The late Yuan popular rebellions began in 1351 when two independent White Lotus Societies, in north and south China, both purveying a chiliastic Buddo-Manichean ideology, recruited to their cause a following of socially miscellaneous elements who called themselves Red Turbans, and provoked an empire-wide attack upon the landlords and the local officials. One key to the failure of the rebels to rise above the rioting phase lay in their inability to gain massive and sustained peasant support. The result was that the landlord gentry, leading peasant militia (i-ping), were able to contain and suppress these riots by 1353–54 in cooperation with the Yuan bureaucracy. However, when the Yuan Chancellor Toghto was for political reasons cashiered in January 1355, the dynasty lost control of the pacification process. In these circumstances, new leadership emerged from both of the original rebel organizations, and stepping into the control vacuum left by the Yuan, pressed an entirely new policy of cooperation with the landlord gentry and their i-ping. The main leaders in this were Ch'en Yu-liang and the future Ming founder, Chu Yuan-chang. Chu's victory over Ch'en, his chief rival, is due largely to the tighter centralization of his embryonic imperial regime.

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