1340 Jan 1
, China

The final years of the Yuan dynasty were marked by struggle, famine, and bitterness among the populace. In time, Kublai Khan's successors lost all influence on other Mongol lands across Asia, while the Mongols beyond the Middle Kingdom saw them as too Chinese. Gradually, they lost influence in China as well. The reigns of the later Yuan emperors were short and marked by intrigues and rivalries. Uninterested in administration, they were separated from both the army and the populace, and China was torn by dissension and unrest. Outlaws ravaged the country without interference from the weakening Yuan armies.

From the late 1340s onwards, people in the countryside suffered from frequent natural disasters such as droughts, floods and the resulting famines, and the government's lack of effective policy led to a loss of popular support.

Red Turban Rebellions

Red Turban Rebellions

1351 Jan 1 - 1368
, Yangtze River

The Red Turban Rebellions (Chinese: 紅巾起義; pinyin: Hóngjīn Qǐyì) were uprisings against the Yuan dynasty between 1351 and 1368, eventually leading to the collapse of the Yuan dynasty. Remnants of the Yuan imperial court retreated northwards and is thereafter known as the Northern Yuan in historiography.

A Seated Portrait of Ming Emperor Taizu

Ming Dynasty founded

1368 Jan 23
, Beijing

The Hongwu Emperor, personal name Zhu Yuanzhang was the founding emperor of the Ming dynasty, reigning from 1368 to 1398.

As famine, plagues and peasant revolts increased across China proper in the 14th century, Zhu Yuanzhang rose to command the forces that conquered China proper, ending the Mongol-led Yuan dynasty and forcing the remnant Yuan court (known as Northern Yuan in historiography) to retreat to the Mongolian Plateau. Zhu claimed the Mandate of Heaven and established the Ming dynasty at the beginning of 1368 and occupied the Yuan capital, Khanbaliq (present-day Beijing), with his army that same year.

The emperor abolished the position of chancellor, drastically reduced the role of court eunuchs, and adopted draconian measures to address corruption. He encouraged agriculture, reduced taxes, incentivized the cultivation of new land, and established laws protecting peasants' property. He also confiscated land held by large estates and forbade private slavery. At the same time, he banned free movement in the empire and assigned hereditary occupational categories to households. Through these measures, Zhu Yuanzhang attempted to rebuild a country that had been ravaged by war, limit and control its social groups, and instill orthodox values in his subjects, eventually creating a strictly regimented society of self-sufficient farming communities.

The emperor built schools at all levels and increased the study of the classics as well as books on morality. Neo-Confucian ritual manuals were distributed and the civil service examination system for recruitment into the bureaucracy was reintroduced.

Several Jinyiwei guarding the Emperor's treasures.

Embroidered Uniform Guard

1369 Jan 1
, China

The Embroidered Uniform Guard was the imperial secret police that served the emperors of the Ming dynasty in China. The guard was founded by the Hongwu Emperor in 1368 to serve as his personal bodyguards. In 1369 it became an imperial military body. They were given the authority to overrule judicial proceedings in prosecutions with full autonomy in arresting, interrogating and punishing anyone, including nobles and the emperor's relatives. The Embroidered Uniform Guard was tasked with collecting military intelligence on the enemy and participation in battles during planning. The guards donned a distinctive golden-yellow uniform, with a tablet worn on his torso, and carried a special blade weapon.

Ming conquest of Yunnan

Ming conquest of Yunnan

1381 Jan 1 - 1379
, Yunnan

The Ming conquest of Yunnan was the final phase in the Ming dynasty expulsion of Mongol-led Yuan dynasty rule from China proper in the 1380s.

