Reign of Hongwu Emperor: The First Emperor of the Ming Dynasty

The Hongwu Emperor (Chinese: 洪武帝; Wade-Giles: Hung-wu Ti; October 21, 1328 – June 24, 1398), known variably by his given name Zhu Yuanzhang (Chinese: 朱元璋; Wade-Giles: Chu Yuan-chang) and by the temple name Taizu of the Ming (Chinese: 明太祖) was the founder and first emperor (1368–98) of the Ming Dynasty of China. His era name, Hongwu, means "great military power".

In the middle of the 1300s, with famine, plagues and peasant revolts sweeping across China, Zhu became a leader of an army that conquered China, ending the Yuan Dynasty and forcing the Mongols to retreat to the Mongolian steppes. With his seizure of the Yuan capital Dadu (present-day Beijing), he claimed the Mandate of Heaven and established the Ming Dynasty in the year 1368.

In trying to destroy a local rebellion, the Mongol army burned down Zhu's monastery. In 1352 Zhu joined one of the many groups of local rebels who were starting to appear throughout China. Zhu's natural abilities (leadership, determination, skill as a warrior, and a brilliant mind) allowed him to rise rapidly within his group to a position of command. Zhu's local rebels soon joined with the Red Turban Movement, a millenarian sect related to the White Lotus Society, and a sect combining cultural and religious traditions of Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, and other religions.

The rejection of things associated with the Mongols also continued into other areas. These included Mongol dress, which was discarded, and Mongol names, which stopped being used. Indeed, attacks on Mongol-associated items and places also included the attack of palaces and administrative buildings used by the Yuan rulers.

Zhu Yuanzhang, was the founder of the Ming Dynasty in China, one of his names translated means "vast military" this is the man that reformed China during the 13th century. He became a great leader of an army and forced the outsiders (the Mongols) to retreat, he then went on to become the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty in China.

He was born in 1328 in the Pei County, he was the youngest of four brothers and his family was very poor, the conditions that he grew up in were to say the least very bad. Because of the fact that there was no food, many of his brothers were given away. When he was 16 years old, the yellow river broke its gates and flooded the land killing his whole family, he was then left alone to fend for himself… he found shelter in a Buddhist monastery but ironically, the monastery ran out of money as well and again he was forced to leave and fend for himself.

For years he traveled and begged for his food eventually returning to the monastery and living there until he was 24, it was then when he learned to read and write. The Mongol army eventually destroyed the monastery, burning it to the ground and in an act of revenge, Zhu Yuanzhang joined a local rebel group to fight back. His natural leadership abilities and talents would make him rise quickly through the ranks and become their leader, they soon joined the Red Turban movement and by the time Wade was 27 he became their leader as well. He was good!

The Red Turbans were a sect that had a mixed up belief in Buddhism and Zoroastrianism, even though Wade became their leader it is completely unknown how much he got involved in their actual beliefs, because as soon as he became emperor he supported Confucianism.

It was in 1356 when Zhu Yuanzhang took control of one of the major cities in China, it was this city that became his base of operations and later the capitol of his empire. Word got around quickly that in this place there was relative peace and a good government and the next ten years saw the city grow ten times its original size. The Mongols never made any attempt to retake the place because they were badly crippled by internal fighting. The Mongols eventually lost the whole of central and southern China to different groups.

Because of his skills as a leader, Zhu Yuanzhang was able to take in a group of followers that were themselves talented; when he was thirty five he went to battle to take control over the now separated Red Turban territory. After fighting the largest naval battle known, he won and from then on, he no longer fought in his battles, he had plenty of generals to do that for him, instead, he directed everything from his palace in Nanjing.

It was in 1366 when Zhu Yuanzhang went on to take the rest of China; after defeating some smaller territories and getting the allegiance of others, he marched against the Mongol army and after a halfhearted fight, the Mongols fled back to their home (the place we now know of as Mongolia).

In 1368 Zhu Yuanzhang proclaimed himself Emperor and Hongwu was the title of his reign, Confucianism was brought in again and the people that had a higher role in society only got their places by taking an exam that tested their knowledge of literature and philosophy; the scholars once again had their place in China.

The farmers had it a little better then before, Zhu Yuanzhang knew of the hardships that they faced and put some laws into place to try and protect them but it still was not enough, the wealthy still had loopholes through witch they could control and take over the farmers’ land, so while he meant well it still was not enough.

Zhu Yuanzhang ruled with a fist of Iron, some people would say that he was bad others good, but he did untie China under one rule and he did have a sense of fairness, it is said that he is the single most influential person in China’s history…never before had the world seen somebody so poor rise to the post of Emperor in just 16 years.