The Ming or "Bright" Dynasty (1368-1644) was the last Chinese Imperial government to rule this ancient culture. The Ming Dynasty was founded by Zhu Yuanzhang, "the Hungwu Emperor" (1368-1398), when he lead a successful rebellion against the foreign Mongol, Yuan Dynasty. Zhu Yuanzhang had the distinction of being born a common peasant and rising to the status of emperor by his own skills, cunning and bravery.
Art flourished during the Ming Dynasty and it was well known for is excellent porcelain. Even today the term "Ming Vase," brings instant recognition as an art form of the highest value.
The Forbidden City, home to the Emperor of China from the early 15th to early 20th centuries was one of the greatest legacies of the Ming Dynasty. Ordered built in 1406, by the Yongle Emperor (1402-1424) to consolidate his power in the restored capital of Beijing, the Forbidden Palace took fourteen years to build, contained 980 buildings and covered over 7, 800,000 square feet (720,000 square meters).
The Yongle Emperor was also responsible for the vast exploration fleets of Zheng He. (See Zheng He-Greatest Ming Explorer post). After the last of these voyages in 1436, the Ming emperors chose a policy of isolationism. For the next four centuries the Middle Kingdom attempted to retain what they had and prevent foreign concepts from contaminating the culture. By the mid 19th century this policy would leave China vulnerable to the technological advances of the Europeans.
Fear of the return of the Mongols and other barbarian tribes, led the Ming's to rebuild the Great Wall into the massive brick structure that comes to mind whenever its name is mentioned. It seceded for centuries in holding back the invaders, but in the end, weak emperors, government corruption, and peasant revolts completed the ever present life cycle of the dynasty and the Ming were destroyed and replaced by the last Imperial dynasty of China, the foreign (Manchu's) Qing Dynasty.