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The Ming Dynasty Restores the Old Order A.D. 1368-1644


THE MEN who took over from the Mongols came to be known as Hung-wu, or “Vast Military Power.” Hung-wu named his dynasty ming, or “brilliant.” As things turned out, however, the Ming dynasty was not particularly brilliant. It was, in fact, humdrum compared to the Han, the T’ang, or even the Sung. Nevertheless, it gave China nearly three centuries of order, from 1368 to 1644. Hung-wu was born in a hut near Nanking in 1328. His parents soon died and the boy entered a Buddhist monastery, where he learned to read and write. His studies completed, he went out into the streets and begged for a living. Then, at twenty-five, he joined a band of rebels. Through character, intelligence and energy, he became its leader. In 1356, he captured Nanking from the Mongols and then, little by little, occupied the entire Yangtze Valley. In 1368 at the age of forty, he seized Peking and proclaimed himself emperor. THE TRIBUTE SYSTEM Hung-wu chose Nanking as his capital. At first he ruled through government departrnents, but as time went on he treated his ministers more and more contemptuously. In 1 375, he had one of them publicly beaten to death with bamboo sticks. Five years later, suspecting his prime minister of plotting against him, he abolished the office and took all state business into his own hands. The older he grew, the more distrustful he became. Fat and pig-like, with tufts of hair growing out of his ears and nostrils, Hung-wu was a sad and lonely man all his life. His personality was so commanding and his achievements so vast that after he died in 1398 nobody could forget him. His successors tried to copy his one-man government. Like him, they had officials who displeased them beaten, tortured and killed. Next to …

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