chapter  5
21 Pages

The Chinese conquest dynasty, 1355–1435

The decades of war among regional powers following the collapse of Yuan central control demonstrated the underlying geographic and social fault lines intrinsic to the Chinese ecumene. While the regime that unified the Chinese empire, the Ming, was run by Chinese, this did little to reverse the social, political and military developments of the Yuan. The Ming proved as interested in territorial expansion as the Yuan, though not as effective, and as concerned to keep domestic local power-holders weak, scattered and disorganized. Unlike the Yuan emperors, however, the first Ming emperor, Zhu Yuanzhang, was keenly interested in making society all the way down to the local level conform to his vision. Zhu explicitly set out to create a stable social order in which farmers remained in their villages, the hereditary military was self-sustaining on its own lands, and the government bureaucracy was efficient and uncorrupt. He even interceded in the details of religious worship. Although he was not fully successful in these efforts (the government bureaucracy, for example, proved frustratingly slow and corrupt even during Zhu’s own rule), they nonetheless had a lasting effect on Chinese culture and society.