Ming pikemen

Jingnan campaign

1399 Aug 8 - 1402 Jul 13
, China

The Jingnan campaign, or Jingnan rebellion, was a three-year civil war from 1399 to 1402 in the early years of the Ming dynasty of China. It occurred between two descendants of the Ming dynasty's founder Zhu Yuanzhang: his grandson Zhu Yunwen by his first son, and Zhu Yuanzhang's fourth son Zhu Di, Prince of Yan. Though Zhu Yunwen had been the chosen crown prince of Zhu Yuanzhang and been made emperor upon the death of his grandfather in 1398, friction began immediately after Yuanzhang's death. Zhu Yunwen began arresting Zhu Yuanzhang's other sons immediately, seeking to decrease their threat. But within a year open military conflict began, and the war continued until the forces of the Prince of Yan captured the imperial capital Nanjing. The fall of Nanjing was followed by the demise of Zhu Yunwen, the Jianwen Emperor and Zhu Di was thus crowned the Ming Dynasty's third emperor, the Yongle Emperor.

Palace portrait on a hanging scroll, kept in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, Taiwan

Reign of Yongle Emperor

1402 Jul 17 - 1424 Aug 12
, Nanjing

The Yongle Emperor was the third Emperor of the Ming dynasty, reigning from 1402 to 1424. Zhu Di was the fourth son of the Hongwu Emperor, the founder of the Ming dynasty. He was originally enfeoffed as the Prince of Yan (燕王) in May 1370, with the capital of his princedom at Beiping (modern Beijing). Zhu Di was a capable commander against the Mongols. He initially accepted his father's appointment of his eldest brother Zhu Biao and then Zhu Biao's son Zhu Yunwen as crown prince, but when Zhu Yunwen ascended the throne as the Jianwen Emperor and began executing and demoting his powerful uncles, Zhu Di found pretext for rising in rebellion against his nephew. Assisted in large part by eunuchs mistreated by the Hongwu and Jianwen Emperors, who both favored the Confucian scholar-bureaucrats, Zhu Di survived the initial attacks on his princedom and drove south to launch the Jingnan campaign against the Jianwen Emperor in Nanjing. In 1402, he successfully overthrew his nephew and occupied the imperial capital, Nanjing, after which he was proclaimed emperor and adopted the era name Yongle, which means "perpetual happiness".

Eager to establish his own legitimacy, Zhu Di voided the Jianwen Emperor's reign and established a wide-ranging effort to destroy or falsify records concerning his childhood and rebellion. This included a massive purge of the Confucian scholars in Nanjing and grants of extraordinary extralegal authority to the eunuch secret police. One favorite was Zheng He, who employed his authority to launch major voyages of exploration into the South Pacific and Indian Oceans. The difficulties in Nanjing also led the Yongle Emperor to re-establish Beiping (present-day Beijing) as the new imperial capital. He repaired and reopened the Grand Canal and, between 1406 and 1420, directed the construction of the Forbidden City. He was also responsible for the Porcelain Tower of Nanjing, considered one of the wonders of the world before its destruction by the Taiping rebels in 1856. As part of his continuing attempt to control the Confucian scholar-bureaucrats, the Yongle Emperor also greatly expanded the imperial examination system in place of his father's use of personal recommendation and appointment. These scholars completed the monumental Yongle Encyclopedia during his reign.

The Yongle Emperor died while personally leading a military campaign against the Mongols. He was buried in the Changling Mausoleum, the central and largest mausoleum of the Ming tombs located north of Beijing

Yongle Encyclopedia

Yongle Encyclopedia

1403 Jan 1 - 1408
, China

The Yongle Encyclopedia is a largely-lost Chinese leishu encyclopedia commissioned by the Yongle Emperor of the Ming dynasty in 1403 and completed by 1408. It comprised 22,937 manuscript rolls or chapters, in 11,095 volumes. Fewer than 400 volumes survive today, comprising about 800 chapters (rolls), or 3.5 percent of the original work. Most of it was lost in the 2nd half of the 19th century, in the midst of events as Second Opium War, the Boxer Rebellion and subsequent social unrests. Its sheer scope and size made it the world's largest general encyclopedia until it was surpassed by Wikipedia in late 2007, nearly six centuries later.

