Xuande Emperor

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Xuande Emperor
明宣宗.jpg
Emperor of China
Reign 27 June 1425 – 31 January 1435
Predecessor Hongxi
Successor Zhengtong
Spouse Empress Gongrangzhang
Empress Xiaogongzhang
Empress Dowager Xiaoyi
Issue
Zhengtong
Jingtai
Princess Shunde
Princess Yongqing
Princess Changde
Full name
Zhu Zhanji (朱瞻基)
Era name and dates
Xuande (): 8 February 1426 – 17 January 1436
Posthumous name
Emperor Xiantian Chongdao Yingming Shensheng Qinwen Zhaowu Kuanren Chunxiao Zhang
憲天崇道英明神聖欽文昭武寬仁純孝章皇帝
Temple name
Ming Xuanzong
明宣宗
House House of Zhu
Father Hongxi
Mother Empress Chengxiaozhao
Born (1399-03-16)16 March 1399
Beijing
Died 31 January 1435(1435-01-31) (aged 35)
Burial Jingling, Ming Dynasty Tombs, Beijing

The Xuande Emperor (Chinese: 宣德帝, p Xuāndédì; 16 March 1399[1] – 31 January 1435), personal name Zhu Zhanji (朱瞻基), was the fifth emperor of the Ming Dynasty of China from 1425 to 1435. His era name means "Proclamation of Virtue".

Biography[edit]

Born Zhu Zhanji (朱瞻基), he was the eldest son of the Hongxi Emperor and the Empress Cheng Xiao Zhao. Xuande was also fond of poetry and literature. Although he continued to refer to Beijing as the secondary capital on all official documents, he maintained it as his residence and continued to rule there in the style of his grandfather, the Yongle Emperor. He permitted Zheng He to lead the seventh and last of his maritime expeditions.

Xuande's uncle Zhu Gaoxu, Prince of Han, had been a favorite of the Yongle Emperor for his military successes, but he disobeyed imperial instructions and in 1417 had been exiled to the small fief of Le'an in Shandong. When Zhu Gaoxu revolted, the new Xuande Emperor took 20,000 soldiers and attacked him at Le'an. Zhu Gaoxu surrendered soon afterward. Zhu Gaoxu was reduced to a commoner and died from torture. Six hundred rebelling officials were executed, and 2,200 were banished. The emperor did not wish to execute his uncle at the start, but later events angered the emperor so much that Zhu Gaoxu was executed through fire torture. All his sons were executed as well. It is very likely that Zhu Gaoxu's arrogance, well detailed in many historic texts, offended the emperor. A theory states that when the emperor went to visit his uncle, Zhu Gaoxu intentionally tripped him.

The Xuande Emperor wanted to withdraw his troops from Annam, but some of his advisors disagreed. After Chinese garrisons suffered heavy casualties, the emperor sent Liu Sheng with an army. These were badly defeated by the Annamese, losing 70,000 men in 1427. The Chinese forces withdrew and Xuande eventually recognized the independence of Annam. In the north, the Xuande Emperor was inspecting the border with 3,000 cavalry troops in 1428 and was able to retaliate against a raid by Mongols. The Chinese let Arughtai's Eastern Mongols battle with Toghon's Oirat tribes of the west. Beijing received horses annually from Arughtai, but he was defeated by the Oirats in 1431 and was killed in 1434 when Toghon took over eastern Mongolia. The Ming court then maintained friendly relations with the Oirats. China's diplomatic relations with Japan improved in 1432. Relations with Korea were generally good with the exception of the Koreans resenting having to send virgins occasionally to the Ming court's harem.

