Chongzhen Emperor

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Chongzhen Emperor
Ming Chongzhen.jpg
Emperor of the Ming Dynasty
Reign 2 October 1627 – 25 April 1644
Predecessor Tianqi Emperor
Successor Hongguang Emperor
Emperor of China
Reign 2 October 1627 – 25 April 1644
Predecessor Tianqi Emperor
Successor Shunzhi Emperor
Spouse Empress Zhuang Lie Min
Noble Consort Gong Shu, concubine
Noble Consort Yuan concubine
Consort Shun, concubine
Consort Shen, concubine
Consort Wang, concubine[1]
Consort Wang, concubine[2]
Consort Liu, concubine
Consort Fang, concubine
Issue Zhu Cilang, Crown Prince Xianmin
Zhu Cixuan, Prince Yin of Huai
Zhu Cijiong, Prince Ai of Ding
Zhu Cizhao, Prince Dao of Yong
Zhu Cihuan, Prince Ling of Ding
Zhu Cican, Prince Huai of Dao
Prince Liang of Dao
Princess Kunyi
Zhu Meicuo, Princess Changping
Princess Zhaoren
Full name
Family name: Zhu (朱; Chu in Wade-Giles spelling)
Given name:Youjian (由檢; Yu-chien in Wade-Giles spelling)
Era name and dates
Chongzhen (崇禎; Chung-chen in Wade-Giles spelling): 5 February 1628 – 25 April 1644
Posthumous name
Emperor Zhaotian Yidao Gangming Kejian Kuiwen Fenwu Dunren Maoxiao Lie(martyr, staunch)
Temple name
Ming Sizong (Szu-tsung in Wade-Giles spelling)[3]
House House of Zhu
Father Taichang Emperor
Mother Empress Dowager Xiao Chun
Born (1611-02-06)6 February 1611
Died 25 April 1644(1644-04-25) (aged 33)
Jingshan Hill, Beijing
Burial Ming Dynasty Tombs, Beijing

The Chongzhen Emperor (simplified Chinese: 崇祯; traditional Chinese: 崇禎; pinyin: Chóngzhēn; Wade-Giles: Ch'ung-cheng) (6 February 1611 – 25 April 1644) was the 16th and last emperor of the Ming Dynasty in China. He reigned from 1627 to 1644, under an era name that means "honorable and auspicious".

Early years[edit]

Born Zhu Youjian (Wade-Giles: Chu Yu-chien; Chinese: 朱由檢), Chongzhen was the fifth son of Zhu Changluo, the Taichang Emperor, by Lady Liu Shunu, a lower ranked concubine. When he was four years old his mother was killed by the Emperor for unknown reasons and buried secretly. Zhu Youjian was adopted first by Consort Kang; some years later he was transferred to Consort Zhuang, when Consort Kang gave birth to another princess and adopted Zhu Youxiao (later the Tianqi Emperor) as well.

All of Taichang Emperor's sons died young except the eldest son Tianqi and the fifth son Chongzhen. Chongzhen grew up in a relatively lonely but quiet environment, since most of the younger sons were left out of the power struggle that their elder brother the Tianqi Emperor had to endure. Fearing the powerful eununch Wei Zhongxian, Chongzhen had been avoiding going to court under the pretext of illness, until he was summoned by the Tianqi Emperor in 1627. By the time Tianqi had been gravely ill and wanted Chongzhen to rely on Wei Zhongxian in the future.[4] Chongzhen succeeded his brother to the throne at age 17 according to the testamentary edict left by the later.[5] His succession to the throne, despite the manoeuvers of Wei Zhongxian to keep dominating the court, was also helped by Empress Zhang.[6] After the accession, Chongzhen immediately eliminated the eunuch Wei Zhongxian and Madame Ke, who had become de facto rulers of the empire.

Chongzhen tried to rule by himself and did his best to salvage the Ming Dynasty. However, years of internal corruption and an empty treasury made it almost impossible to find capable ministers to fill important government posts. Chongzhen also tended to be suspicious of the few skilled subordinates he did have, executing the famous general Yuan Chonghuan, who had almost single-handedly maintained the northern frontier against the Manchus, in 1630.