Ashikaga Yoshimitsu

Japan becomes an official tributary of the Ming dynasty

1404 Jan 1
, Japan

In 1404, Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu accepted the Chinese title "King of Japan" while not being the Emperor of Japan. The Shogun was the de facto ruler of Japan. The Emperor of Japan was a powerless figurehead during the feudal shogunate periods of Japan, and was at the mercy of the Shogun. For a brief period until Yoshimitsu's death in 1408, Japan was an official tributary of the Ming dynasty. This relationship ended in 1549 when Japan, unlike Korea, chose to end its recognition of China's regional hegemony and cancel any further tribute missions. Yoshimitsu was the first and only Japanese ruler in the early modern period to accept a Chinese title. Membership in the tributary system was a prerequisite for any economic exchange with China; in exiting the system, Japan relinquished its trade relationship with China. 

Ming treasure voyages

Ming treasure voyages

1405 Jan 1 - 1433
, Arabian Sea

The Ming treasure voyages were the seven maritime expeditions undertaken by Ming China's treasure fleet between 1405 and 1433. The Yongle Emperor ordered the construction of the treasure fleet in 1403. The grand project resulted in far-reaching ocean voyages to the coastal territories and islands in and around the South China Sea, the Indian Ocean, and beyond. Admiral Zheng He was commissioned to command the treasure fleet for the expeditions. Six of the voyages occurred during the Yongle reign (r. 1402–24), while the seventh voyage occurred during the Xuande reign (r. 1425–1435). The first three voyages reached up to Calicut on India's Malabar Coast, while the fourth voyage went as far as Hormuz in the Persian Gulf. In the last three voyages, the fleet traveled up to the Arabian Peninsula and East Africa.

The Chinese expeditionary fleet was heavily militarized and carried great amounts of treasures, which served to project Chinese power and wealth to the known world. They brought back many foreign ambassadors whose kings and rulers were willing to declare themselves tributaries of China. During the course of the voyages, they destroyed Chen Zuyi's pirate fleet at Palembang, captured the Sinhalese Kotte kingdom of King Alekeshvara, and defeated the forces of the Semudera pretender Sekandar in northern Sumatra. The Chinese maritime exploits brought many foreign countries into the nation's tributary system and sphere of influence through both military and political supremacy, thus incorporating the states into the greater Chinese world order under Ming suzerainty. Moreover, the Chinese restructured and established control over an expansive maritime network in which the region became integrated and its countries became interconnected on an economic and political level.

The Forbidden City as depicted in a Ming Dynasty painting

Forbidden City

1406 Jan 1 - 1420
, Forbidden City

The Yongle Emperor made Beijing a secondary capital of the Ming empire, and construction began in 1406 of what would become the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City's plan was designed by many architects and designers, and then it was examined by the Emperor's Ministry of Work. The chief architects and engineers include Cai Xin, Nguyen An, a Vietnamese eunuch (unverified information), Kuai Xiang, Lu Xiang and others.

Construction lasted 14 years and employed the work of 100,000 skilled artisans and up to a million labourers. The pillars of the most important halls were made of whole logs of precious Phoebe zhennan wood (Chinese: 楠木; pinyin: nánmù) found in the jungles of south-western China. Such a feat was not to be repeated in subsequent years — the great pillars seen today were rebuilt using multiple pieces of pinewood in the Qing Dynasty. The grand terraces and large stone carvings were made of stone from quarries near Beijing. The larger pieces could not be transported conventionally. Instead, wells were dug along the way, and water from the wells was poured on the road in deep winter, forming a layer of ice. The stones were dragged along the ice.

Fourth Era of Northern Domination

Fourth Era of Northern Domination

1407 Jan 1 - 1427
, Vietnam

The Fourth Era of Northern Domination was a period of Vietnamese history, from 1407 to 1427, during which Vietnam was ruled by the Chinese Ming dynasty as the province of Jiaozhi (Giao Chỉ). Ming rule was established in Vietnam following its conquest of the Hồ dynasty. The previous periods of Chinese rule, collectively known as Bắc thuộc, lasted much longer and amounted to around 1000 years. The fourth period of Chinese rule over Vietnam was eventually ended with the establishment of the Later Lê dynasty.

