China Under the Mongols and the Ming (1200-1500)
Standards: 7.3.4
  • Understand to get the meaning of the importance of both overland trade and maritime trade expeditions between China and other civilizations in the Mongol Ascendancy and Ming Dynasty.
Historical Interpretation 1
  • Students explain the central issues and problems from the past, placing people and events in the matrix of time and place.
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The Ming Dynasty

Key Terms and People

Hongwu: The Ming Dynasty's founder

despot: a cruel tyrant

treason: disloyal actions against the state

Yongle: Hongwu's son and the next ruler of China after Hongwu

tributary state: a country that pays tribute in money or goods to a more powerful nation

kowtow: a custom that required touching the ground with one's forhead as a sign of respect

Zheng He: the leader of China's series of sea voyages between 1405 and 1433


Section Notes

Ming Rule

  • After Kublai Khan died, the Mongols' grip on China weakened. In time, Chinese rebels overthrew the Mongols. In 1368, Chinese rule was restored under a new dynasty called the Ming. The Ming Dynasty ruled China for nearly 300 years, until 1644. The dynasty's founder was Hongwu. During his reign, he revived Confucian values and the merit system for choosing officials. He also revised the Mongol trade policies. Over time, he became a despot. He had about 100,000 people executed for treason.
  • After Hongwu's death, his son Yongle took power. He moved the capital from the southern city of Nanjing to Beijing in the north. He wanted to return the seat of government to China's northern heartland and to strengthen the country's northern defenses against any further Mongol invasion. The new capital was built to impress visitors with the splendor of the Ming Dynasty. It was designed like a set of boxes one inside the other. In the center was the Forbidden City.

Foreign Relations Under the Ming

  • Ming foreign policy was based on an arrangement with its neighbors known as the tributary system. Under this system, the Chinese treated nearby lands as tributary states. At its height, it involved more than 40 nations including Korea, Vietnam, and Japan. The costs of submitting were not great for these tributary states. They remained independent. Tributary states sent tribute goods to China with their diplomatic missions. In return they received gifts from the Emperor. Tribute to the place of trade between China and its neighbors. The benefit of this was peaceful borders. Tributary states benefited by getting the goods they wanted without going to war. The negative side was that the Chinese merchants had no place in this new exchange of tribute and gifts. Many turned to smuggling to survive.
  • The tributary system provided the impulse for a series of sea voyages between 1405 and 1433. The leader of the expeditions was Zheng He. He assembled a fleet of more than 300 ships carrying 27,000 men. The furthest expeditions went as far as the east coast of Africa. Even though the expeditions were successful, the Ming government ended the voyages after 1433. The end of the expeditions may have been due to cost or Confucian officials who believed China had everything it needed at home. China turned inward. It reduced its contacts with the world beyond its borders.


Summary: A new dynasty, the Ming overthrew the Mongols and restore Chinese rule. After sponsoring a series of sea voyages, the Ming turned away from dealings with the outside world.

Study Guide Questions

What changes did Ming emperors make to strengthen the central government?

How was the tributary system an example of the Ming belief that China was the center of civilization?

Who founded the Ming Dynasty?

How might the Ming Dynasty's founder's background have influenced his rule? Explain.

Why did China undertake its maritime expeditions?

What might China have lost by ending these voyages? Explain.

Practice Test

Homework: Choose one
  1. Workbook Chapter 11, section 2 (Page 135)
  2. Answer three of the study guide questions using complete sentences.
  3. Draw a picture of something important from this section and summarize this section of the text (three sentences minimum).