Ming Taizu, named Zhu Yuanzhang, was the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the longest dynasty in China’s history. Zhu Yuanzhang was one of the first peasants who started a Chinese dynasty.
Zhu Yuanzhang was born into a poor family in 1328. When he was young, both his parents died. Zhu Yuanzhang used to be a peasant, a beggar and a Buddhist monk but was able to get followers to fight the Mongols. In 1352, he joined the Red Kerchief Army against the declining Yuan (Mongols) Dynasty (1271-1368) and soon became a peasant revolt leader. He began by conquering Southern China and pushing the Mongols North.
In 1368, Zhu Yuanzhang established the Ming Dynasty and set up his capital in the city of Nanjing in Southern China. Over half a year, he solved all obstacles and finally reunited China. He named his dynasty the Ming, meaning "brilliant". After becoming the emperor, Zhu Yuanzhang changed his name to Hong-Wu. "Hong" means huge and "Wu" means force.
After becoming the emperor of Ming, he abolished the post of prime minister, and worked out the Great Ming’s laws which helped to strengthen centralization. He again adopted the government system that was supported by a large class of Confucian literati selected through civil service examinations.
Zhu Yuanzhang founded one of the longest dynasties in China history, but the peasant-born emperor did so by killing thousands of followers, old friends and adversaries. He was very careful to develop and maintain his power. For example, when he heard that his Prime Minister was plotting against him, Zhu Yuanzhang became scared that he was going to lose the Mandate of Heaven, so he killed the Prime Minister and about 40,000 of his followers.
He rebuilt the Chinese economy in many ways. He built rice terraces, introduced crop rotation, and planted over a billion trees. He created a hereditary military caste of soldiers who sustained themselves by farming.
Unlike all the other emperors, Zhu Yuanzhang worked very hard. Zhu Yuanzhang was a good emperor who carried out positive economic policies, created foundations for the prosperity in the early Ming Dynasty. But China under Ming’s rule developed an autocratic government. Zhu Yuanzhang’s cruelty also got adopted by his descendents.
Zhu Yuanzhang died in 1398 at the age of 71.