A porcelain ding vessel from Xuande's reign period

A privy council of eunuchs strengthened centralized power by controlling the secret police, and their influence continued to grow. In 1428, the notorious censor Liu Guan was sentenced to penal servitude and was replaced by the incorruptible Gu Zuo (d. 1446), who dismissed 43 members of the Beijing and Nanjing censorates for incompetence. Some censors were demoted, imprisoned, and banished, but none were executed. Replacements were put on probation as the censorate investigated the entire Ming administration including the military. The same year the emperor reformed the rules governing military conscription and the treatment of deserters. Yet the hereditary military continued to be inefficient and to suffer from poor morale. Huge inequalities in tax burdens had caused many farmers in some areas to leave their farms in the past forty years. In 1430, the Xuande Emperor ordered tax reductions on all imperial lands and sent out "touring pacifiers" to coordinate provincial administration, exercising civilian control over the military. They attempted to eliminate the irregularities and the corruption of the revenue collectors. The emperor often ordered retrials that allowed thousands of innocent people to be released. The Xuande Emperor died of illness after ruling for ten years.

The Xuande Emperor ruled over a remarkably peaceful time with no significant external or internal problems. Later historians have considered his reign to be the Ming dynasty's golden age.

The emperor as an artist[edit]

"Gibbons at play", painting by the Xuande Emperor (1427)

The Xuande Emperor was known as an accomplished painter, particularly skilled at painting animals. Some of his art work is preserved in the National Palace Museum, Taipei and Arthur M. Sackler Museum (a division of Harvard Art Museum) in Cambridge. Robert D. Mowry, the curator of Chinese art at the Arthur M. Sackler Museum, described him as “the only Ming emperor who displayed genuine artistic talent and interest."[2]

Portrayal in art[edit]

The Xuande Emperor was portrayed in contemporary court portrait paintings, as well as in other works of art. For example, in this panoramic painting below, the Xuande Emperor can be seen in the right half riding a black steed and wearing a plumed helmet. He is distinguished from his entourage of bodyguards as an abnormally tall figure.

Original – A panoramic painting showing the Chinese Xuande Emperor traveling to the Ming Dynasty Tombs with a huge cavalry escort and an elephant-drawn carriage.

Personal information[edit]

The Xuande Emperor playing golf.

Consorts[edit]

  • Empress Gong Rang Zhang (恭讓章皇后), personal name Hu Shanxiang (胡善祥) (died 1443), married the Xuande Emperor in 1417 but was deposed in 1428, mother of Princess Shunde
  • Empress Xiao Gong Zhang (孝恭章皇后), family name Sun (孫) (died September/October 1462), daughter of Sun Zouzhong (孫鄒忠), initially created an Imperial Concubine (嬪) in 1417, elevated to the rank of Noble Consort (貴妃) upon the Xuande Emperor's accession in 1425, created empress in 1428 after the deposition of Empress Gong Rang Zhang, became Empress Dowager (皇太后) upon the accession of her son, created Empress Dowager Shang Sheng (上聖皇太后) in December 1449, created Empress Dowager Sheng Lie Ci Shou (聖烈慈壽皇太后), mother of the Zhengtong Emperor and Princess Changde
  • Empress Dowager Xiao Yi (孝翼太后), family name Wu (吳) (died December 1461), daughter of Wu An (吳安), granddaughter of Wu Yanming (吳彥名), created Consort Xian (賢妃) in 1428, initially given the posthumous name Consort Rong Si Xian (榮思賢妃), posthumously honored as Empress Dowager Xiao Yi by the Chongzhen Emperor, mother of the Jingtai Emperor
  • Imperial Concubine Guo Ai (嬪郭愛), personal name Guo Ai (郭愛), courtesy name Shanli (善理) (died 1435), was buried with the Xuande Emperor after his death
  • Noble Consort Duan Jing (端靜貴妃), family name He (何), was buried with the Xuande Emperor after his death
  • Consort Chun Jing Xian (純靜賢妃), family name Zhao (趙), was buried with the Xuande Emperor after his death
  • Consort Zhen Shun Hui (貞順惠妃), family name Wu (吳), was buried with the Xuande Emperor after his death
  • Consort Zhuang Jing Shu (莊靜淑妃), family name Jiao (焦), was buried with the Xuande Emperor after his death
  • Consort Zhuang Shun Jing (莊順敬妃), family name Cao (曹), was buried with the Xuande Emperor after his death
  • Consort Zhen Hui Shun (貞惠順妃), family name Xu (徐), was buried with the Xuande Emperor after his death
  • Consort Gong Ding Li (恭定麗妃), family name Yuan (袁), was buried with the Xuande Emperor after his death
  • Consort Zhen Jing Shu (貞靜淑妃), family name Zhu (諸), was buried with the Xuande Emperor after his death
  • Consort Gong Shun Chong (恭順充妃), family name Li (李), was buried with the Xuande Emperor after his death
  • Consort Su Xi Cheng (肅僖成妃), family name He (何), was buried with the Xuande Emperor after his death
  • Consort Gong Yi Hui (恭懿惠妃), family name Zhao (趙)
  • Consort Shu (淑妃), family name Liu (劉)