Yongle Emperor's campaigns against the Mongols

Yongle Emperor's campaigns against the Mongols

1410 Jan 1 - 1424
, Mongolian Plateau

Yongle Emperor's campaigns against the Mongols (1410–1424), also known as Emperor Chengzu's Northern (Mobei) Campaigns (simplified Chinese: 明成祖远征漠北之战; traditional Chinese: 明成祖遠征漠北之戰), or the Yongle's Northern Expeditions (simplified Chinese: 永乐北伐; traditional Chinese: 永樂北伐), was a military campaign of the Ming dynasty under the Yongle Emperor against the Northern Yuan. During his reign he launched several aggressive campaigns, defeating the Northern Yuan, Eastern Mongols, Oirats, and various other Mongol tribes.

Grand Canal restoration

Grand Canal restoration

1411 Jan 1 - 1415
, Grand Canal

The Grand Canal was renovated almost in its entirety between 1411 and 1415 during the Ming dynasty (1368–1644). A magistrate of Jining, Shandong sent a memorandum to the throne of the Yongle Emperor protesting the current inefficient means of transporting 4,000,000 dan (428,000,000 liters) of grain a year by means of transferring it along several different rivers and canals in barge types that went from deep to shallow after the Huai River, and then transferred back onto deep barges once the shipment of grain reached the Yellow River. Chinese engineers built a dam to divert the Wen River to the southwest in order to feed 60% of its water north into the Grand Canal, with the remainder going south. They dug four large reservoirs in Shandong to regulate water levels, which allowed them to avoid pumping water from local sources and water tables. Between 1411 and 1415 a total of 165,000 laborers dredged the canal bed in Shandong and built new channels, embankments, and canal locks.

The Yongle Emperor moved the Ming capital from Nanjing to Beijing in 1403. This move deprived Nanjing of its status as chief political center of China. The reopening of the Grand Canal also benefited Suzhou over Nanjing since the former was in a better position on the main artery of the Grand Canal, and so it became Ming China's greatest economic center. Therefore, the Grand Canal served to make or break the economic fortunes of certain cities along its route and served as the economic lifeline of indigenous trade within China.

Besides its function as a grain shipment route and major vein of river-borne indigenous trade in China, the Grand Canal had long been a government-operated courier route as well. In the Ming dynasty, official courier stations were placed at intervals of 35 to 45 km (22 to 28 mi). 

Palace portrait on a hanging scroll, kept in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, Taiwan

Reign of Xuande Emperor

1425 Jun 27 - 1435 Jan 28
, Beijing

The Xuande Emperor (16 March 1399 – 31 January 1435), personal name Zhu Zhanji, was the fifth Emperor of the Ming dynasty, reigned from 1425 to 1435. His era name "Xuande" means "proclamation of virtue".

The Xuande Emperor permitted Zheng He to lead the seventh and last of his maritime expeditions. After Ming garrisons suffered heavy casualties in Vietnam, the emperor sent Liu Sheng with an army. These were badly defeated by the Vietnamese. The Ming forces withdrew and the Xuande Emperor eventually recognized the independence of Việt Nam. In the north, the Ming imperial court received horses annually from Arughtai, but he was defeated by the Oirats in 1431 and was killed in 1434 when Toghon took over eastern Mongolia. The Ming government then maintained friendly relations with the Oirats. China's diplomatic relations with Japan improved in 1432. Relations with Korea were generally good with the exception of the Koreans resenting having to send virgins occasionally to the Xuande Emperor's imperial harem.

The Xuande Emperor died of illness in 1435 after ruling for ten years. He ruled over a remarkably peaceful period with no significant external or internal problems. Later historians have considered his reign to be the height of the Ming dynasty's golden age.

