Lets start from government structure and functioning. Civil administration was quite unchanged in comparison to Tang and Song dynasties. There was still division on Secretariat and six ministries. Secretariat was assisting in work of emperor and coordinated and supervised work of ministries.
Below are six ministries andtheir functions- taken from http://totallyhistory.com/ming-dynasty-government/
- The Ministry of Personnel handled all matters relating to government employees, from appointment to assessment of work, promotions etc.
- The Ministry of Revenue was in charge of tax collection, state revenues, and currency.
- The Ministry of Rites was in charge of all ceremonial matters and the priesthood.
- Ministry of War was in charge of all matters relating to the armed forces. They also ran the courier system.
- The Ministry of Justice was responsible for the judicial and penal process. They did not have jurisdiction over the Censorate.
- The Ministry of Works was in charge of all government construction projects and maintenance of roads. They also were responsible for the standardization of weights and measures in the country.
System was officially based on merits more than connections like before. But still corruption and nepotism existed often.
Censorate was reestablished in 1430. Main Censor was general supervisor of all affairs in state and administrative apparatus. He also sent inspections to various ministries and regional governments. They could dismiss and request punishment for corrupt official.
Administrative division was combination of Song dynasty and Yuan dynasty. On highest level were provinces and were totally 13 of them. Except them there were 4 quasi autonomous regions. Province was governed by civil, military and surveillance commissions. Below province were prefectures governed by prefects and subprefectures governed by subprefect. There were also counties as lowest units governed by magistrate.
Social classes were same as before Yuan dynasty.
Educational system was same as before explained but with some restrictions for lower classes. Legal system was based on Ming Code derived from Song Code.
Tibetan territories had some autonomy but were depended on Ming court and Ming court often gave tittles. At beginning of 15th century tittle of Tibetan Buddhist leader such as Dalai Lama appeared. He paid tribute to Ming court. In Tibet strict theocracy was formed in which trone Dalai Lama was and monastic elite which got large wealth. They were only 5% literate of Tibetan population. They were masters of peasants which were widely exploited and punished severely.
By beginning of XVII century on Han settlers started to come on Taiwan. There lived local aborigines and also some parts were colonized by Dutch and Portuguese. Aborigines started to be assimilated by Han Chinese but kept some of indigenous traditions. Soon Taiwan fell completely under Chinese rule and Dutch and Portuguese were expelled.
Economy of Ming China was one of worlds strongest economies same as during significant Qing period. Ming dynasty rule is considered as third golden age of Chinese state, society and economy after first Han and second Tang/Song. In first period agriculture was in very good condition and most of peasants were able to produce enough to sell both on rural and urban market too. Together with different tools water powered equipment was used for production of crops. Manufacture was mostly stable and large amounts of iron and salt were produced. Maybe new achievements for boosting production were not made but technology of Tang and Song dynasties was used. Anyway production was very conceptualized and determined for internal market. Production of iron and salt was largely privatized what motivated merchants even further to produce and sell on national market. In 17th century there were more than 300 factories in China. First time in Chinese history waged labor appeared. Ming dynasty abolished forced labor and installed waged one. Peasants with low income had chance to join some factory and work in iron, salt or pottery production for money. Except privatization taxes were reduced too. When emperor Hongwu died his successor Yongle Emperor didnt follow restrictive policy and promoted trade quite a lot. His successors again imposed restrictions related to trade but kept opened few ports for free trade and leased Macau for conducting trade. National trade was completely free from state while international was under tight control much tighter than before in terms of taxes, determining amount and means of trade. China focused on maritime trade since Silk Road became too dangerous . Uighurs and other Turkic groups strengthened themselves in western borders and would attack caravans. Ottoman Empire occupied most of Arab world and it wasnt interested to trade. Only chance to trade was via sea with new emerging economies and powers such as Netherlands , Spain and Portugal. Trade with Japan over sea was regular through few ports. China played real mercantilist policy since it exported everything and imported a little. It imported silver only mostly and was rejecting other demands of other powers which wanted either to sell different commodities or to impose their trade regulations. With such commerce and production it is often considered that China experienced some proto capitalism and was about to reach industrial revolution if trade and inventions were more frequent and intense during Ming dynasty.
