Mongol rule in China was brought to an end after civil war among Mongol princes and an increasing conversion to the sedentary Chinese way of life that robbed the Mongol military machine of much of its effectiveness. Repeated natural disasters were followed by a massive peasant rebellion that the alien rulers could not quell. The Mandate of Heaven now shifted to Zhu Yuanzhang, a peasant leader who became eminent during the rebellions. After eliminating his rivals, Zhu Yuanzhang established the Ming Dynasty in 1368, with his capital city first in Nanjing and later in Beijing. Zhu Yuanzhang was historically known as Emperor Taizu.
The Ming Dynasty was the last native Chinese dynasty to rule the empire. Spanning almost three centuries between the fall of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty (1271 - 1368) and the rise of the Manchu Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911), the Ming reunited what is now called China proper after almost 400 years of foreign incursion and occupation.
The Ming reached their zenith of power during the first quarter of the fifteenth century. The territory they controlled was smaller than that of the Yuan. However, at the height of their power, they controlled the Mongols in the north, captured the Western Region in the west, conquered the Jurchen (also Nuzhen) in the northeast, governed Tibet in the southwest and established the Jiaozhi Prefecture in the south. During the Ming period, Zheng Hes long voyages to Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean made the Ming much more influential abroad than the Tang and no less influential than the later Qing.
The Ming period seems to have been one of Chinas most prosperous. Pressure from the Neo-Confucian bureaucrats led to an agrarian-centered based society. This was a stable period and the population numbered some 100 million. The incredible advances in the sciences and arts that were achieved under Ming rule led them to believe that they had created the most perfect civilization on earth.
It was also during these centuries that the great potential of south China came to be fully exploited. New crops such as maize, cotton, and sweet potato were widely cultivated, and industries such as those producing porcelain and textiles flourished.
Another accomplishment of the Ming was the final and lasting construction of the Great Wall. While the Great Wall had been built in earlier times, most of what is seen today was either built or repaired by the Ming. The brick and granite work was enlarged, the watch towers were redesigned and cannons were placed along its length.
Not least, the Ming Dynasty is also noted for its sea explorations but a failure to consolidate any gains from this effort resulted in no permanent value being derived from it. The dynasty is best known for its strong and complex central government, which unified and controlled the empire. Ironically, it was this same complexity that later prevented the Ming government from being able to adapt to changes in society and eventually led to its decline.
In the closing years of the Ming, due to the long wars with the Mongols, repeated attacks on Korea by the Japanese, and even Japanese attacks on Chinese coastal cities greatly hurt the economy of the Ming. Worse still, owing to their inability to meet the high tax demands, many peasants abandoned their lands. This led to an economic crisis for the dynasty. Unfortunately, the situation was worsened by a peasant uprising in 1627.
In 1644, troops led by Li Zicheng, the most prominent rebel leader, captured Beijing. While he was negotiating terms of a military surrender with Wu Sangui, commander of the last of the Ming army, Wu cast in his lot with the invading Manchu army leader, Dorgon. These people from the north succeeded in defeating the rebels. This then left the way clear for the Manchu to complete their invasion of China.\nThe Ming Dynasty lasted for 276 years with 16 emperors occupying the throne. After it collapsed, the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911), another ethnic group regime, began its reign in China.