|1st Emperor of the Ming Dynasty|
Portrait of the Hongwu Emperor in the National Palace Museum
|1st Emperor of the Ming Empire|
|Reign||23 January 1368[n 1] – 24 June 1398|
|Coronation||23 January 1368|
21 October 1328
Haozhou, Henan Jiangbei, Yuan Empire (present-day Fengyang, Anhui)
24 June 1398 (aged 69)|
Jingshi, Zhili, Ming Empire (present-day Nanjing, Jiangsu)
30 June 1398|
Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, Nanjing, China
|House||House of Zhu|
In the middle of the 14th century, with famine, plagues, and peasant revolts sweeping across China, Zhu Yuanzhang rose to command the force that conquered China and ended the Mongol-led Yuan dynasty, forcing the Mongols to retreat to the Central Asian steppes. Zhu claimed the Mandate of Heaven and established the Ming dynasty at the beginning of 1368; later in the same year his army occupied the Yuan capital, Khanbaliq (present-day Beijing). Trusting only in his family, he made his many sons powerful feudal princes along the northern marches and the Yangtze valley. Having outlived his first successor, the Hongwu Emperor enthroned his grandson via a series of instructions; this ended in failure, when the Jianwen Emperor's attempt to unseat his uncles led to the Ming Yongle Emperor (r. 1402–1424)".
Most of the historical sites related to the Hongwu Emperor are in Nanjing, the original capital of the Ming dynasty.
Zhu was born into a desperately poor peasant tenant farmer family in Zhongli Village in the Huai River plain, which is in present-day Fengyang, Anhui Province. His father was Zhu Shizhen (朱世珍, original name Zhu Wusi 朱五四) and his mother was Chen Erniang. He had seven older siblings, several of whom were "given away" by his parents, as they did not have enough food to support the family. When he was 16, severe drought ruined the harvest where his family lived. Subsequently, famine killed his entire family, except one of his brothers. He then buried them by wrapping them in white clothes.
Destitute, Zhu accepted a suggestion to take up a pledge made by his brother and became a novice monk at the Huangjue Temple, a local Buddhist monastery. He did not remain there for long, as the monastery ran short of funds, and he was forced to leave.
For the next few years, Zhu led the life of a wandering beggar and personally experienced and saw the hardships of the common people. After about three years, he returned to the monastery and stayed there until he was around 24 years old. He learned to read and write during the time he spent with the Buddhist monks.
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The monastery where Zhu lived was eventually destroyed by an army that was suppressing a local rebellion. In 1352, Zhu joined one of the many insurgent forces that had risen in rebellion against the Mongol-led Yuan dynasty. He rose rapidly through the ranks and became a commander. His rebel force later joined the Red Turbans, a millenarian sect related to the White Lotus Society, and one that followed cultural and religious traditions of Buddhism, Zoroastrianism and other religions. Widely seen as a defender of Confucianism and neo-Confucianism among the predominant Han Chinese population in China, Zhu emerged as a leader of the rebels that were struggling to overthrow the Yuan dynasty.
In 1356, Zhu, and his army conquered Nanjing, which became his base of operations, and the capital of the Ming dynasty during his reign. Zhu's government in Nanjing became famous for good governance, and the city attracted vast numbers of people fleeing from other, more lawless regions. It is estimated that Nanjing's population increased by 10 times over the next 10 years. In the meantime, the Yuan government had been weakened by internal factions fighting for control, and it made little effort to retake the Yangtze River valley. By 1358, central and southern China had fallen into the hands of different rebel groups. During that time the Red Turbans also split up. Zhu became the leader of a smaller faction (called "Ming" around 1360), while the larger faction, under Chen Youliang, controlled the center of the Yangtze River valley.
Zhu was able to attract many talents into his service. One of them was Zhu Sheng (朱升), who advised him, "Build high walls, stock up rations, and don't be too quick to call yourself a king." Another, Jiao Yu, was an artillery officer, who later compiled a military treatise outlining the various types of gunpowder weapons. Another one, Liu Bowen, became one of Zhu's key advisors, and ed the military-technology treatise titled Huolongjing in later years.
