The founder of the Ming Dynasty was Zhu Yuanzhang, a former farmer from a poor peasant family during the late Yuan dynasty (1271–1368). He rose up to become a military leader in the Red Turban Rebellion, a peasant uprising against the ruling Mongols. After defeating the Mongols, Zhu gained control of the whole of China in 1368 and established the Ming dynasty, which lasted until 1644.
Zhu was born sometime around the year 1328 in a small village near Nanjing. His family was very poor, and Zhu had to work as a farm laborer from an early age. When he was 16, his father died, leaving the family even poorer. Zhu decided to join a local rebel group called the Red Turbans, who were fighting the Mongols for control of China. He quickly rose through the ranks, and by 1356 had become their commander-in-chief.
The Red Turbans were successful in driving the Mongols out of the region and establishing the new imperial court at Nanjing. With the support of many powerful warlords, Zhu took the title of emperor, founding the Ming Dynasty. He declared himself the Hongwu Emperor and took the dynastic name Zhu (meaning “ancestral”).
Zhu was determined to bring peace, stability and prosperity to China after years of chaos. To that end, he established a strong central government, reformed the taxation system and established a standing army. He also launched many large-scale construction projects, including the Forbidden City in Beijing and the Grand Canal connecting the northern and southern parts of the country.
Zhu’s reign was characterized by strict laws and harsh punishments. He was a strong advocate of Confucianism and sought to restore the traditional Chinese values and culture that had been lost during the Mongol invasion. Zhu’s rule was marked by the suppression of dissidents and non-Han ethnic groups like the Mongols, Tibetans and Muslims, which increased tension in the country.
Despite all of this, Zhu Yuanzhang is remembered as one of the most successful rulers in China’s history. During his reign, the economy boomed, trade flourished and the population grew significantly. He is credited with unifying and stabilizing China, laying the foundation for centuries of prosperity.