1368: Founding a Dynasty in Nanking

City plan of Nanking. From The Cambridge History of China: The Ming Dynasty, p.110
City plan of Nanking. From The Cambridge History of China: The Ming Dynasty, p.110

Zhu Yuanzhang’s memorial on ascending the throne as the Hongwu Emperor:

We are the ruler of the Middle Kingdom. When the dynastic fortune of the Song had reached an end, Heaven commanded the immortal [真人, referring to Khubilai Khan Khaghan] in the desert to enter the Middle Kingdom and become the lord of the empire. [The throne] was passed from son to grandson for more than a hundred years; but now their dynastic fortune has also ended. 朕惟中國之君,自宋運既終,天命真人於沙漠,入中國為天下主,傳及子孫,百有餘年,今運亦終。

Local strongmen in the land vied with local magnates. We stem from common stock of Huaiyou [i.e., Anhui].  Bearing the favour of Heaven above and the spirits of ancestors, [we] availed ourselves of ‘the autumn of chasing the deer’ [i.e., a time when there were many contenders for power] to obtain various worthies on either side [as helpers in our task]. 海內土疆,豪傑分爭。朕本淮右庶民,荷上天眷顧,祖宗之靈,遂乘逐鹿之秋,致英賢於左右。

As for the bandits and rainstorms in Liang-Huai, Liang-Zhe, Jiangdong, Jiangxi, Hu, Xiang, Han, Mian, Min, Guang, Shandong and the southwestern commander imes of the Man barbarians, [we] repeatedly commanded our military officers to make a rigorous show of our military might. The four quarters were suppressed and settled, and the people have come to rest secure in their fields and villages. 凡兩淮、兩浙、江東、江西、湖、湘、漢、沔、閩、廣、山東及西南諸郡蠻夷,各處寇攘,屢命大將軍與諸將校奮揚威武,四方戡定,民安田裡。

Today the great civil and military officers, the numerous officials and the masses join in urging us to ascent [the throne], revering us as August Ruler (Huangdi), thereby making us the lord of the black-haired people. 今文武大臣百司眾庶合辭勸進,尊朕為皇帝,以主黔黎。

Reluctantly acceding to the requests of the multitude, on the fourth day of the first moon of the second year of Wu [23 January 1368] we offered sacrifices to Heaven and Earth on the south side of Zhong Mountain and ascended the throne of the emperor at the southern suburban altar (nanjiao). 勉循眾請,於吳二年正月四日告祭天地於鍾山之陽,即皇帝位於南郊。

The title of the empire has been set as Great Ming. The present year has been made the first year of Hongwu (Great martial power). 定有天下之號曰大明,建元洪武。

Respectfully entering the Ancestoral Temple (Taimiao), we have conferred posthumous titles of emperor and empress upon four generations of our ancestors. 恭詣太廟,追尊四代考妣為皇帝皇后。

[We] have erected in the capital a great altar to the spirit of the soil and a great altar to the spirit of the grain. 立大社大稷於京師。

The consort, née Ma, has been made empress, and the eldest son Biao has been made heir apparent. 冊封馬氏為皇后,立世子標為皇太子。

This shall be promulgated throughout the empire, and all shall be made to know of it. 布告天下,咸使聞知。

In this document the emperor is portrayed first as the high priest of all humanity who performs sacrifices to Heaven and Earth, the creative forces of all life. Second, his is crowned the secular king of the earth. Third, he is the filial son who honors his ancestors in the manner befitting only the noblest man of all. And fourth, his is protector of the sources of human sustenance as he offers sacrifices to the spirits of agriculture.

In this document and its accompanying ceremonies we see evidence of the self-conscious manipulation of legitimizing symbols to enhance the new ruler’s position. The grandeur of the events was in part an effort to counter the doubts of those whose loyalties were still tied to the Yuan Mongol regime in Dadu. Their effect was far from immediate. The Koreans, for example, continued to view the Yuan as the legitimate rulers of the Middle Kingdom for more than a decade.

— The English translation of the edict and commentary is taken from John D. Landlord, ‘The Hung-wu reign, 1368-1398’ in The Cambridge History of China, Volume 7, The Ming Dynasty, 1368-1644, Part 1, edited by Frederick W. Mote and Denis Twitchett, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988, pp.109-111, with minor stylistic modification. The Chinese original has been added.

Further Reading

‘Uses of the Ming Founder’, Ming Studies, Issue 1, 2004: 15-130