Starting from 1360, Zhu, and Chen Youliang fought a protracted war for supremacy over the former territories controlled by the Red Turbans. The pivotal moment in the war was the Battle of Lake Poyang in 1363, one of the largest naval battles in history. The battle lasted three days and ended with the defeat and retreat of Chen's larger navy. Chen died a month later in battle. Zhu did not participate personally in any battles after that and remained in Nanjing, where he directed his generals to go on campaigns.
In 1367, Zhu's forces defeated Zhang Shicheng's Kingdom of Dazhou, which was centered in Suzhou and had previously included most of the Yangtze River Delta, and Hangzhou, which was formerly the capital of the Song dynasty. This victory granted Zhu's government authority over the lands north and south of the Yangtze River. The other major warlords surrendered to Zhu and on 20 January 1368, Zhu proclaimed himself Emperor of the Ming dynasty in Nanjing and adopted "Hongwu" (lit. "vastly martial") as his era name. His dynasty's mission was to drive away the Mongols and restore Han Chinese rule in China.
In 1368, Ming armies headed north to attack territories that were still under Yuan rule. The Mongols gave up their capital, Khanbaliq (present-day Beijing), and the rest of northern China in September 1368 and retreated to Mongolia. On 15 October 1371, one of the Hongwu Emperor's sons, Zhu Shuang, was married to the sister of Köke Temür, a Bayad general of the Yuan dynasty.
The Ming dynasty defeated Ming Yuchen's Xia polity, which ruled Sichuan.
Under the Hongwu Emperor's rule, the Mongol, and other foreign bureaucrats, who dominated the government during the Yuan dynasty along with Northern Chinese officials, were replaced by Han Chinese officials. The emperor re-instituted, then abolished, then restored the Confucian civil service imperial examination system, from which most state officials were selected based on their knowledge of literature and philosophy. The Ming examination curriculum followed that set by the Yuan in 1313: a focus on the Four Books over the Five Classics, and the commentaries of Zhu Xi. The Confucian scholar-bureaucrats, previously marginalised during the Yuan dynasty, were reinstated to their predominant roles in the government.
Mongol-related things, including garments and names, were discontinued from use and boycotted. There were also attacks on palaces and administrative buildings previously used by the rulers of the Yuan dynasty. But many of Taizu's government institutions were actually modelled on those of the Yuan dynasty: community schools required (not necessarily successfully) for primary education in every village are one example.
As the Hongwu Emperor came from a peasant family, he was aware of how peasants used to suffer under the oppression of the scholar-bureaucrats, and the wealthy. Many of the latter, relying on their connections with government officials, encroached unscrupulously on peasants' lands and bribed the officials to transfer the burden of taxation to the poor. To prevent such abuse, the Hongwu Emperor instituted two systems: Yellow Records and Fish Scale Records. They served both to secure the government's income from land taxes and to affirm that peasants would not lose their lands.
However, the reforms did not eliminate the threat of the bureaucrats to peasants. Instead, the expansion of the bureaucrats and their growing prestige translated into more wealth, and tax exemption for those in the government service. The bureaucrats gained new privileges, and some became illegal money-lenders and managers of gambling rings. Using their power, the bureaucrats expanded their estates at the expense of peasants' lands through outright purchase of those lands, and foreclosure on their mortgages whenever they wanted the lands. The peasants often became either tenants, or workers, or sought employment elsewhere.
Since the beginning of the Ming dynasty in 1357, great care was taken by the Hongwu Emperor to distribute land to peasants. One way was by forced migration to less-dense areas. Some of those people were tied to a pagoda tree in Hongdong (洪洞大槐樹) and moved. Public works projects, such as the construction of irrigation systems, and dikes, were undertaken in an attempt to help farmers. In addition, the Hongwu Emperor also reduced the demands for forced labour on the peasantry. In 1370, the Hongwu Emperor ordered that some lands in Hunan and Anhui should be given to young farmers who had reached adulthood. The order was intended to prevent landlords from seizing the land, as it also decreed that the titles to the lands were not transferable. During the middle part of his reign, the Hongwu Emperor passed an edict, stating that those who brought fallow land under cultivation could keep it as their property without being taxed. The policy was well received by the people and in 1393, cultivated land rose to 8,804,623 ching and 68 mou, something not achieved during any other Chinese dynasty.
