Zhu Yuanzhang 朱元璋

The founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty


Chinese Name: 朱元璋

English Name: Zhu Yuanzhang

Other Names: Hongwu Emperor洪武帝(Hong Wu Di),Emperor Taizu of Ming Dynasty明太祖, Zhu Chongba朱重八,Zhu Xingzong朱兴宗

Born: October 21, 1328

Died: June 24, 1398


Overthrowing the rule of the Yuan Dynasty and establishing the Ming Dynasty推翻元朝,建立明朝

Reign of Hongwu洪武之治

Zhu Yuanzhang 朱元璋
Zhu Yuanzhang朱元璋

Brief Biography of Zhu Yuanzhang

On the eighteenth day of the ninth lunar month of 1328 (the first year of the Yuan-dynasty [1272-1368] Tianli reign [1328-1330]), Zhu Yuanzhang was born in Haozhou (today’s Fengyang, Anhui province). Later he would become the Hongwu Emperor (temple name Emperor Taizu) of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). The son of Zhu Shizhen and his wife née Chen, he was originally named Chongba, but later his name was formally changed to Yuanzhang, with the style name Guorui.  

Zhu Yuanzhang was born into a household of destitute farmers. In 1344, he was offered to a nearby Buddhist monastery as a novice at a time when growing social tensions were increasing people’s misery. In 1352, he joined rebel leader Guo Zixing’s insurgents but soon left to return to his village to recruit a force and established himself as a rebel leader. In 1355, (the fifteenth year of the Zhizheng reign, 1341-1368), Han Liner declared himself as emperor in Haozhou, and Zhu Yuanzhang was named second in command.

Zhu Yuanzhang 朱元璋

In March of the following year, Zhu and his army conquered Jiqing (today’s Nanjing, Jiangsu province) and renamed the city Yingtian (literally “In Response to Heaven”). To pacify the locals, he abolished the oppressive and tyrannical policies imposed by the Yuan dynasty, and followed his advisor Zhu Sheng’s (1299-1370) advice to “build the walls high, store grain everywhere, and delay declaring victory”.

In 1363, he successfully vanquished his archrival Chen Youliang (1320-1363) and proclaimed himself the Prince of Wu in the first lunar month the following year.  

In 1366, in an official denunciation of his rival Zhang Shicheng (1321-1367), he condemned the Red Turban Army for “casting spells on people”, and declared that “if their heterodoxy spread, they would prevail”. In the twelfth lunar month of the same year, the puppet, Young Prince Han Liner,conveniently died.

On the first day of the following year Zhu promulgated his own calendar, calling 1367 the “first year of Wu”. After wiping out other rivals such as Zhang Shicheng and Fang Guozhen (1319-1374), he set out on an expedition to conquer the southern part of the country, including Guangdong, Guangxi, and Fujian provinces. In his official denunciation of the Mongol rulers, he raised the clarion call to “expel the northern barbarians, restore China, establish social law and order, and relieve the people in stricken areas”. At the end of the same year, his northern expeditionary army conquered Shandong province.

In 1368, Zhu proclaimed himself emperor in Yingtian, and changed the dynastic name to “Great Ming” (Da Ming). In the eighth lunar month, his northern expeditionary army entered the Yuan capital Dadu (today’s Beijing), which marked the end of the Mongol Yuan dynasty. Gradually, Zhu reunified the whole country.    

Zhu Yuanzhang 朱元璋

In 1378, he ordered that Nanjing be designated the Capital (Jingshi). During his reign, he implemented a series of policies to consolidate his rule and reinvigorate the economy. He granted his sons “fiefs” throughout the empire, especially in sensitive border regions to safeguard the dynasty.

He established the system of Guards and Battalions (wei suo) to centralize military power. He reformed the structure of the central government by abolishing the Central Secretariat, or Zhongshu Sheng, and the position of Chief Councillor (chengxiang), which was considered a locus of power that threatened the throne and replaced them with six divided executive agencies, chief of which were the Six Ministries.

He ordered household registration, and the compilation of yellow registers of labor services (huangce), and a national land survey for the compilation of land-survey maps and land-tax handbooks called the “Fish-Scale Maps and Books” (Yulin tuce), providing detailed information important to the state for fiscal planning. He encouraged land cultivation and alleviated taxes in an effort to facilitate a full recovery from the aftermath of war. During his reign, he fought relentlessly against corruption. He also established an imperial bodyguard system, the Embroidered Uniform Guard (jinyi wei). Also as measures to consolidate his rule, he reformed the censorial mechanism by reforming the structures of the Censorate (yushi tai) and renamed it “Ducha yuan”.

Zhu also ordered the compilation and promulgation of the Great Ming Code (Daming lü). In the 1390s to assert the authority of the throne, Zhu Yuanzhang executed many officials and cashiered many generals who had participated in the building of the dynasty. 

On the tenth day of the fifth lunar month of 1398 (the thirty-first year of the Hongwu reign), Zhu Yuanzhang died in Nanjing at the age of seventy-one (by traditional count). With the temple name “Great Progenitor” (Taizu), he was buried at the Filial Piety Mausoleum (Xiaoling) in Nanjing.

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