japan to accept tributary status.  2
The death of Timur I-Lang (known in the West as Tamerlane, b. 1336) (See Major Interregional Expansions) brought to an end an imminent military threat to the Ming from the east. Having risen to power in 1369, Timur had taken over the Chaghadai khanate, conquered the Kipchak khanate, and, with his capital in Samarkand, was in the process of rebuilding the Mongolian Empire.  3
Zheng He (1371–1433), the eunuch Muslim admiral, was sent on a series of seven naval expeditions to the Indian Ocean, going as far as the east coast of Africa and bringing a number of regimes en route into vassalage status with respect to the Ming. The expeditions were discontinued for reasons still not well understood, although they never were seen in the same light as later European explorations to other continents. The voyages were extremely expensive, and the goods obtained in trade were ultimately not that dearly desired back in China.  4
Emperor Yingzong (b. 1427, r. 1435–49, 1457–64) was captured in battle by the chief of the Oirat, a new Mongol confederation of four tribes. He was released the next year and recovered the throne seven years later.  5
The Portuguese, who under Albuquerque (1453–1515) had seized Malacca (1511), sent Thomé Pires to Beijing. The Portuguese established a permanent settlement at Macao (1557).  6
Death of the Chengde emperor Wu-tsung (r. 1506–21). The Jiajing emperor (r. 1522–66) assumed the throne the following year. (See The Remainder of the Ming Dynasty)  7
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.