Fall of the Ming Dynasty[edit]

Chongzhen killing his daughter, before hanging himself. (Drawing by a European artist for Martino Martini's De bello tartarico)

A Little Ice Age occurring in the 17th century caused widespread drought, famine and farmer uprisings throughout China.,[7] and accelerated the Fall of the Ming Dynasty during Chongzhen's reign. Popular uprisings included those of Zhang Xianzhong and the more important Li Zicheng. These could not be put down by the already hard-pressed Ming armies, already contending with the Manchu threat in the north.

In early 1644, the situation had become very dire and unfavorable to Chongzhen, but he refused the suggestion of moving the court or sending the crown prince to the south.[8] In April 1644, Li prepared to take the Ming capital of Beijing. Rather than face capture, humiliation and probable execution at the hands of the newly proclaimed Shun Dynasty, Chongzhen arranged a feast and gathered all members of the imperial household except his sons. Crying "Why must you be born into my family?" (汝何故生我家!), he killed them with his sword. All died except his second daughter, 16-year-old Princess Chang Ping, whose attempt to block the sword blow resulted in her left arm being severed by her father.[9]

Still wearing his imperial robes, Chongzhen then fled to Jingshan Park behind the palace and committed suicide by hanging himself from the Guilty Chinese Scholartree, leaving behind a death note on his robe:

Guilty Scholar tree – Replica of the tree from which Chongzhen hanged himself in April 1644

Contrary to popular belief, Chongzhen did not spent his final hours with only the faithful eunuch Wang Cheng'en (王承恩) at his side; dozens of high-level government officials and over 700 households of imperial scholars committed suicide after the capital's fall, as a statement of their loyalty to Chongzhen. In addition, more than a thousand palace eunuchs died fighting desperately to defend the Palace against the rebel forces, and over 300 imperial maids committed suicide upon hearing of the Emperor's death.[10]

Li Zicheng's comment on Chongzhen is that "This Emperor was not a bad one, but he was alienated by the many hideous subordinates. The ministers were busy with self-interests and factionalism, and there were few loyal ones remaining" (君非甚闇,孤立而煬灶恆多;臣盡行私,比黨而公忠絕少). He ordered the dead emperor and his wife to be buried together in the tomb of his concubine, Consort Tian's. The tomb was later called Siling[why?] of the Ming Dynasty Tombs.

The Manchus were quick to exploit the death of Chongzhen: by claiming to "avenge the Emperor," they rallied support from loyalist Ming forces and civilians. The Shun Dynasty lasted less than a year with Li's defeat at the Battle of Shanhai Pass. The victorious Manchus establishing the Shunzhi Emperor of the Qing Dynasty as ruler of all China.

After Chongzhen's death, loyalist forces proclaimed a Southern Ming Dynasty in Nanjing, naming Zhu Yousong, Prince of Fu as the Hongguang Emperor. However, in 1645 Qing armies started to move against the Ming remnants. The Southern Ming, again bogged down by factional infighting, were unable to hold back the Manchu onslaught, and Nanjing surrendered on 8 June 1645. Zhu was captured on 15 June and brought to Beijing, where he died the following year. The dwindling Southern Ming were continually pushed farther south, and the last Emperor of the Southern Ming, Zhu Youlang, Prince of Gui, was finally caught in Burma, transported to Yunnan, and executed in 1662 by Wu Sangui, a high-profile traitor serving as general of the Qing army's vanguard.

Legacy and personality[edit]

While Chongzhen was not especially incompetent by the standards of the later Ming, he nevertheless sealed the fate of the Ming dynasty. He did his best to save the dynasty. Despite a reputation for hard work, Chongzhen's paranoia, impatience, stubbornness and lack of regard for the plight of his people doomed his crumbling empire. Chongzhen's attempts at reform did not take into account the considerable decline of Ming power, which was already far advanced at the time of his accession. Over the course of his 17 year reign, Chongzhen executed 7 military governors, 11 regional commanders, replaced his minister of defense 14 times, and appointed an unprecedented 50 ministers to the Grand Secretariat (equivalent to the cabinet and prime minister). Even though the Ming Dynasty still possessed capable commanders and skilled politicians in its dying years, Chongzhen's impatience and paranoid personality prevented any of them from enacting any real plan to salvage a perilous situation.