The Hongwu Emperor instigated the planting of 50 million trees in the vicinity of Nanjing, reconstructing canals, irrigation, and transporting southern people to the north for repopulation. He successfully managed to increase the population from 60 to 100 million.
The Hongwu Emperor realised that the Mongols still posed a threat to China, even though they had been driven away after the collapse of the Yuan dynasty. He decided to reassess the orthodox Confucian view that the military was an inferior class to the scholar bureaucracy. He kept a powerful army, which in 1384 he reorganised using a model known as the weisuo system (simplified Chinese: 卫所制; traditional Chinese: 衛所制; literally: "guard battalion"). Each military unit consisted of 5,600 men divided into five battalions, and ten companies. By 1393 the total number of weisuo troops had reached 1,200,000. Soldiers were also assigned land on which to grow crops, whilst their positions were made herary. This type of system can be traced back to the fubing system (Chinese: 府兵制) of the Sui and Tang dynasties.
Training was conducted within local military districts. In times of war, troops were mobilised from all over the empire on the orders of the Ministry of War, and commanders were appointed to lead them to battle. After the war, the army was disbanded into smaller groups and sent back to their respective districts, and the commanders had to return their authority to the state. This system helped to prevent military leaders from having too much power. The military was under the control of a civilian official for large campaigns, instead of a military general.
When the Ming dynasty emerged, Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang's military officers were given noble titles. These privileged the holder with a stipend, but in all other aspects was merely symbolic. Mu Ying's family was among them. Special rules against abuse of power were implemented on the nobles.
Manicheanism, and White Lotus were prohibited and outlawed by Hongwu.
The Hongwu Emperor expected everyone to obey his rule and was infamous for killing many people during his purges. His tortures included flaying, and slow slicing. One of his generals, Chang Yuchun, carried out massacres in some places in Shandong and Hunan provinces to take revenge against people who resisted his army. As time went on, the Hongwu Emperor became increasingly fearful of rebellions and coups, even going so far as to order the execution of those of his advisers who dared criticise him. He was also said to have ordered the massacre of several thousand people living in Nanjing after having heard one talked about him without respect. In 1380, after much killing, a lightning bolt struck his palace and he stopped the massacres for some time, as he was afraid divine forces would punish him.
The Hongwu Emperor also noted the destructive role of court eunuchs under the previous dynasties. He drastically reduced their numbers, forbidding them to handle documents, insisting that they remain illiterate, and executing those who commented on state affairs. The emperor had a strong aversion to the eunuchs, epitomized by a tablet in his palace stipulating: "Eunuchs must have nothing to do with the administration". This aversion to eunuchs did not long continue among his successors, as the Hongwu and Jianwen emperors' harsh treatment of eunuchs allowed the Yongle Emperor to employ them as a power base during his coup. In addition to the Hongwu Emperor's aversion to eunuchs, he never consented to any of his marital relatives becoming court officials. This policy was fairly well-maintained by later emperors, and no serious trouble was caused by the empresses or their relatives.
The Hongwu Emperor attempted, and largely succeeded in, the consolidation of control over all aspects of government, so that no other group could gain enough power to overthrow him. He also buttressed the country's defences against the Mongols. He increasingly concentrated power in his own hands. He abolished the Chancellor's post, which had been head of the main central administrative body under past dynasties, by suppressing a plot for which he had blamed his chief minister. Many argue that the Hongwu Emperor, because of his wish to concentrate absolute authority in his own hands, removed the only insurance against incompetent emperors.
