The Ming Dynasty was founded by Zhu Yuanzhang, a former Buddhist monk who became the leader of a band of peasant rebels. Suffering greatly under Mongol rule, Zhu eventually reconquered most of China and claimed himself the Hongwu Emperor. China’s governance was restored to the great population. Under the Hongwu emperor, there was a revival of the examination system to ensure that Chinese scholarship was of the highest caliber and that merit played a role in advancement.
Members of the scholar-gentry were appointed to the highest posts in the Imperial government throughout the Ming dynasty. Arts and literature flourished, and there was a great revival of traditional Han Chinese culture. The Chinese were so proud of Ming culture that there was a general sense of nationalism. This nationalism was so profound that, by the early 1430s, it was a factor causing the cessation of the famous Zhenghe seaborne expeditions, an effort to explore several other parts of the known world.
The Ming dynasty was the last native imperial dynasty in Chinese history. Sandwiched between two foreign dynasties, the Ming made one last attempt to hold Chinese government in native hands. Humiliated and oppressed by the foreign rule of the Mongols, the Ming dynasty rose up out of a peasant rebellion to preside over the greatest economic and social revolution in China before the modern period. The Ming were also the first to deal with Europeans arriving in ever-increasing numbers. As a pre-modern period, many of the issues and contentions of the modern period will have their precursors in the Ming dynasty. The story of the Ming dynasty, according to Chinese historians, begins in 1351 in the province of Huang-ling-kang Shantung. A group of laborers digging along the Huang-ho River uncovered a statue with only one eye and an inscription: Do not despise this one-eyed statue: it will be the herald of rebellion throughout the empire.”
Soon, news of this discovery spreads all throughout China. On top of other portents, such as floods and landslides, the discovery of the statue announces one overwhelming idea: the Mandate of Heaven, the tien ming, had been withdrawn from the Mongol dynasty. Emperors of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644):
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