The Li family's ups and downs

Updated: Feb 26, 2024 By Lin Qi CHINA DAILY Print
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A visitor examines ancestors' portraits of Li Wenzhong's family at the Legacy From the Prince of Qiyang, a long-term exhibition at the National Museum of China that traces the ups and downs of the Li family from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). JIANG DONG/CHINA DAILY

A national museum is staging an exhibition dedicated to the eminent lineage instrumental in the vicissitudes of China's final two dynasties, Lin Qi reports.

On a winter day in 1354, Li Wenzhong and his father Li Zhen finally made it to Chuzhou in Anhui province. This was where Zhu Yuanzhang — the younger brother of Li Wenzhong's mother — had stationed his rebel military force during the instability caused by the collapse of the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368).

Setting off from their plague-stricken village a month earlier, the father and son survived hunger, exhaustion and fighting between different rebel factions on the way, which, on several occasions, almost claimed their lives.

Zhu, who would become the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), was saddened when he learned that his sister had died of an illness and adopted his nephew, Li Wenzhong, providing him with care and education, and making him one of the few learned people in his orbit.

Zhu was not acting purely out of a strong sense of kinship, but also out of gratitude. Zhu came from a destitute family with many children, and when he had been younger, he had often been taken care of by Li Wenzhong's parents.

As the years passed, Li Wenzhong became a capable general, winning battles and helping his uncle establish his sovereignty. He went on to serve in a number of important positions in Zhu's court, and was later granted the title of the prince of Qiyang. This prestige was to benefit his descendants for generations over the course of the next six centuries.

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