However, the Hongwu Emperor could not govern the sprawling Ming Empire all by himself and had to create the new institution of the "Grand Secretary". This cabinet-like organisation progressively took on the powers of the abolished prime minister, becoming just as powerful in time. Ray Huang argued that Grand-Secretaries, outwardly powerless, could exercise considerable positive influence from behind the throne. Because of their prestige and the public trust which they enjoyed, they could act as intermediaries between the emperor and the ministerial officials, and thus provide a stabilising force in the court. He executed tens of thousand officials and their relatives over sion, treason, corruption and other charges.
In the Hongwu Emperor's elimination of the traditional offices of grand councilor, the primary impetus was Hu Weiyong's alleged attempt to usurp the throne. Hu was the Senior Grand Councilor and a capable administrator; however over the years, the magnitude of his powers, as well as involvement in several political scandals eroded the paranoid emperor's trust in him. Finally, in 1380, the Hongwu Emperor had Hu and his entire family arrested and executed on charges of treason. Using this as an opportunity to purge his government, the emperor also ordered the execution of countless other officials, as well as their families, for associating with Hu. The purge lasted over a decade and resulted in more than 30,000 executions. In 1390, even Li Shanchang, one of the closest old friends of the emperor, who was rewarded as the biggest contributor to the founding of the Ming Empire, was executed along with over 70 members of his extended family. A year after his death, a deputy in the Board of Works made a submission to the emperor appealing Li's innocence, arguing that since Li was already at the apex of honour, wealth and power, the accusation that he wanted to help someone else usurp the throne was clearly ridiculous. The Hongwu Emperor was unable to refute the accusations and finally ended the purge shortly afterwards.
Through the repeated purges and the elimination of the historical posts, the Hongwu Emperor fundamentally altered the centuries-old government structure of China, greatly increasing the emperor's absolutism.
The Hongwu Emperor was extremely authoritarian, a virtual dictator, and governed directly over all affairs. He wrote essays posted in every village throughout China warning the people to behave and of the horrifying consequences if they disobeyed. The 1380s writings of Hongwu are known as the "Great warnings" or "Grand Pronouncements". They were called "Ancestral injunctions". He wrote the Six Maxims which inspired the Sacred Edict of the Kangxi Emperor, 六諭 聖諭六言
The legal code drawn up in the time of the Hongwu Emperor was considered one of the great achievements of the era. The History of Ming mentioned that as early as 1364, the monarchy had started to draft a code of laws. This code was known as Code of the Great Ming or Laws of the Great Ming (大明律). The emperor devoted much time to the project and instructed his ministers that the code should be comprehensive and intelligible, so as not to allow any official to exploit loopholes in the code by deliberately misinterpreting it. The Ming code laid much emphasis on family relations. The code was a great improvement on the code of the Tang dynasty in regards to the treatment of slaves. Under the Tang code, slaves were treated as a species of domestic animal; if they were killed by a free citizen, the law imposed no sanction on the killer. Under the Ming dynasty, the law protected both slaves and free citizens.
Supported by the scholar-bureaucrats, he accepted the Confucian viewpoint that merchants were solely parasitic. He felt that agriculture should be the country's source of wealth and that trade was ignoble. As a result, the Ming economic system emphasised agriculture, unlike the economic system of the Song dynasty, which had preceded the Yuan dynasty and had relied on traders and merchant for revenues. The Hongwu Emperor also supported the creation of self-supporting agricultural communities.
However, his prejudice against merchants did not diminish the numbers of traders. On the contrary, commerce increased significantly during the Hongwu era because of the growth of industry throughout the empire. This growth in trade was due in part to poor soil conditions and the overpopulation of certain areas, which forced many people to leave their homes and seek their fortunes in trade. A book titled Tu Pien Hsin Shu, written during the Ming dynasty, gave a detailed description of the activities of merchants at that time.
Quan Tang, the Minister of Justice, stood up against Hongwu over his command to downgrade Mencius.