In particular, Chongzhen's execution of Yuan Chonghuan on extremely flimsy grounds was regarded as the decisively fatal blow. At the time of his death, Yuan was supreme commander of all Ming forces in the northeast, and had just rushed from the borders to defend the capital against a surprise Manchurian invasion. For much of the preceding decade, Yuan had served as the Ming Empire's bulwark in the north, where he was responsible for securing Ming borders at a time when the Empire was suffering humiliating defeat after defeat. His unjust death destroyed Ming military morale and removed one of the greatest obstacles to the eventual Manchurian conquest of China.

Personal information[edit]

His father was the Taichang Emperor. His mother was Liu Shunu (淑女劉氏) (d. 1615), concubine of the Taichang Emperor, daughter of Liu Yingyuan, Duke of Ying (瀛國公劉應元) and Lady Xu (徐媪), posthumously honored as Empress Dowager Xiao Chun (孝純太后)


Formal Title Maiden Name Born Died Father Mother Issue Notes
Empress Xiao Jie
Family name: Zhou (周) Suzhou, Jiangsu Province 18 March 1644 Zhou Kui
Zhu Cilang, Crown Prince Xianmin
Princess Kunyi
Zhu Cixuan, Prince Yin of Huai
Zhu Cijiong, Prince Ai of Ding
Noble Consort Yuan
Family name: Yuan (袁) 1644 Yuan You (袁祐) Princess Zhaoren
Noble Consort Gong Shu
Family name: Tian (田)
Given name: Xiuying (秀英)
Shaanxi Province 1642 Tian Hongyu
Zhu Cizhao, Prince Dao of Yong
Zhu Cihuan, Prince Ling of Dao
Zhu Cican, Prince Huai of Dao
Prince Liang of Dao
Consort Shun
Family name: Wang (王) 1629 Zhu Meicuo, Princess Pingchang
Consort Shen
Family name: Shen (沈)
Consort Wang
Family name: Wang (王) Different from the below
Consort Wang
Family name: Wang (王) Different from the above
Consort Liu
Family name: Liu (劉)
Consort Fang
Family name: Fang (方)


Number Name Formal Title Born Died Mother Spouse Issue Notes
1 Zhu Cilang
Crown Prince Xianmin
26 February 1629 unknown[11] Empress Zhuang Lie Min Lady Ning
(daughter of Ning Hong (寧浤))
none Created Crown Prince in 1630
2 Zhu Cixuan
Prince Yin of Huai
15 January 1630 15 March 1630 Empress Zhuang Lie Min none none Created Prince of Huai
3 Zhu Cijiong
Prince Ai of Ding
1631 unknown Empress Zhuang Lie Min Created Prince Ding in 1643; posthumously demoted to Duke An of Ding (定安公) under the Shun Dynasty; title of Prince of Ding restored under the Southern Ming Dynasty
4 Zhu Cizhao
Prince Dao of Yong
unknown unknown Consort Gong Shu Created Prince of Yong in April 1642; Granted the posthumous name "Dao" (悼) under the Southern Ming Dynasty
5 Zhu Cihuan
Prince Ling of Dao
1633 1708 Consort Gong Shu Lady Hu
Zhu Heshen (朱和兟)[12]
Zhu Heren (朱和壬)
Zhu Hezai (朱和在)
Zhu Hekun (朱和堃)
three daughters
Hiding under pseudonym since fall of Ming Dynasty; Caught and beheaded by Qing government in 1708[13][14]
6 Zhu Cican
Prince Huai of Dao
1637 5 May 1639 Consort Gong Shu none none
7 none Prince Liang of Dao
unknown unknown Consort Gong Shu none none Died at the age of three


Number Title Name Born Died Date Married Spouse Issue Mother Notes
1 Princess Kunyi
Family name: Zhu (朱)
(personal name unknown)
1630 unknown none none none Empress Zhuang Lie Min Died young
2 Princess Changping
Family name: Zhu (朱)
Given name: Meicuo (朱媺娖)
1629 26 September 1646 1645 Zhou Xian
Consort Shun
3 Princess Zhaoren
Family name: Zhu (朱)
(personal name unknown)
1639 1644 none none none Consort Yuan[15] Was killed by her father along with other members of the imperial household when Li Zicheng invaded the Ming capital of Beijing