The Tumu Crisis | ©Buren A

Tumu Crisis

1449 Jun 1
, Huailai County

The Crisis of the Tumu Fortress was a frontier conflict between the Northern Yuan and Ming dynasties. The Oirat ruler of the Northern Yuan, Esen, captured the Emperor Yingzong of Ming on September 1, 1449.

The entire expedition had been unnecessary, ill-conceived, and poorly commanded. The Northern Yuan victory was won by an advance guard of perhaps as few as 5,000 cavalry. Esen, for his part, was not prepared for the scale of his victory or for the capture of the Ming emperor. At first he attempted to use the captured emperor to raise a ransom and negotiate a favourable treaty including trade benefits. However, his plan was foiled in the Defense of Beijing due to the steadfast leadership of the Ming commander in the capital, General Yu Qian. The Ming leaders rejected Esen's offer, Yu stating that the country was more important than an emperor's life.

The Ming never paid a ransom for the return of the Emperor, and Esen released him four years later. Esen himself faced growing criticism for his failure to exploit his victory over the Ming and he was assassinated six years after the battle in 1455.

Jingtai Emperor

Reign of Jingtai Emperor

1449 Sep 22 - 1457 Feb 24
, Beijing

The Jingtai Emperor was the seventh Emperor of the Ming dynasty, reigned from 1449 to 1457. The second son of the Xuande Emperor, he was selected in 1449 to succeed his elder brother Emperor Yingzong (then reigned as the "Zhengtong Emperor"), when the latter was captured by Mongols following the Tumu Crisis.

During his reign, aided by the able minister Yu Qian, Jingtai paid particular attention to matters affecting his country. He repaired the Grand Canal as well as the system of dykes along the Yellow River. As a result of his administration, the economy prospered and the dynasty was further strengthened.

He reigned for 8 years before being removed from the throne by his elder brother Emperor Yingzong (then reigned as the "Tianshun Emperor"). The Jingtai Emperor's era name, "Jingtai", means "exalted view".

Maritime Trade banned

Maritime Trade banned

1479 Jan 1 - 1567
, China

The Hăijìn or sea ban was a series of related isolationist policies restricting private maritime trading and coastal settlement during most of the Ming Empire and early Qing Empire. Despite official proclamations the Ming policy was not enforced in practice, and trade continued without hindrance. The early Qing dynasty's anti-insurgent "Great Clearance" was more definitive with devastating effects on communities along the coast.

First imposed to deal with Japanese piracy amid the mopping up of Yuan partisans, the sea ban was completely counterproductive: by the 16th century, piracy and smuggling were endemic and mostly consisted of Chinese who had been dispossessed by the policy. China's foreign trade was limited to irregular and expensive tribute missions, and the military pressure from the Mongols after the disastrous Battle of Tumu led to the scrapping of Zheng He's fleets. Piracy dropped to negligible levels only upon the end of the policy in 1567, but a modified form was subsequently adopted by the Qing. This produced the Canton System of the Thirteen Factories, but also the opium smuggling that led to First and Second Opium Wars in the 19th century.

The Chinese policy was mimicked in Edo period Japan by the Tokugawa shogunate, where the policy was known as kaikin (海禁)/Sakoku (鎖国); it was also mimicked by Joseon Korea, which became known as the "Hermit Kingdom", before they were opened militarily in 1853 and 1876.

An 18th-century Chinese painting depicting a naval battle between wokou pirates and the Chinese

Jiajing wokou raids

1540 Jan 1 - 1567
, Zhejiang

The Jiajing wokou raids caused extensive damage to the coast of China in the 16th century, during the reign of the Jiajing Emperor (r. 1521–67) in the Ming dynasty. The term "wokou" originally referred to Japanese pirates who crossed the sea and raided Korea and China; however, by the mid-Ming, the wokou consisted of multinational crewmen that included the Japanese and the Portuguese, but a great majority of them were Chinese instead. Mid-Ming wokou activity began to pose a serious problem in the 1540s, reached its peak in 1555, and subsided by 1567, with the extent of the destruction spreading across the coastal regions of Jiangnan, Zhejiang, Fujian, and Guangdong.

