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Zhu Yuanzhang: First Ming Dynasty Emperor
Zhu Yuanzhang was founder of the Ming Dynasty, the one dynasty that endured for so long (1368-1644), considering the fact that it was established by a commoner. The reason Ming Dynasty and its first emperor Yuanzhang occupy special place in Chinese history is because this was one of the only lonely two dynasties to have been formed by a landless peasant. It is not everyday that commoner emerges from nowhere, overthrown powerful rulers of the time, establishes his own dynasty that endures for three long centuries. But Yuanzhang managed to achieve this colossal feat and thus his name went down in Chinese history as a competent emperor, second commoner only after Liu Bang of Han Dynasty to rule China.
Yuanzhang's rise to fame and power was simply unprecedented in history. Born to a very poor family in Anhui province in 1328, Yuanzhang was orphaned at a very young age. Since he practically lacked a family, he joined Buddhist monastery and became a monk during his teen years. In bad times, he even resorted to beggary but it appears that fate had something big in store for him. This young man joined the quasi-religious movement to overthrow the Mongols who had been created havoc in the country and quickly shot to position of leadership. He conquered Nanking in 1367 and attacked Beijing the very next year, defeating Mongols and establishing the famous Ming Dynasty.
The overthrow of Mongols and YUAN Dynasty are recorded in history as major events that spurred series of successes for Yuanzhang and gave peasants the courage to rise against the elite and their ruthless ambitions. But it is important to understand that Mongol defeat was not an independent occurrence. It was actually a culmination of a series of small peasant uprisings that had been occurring in various parts of the country. Peasants were living in wretched conditions and they revolted against Mongols in small but effective uprisings. However this gave Yuanzhang the opportunity he was looking for. His timing was propitious and he successfully overthrew the Mongols to become the first Ming ruler.
"The YUAN DYNASTY fell before an uprising of Chinese peasants. The rebellion was directed not only against the foreign conqueror but also against Chinese officials and landlords who had collaborated with the oppressive Mongol rule and had profited from it .... The rebellion, however, was not one unified movement. Outbreaks occurred all over China wherever conditions had become intolerable. In the Yellow River area, where floods had caused massive destruction and famine, the uprising of the Red Turbans, a secret society with a messianic belief in the coming of the future Buddha Maitreya, was the most widespread of the insurrections. In the lower Yangtze region, salt-field workers who labored under wretched conditions and boat people who transported the salt revolted under their own leaders. And smaller outbreaks led to local insurrections in many provinces ... The man who eventually won out in this struggle for supremacy among the rebels was a landless peasant, Chu Yuan-chang [Yuanzhang]" (Michael: 145)
Yuanzhang proved to be an extraordinary military man. His early successes before he conquered Peking were not only a source of inspiration for other rebel bands that later joined his army but were also aided by the nature itself. It is as if God wanted him to overthrow Mongols and therefore he received regular aid from the heavens in shape of natural calamities like drought and famine. Natural disasters such as these along with storms and plague were seen as signs of God's wrath and a need for regime change was felt. Yuanzhang became everyone's favorite as he was termed the Son of Heaven and the Sun-God etc. In 1368, he conquered Peking and became the rule of Ming Dynasty. Ming means "Brilliant" in Chinese and Yuanzhang proved to be a brilliant soldier and emperor, at least for some time in Chinese history.
Though he was regarded by many as an effective and extraordinary ruler, Yuanzhang did have his fair share of flaws, which plagued his reign. He turned out to be a despotic emperor who tried to maintain excessive control over administrative and military tasks:
"Zhu gathered an unprecedented amount of political and military power into his own hands, more than the Tang or even…[continue]
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