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Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD)
The Ming Dynasty is the last native Chinese dynasty. During the reign of the first Ming emperor, the government assumed absolute control over all aspects of society, with the emperor as the supreme head. In order to solidify his power, the emperor launched four waves of political purges putting hundreds of thousands of people to death. A very complicated bureaucratic system was adopted which imposed a high degree of centralization over an immense territory. Ironically, it was this same complexity that prevented the Ming government from being able to adapt to changes as needed.
To ensure the empire's stability and protect China from contact with western cultures, the Ming emperors prohibited Chinese from traveling abroad and unauthorized business between Chinese and western countries was forbidden. The prohibition brought a long period of stability and peace to China.
At the same time that westerners were beginning to send out expeditions of exploration, Zhenhe, one of eunuchs of the fifth Ming emperor, led seven maritime expeditions to the Pacific and Indian Oceans from 1405 to 1433.The chief purposes of the explorations was to spread Chinese influence and persuade the countries visited to pay tribute to the Ming court. The curios and artifacts brought back by these expeditions amazed the Chinese people.
During the Ming Dynasty, porcelain manufacturing was perfected; improved kilns were able to produce an abundance of high-quality pieces of porcelain The blue-and-white porcelain, for which China is famous, originated during that period, and cotton weaving and silk manufacturing flourished in the eastern part of China.
The Ming Dynasty witnessed great literary achievements. Prose writing of this period exceeded that of other dynasties. Several of the most popular Chinese novels, including Journey to the West' and The Golden Lotus were written in this period.
After the middle of the 15th century, the Ming's power started to decline. The quality of the imperial leadership deteriorated. Because eunuchs had great influence over the emperors, there was discontent among the bureaucrats and factionalism in the government. Long wars with the Mongols and encroachment by the Japanese into east coast areas weakened Ming rule. In the late 17th century, the government’s inability to provide food in a time of famine led to rebellion among the masses. The capture of Beijing by the Manchus, nomadic people from northeast China, in 1644 was the final blow that ended the Ming dynasty.
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