The Wanli Emperor in his middle age

Reign of Wanli Emperor

1572 Jul 19 - 1620 Aug 16
, Beijing

The Wanli Emperor was the 14th Emperor of the Ming dynasty, reigned from 1572 to 1620. "Wanli", the era name of his reign, literally means "ten thousand calendars". He was the third son of the Longqing Emperor. His reign of 48 years (1572–1620) was the longest among all the Ming dynasty emperors and it witnessed several successes in his early and middle reign, followed by the decline of the dynasty as the emperor withdrew from his active role in government around 1600.

During the first ten years of the Wanli era, the Ming dynasty's economy and military power prospered in a way not seen since the Yongle Emperor and the Reign of Ren and Xuan from 1402 to 1435. After Zhang Juzheng's death, the Wanli Emperor decided to take complete personal control of the government. During this early part of his reign, he showed himself to be a competent and diligent emperor. Overall, the economy continued to prosper and the empire remained powerful. Unlike the last 20 years of his reign, the Wanli Emperor at this time would attend court and discuss affairs of state.

During the later years of the Wanli Emperor's reign, he became thoroughly alienated from his imperial role and, in effect, went on strike. He refused to attend morning meetings, see his ministers or act upon memoranda. He also refused to make necessary personnel appointments, and as a result the whole top echelon of the Ming administration became understaffed

Compendium of Materia Medica

Compendium of Materia Medica

1578 Jan 1
, Nanjing

The Compendium of Materia Medica is a Chinese herbology volume written during the Ming dynasty. Its first draft was completed in 1578 and printed in Nanjing in 1596. The Compendium lists the materia medica of traditional Chinese medicine known at the time, including plants, animals, and minerals that were believed to have medicinal properties. The text is attributed to Li Shizhen and contains several factual errors. He reasoned that a poem might have better value that a medical work and that a tale of the strange could illustrate a drug's effects.

Bozhou rebellion | ©Zhengyucong

Bozhou rebellion

1589 Jan 1 - 1600
, Zunyi

In 1589, the Bozhou Tusi region (Zunyi, Guizhou) erupted into inter-tribal warfare between seven tusi chiefdoms. The war coalesced into a full scale rebellion with one of the tusi chieftains, Yang Yinglong, at its head, and spread to Sichuan and Huguang where they engaged in widespread looting and destruction.

In 1593 the Wanli Emperor offered Yang Yinglong amnesty if he led his army in the war effort against the Japanese invasion of Joseon. Yang Yinglong agreed to the proposition and was half way to Korea before the Japanese withdrew (only to attack again the following year). Yang returned to Guizhou where Sichuan's grand coordinator Wang Jiguang called for him to stand trial in court. Yang did not comply and in 1594 local Ming forces attempted to quell the situation but were defeated in battle.

By 1598 Yang's rebel army had swelled to a size of 140,000 and the Ming government was forced to mobilize an army of 200,000 with troops from various regions. The Ming army attacked the rebels from eight directions. Li Hualong, Liu Ting, Ma Liying, Wu Guang, Cao Xibin, Tong Yuanzhen, Zhu Heling, Li Yingxiang, and Chen Lin converged on Yang Yinglong's stronghold on Lou Mountain (Bozhou District) and quickly captured it, forcing the rebels to flee northwest. Anti-rebel suppression lasted three more months. After Yang Yinglong's general Yang Zhu died in battle, he committed suicide by self-immolation, ending the rebellion. His family was transported to Beijing where they were executed. The Bozhou tusi was abolished and its territory was reorganized into Zunyi and Pingyue prefectures.

Ningxia campaign

Ningxia campaign

1592 Mar 1 - Oct 9
, Ningxia

The Ordos campaign of 1592, also called the Ningxia campaign, was a rebellion against the Ming dynasty by Liu Dongyang and Pubei, a Chahar Mongol who had previously submitted to the Ming, and its suppression.

