Zhu Yuanzhang was born to a poor family that died of the plague when the Yuan (Mongol) Dynasty ruled China. To survive, he spent his youth as a Buddhist monk begging for food.
After becoming the leader of the White Lotus Society rebels, Yuanzhang led the fight against the Yuan Dynasty for twelve years. When he defeated the Mongols, he took the name Emperor Hongwu and ruled from 1368 – 1398.
Hongwu was frugal because of his difficult childhood, and he was known to be suspicious of others and exploded in anger at the smallest things. Punishments were harsh and often ended in death.
Yuanzhang’s capital was Nanjing on the south side of the Yangtze River.
However, Emperor Hongwu promoted agriculture, and he reestablished the competitive Imperial examinations of the Confucian classics.
Defeating the Yuan Dynasty did not end the Mongol threat, and the nomadic warriors continued to raid China’s north to loot and pillage.
To deal with this threat, Emperor Hongwu divided the Imperial Ming army among his sons and ordered them to defend the northern frontier. That was when the Great Wall was rebuilt, extended and strengthened. The Great Wall tourists see in today’s China is the one that was rebuilt by the Ming Dynasty.
Since Hongwu came from a background of poverty and despised people that were wealthy, he raised their taxes. However, to avoid paying, many wealthy southern Chinese families left China with their gold and silver.
In Chinese history, the Ming Dynasty under Emperor Hongwu was probably the most conservative and the least forgiving of those who were perceived to have done wrong.
Hongwu practiced a closed-door policy with the world. To avoid conflicts with Japanese pirates, he ordered the people who lived along China’s coast to move inland and he forbid any trade with foreign merchants.
Emperor Hangwu also exercised strict control over the thoughts of the common people to preserve heaven’s rule and suppress human desire.
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