Government and Politics

The Ming Dynasty

What were the highlights of the Ming dynasty?

The focus on Chinese culture that was the hallmark of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) was both its strength and its weakness. After the foreign Mongols (whose dynasty had been established by Kublai Khan in 1260) were overthrown as rulers of China in 1368, the Ming emperors returned their—and their subjects’—attention to those things that are distinctively Chinese. The focus on Chinese culture produced a flowering in the arts, evidenced by the name Ming itself, meaning “bright” or “brilliant.” Architects working during this period produced the splendor of Beijing’s Forbidden City. Ming porcelain, bronze, and lacquerware are coveted collectors’ items today. Additionally, the novel and drama flourished.

And though the Ming rulers promoted this artistic renaissance and reinstated Confucianism and the program of civil service suspended by the Mongols, the rulers’ myopia prevented them from seeing the threat of the nomadic Manchu people on the horizon. In 1644 the Manchus invaded from the north and conquered China, setting up the last dynastic period in Chinese history (it lasted until 1912). Nevertheless, it was the Ming, and not the Manchu, who formed the last great and truly Chinese dynasty.


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