Imjin War

Japanese invasions of Korea

1592 May 23 - 1598 Dec 16
, Korean Peninsula

The Japanese invasions of Korea of 1592–1598 or Imjin War involved two separate yet linked invasions: an initial invasion in 1592 (Imjin Disturbance), a brief truce in 1596, and a second invasion in 1597 (Chongyu War). The conflict ended in 1598 with the withdrawal of Japanese forces from the Korean Peninsula after a military stalemate in Korea's southern provinces.

The invasions were launched by Toyotomi Hideyoshi with the intent of conquering the Korean Peninsula and China proper, which were respectively ruled by the Joseon and Ming dynasties. Japan quickly succeeded in occupying large portions of the Korean Peninsula, but the contribution of reinforcements by the Ming, as well as the disruption of Japanese supply fleets along the western and southern coasts by the Joseon navy under the command of Yi Sun-sin, and the death of Toyotomi Hideyoshi forced a withdrawal of Japanese forces from Pyongyang and the northern provinces to the south in Busan and nearby regions. Afterwards, with righteous armies (Joseon civilian militias) launching guerrilla warfare against the Japanese and supply difficulties hampering both sides, neither were able to mount a successful offensive or gain any additional territory, resulting in a military stalemate. The first phase of the invasion lasted from 1592 until 1596, and was followed by ultimately unsuccessful peace negotiations between Japan and the Ming between 1596 and 1597.

Illustration of Du Liniang drawing her self-portrait, from a Jiuwotang Hall imprint of The Peony Pavilion, Ming dynasty

Peony Pavilion

1598 Jan 1
, China

The Peony Pavilion, also named The Return of Soul at the Peony Pavilion, is a romantic tragicomedy play written by dramatist Tang Xianzu in 1598. The plot was drawn from the short story Du Liniang Revives For Love, and depicts a love story between Du Liniang and Liu Mengmei that overcomes all difficulties. Tang's play diverges from the short story in that it integrates elements of the Ming Dynasty, despite being set in the Southern Song.

The play was originally written for staging as Kunqu opera, one of the genres of traditional Chinese theatre arts. It was first performed in 1598 at the Pavilion of Prince Teng. Its author, Tang Xianzu, was one of the greatest dramatists and writers in the Ming Dynasty, and The Peony Pavilion can be regarded as the most successful masterpiece in his life. The play has a total of 55 scenes, which can run for more than 22 hours on stage.

Shi Lang with a party of officials

Transition from Ming to Qing

1618 Jan 2 - 1683
, China

The transition from Ming to Qing, alternatively known as Ming–Qing transition or the Manchu invasion of China, from 1618 to 1683, saw the transition between two major dynasties in Chinese history. It was a decades-long conflict between the emerging Qing dynasty, the incumbent Ming dynasty, and several smaller factions (like the Shun dynasty and Xi dynasty). It ended with the consolidation of Qing rule, and the fall of the Ming and several other factions.

Ming cavalry,

Battle of Sarhū

1619 Apr 14 - Apr 15
, Fushun

The Battle of Sarhū refers to a series of battles between the Later Jin dynasty (the predecessor of the Qing dynasty) and the Ming dynasty and their Joseon allies in the winter of 1619. The battle is notable for the heavy use of cavalry by the Later Jin in defeating Ming and Joseon forces equipped with hand cannons, cannons, and matchlocks.

Portrait of Xizong, Emperor Zhe in The Palace Museum

Reign of Tianqi Emperor

1620 Oct 1 - 1627 Sep 30
, Beijing

The Tianqi Emperor was the 16th Emperor of the Ming dynasty, reigning from 1620 to 1627. He was the eldest son of the Taichang Emperor and a elder brother of the Chongzhen Emperor, who succeeded him. "Tianqi", the era name of his reign, means "heavenly opening".

Because the Tianqi Emperor was unable to read court memorials and uninterested in state affairs, the court eunuch Wei Zhongxian and the emperor's wet nurse Madam Ke seized power and controlled the Ming imperial court, with the Tianqi Emperor as merely a puppet ruler. The Tianqi Emperor apparently devoted his time to carpentry.

