Confucianism, the Literati, and Chinese Imperial Traditions

History and Sources

What was especially important about the Ming dynasty?

The focus on Chinese culture that was the hallmark of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644 C.E.) 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 brilliant flowering in the arts, as evidenced by the name “Ming” itself—meaning “bright” or “brilliant.” It was architects working during this period who produced the splendor of Beijing’s Forbidden City. 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. In 1644, the Manchus invaded from the north and conquered China, setting up the last dynastic period in Chinese history, which lasted until 1912.


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