When it comes to technology discoveries were not so stunning and large like it was during Tang and Song dynasties. China already used advanced technologies in metal industry. Shipbuilding and in transport through canals, hydraulics and mechanics. Trade with Europe brought one of first telescopes to China. Chinese were also among first who proposed heliocentric model of solar system. In military gunpowder was used in guns, canons, kind of rockets, mines and naval mines. In medicine many medical books were published about treating various diseases and conditions and more than 50 books about treating smallpox.
Type of brush for teeth was invented too.
There was written largest encyclopedia of that time in printed form even. It included astronomy, arts, history, medicine, religion, technology and agriculture.
Very detailed maps were drawn and printing was used for all major documents.
Zhang He did significant contribution to maritime communication. He commanded large fleet the biggest one of that time. Ships were more than 65m long and longest one was 137m. He conducted 7 voyages between 1405 and 1433 all starting from Nanjing. Aim was spreading knowledge of China and getting confirmation from all states that China is strongest in the world. His mission was not militarily invasive but only fought against pirates that they encountered on journey. He wanted to gain cultural and political acknowledgement that China is most superior country in the world with Mandate of Heaven. Zheng He delegation was bringing gifts and showing cultural and technological achievements to present superiority. He also issued invitations to rulers of host countries to visit Chinese emperor and some of them did it. He also got tributes and official acknowledgements that they recognize China as supreme state in world. Zhang He also established trade relations with these countries nas it was one of aims to expand the trade. Tribute from Somalia were giraffes which were brought to imperial palace. Giraffes were reminding Chinese on qilin- a mythological unicorn so they saw it as gift of Heaven and confirmation that their discoveries and journeys are good thing. But since 1433 further voyages were banned and biggest ships burnt because of mentioned influence of some Confucian scholars on emperor. Many written evidence of voyages was burnt in order to prevent new journeys and any knowledge gained outside China. Also state manuals for shipbuilding were changed and replaced with those which allowed building only of smaller ships in comparison to those used in journeys. It was with aim to make ships unable to travel further from East and Southeast Asia. It is often believed that if voyages were not banned that Chinese fleets would reach Europe, discover America and Australia with aim of searching new trade opportunities. Confucians didnt want to encourage discoveries and expansion of trade believing that it can damage social order, dissolve culture and that dependence on trade will be too high. They believed that China should focus on own state, social order, own culture, national trade and education. They believed that China should be self-sufficient and to depend only on itself.
Arts experienced quite a big progress during Ming dynasty. Literature was really rich during this time. There were written many short fictions often related to legends, martial arts and mythological beings. Also longer novels were written among which is most famous Journey to the West written by Wu Chengen and this is one of 4 main Chinese classics. It is about legendary being Sun Wukong half human half monkey who is good, skillful in martial arts and a bit eccentric and funny. Also novel Romance of 3 Kingdoms ( Luo Guanzhong) appeared which depicts 3 Kingdoms Period and events and relations related to that period( 220-280). Among main characters there is Zhuge Liang a chancellor of Shu Han and brave and honest hero. Another classic novel was Water Margin. Various journey and travel essays were written. Most famous travel writer was Xu Xiake. Poetry was also widespread during Ming dynasty across all China. Most famous poets were Gao Qi, Yuan Hongdao, Yuan Zhongdao, Ou Daren and Wang Wei. Wang Wei was female Taoist poet monk. She wrote mostly about nature and love. Generally poets wrote about nature, love, relationships, hedonism…
Painting was also very widespread. Qiu Yang, Wen Zhengming, Tang Yin and Shen Zhou are regarded as Four Painting masters of Ming dynasty. They used styles from Tang and Song but also they invented own free independent styles. They sold paintings expensively and could make living from it.
