Learn about Zhu Yuanzhang, one of only two commoners who became emperors of China in this clip from The Story of China. In 1368, he proclaimed a new dynasty, the Ming, and took the name Hongwu, which means "vastly martial".
Zhu Yuanzhang (reigned 1368-1398) was the founder of the Ming, one of only two commoners who became emperors of China. Zhu Yuanzhang was born into a very poor family from the Huai River Plain, at a time when the Mongol Yuan was collapsing and there was increasing chaos across China. His parents having died in an epidemic, Zhu became a beggar monk, and then joined a local rebel army. A big man of striking appearance, with a huge jaw and a pockmarked face, he rose to be a commander. He defeated his rivals and in 1368, proclaimed a new dynasty, the Ming, and took the name Hongwu, which means "vastly martial." Hongwu knew from his own experience how bad ordinary people's lives were if there was no strong government. He tried to keep government costs low and make taxes fair, and he issued a harsh law code to try and make society peaceful. He was obsessed with control, suspicious that people were plotting against him, and executed thousands in cruel purges. He abolished the role of prime minister, and concentrated power in his own hands. He wanted China to be the supreme power in East Asia again, as it had been in the Han and the Tang, when vassal foreign states brought tribute to the court. He forbade private foreign trade, as he wanted all exchange to happen through the tribute system. The Ming dynasty lasted 276 years.