  •  This article incorporates text from China and the Manchus, by Herbert Allen Giles, a publication from 1912 now in the public domain in the United States.
  1. ^ Different from the below
  2. ^ DIfferent from the above
  3. ^ Temple name given in 1644 by the Prince of Fu (福王), the new self-proclaimed emperor of the Southern Ming. This is the temple name most often found in history books, despite the fact that the Southern Ming soon changed the temple name into Yizong (毅宗; I-tsung in Wade-Giles spelling), and later Weizong (威宗; Wei-tsung in Wade-Giles spelling). The new rulers of the Qing Dynasty conferred upon Chongzhen the temple name Huaizong (懷宗; Huai-tsung in Wade-Giles spelling), probably in an effort to win over their recently conquered subjects.
  4. ^ 至是八月熹宗疾大漸十一日命召帝帝初慮不為忠賢所容深自韜晦常稱病不朝承召乃入問疾熹宗憑榻顧帝曰來吾弟當為堯舜帝懼不敢應良久奏曰臣死罪陛下為此言臣應萬死熹宗慰勉至再又曰善視中宮魏忠賢可任也帝益懼而與忠賢相勞若語甚溫求出 (崇禎長編 卷一)
  5. ^ 乙卯,崩於乾清宮,年二十三。遺詔以皇第五弟信王由檢嗣皇帝位。 (明史卷二十二)
  6. ^ 及熹宗大渐,折忠贤逆谋、传位信王者,后力也。 (明史 卷一百一十四)
  7. ^ "Annual temperatures during the last 2485 years in the mid-eastern Tibetan Plateau inferred from tree rings" by Y. LIU, Z. AN, H. W. LINDERHOLM, D. CHEN, H. SONG, Q. CAI, J. SUN, and H. TIAN
  8. ^ 丁亥,詔天下勤王。命廷臣上戰守事宜。左都禦史李邦華、右庶子李明睿請南遷及太子撫軍江南,皆不許。 (明史 卷二十四)
  9. ^ Herbert Allen Giles (1912). China and the Manchus. Cambridge: The University press. p. 24. Retrieved 2011-07-06. (Original from the University of Michigan)
  10. ^ 明思宗死后,自杀官员有户部尚书倪元璐、工部尚书范景文、左都御史李邦华、左副都御史施邦曜、大理寺卿凌义渠、太常寺卿吴麟征、左中允刘理顺、刑部右侍郎孟兆祥等,驸马都尉巩永固全家自杀,太监自杀者以百计,战死在千人以上。宫女自杀者三百余人。绅生生员等七百多家举家自杀。明亡后殉难人数可见诸《明史纪事》第八十卷;《甲申传信录》;《闽中纪略》国变难臣钞
  11. ^ 京師陷,賊獲太子,偽封宋王。及賊敗西走,太子不知所終。 (明史 卷一百二十)
  12. ^ Father of Zhu Cengyu (朱曾裕)
  13. ^ 戊午,山東巡撫趙世顯報捕獲硃三父子,解往浙江。(清史稿卷八)
  14. ^ 丁巳,九卿議覆大嵐山獄上,得旨:「誅其首惡者,硃三父子不可宥,緣坐可改流徙。巡撫王然、提督王世臣俱留任,受傷官兵俱議敘。」(清史稿卷八)
  15. ^ Although historical records do not explicitly state that Princess Zhaoren was Consort Yuan's daughter, it is known for certain that Consort Yuan bore one of the Chongzhen Emperor's daughters. As the mothers of Chongzhen's other two daughters are known, we can assume that Consort Yuan's daughter was Princess Zhaoren.


Chongzhen Emperor
Born: 6 February 1611 Died: 25 April 1644
Regnal titles
Preceded by
The Tianqi Emperor
Emperor of the Ming Dynasty
Succeeded by
The Hongguang Emperor
Emperor of China
Succeeded by
The Shunzhi Emperor