Music, opera and plays were very colorful and widespread during Ming Dynasty. inese Drama was very popular and jingxi( Peking opera).
Religion and philosophic developments were stable. State support of Tibetan Buddhism which was high during Yuan dynasty dropped. First few Ming emperors favored Taoism and promoted in widely. Yongle Emperor ordered collecting all Taoist texts in new version of canon Daozang.Whole process took long time between 1406 and 1447. Zhengyi sect now overpowered Quanzhen in White Cloud Temple as abbot became member of Zhengyi sect. Chan Buddhism was mostly represented by Caodong and Linji schools. Martial arts were popular both in Taoist temples and Buddhist too.
Confucianism experienced reforms of during 15th and beginning of 16th century. There were two streams one liberal and one ultra conservative. Wang Yanming started to promote more liberal ideas which could be catalyst of change in China for increasing equality and freedoms. He promoted idea that careful investigation of yourself and surrounding can give you wisdom. Wang was saying that anyone could attain wisdom with patience and observation and be as wise as Confucius. He was saying that some intelligent and experienced peasant may be more wise than scholar who studied all classics and poetry. Hardline Confucians disliked his ideas and considered them as „rebellious“ as Taoist and Buddhist ones and same as emperor considered him as treat to hierarchical strict order. Therefore they often sent him to remote wars hoping that he will die. But his ideas started to be more widespread and he got very active followers such as Wang Ge, Li Zhi and He Xinyin. Wang Ge was spreading more equal ideas among commoners while Li Zhi and He Xinyin were advocating better opportunities for women in education and jobs and called for equality. This made conservative stream of Confucians and emperor very angry and they perceived them as usurpers s and danger to the system. Li Zhi and He Xinyin were arrested and they died in jail. As a reaction to that and to strengthen system and power emperor and conservative Confucians made system even more strict, conservative and closed. Except mentioned partial closing trade and foreign influence they reduced rights of women even more and reduced opportunities for lower classes to enter bureaucracy.
Christianity experienced rises and falls during Ming dynasty. At beginning as contra policy towards Yuan dynasty it was restricted and declared illegal for further spreading. By end of 16th century Christian jesuits were only partially allowed as a measure of partial maintaining of openness towards trade and foreign culture. Jesuits educated in Macau came accross China to present new European technologies and to try to convince people by rationality to accept new faith. Matteo Ricci was one of most famous Jesuits in China. He with Chinese convert Xu Guangqi presented world map based on European cartography and also translated Euclids works into Chinese. They got some support from Confucians because they emphasized on knowledge and hierarchy. Almost forgotten stele built during Tang dynasty in Xian was pointed by jesuits to get affirmation of Christianity as old faith in China. Matteo Ricci promoted balanced preaching approach in which he spoke that converts could still practice traditional rituals, respect Confucius… But after his death his followers were more conservative what caused expelling of Jesuits in 1616 for several years back to Macau. Later they were allowed partially again. But now some movements were balancing with Chinese traditions while others such as Dominicans were critical and spoke that Confucian rites are incompatible with Christianity. It later caused big disputes and banning during Qing dynasty.
Judaism was slightly present mostly in Kaifeng.
Islam was very respected during Ming dynasty. Marriage with Muslim people were legal. Muslims could also join state and serve. Except Zhang He there were several other Muslim generals in Chinese army. They commanded Muslim troops in wars with Mongols. Uighur general Hala Bashi was famous for surpassing rebellions of minorities in Yunnan. At same time non-Chinese Muslims which were brought during Yuan dynasty, were deported from Gansu province back to todays Xinjiang, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Ming emperors and Confucians considered Muslims as loyal and that they fit Confucian ideology. Several emperors built a lot of mosques in Nanjing, Yunnan, Guangzhou, Quanzhou, Fujian, Xian….In foreign policy China supported Champa and Malacca Sultanate a Muslim governed states. It supported Champa in war with Vietnam and fought Portuguese for attacking Malacca. Lin Nu was famous Chinese Muslim scholar and merchant.
