The Hongwu Emperor (21 October 1328 – 24 June 1398), personal name Zhu Yuanzhang (Chinese: ???; Wade–Giles: Chu Yuan-chang), was the founding emperor of the Ming dynasty, who reigned from 1368 to 1398.
In the middle of the 14th century, with famine, plagues, and peasant revolts sweeping across China, Zhu Yuanzhang rose to command the force that conquered China and ended the Mongol-led Yuan dynasty, forcing the Mongols to retreat to the Eurasian Steppe.
Zhu claimed the Mandate of Heaven and established the Ming dynasty at the beginning of 1368; later in the same year his army occupied the Yuan capital, Khanbaliq (present-day Beijing).
Trusting only in his family, he made his many sons powerful feudal princes along the northern marches and the Yangtze valley.
Having outlived his eldest son Zhu Biao, Hongwu enthroned Zhu Biao's son via a series of instructions; this ended in failure, when the Jianwen Emperor's attempt to unseat his uncles led to the Jingnan Rebellion.The Hongwu reign was noted for his unprecedented political reforms.
He abolished the position of chancellor, drastically reduced the role of court eunuchs, and cracked down on corruption with draconian measures.
He also established the Embroidered Uniform Guard, one of the best known secret police organizations in imperial China.
In the 1380s and 1390s, a series of purges were launched to eliminate his high-ranked officials and generals, in which tens of thousands were executed.The emperor encouraged agriculture, reduced taxes, incentivized the cultivation of new land and established laws protecting the property of peasants.
He also confiscated land held by large estates and forbade private slavery.
Meanwhile, he banned free movement in the empire and assigned hereditary occupational categories to households.
Through these measures, Zhu Yuanzhang attempted to rebuild a country that had been ravaged by war, limit and control social groups, transform the people with orthodox values, and eventually create a rigid society of self-sufficient farming communities.