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Early Ming Imperial Ambitions: The Legacy of the Mongol Yuan in Spatial Representations and Historical Judgements

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This article discusses how the Mongol Yuan dynasty served as a model of empire-building for the rulers of the early Ming dynasty. It argues that early Ming emperors and statesmen imagined the Ming empire as a Yuan successor state, and endeavoured to match the Yuan’s territorial extent and encompass the steppe region. By comparing imperial maps from the eleventh through fifteenth centuries, this article demonstrates that early Ming depictions of empire more closely match those of the Mongol Empire than those of its “Confucian” predecessor, the Song dynasty. Ming rulers’ judgments of history further reflect the full incorporation of the Yuan dynasty into China’s imperial past, and those judgements referenced the Yuan for examples of successful and unsuccessful policy while circumventing its foreign Mongol origins. Thus, Mongol-style martial values and imperial ambitions maintained a core place in Ming strategic and intellectual thought through the first eighty years of Ming rule.

Affiliations: 1: Department of History, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh


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