Chongzhen Emperor

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Chongzhen Emperor
崇禎帝
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)
紹天繹道剛明恪儉揆文奮武敦仁懋孝烈皇帝
Temple name
Ming Sizong (明思宗)[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 tombs, Beijing

The Chongzhen Emperor (simplified Chinese: 崇祯; traditional Chinese: 崇禎; pinyin: Chóngzhēn; Wade–Giles: Ch'ung-chen) (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 the Taichang Emperor's sons died young except the eldest, 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 avoided going to court under the pretext of illness, until he was summoned by the Tianqi Emperor in 1627. By that time Tianqi was gravely ill and wanted Chongzhen to rely on Wei Zhongxian in the future.[4]

Chongzhen succeeded his brother to the throne at age 16 in October 1627.[5] His succession was helped by Empress Zhang, despite the manoeuvers of Wei Zhongxian to keep dominating the court.[6] From the beginning of his rule, Chongzhen did his best to salvage the Ming dynasty. His efforts at reform focused on the top ranks of the civil and military establishment. 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 his subordinates, executing dozens of field commanders, including the famous general Yuan Chonghuan, who had directed the defense of the northern frontier against the Manchus. Chongzhen's reign was marked by his fear of factionalism among his officials, which had been a serious issue during the reign of his predecessor the Tianqi Emperor. Soon after his brother's death, Chongzhen immediately eliminated Wei Zhongxian and Madame Ke, as well as other officials thought to be involved in the "Wei-Ke conspiracy".[7]

Meanwhile, partisans of the Donglin Academy faction, which had been devastated under Wei Zhongxian's influence, established political organizations throughout the Jiangnan region.[8] Chief among these was the Fushe, or Restoration Society, whose members were a new generation of scholars who identified with the old Donglin faction.[9] They succeeded in placing their members into high government posts through the imperial examinations of 1630 and 1631. The reversal of Wei Zhongxian's fortunes resulted in a renewal of the Donglin faction's influence at court, arousing great suspicion from the Chongzhen Emperor.[10] The nomination of Donglin favorite Qian Qianyi for the post of Grand Secretary led to accusations of corruption and factionalism by his rival Wen Tiren. Qian was imprisoned on the emperor's orders. Though he was soon released, his status was reduced to that of a commoner and he returned to Jiangnan. Wen Tiren would later become Grand Secretary himself.[11]

Peasant rebellions and Manchu invasion[edit]

In the early 17th century, persistent drought and famine driven by the Little Ice Age accelerated the collapse of the Ming dynasty.[12] Two major popular uprisings swelled up, led by Zhang Xianzhong and Li Zicheng, both poor men from famine-hit Shaanxi who took up arms in the 1620s.[13] At the same time, Ming armies were occupied in the defense of the northern border against the Manchu leader Hong Taiji, whose father Nurhaci had united the Jurchen tribes into a cohesive force. In 1636, after years of campaigns against Ming fortifications north of the Great Wall, Hong Taiji declared himself the emperor of the Great Qing.[14]

Through the 1630s, rebellion spread from Shaanxi to nearby Huguang and Henan. In 1641, Xiangyang fell to Zhang Xianzhong, and Luoyang to Li Zicheng. The next year, Li captured Kaifeng.,[15] and the year after that, Zhang took Wuchang and established himself as the king of the Xi dynasty.[13] Court officials offered a number of unrealistic proposals to stop the rebel armies, including the establishment of archery contests, the restoration of the weisuo military colony system, and the execution of disloyal peasants.[16] Li Zicheng took Xi'an in last 1643, renaming it Chang'an, which had been the city's name when it was the capital of the Tang dynasty. On the lunar New Year of 1644, he proclaimed himself king of the Shun dynasty and prepared to capture Beijing.[17]

By this point, the situation had become critical for Chongzhen, who rejected proposals to recruit new militias from the Beijing region and to recall general Wu Sangui, the defender of Shanhai Pass on the Great Wall. Chongzhen had dispatched a new field commander, Yu Yinggui, who failed to stop Li Zicheng's armies as they crossed the Yellow River in December 1643. Back in Beijing, the capital defense forces consisted of old and feeble men, who were starving because of the corruption of eunuchs responsible for provisioning their supplies. The troops had not been paid for nearly a year.[18] Meanwhile, the capture of Taiyuan by Li Zicheng's forces gave his campaign additional momentum; garrisons began to surrender to him without a fight. Through February and March of 1644, the emperor declined repeated proposals to move the court south to Nanjing, and in early April, he rejected a suggestion to move the crown prince to the south.[19]

Death[edit]

The Chongzhen Emperor Slays One of His Daughters, from Martino Martini's De Bello Tartarico Historia (1655)

