Zhu Yuanzhang was the founder of the Ming Dynasty in China. One of the many translations of his name is "vast military." This is the man who reformed China during the 13th century. He became a great leader of an army and forced the Mongols to retreat, and then went on to become the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty in China.
He was born in 1328 in Pei County. He was the youngest of four brothers and his family was very poor. Because of the fact that there was no food, many of his brothers were given away. When he was 16 years old, the yellow river flooded the land killing his whole family. He was then left alone to fend for himself. He found shelter in a Buddhist monastery but ironically, the monastery ran out of money as well, and again he was forced to leave and fend for himself.
For years he traveled and begged for his food and eventually returned to the monastery. He lived there until he was 24, and learned to read and write. The Mongol army eventually destroyed the monastery, burning it to the ground and in an act of revenge, Zhu joined a local rebel group to fight back. His natural leadership abilities and talents would see him rise quickly through the ranks and become their leader.
The Red Turbans were a sect who had a mixed belief in Buddhism and Zoroastrian beliefs. Even though Zhu became their leader, it is unknown how much he got involved in their actual beliefs, because as soon as he became emperor he supported Confucianism.
It was in 1356 when Zhu took control of Nanjing, one of the major cities in China. It was this city that became his base of operations and later the capital of his empire. Word got around quickly that in this place there was relative peace and good governance. The next ten years saw the city grow ten times its original size. The Mongols never made any attempt to recapture the city because they were badly crippled by internal fighting. They eventually lost the whole of central and southern China to different groups.
Because of his skills as a leader, Zhu was able to take in a group of followers who were themselves talented. When he was thirty five, he went to battle to take control over the now separated Red Turban territory. After fighting the largest naval battle known, he won, and from then on, he no longer fought in his battles. He had plenty of generals to do that for him. Instead, he directed everything from his palace in Nanjing.
It was in 1366 when he went on to take the rest of China. After defeating some smaller territories and getting the allegiance of others, he marched against the Mongol army and after a half hearted fight, the Mongols fled back to their home (the place we now know as Mongolia).
In 1368 he proclaimed himself Emperor. Confucianism was brought in again and the people who had a higher role in society got their places by taking an exam that tested their knowledge of literature and philosophy. Thus, the scholars once again had their place in China.
The farmers had it a little better than before, as he knew of the hardships that they faced. He put some laws into place to try to protect them but it still was not enough. The wealthy still had loopholes through which they could control and take over the farmers' land.
Zhu Yuanzhang ruled with an iron fist. Some people would say that he was bad, and others say he was good. Regardless of conflicting opinions, he did unite China under one rule.