At the Guozijian, law, math, calligraphy, equestrianism, and archery were emphasized by the Hongwu Emperor in addition to Confucian classics and also required in the Imperial Examinations. Archery and equestrianism were added to the exam by Hongwu in 1370 like how archery and equestrianism were required for non-military officials at the 武舉 College of War in 1162 by the Song Emperor Xiaozong. The area around the Meridian Gate of Nanjing was used for archery by guards and generals under Hongwu. A cavalry based army modeled on the Yuan military was implemented by the Hongwu and Yongle Emperors. Hongwu's army and officialdom incorporated Mongols.
Equestrianism and archery were favorite pastimes of He Suonan who served in the Yuan and Ming militaries under Hongwu. Archery towers were built by Zhengtong Emperor at the Forbidden City. Archery towers were built on the city walls of Xi'an erected by Hongwu.
Around 1384, the Hongwu Emperor ordered the Chinese translation and compilation of Islamic astronomical tables, a task that was carried out by the scholars Mashayihei, a Muslim astronomer, and Wu Bozong, a Chinese scholar-official. These tables came to be known as the Huihui Lifa (Muslim System of Calendrical Astronomy), which was published in China a number of times until the early 18th century,
The Hongwu Emperor ordered the construction of several mosques in Nanjing, Yunnan, Guangdong and Fujian provinces, and had inscriptions praising the Islamic prophet Muhammad placed in mosques. He rebuilt the Jinjue Mosque (literally meaning: Pure Enlightenment Mosque) in Nanjing and large numbers of Hui people moved to the city during his rule.
Chinese sources claim that the Hongwu Emperor had close relations with Muslims and had around ten Muslim generals in his military, including Lan Yu, Ding Dexing, Mu Ying, Feng Sheng and Hu Dahai, and that "His Majesty ordered to have mosques built in Xijing and Nanjing [the capitals], and in southern Yunnan, Fujian and Guangdong." He also personally wrote a 100 word praise (baizizan) on Islam, Allah and the Prophet Muhammad.
During the war fighting the Mongols, among the Ming Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang's armies was the Hui Muslim Feng Sheng.
The Hongwu Emperor was a non interventionist, refusing to intervene in a Vietnamese invasion of Champa to help the Chams, only rebuking the Vietnamese for their invasion, being opposed to military action abroad. He specifically warned future Emperors only to defend against foreign barbarians, and not engage in military campaigns for glory and conquest. In his 1395 ancestral injunctions, the emperor specifically wrote that China should not attack Champa, Cambodia or Annam (Vietnam). He was advised to concentrate on defending against the Rong and Di "Barbarians", rather than attacking. With the exception of his turn against aggressive expansion, much of Taizu's foreign policy and his diplomatic institutions were based on Yuan practice.
The Hongwu Emperor sent a harsh message to the Japanese that his army would "capture and exterminate your bandits, head straight for your country, and put your king in bonds". In fact, many of the "dwarf pirates" and "eastern barbarians" raiding his coasts were Chinese and the Hongwu Emperor's response was almost entirely passive. The Ashikaga shogun cheekily replied that "Your great empire may be able to invade Japan but our small state is not short of a strategy to defend ourselves" and the necessity of protecting his state against the Northern Yuan remnants meant that the most the Hongwu Emperor was able to accomplish was a series of "sea ban" measures. Private foreign trade was made punishable by death, with the trader's family and neighbors exiled; ships, docks, and shipyards were destroyed and ports sabotaged. The initial conception seems to have been to use the Japanese need for Chinese goods to force them to terms, but it was at odds with Chinese tradition and extremely counterproductive: it tied up resources (74 coastal garrisons were established from Guangzhou to Shandong, albeit mostly manned by local gangs) and limited tax receipts, impoverished and provoked both coastal Chinese and Japanese against the regime, increasing piracy, and offered too little, decennial tribute missions comprising only two ships, as a reward for good behavior and enticement for Japanese authorities to root out their smugglers and pirates. In fact, piracy dropped to negligible levels upon the abolition of the policy in 1568.