In April 1644, the imperial court finally ordered Wu Sangui to move his army south from his fortress at Ningyuan to Shanhai Pass.[20] It was too late, however, and Wu would not reach Shanhai Pass until April 26.[21] Word reached Beijing that Shun rebels were approaching the capital through Juyong Pass, and the Chongzhen Emperor held his last audience with his ministers on April 23. Li Zicheng offered Chongzhen an opportunity to surrender, but the negotiations produced no result. Li commanded his forces to attack on April 24. Rather than face capture by the rebels, Chongzhen gathered all members of the imperial household except his sons. Using his sword, he killed Consort Yuan and Princess Kunyi, and severed the arm of Princess Changping. The empress hanged herself.[22]

A modern replacement of the tree from which Chongzhen was said to have hanged himself

On April 25, Chongzhen was said to have walked to Coal Hill in Jingshan Park. There, he either hanged himself, or strangled himself with a sash. By some accounts, the emperor left a suicide note which said, "I die unable to face my ancestors in the underworld, dejected and ashamed. May the bandits dismember my corpse and slaughter my officials, but let them not despoil the imperial tombs nor harm a single one of our people."[23] According to a servant who discovered the emperor's body under a tree, however, the word Tianzi (Son of Heaven) was the only written evidence left after his death.[24] The emperor was buried in the Ming 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 established the Shunzhi Emperor of the Qing dynasty as ruler of all China. Because Chongzhen had refused to move the court south to Nanjing, the new Qing government was able to take over a largely intact Beijing bureaucracy, aiding their efforts to displace the Ming.[25]

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.

Legacy[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).[26] 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).

Consorts[edit]

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

Sons[edit]

Number Name Formal Title Born Died Mother Spouse Issue Notes
1 Zhu Cilang
朱慈烺
Crown Prince Xianmin
獻愍太子
26 February 1629 unknown[27] Empress Zhuang Lie Min Lady Ning
(daughter of Ning Hong (寧浤))
none Created Crown Prince in 1630
2 Zhu Cixuan
朱慈烜
Prince Yin of Huai
懷隱王
15 January 1630 15 March 1630 Empress Zhuang Lie Min none none Created Prince of Huai
3 Zhu Cijiong
朱慈炯
Prince Ai of Ding
定哀王
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
朱慈炤
Prince Dao of Yong
永悼王
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
朱慈煥
Prince Ling of Dao
悼靈王
1633 1708 Consort Gong Shu Lady Hu
胡氏
Zhu Heshen (朱和兟)[28]
son
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[29][30]
6 Zhu Cican
朱慈燦
Prince Huai of Dao
悼懷王
1637 5 May 1639 Consort Gong Shu none none
7 none Prince Liang of Dao
悼良王
unknown unknown Consort Gong Shu none none Died at the age of three

Daughters[edit]

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

Ancestry[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Different from the below
  2. ^ DIfferent from the above
  3. ^ Given in 1644 by the Prince of Fu, 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 to Yizong (毅宗), and later Weizong (威宗). The Qing dynasty conferred upon Chongzhen the temple name Huaizong (懷宗).
  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. ^ Mote 2003, p. 777.
  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. ^ Wakeman Jr. 1986, pp. 87-90.
  8. ^ Wakeman Jr. 1986, pp. 111-115.
  9. ^ Mote 2003, p. 779.
  10. ^ Wakeman Jr. 1986, pp. 119-122.
  11. ^ Wakeman Jr. 1986, pp. 125-126.
  12. ^ Fagan 2000, p. 50.
  13. ^ a b Mote 2003, p. 798.
  14. ^ Wakeman Jr. 1986, p. 206.
  15. ^ Wakeman Jr. 1986, pp. 226-227.
  16. ^ Wakeman Jr. 1986, pp. 236-238.
  17. ^ Wakeman Jr. 1986, pp. 233-234.
  18. ^ Wakeman Jr. 1986, pp. 234-240.
  19. ^ Wakeman Jr. 1986, pp. 240-247.
  20. ^ Mote 2003, p. 808.
  21. ^ Wakeman Jr. 1986, p. 290.
  22. ^ Wakeman Jr. 1986, pp. 259-263.
  23. ^ Mingji beilüe, quoted in Wakeman Jr. 1986, p. 266
  24. ^ Wakeman Jr. 1986, p. 266.
  25. ^ Wakeman Jr. 1986, p. 257.
  26. ^ 古代碑石墓志的宝库
  27. ^ 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)
  28. ^ Father of Zhu Cengyu (朱曾裕)
  29. ^ 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)
  30. ^ 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)

References[edit]

Chongzhen Emperor
Born: 6 February 1611 Died: 25 April 1644
Regnal titles
Preceded by
The Tianqi Emperor
Emperor of the Ming dynasty
1627–1644
Succeeded by
The Hongguang Emperor
Emperor of China
1627–1644
Succeeded by
The Shunzhi Emperor