This paper approaches the topic ‘Hetero/Homogeneous China’ through the role of language(s) in historical Chinese societies, focusing on the Ming 明 dynasty (1368-1644) while embedding its analysis in a bigger picture of the middle and late imperial period. While the concept of ‘language policy’ is almost completely absent in modern historiography of the Ming, this paper argues that it was vital to early Ming rulers and their claim to maintain the heritage of the Mongols whom they had just overthrown. Defining ‘language policy’ as de facto practices in contrast to de jure codes, the paper analyses specific decisions of early Ming administrations: (1) to found, in 1407, a Bureau of Translators (Siyi guan四夷館); (2) to study particular languages in the Bureau and to omit others (status planning); (3) to produce edicts, artworks, and inscriptions that addressed multilingual audiences inside and outside the empire. At this juncture, the temporal focus will be widened. How do the Ming’s politics of language compare to earlier and later regimes? Specifically, what did the Ming inherit from the Mongol-led Yuan 元 (1271-1368) as regards attitudes to multilingualism and corresponding institutions? And what was handed down to the Manchu-led Qing 清 (1644-1912)? For example, Yuan, Ming, and Qing rulers all used polyglot signs as symbols of their universal imperial claims. Does that mean, however, that they were identical triplets? Or were motivations behind similar policies actually quite different?