The rule of the Ming Dynasty was between 1368 and 1644. The capital of the dynasty was first set in Nanjing and was moved to Beijing in 1421.
Zhu Yuanzhang, originally a poor peasant, founded the Ming dynasty after the fall of the turbulent Yuan dynasty. He established a standardised bureaucracy with a strong central authority. His rule was autocratic, and thus heavily censoring his scholars, as well as cultural freedom.
Culture enjoyed a liberal revival when the Yongle emperor ascended the Dragon Throne. The Yongle Dadian, an extensive encyclopedia, was compiled during his reign. To reinforce the frontier defences in the north, he moved his capital from Nanjing to Beijing, which was also his power base. His reign saw the Ming's greatest expansion & Zheng He's voyages to Southeast Asia, India and Africa were made during this time. (The year of 2005 marked the 600th anniversary of Zheng's voyages.)
Trade thrived under the Ming, overseas trade expanded and merchants began to form local trade groups; Anhui merchants in the south and Shanxi merchants in the north. During the later Ming, methods of production akin to those of an early capitalist society emerged, particularly in the production of handicrafts and as new maritime trade routes were established, European nations increasingly sought trade opportunities in China.
During the late Ming, Western missionaries introduced Christianity and advanced sciences into China. Matteo Ricci, an early Italian Jesuit missionary became highly influential in the Ming court and became a close friend to the emperor.
The closing years of the Ming saw the rise of peasant revolts. The largest of these revolts was led by Li Zicheng. Though he managed to overthrow the Ming, he failed to unify China. Manchu forces from China's northeast had begun to encroach into the Ming's frontier and in 1644 they defeated Li Zicheng's undisciplined forces in Beijing. Following their victory in Beijing and founding of the Qing dynasty, they began a slow conquest of the remaining Ming forces.