Top Ten Ming Dynasty Chinese Artifacts

Top Ten Ming Dynasty Chinese Artifacts

       The Ming Dynasty was the ruling dynasty of China for 276 years (1368–1644) following the collapse of the Mongol-led Yuan Dynasty. The Ming, described by some as “one of the greatest eras of orderly government and social stability in human history,” was the last dynasty in China ruled by ethnic Han Chinese. Although the primary capital of Beijing fell in 1644 to a rebellion led by Li Zicheng (who established the Shun Dynasty, soon replaced by the Manchu-led Qing Dynasty), regimes loyal to the Ming throne, collectively called the Southern Ming, survived until 1662. The Hongwu Emperor (ruled 1368–98) attempted to create a society of self-sufficient rural communities ordered in a rigid, immobile system that would guarantee and support a permanent class of soldiers for his dynasty: the empire’s standing army exceeded one million troops and the navy’s dockyards in Nanjing were the largest in the world. He also took great care breaking the power of the court eunuchs and unrelated magnates, enfeoffing his many sons throughout China and attempting to guide these princes through published dynastic instructions. This failed spectacularly when his teen-aged successor attempted to curtail his uncles’ power, prompting the uprising that placed the Prince of Yan upon the throne as the Yongle Emperor in 1402. The Yongle Emperor established Yan as a secondary capital and renamed it Beijing, constructed the Forbidden City, and restored the Grand Canal and the primacy of the imperial examinations in official appointments. He rewarded his eunuch supporters and employed them as a counterweight against the Confucian scholar-bureaucrats. One, Zheng He, led seven enormous voyages of exploration into the Indian Ocean as far as Arabia and the coast of Africa. The rise of new emperors and new factions diminished such extravagances; the capture of the Zhengtong Emperor during the 1449 Tumu Crisis ended them completely. The imperial navy was allowed to fall into disrepair while forced labor constructed the Liaodong palisade and connected and fortified the Great Wall of China into its modern form. Wide-ranging censuses of the entire empire were conducted decennially, but the desire to avoid labor and taxes and the difficulty of storing and reviewing the enormous archives at Nanjing hampered accurate figures. Estimates for the late-Ming population vary from 160 to 200 million, but necessary revenues were squeezed out of smaller and smaller numbers of farmers as more disappeared from the official records or “donated” their lands to tax-exempt eunuchs or temples. Haijin laws intended to protect the coasts from “Japanese” pirates instead turned many into smugglers and pirates themselves. By the 16th century, however, the expansion of European trade, albeit restricted to islands near Guangzhou like Macao, spread the Columbian Exchange of crops, plants, and animals into China, introducing chili peppers to Sichuan cuisine and highly-productive corn and potatoes, which diminished famines and spurred population growth. The growth of Portuguese, Spanish, and Dutch trade created new demand for Chinese products and produced a massive influx of Japanese and American silver. This abundance of specie allowed the Ming to finally avoid using paper money, which had sparked hyperinflation during the 1450’s. While traditional Confucians opposed such a prominent role for commerce and the newly rich it created, the heterodoxy introduced by Wang Yangming permitted a more accommodating attitude. Zhang Juzheng’s initially successful reforms proved devastating when a slowdown in agriculture produced by the Little Ice Age was met with Japanese and Spanish policies that quickly cut off the supply of silver now necessary for farmers to be able to pay their taxes. Combined with crop failure, floods, and epidemic, the dynasty was considered to have lost the Mandate of Heaven and collapsed before the rebel leader Li Zicheng and a Manchurian invasion.

  1. Two Dragons Presenting a Heart-Shaped Amber (1647-1658)

           Two dragons presenting a heart-shaped amber, buried 1647-1658.
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  2. Black Jade Bi-Disk (1368-1644 AD)

  3. Imperial Dynasty Empress Chair

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  4. Dragon Vases (1426–1435 AD)

    The porcelains of the Ming dynasty have attained such recognition in the West that “Ming” has become almost generic for anything ceramic fabricated in China before the twentieth century. While, unhappily, many of the pieces called Ming have no possible claim to that attribution, the porcelains that were produced during the period are among the most beautiful and exciting to emerge from China’s kilns. Because the kilns at Jingdezhen and the surrounding area of Jiangxi Province became paramount during the Ming era, overshadowing all other manufacturing centers, our attention focuses primarily on wares from these kilns from this time onward.
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  5. Manjusri Statue (Early 15th Century)

    This is a Manjusri (Wenshu) statue, which dates to the early 15th century.
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  6. Portrait of the Tianqi Emperor in Court Costume

    This hanging silk scroll pictures Zhu Youjiao, the Tianqi emperor, sitting on an elaborate dragon chair. On a table nearby sit vases of pink peonies, symbolizing prosperity. During his reign, however, the economy 8declined and the government showed signs of collapsing from inner pressures and uprisings. Seventeen years after Youjiao’s death, the 8276-year-long dynasty was overthrown by Manchus from the northeast, marking the end of Ming rule.
  7. Empress’ Court Overvest (1595)

    This embroidered vest is decorated with dragons rising to a sky filled with wish-granting clouds and characters meaning “ten thousand longevities,” a birthday greeting that could only be used for the emperor and empress. An inscription even dates the creation of the item to the fifth day of the 11th month in the 23rd year of the reign of the Wanli emperor, two days before the 50th birthday of the Empress Dowager Li, the most powerful woman of the period.
  8. Vairochana
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  9. Gold Crown

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  10. Stone Carved Lions

    Dynasties of Asia offers this beautiful original set of antique Chinese stone lions dating to the 15th Century. These lions were commissioned for a family with considerable wealth and power.   Evidence of this determination comes from the decoration of ornaments carved at the neckline of each of the figures.   It is important to note, however,  that there does not seem to be any evidence that these lions originated from any imperial structure.  Had they been for a Chinese imperial structure there would have been curls down the spine. In Ming Dynasty China, lions were typically placed at the entrance of a family’s home to protect it from evil spirits.   The large doors of the home were secured at the base of the figures at the lions rear. Lions were originally used to guard Buddhist temples at the start of the Han Dynasty, and soon disappeared for a millennia. The animal is a symbol of energy and value, and is often displayed in a male/female pair.  The male plays with a ball that symbolizes the Earth, while the female holds a cub. The ball on the male lion figure is secured on his hip, however it appears that a piece of stone had broken off from the ball to the mane. Aside from that missing piece, these figures are in remarkable condition and certainly are worthy of investment.
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  11. Lotus Ornament

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  12. Vase

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  13. Emperor’s Palace Painting

    Description: A Ming Dynasty painting of the emperor’s palace
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  14. Carving

  15. Incense Burners in the Shape of Mythical Beasts

    Produced in the imperial workshop, these hollow incense burners depict two single-horned creatures sitting on their haunches. The head is connected to the shoulders by hinges, allowing it to be opened, but the smoke wafts out through the mouth. The creatures are descendants of a mythical icon used for exorcising evil spirits, but evolved during the Ming period to become decorative items !for daily life or religious worship.
    Links: Top Ten Incense Holders, Top Ten Incenses, Top Ten Mythical Beasts,
  16. Bonus: Coin

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