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HOME : Chinese Art : Ming Dynasty : Ming period bronze figurine of a dragon
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Ming period bronze figurine of a dragon - SF.101
Origin: China
Circa: 1368 AD to 1644 AD
Dimensions: 4.15" (10.5cm) high x 3.50" (8.9cm) wide
Collection: Chinese Art
Medium: Bronze

Location: Great Britain
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The Ming dynasty was the ruling dynasty of China – then known as the Empire of the Great Ming – for 276 years (1368–1644) following the collapse of the Mongol-led Yuan dynasty. The Ming period has been described by a number of scholars as "one of the greatest eras of orderly government and social stability in human history". Upon leading a victorious rebellion against the foreign Mongul rulers of the Yuan Dynasty, a peasant named Zhu Yuanzhang seized control of China and founded the Ming Dynasty in 1368. As emperor, he founded his capital at Nanjing and adopted the name Hongwu as his reign title. Hongwu, which can be translated as “vast military force,” reflects the increased prestige of the army during the Ming Dynasty. Due to the very realistic threat still posed by the Mongols, Hongwu realized that a strong military was essential to Chinese prosperity. Thus, the orthodox Confucian view that the military was an inferior class to be ruled over by an elite class of scholars was very much reconsidered. During the Ming Dynasty, Chinese territories were reunited after centuries of foreign incursion and occupation, with Ming troops also having a control over Manchuria.

Like the founders of the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.- 220 A.D.), Hongwu was extremely suspicious of the educated courtiers that advised him and, fearful that they might attempt to overthrow him, he successfully consolidated control of all aspects of government. The strict authoritarian control Hongwu wielded over the affairs of the country was due in part to the centralized system of government he inherited from the Monguls and largely kept intact. However, Hongwu replaced the Mongul bureaucrats who had ruled the country for nearly a century with native Chinese administrators. He also reinstituted the Confucian examination system that tested would-be civic officials on their knowledge of literature and philosophy. Unlike the Song Dynasty (960-1279 A.D.), which received most of its taxes from mercantile commerce, the Ming economy was based primarily on agriculture, reflecting both the peasant roots of its founder as well as the Confucian belief that trade was ignoble and parasitic.

The city of Nanjing was demoted to a secondary capital and in 1403 the new capital of China and power base of the emperor became Beijing. Construction of a new city there lasted from 1407 to 1420, employing hundreds of thousands of workers daily. At the centre of the city was the political node of the Imperial City, and at the center of this was the Forbidden City, the palatial residence of the emperor and his family. By 1553, the Outer City was added to the south, which brought the overall size of Beijing to 4 by 4½ miles. Literature, painting, poetry, music, and Chinese opera of various types flourished during the Ming dynasty, especially in the economically prosperous lower Yangzi valley. Compared to the flourishing and progress of science and technology during the previous Song dynasty, the Ming dynasty saw fewer advancements in science and technology compared to the pace of discovery in the Western world. In fact, key advances in Chinese science in the late Ming period were spurred by contact with Europe. Li Shizhen (1518–93) – one of the most renowned pharmacologists and physicians in Chinese history – lived during the late Ming period. His Bencao Gangmu is a medical text with 1,892 entries. Inoculation, although traced to earlier Chinese folk medicine, was detailed in Chinese texts of the period. Throughout the Ming dynasty, around fifty texts were published on the treatment of smallpox. In regards to oral hygiene, the modern bristle toothbrush was invented in 1498, although it used stiff pig hair. - (SF.101)


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