Upon leading a victorious rebellion against the
foreign Mongul rulers of the Yuan Dynasty, a
peasant named Zhu Yuanzhang seized control of
China and founded the Ming Dynasty in 1368.
As emperor, he founded his capital at Nanjing
and adopted the name Hongwu as his reign title.
Hongwu, literally meaning “vast military,” reflects
the increased prestige of the army during the
Ming Dynasty. Due to the very realistic threat
still posed by the Mongols, Hongwu realized that
a strong military was essential to Chinese
prosperity. Thus, the orthodox Confucian view
that the military was an inferior class to be ruled
over by an elite class of scholars was
reconsidered. During the Ming Dynasty, China
proper was reunited after centuries of foreign
incursion and occupation. Ming troops
controlled Manchuria, and the Korean Joseon
Dynasty respected the authority of the Ming
rulers, at least nominally.
Like the founders of the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-
220 A.D.), Hongwu was extremely suspicious of
the educated courtiers that advised him and,
fearful that they might attempt to overthrow him,
he successfully consolidated control of all aspect
of government. The strict authoritarian control
Hongwu wielded over the affairs of the country
was due in part to the centralized system of
government he inherited from the Monguls and
largely kept intact. However, Hongwu replaced
the Mongul bureaucrats who had ruled the
country for nearly a century with native Chinese
administrators. He also reinstituted the
Confucian examination system that tested
would-be civic officials on their knowledge of
literature and philosophy. Unlike the Song
Dynasty (960-1279 A.D.), which received most of
its taxes from mercantile commerce, the Ming
economy was based primarily on agriculture,
reflecting both the peasant roots of its founder
as well as the Confucian belief that trade was
ignoble and parasitic.
Culturally, the greatest innovation of the Ming
Dynasty was the introduction of the novel.
Developed from the folk tales of traditional
storytellers, these works were transcribed in the
everyday vernacular language of the people.
Advances in printmaking and the increasing
population of urban dwellers largely contributed
to the success of these books. Architecturally,
the most famous monument of the Ming Dynasty
is surely the complex of temples and palaces
known as the Forbidden City that was
constructed in Beijing after the third ruler of the
Ming Dynasty, Emperor Yongle, moved the
capital there. Today, the Forbidded Palace
remains one of the hallmarks of traditional
Chinese architecture and is one of the most
popular tourist destinations in the vast nation.
These two lead-glazed female attendants
advances made in the ceramic industry with
regards to glaze technique and color.
The colorful green, amber, blue and red
flowing robes and skirts contain
highlights and speckles of complimentary colors,
as their folds and creases
emphasizes the fluidity of the silk garments and
gracefulness of the women.
Each standing on a hexagonal stepped
pedestal colored in the same color
scheme, the women balance bowls on their
They don an elaborate red headdress
with an incised band across the
forehead tapering their parted hair while the rest
of their tresses is knotted
and weaved into an ornate central
Their plump cheeks, delicate features,
and small rosy lips reflect the
ideal beauty of women in court life.
Ming statuette art reflects the attempt to restore
purely 'Chinese' artistic genres with a healthy
injection of Confucian
aesthetic, political, and moral standards.
Realistic depictions of daily life became
popular themes among artists
who were often patronized by the court. Under
Xuande's reign (1426-35), the art industry
flourished, producing many exquisite
porcelain and ceramic pieces. This
glazed set is a product of the artistic revival that
occurred throughout the