Wei Zhongxian

Wei Zhongxian

1621 Jan 1
, China

Wei Zhongxian was a Chinese court eunuch who lived in the late Ming dynasty. As a eunuch he used the name Li Jinzhong (李进忠). He is considered as the most notorious eunuch in Chinese history. He is best known for his service in the court of the Tianqi Emperor Zhu Youjiao (r. 1620–1627), when his power eventually appeared to rival that of the emperor. Mao Wenlong was one of the generals promoted by Wei Zhongxian. During Zhu Youjiao's reign, Wei would send the emperor's edicts to the Embroidered Uniform Guard led by prison director Xu Xianchun to purge corrupt officials and political enemies. Xu then arrested and demoted hundreds of officials and scholars from the Donglin movement, including Zhou Zongjian, Zhou Shunchang, and Yang Lian.

When Zhu Youjian rose to power, he received complaints about Wei and Xu's actions. Zhu Youjian then ordered the Embroidered Uniform Guard to arrest Wei Zhongxian. Wei then committed suicide.

1642 Yellow River flood

1642 Yellow River flood

1623 Jan 1
, Kaifeng

The 1642 Yellow River flood or Kaifeng flood was a man-made disaster that principally affected Kaifeng and Xuzhou. Kaifeng is located on the south bank of the Yellow River, prone to violent flooding throughout its history. During the early Ming dynasty, the town was the site of major floods in 1375, 1384, 1390, 1410, and 1416. By the mid-15th century, the Ming had completed restoration of the area's flood-control system and operated it with general success for over a century. The 1642 flood, however, was not natural, but directed by the Ming governor of the city in the hopes of using the floodwaters to break the six-month siege the city had endured from the peasant rebels led by Li Zicheng.The dikes were burst in an attempt to flood the rebels, but the water destroyed Kaifeng. Over 300,000 of the 378,000 residents were killed by the flood and ensuing peripheral disasters such as famine and plague. If treated as a natural disaster, it would be one of the deadliest floods in history. After this disaster the city was abandoned until 1662 when it was rebuilt under the rule of the Kangxi Emperor in the Qing dynasty.

Disputed portrait of Chongzhen Emperor displayed at the Ming Tombs

Reign of Chongzhen Emperor

1627 Oct 2 - 1644 Apr 23
, Beijing

The Chongzhen Emperor was the 17th and last Emperor of the Ming dynasty as well as the last ethnic Han to rule over China before the Manchu Qing conquest. He reigned from 1627 to 1644. "Chongzhen," the era name of his reign, means "honorable and auspicious."

Zhu Youjian battled peasant rebellions and was not able to defend the northern frontier against the Manchu. When rebels reached the capital Beijing in 1644, he committed suicide, ending the Ming dynasty. The Manchu formed the succeeding Qing dynasty.


1645 Jan 1
, China

Despite the loss of Beijing and the death of the emperor, Ming power was by no means totally destroyed. Nanjing, Fujian, Guangdong, Shanxi, and Yunnan were all strongholds of Ming resistance. However, there were several pretenders for the Ming throne, and their forces were divided. These scattered Ming remnants in southern China after 1644 were collectively designated by 19th-century historians as the Southern Ming. Each bastion of resistance was individually defeated by the Qing until 1662, when the last Southern Ming emperor, Zhu Youlang, the Yongli Emperor, was captured and executed. Despite the Ming defeat, smaller loyalist movements continued until the proclamation of the Republic of China.


References for Ming dynasty.

  • Andrew, Anita N.; Rapp, John A. (2000), Autocracy and China's Rebel Founding Emperors: Comparing Chairman Mao and Ming Taizu, Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, ISBN 978-0-8476-9580-5.
  • Atwell, William S. (2002), "Time, Money, and the Weather: Ming China and the 'Great Depression' of the Mid-Fifteenth Century", The Journal of Asian Studies, 61 (1): 83–113, doi:10.2307/2700190, JSTOR 2700190.
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