Sons[edit]

Number Name Formal Title Born Died Mother Spouse Issue Notes
1 Zhu Qizhen
朱祁鎮
The Zhengtong Emperor
(7 February 1435 – 1 September 1449)
The Tianshun Emperor
(11 February 1457 – 23 February 1464)
29 November 1427 23 February 1464 Empress Xiao Gong Zhang Empress Xiao Zhuang Rui
Empress Xiao Su
19 concubines
Princess Chongqing
Zhu Jianshen, Chenghua Emperor
Zhu Jianlin, Prince Zhuang of De
Zhu Jianshi
Zhu Jianchun, Prince Dao of Xu
Zhu Jianshu, Prince Huai of Xiu
Zhu Jianze, Prince Jian of Chong
Zhu Jianjun, Prince Jian of Ji
Zhu Jianzhi, Prince Mu of Xin
Zhu Jianpei, Prince Zhuang of Hui
Princess Jiashan
Princess Chun'an
Princess Chongde
Princess Guangde
Princess Yixing
Princess Longqing
Princess Jiaxiang
two unnamed daughters
2 Zhu Qiyu
朱祁鈺
The Jingtai Emperor 21 September 1428 14 March 1457
Xiyuan
Empress Dowager Xiao Yi Empress Xiao Yuan Jing
Empress Su Xiao
2 concubines
Zhu Jianji, Crown Prince Huaixian
Princess Gu'an
unnamed daughter

Daughters[edit]

Number Title Name Born Died Date Married Spouse Mother Notes
1 Princess Shunde
順德公主
Family name: Zhu (朱)
(personal name unknown)
1420 1443 1437 Shi Jing
石璟
Empress Gong Rang Zhang
2 Princess Yongqing
永清公主
Family name: Zhu (朱)
(personal name unknown)
 ? 1433 Died before getting married
3 Princess Changde
常德公主
Family name: Zhu (朱)
(personal name unknown)
1424 1470 1440 Xue Huan
薛桓
Empress Xiao Gong Zhang


Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ 《宣宗章皇帝實錄》. “仁宗昭皇帝嫡長子,母今太皇太后,以己卯歲二月九日生上於北京。” (Chinese)
  2. ^ "Imperial Salukis: Speedy hounds, portrayed by a Chinese emperor". Harvard Magazine, May–June 2007.

References[edit]

For details on the Xuande Emperor see The Cambridge History of China Vol 7, pages 285 to 304. This article is essentially a summary of those pages.

Further reading[edit]

  • "Early Ming China" by Edward Dreyer (1982).
  • "Chinese Government in Ming Times" by Charles Hucker (1969).
Xuande Emperor
Born: 25 February 1398 Died: 31 January 1435
Regnal titles
Preceded by
The Hongxi Emperor
Emperor of China
1425–1435
Succeeded by
The Zhengtong Emperor