The man who became the emperor Hongwu (meaning ‘immensely martial') was born to a dirt-poor peasant family, orphaned at sixteen and became, variously, a beggar, a Buddhist monk and a rebel. As late as 1340 he was an insignificant figure in a minor rebel band in some plague-ridden village. But as bandit and rebel he had found his true vocation. He grew quickly in rank and reputation and soon commanded his own large and independent band. Now he showed real strategic vision. Other bandit chiefs concentrated on sacking cities and amassing loot, while Zhu set about capturing places of real strategic importance. In 1356 he took Nanjing, which became his capital and, indeed, that of Ming China. Furthermore, instead of fighting the Mongols, Zhu concentrated first on eliminating his rivals in the south-east. Within ten years he had destroyed them and become the single dominant rebel leader. In 1368 his army, after conquering the whole of eastern China from Shandong down to Canton, advanced on Beijing, the last Mongol emperor fled, Beijing surrendered and Zhu established his new dynasty.
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