Nonetheless, the sea ban was added by the Hongwu Emperor to his Ancestral Injunctions and so continued to be broadly enforced through most of the rest of his dynasty: for the next two centuries, the rich farmland of the south and the military theaters of the north were linked only by the Jinghang Canal.
The History of Ming, compiled during the early Qing dynasty, describes how the Hongwu Emperor met with an alleged merchant of Fu lin (拂菻; the Byzantine Empire) named "Nieh-ku-lun" (捏古倫). In September 1371, he had the man sent back to his native country with a letter announcing the founding of the Ming dynasty to his ruler (i.e. John V Palaiologos). It is speculated that the merchant was actually a former bishop of Khanbaliq (Beijing) called Nicolaus de Bentra, sent by Pope John XXII to replace Archbishop John of Montecorvino in 1333. The History of Ming goes on to explain that contacts between China and Fu lin ceased after this point, and diplomats of the great western sea (the Merranean Sea) did not appear in China again until the 16th century, with the Italian Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci.
Although the Hongwu era saw the introduction of paper currency, its development was stifled from the beginning. Not understanding inflation, the Hongwu Emperor gave out so much paper money as rewards that by 1425, the state was forced to reintroduce copper coins because the paper currency had sunk to only 1/70 of its original value.
During the Hongwu era, the Ming Empire was characterised by rapid and dramatic population growth, largely due to the increased food supply from the emperor's agricultural reforms. By the end of the Ming dynasty, the population had risen by as much as 50%. This was stimulated by major improvements in agricultural technology, promoted by the pro-agrarian state which came to power in the midst of a pro-Confucian peasants' rebellion. During his reign, living standards also greatly improved.
The Hongwu Emperor died on June 24, 1398, after reigning for 30 years at the age of 69. After his death, his physicians were penalized. He was buried at Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum on the Purple Mountain, east of Nanjing.
Historians consider the Hongwu Emperor to have been one of the most significant emperors of China. As historian Ebrey puts it, "Seldom has the course of Chinese history been influenced by a single personality as much as it was by the founder of the Ming Dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang." His rise to power was fast despite his having a poor and humble origin. In 11 years, he went from being a penniless monk to the most powerful warlord in China. Five years later, he became emperor of China. Simon Leys described him this way:
'an adventurer from peasant stock, poorly educated, a man of action, a bold and shrewd tactician, a visionary mind, in many respects a creative genius; naturally coarse, cynical, and ruthless, he eventually showed symptoms of paranoia, bordering on psychopathy.'
The Hongwu Emperor treated his ladies-in-waiting badly, forcing them to live in the palaces for life without freedom and behind cemented walls.[unreliable source?] He massacred thousands of them.[unreliable source?] He restricted the freedom of many concubines and killed several[who?].[unreliable source?] He also forced many of them[who?] to commit suicide and ordered that they will be buried with him after his death.[unreliable source?] He had several Korean concubines, including Lady Han, who bore him a son, and Lady Gong.
Princesses who killed their husbands include Princess Anqing and Princess Runing. Descendants of Princess Lin'an and Princess Shouchun were exempted from execution due to their descent from Emperor Gao.
For instance, in the early years of the Hongwu Emperor's reign in the Ming Dynasty, His Majesty ordered to have mosques built in Xijing and Nanjing [the capital cities] and in southern Yunnan, Fujian and Guangdong. His Majesty also personally wrote baizizan [a eulogy] in praise of the Prophet's virtues. The Ming Emperor Xuanzong once issued imperial orders to build a mosque in Nanjing in response to Zheng He's request (Liu Zhi, 1984 reprint: 358–374). Mosques built by imperial decree raised the social position of Islam, and assistance from upper-class Muslims helped to sustain religious sites in certain areas.
Media related to Hongwu Emperor at Wikimedia Commons
Hongwu EmperorBorn: 21 October 1328 Died: 24 June 1398
| Emperor of the Ming dynasty
The Jianwen Emperor
Emperor Huizong of the Yuan dynasty
| Emperor of China|
|Unknown|| Prince of Wu
|Merged in the Crown|