Life in that period was quite similar in comparison to leisure, gardening, virtues, enterntainment to Tang and Song dynasties. Despite difference in life in city and village they became very interconnected thanks to better roads and canals. Because of rapid growth of cities they were coming closer to each other and towards villages. It eased communication and cooperation between various artistic, scholar, religious and other associations. Presence of women was reduced in public life and theri rights decreased in comparison to Song and even Tang dynasty.
In new capital city Beijing life was very vibrant. There were many shops, markets, temples, tea houses, brothels and other. City started to take shape with gates and hutongs of todays appearance of old parts. Core of the city was around todays Qianmen, Shichihai and Temple of Heaven. During 15th century many grand constructions were done both for pleasure and duties of emperor. Most remarkable is Forbidden City a large imperial palace larger several times than those of Xian( Tangs dynasty palace) and of Nanjing( at beginning of Ming). Still it was smaller than the Weiyang Palace of Xian a residence of Han dynasty. It was called with a reason that no one who is not in aristocratic or bureaucratic top elite could enter it. Emperor lived there with his closer family in Inner area of palace and there only eunuch guards and servants were allowed and female servants. In outer area were performed various ceremonies and governmental procedures, receptions, celebrations, conferences and decision making were conducted. Here could enter non eunuch soldiers on guard and top governmental officials. First European to enter it was Matteo Ricci. Emperors built other large complexes around Forbidden city such as Beihai Park and Jingshan park determined for leisure of imperial family. Emperors built several villas and temples at Xiangshan hills where they liked to spend summers and hunt and enjoy with concubines.
Within Beijing emperors invested in renovation of Imperial Academy( built during Yuan dynasty). Temple of Heaven, Temple of Sun, Temple of Moon and Temple of Earth were built in purpose of worshipping these bodies and elements. Most important was Temple of Heaven where emperor prayed for good harvest at beginning of new lunar year in order to confirm Mandate of Heaven.
Before we finish it is important to mention Jianghu a term for all quasilegal or illegal secret societies. Here belonged both good and bad societies.
Most of them lived as hermits in mountains and practiced martial arts.They had their code of conducts based on Taoist principles and some Confucian manners. They wanted to stay separate from state or other institutions as they wanted to be independent completely free from taxes, others influence and wanted to keep their martial arts in secret. They had own hidden shrines in some of their temples or city houses. Also some of them resided in cities and secretly gathered in houses. They used this arts for self-defense from robbers. Some societies were aiming fighting against robbers and helping people who were victims of robbers. Others were fighting against injustice and used to attack rich officials and rob them and distribute wealth to poor people. Such societies were always target of government and often were caught and executed but also often they managed to fight back successfully. Most famous such sects are quasi-fictional such as Emei Sect, Wudang Sect and Shaolin Sect. Kunlun Sect was purely fictional. There were also secret societies of magicians, fortune tellers who wanted to remain in secret to keep their formulas and rituals away from competition and offered their services to people who came for help. Some of societies were societies of artisans who were hiding their talents from others. There were also some societies which promoted apocalypse and were calling for disasters and violence and promoted some messianic ideas. Such extremist sects were very dangerous and manipulative. Among them most famous was White Lotus Sect. There were also secret societies of robers and assassins. Robers used to rob anyone while assassins were hired by some figure to eliminate another figure in power struggle. Such societies started to appear during Han dynasty, were becoming more widespread during Tang and Song dynasties. During Ming were even more widespread while they peaked during Qing dynasty when biggest crisis appeared and were aimed at foreigners and Manchu dynasty mostly and help for the poor.
As it was mentioned Zheng He was seeking trade and confirmation of supremacy of Chinese Empire in world. Ming court initially cooperated with a lot of countries and accepted a lot of envoys including Ottoman Empire. In relations with new colonial powers Ming had to balance such as with Portugal and Netherlands. With Portugal Ming was more cooperative while with Dutch it had more hostile relations.
source of featured image: https://asiaholidays.biz/featured/the-temple-of-heaven-in-beijing.html