Hongxi Emperor

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Hongxi Emperor
Palace portrait on a hanging scroll, kept in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
Emperor of the Ming dynasty
Reign7 September 1424 – 29 May 1425
Enthronement7 September 1424
PredecessorYongle Emperor
SuccessorXuande Emperor
Crown Prince of the Ming dynasty
Tenure12 May 1404 – 7 September 1424
PredecessorZhu Wenkui, Crown Prince Hejian
SuccessorImperial Grandson-heir Zhu Zhanji
Hereditary Prince of Yan
Tenure4 November 1395 – 17 July 1402
Born16 August 1378
Hongwu 11, 23rd day of the 7th month
Died29 May 1425(1425-05-29) (aged 46)
Hongxi 1, 12th day of the 5th month
Hall of Imperial Peace, Forbidden City, Beijing, Ming dynasty
Xianling Mausoleum, Ming tombs, Beijing, China
(m. 1396⁠–⁠1425)
  • Xuande Emperor
  • Zhu Zhanjun, Prince Jing of Zheng
  • Zhu Zhanyong, Prince Jing of Yue
  • Zhu Zhanyin, Prince Xian of Qi
  • Zhu Zhanshan, Prince Xian of Xiang
  • Zhu Zhangang, Prince Xian of Jing
  • Zhu Zhan'ao, Prince Jing of Huai
  • Zhu Zhankai, Prince Huai of Teng
  • Zhu Zhanji, Prince Zhuang of Liang
  • Zhu Zhanshan, Prince Gong of Wei
  • Princess Jiaxing
  • Princess Qingdu
  • Princess Qinghe
  • Princess De'an
  • Princess Yanping
  • Princess Deqing
  • Princess Zhending
  • Unnamed daughter
Zhu Gaochi (朱高熾)
Era name and dates
Hongxi (洪熙): 20 January 1425[1] – 7 February 1426
Posthumous name
Emperor Jingtian Tidao Chuncheng Zhide Hongwen Qinwu Zhangsheng Daxiao Zhao (敬天體道純誠至德弘文欽武章聖達孝昭皇帝; Respecter of Heaven, Embodiment of the Way, Pure in Sincerity, Perfect in Virtue, Extensive in Culture, Dominant in Militancy, Standard of Sageliness, Thorough in Filial Piety, Luminous Emperor)[2]
Temple name
Renzong (仁宗)
FatherYongle Emperor
MotherEmpress Renxiaowen
Hongxi Emperor
Literal meaning“Vastly Bright”

The Hongxi Emperor (16 August 1378 – 29 May 1425), also known by his temple name as the Emperor Renzong of Ming (Chinese: 明仁宗), personal name Zhu Gaochi (朱高熾), was the fourth emperor of the Ming dynasty, reigned from 1424 to 1425. He was the eldest son of the Yongle Emperor and Empress Renxiaowen and the maternal grandson of Xu Da, Prince of Zhongshan. He ascended the throne after the death of his father, but his reign lasted less than a year. "Hongxi", the era name of his reign, means "vastly bright".

Zhu Gaochi was born on 16 August 1378, as the eldest son of Zhu Di, who was the fourth son of the Hongwu Emperor. After the Hongwu Emperor died, Zhu Di won a civil war against the Jianwen Emperor and became the Yongle Emperor in 1402. He ensured that his eldest son received a top-notch education rooted in Confucian principles. Zhu Gaochi served as a regent in Nanjing or Beijing while his father was away on military campaigns.

As soon as Zhu Gaochi ascended to the throne, he discontinued Zheng He's overseas expeditions, halted the trade of tea for horses with Asian nations, and put an end to the gold and pearl missions to Yunnan and Vietnam. He pardoned officials who had been disgraced by the previous regime and restructured the government, appointing his trusted advisors to key positions. He also strengthened the authority of the Grand Secretariat, the highest governing body. He abandoned his father's unpopular militaristic policies, made changes to the financial and tax system, abolished many mandatory provisions, and encouraged the return of displaced peasants, particularly in the lower regions of the Yangtze River. His Confucian ideals influenced the style of governance for the next century.

He made the decision to relocate the capital back to Nanjing. However, just a month later, in May 1425, he died, most likely due to a heart attack. His 26-year-old son, Zhu Zhanji, assumed the throne and carried on his father's progressive policies, leaving a lasting influence.

Early life[edit]

Hereditary prince[edit]

Zhu Gaochi was born on 16 August 1378, the eldest son of Zhu Di, the fourth son of the Hongwu Emperor and Prince of Yan, and his principal consort, Lady Xu.[3] He received a traditional education in both military and Confucian studies. Due to his poor health and physical condition, he focused mainly on reading and discussing with his tutors.[3] He was particularly skilled in the noble sport of archery.[4] While his grandfather was impressed with his literary and administrative abilities, his father held his younger sons in higher regard due to their interest in military pursuits. Zhu Gaochi surrounded himself with scholars such as Yang Shiqi (楊士奇), Yang Yong (楊榮), Yang Pu (楊溥), and Huang Huai (黃淮).[3]

After the death of the Hongwu Emperor in 1398, Zhu Di emerged victorious in the Jingnan campaign, a civil war, and took over the throne as the Yongle Emperor in 1402. While Zhu Di and his younger sons were engaged in the civil war, Zhu Gaochi managed his father's territory.[3] In late 1399, during the siege of Beijing, Zhu Gaochi displayed his exceptional organizational and military abilities by successfully defending the city with 10,000 soldiers against Li Jinglong's stronger forces.[5] The Yongle Emperor recognized Zhu Gaochi's efforts in defending Beijing, but he continued to favor his younger sons who were more inclined towards military matters.[4]

Crown prince[edit]

In May 1404, his father created him as crown prince, following the requests of Xie Jin and Huang Huai. During the Yongle Emperor's absence from the capital, mainly due to campaigns in Mongolia, he governed the empire with the help of authorized ministers and Grand Secretaries.[5] However, his policies were influenced by the Grand Secretaries and ministers, causing them to deviate from his father's.[4] Additionally, he faced hostility from his younger brothers, Zhu Gaoxu and Zhu Gaosui.[5] In September 1414, when the Yongle Emperor returned from Mongolia, Zhu Gaoxu accused Zhu Gaochi of neglecting his duties. As a result, the emperor punished his advisor, Yang Pu, and Grand Secretaries Huang Huai and Yang Shiqi by imprisoning them or removing them from their positions. Although Zhu Gaoxu's threat diminished after being sent to Shandong in 1417,[5] the relationship between him and his father remained strained.[4] However, Zhu Gaochi did not hold a grudge against his younger brother and even increased his income and gave his sons titles after becoming emperor.[5]

Ascension to the throne[edit]

The Yongle Emperor died on 12 August 1424, while returning from his fifth Mongol campaign.[6][5] Zhu Gaochi officially became emperor on 7 September 1424, and declared an amnesty.[6] A few days prior, he had secured the safety of the capital and sent the eunuch Wang Guitong (王貴通; formerly known as Wang Jinghong) to Nanjing as grand defender.[5] He also released from prison the arrested ministers, Xia Yuanji (who had been imprisoned since April 1422),[5] and Wu Zhong (吳中).[6] On 8 September,[6] Xia Yuanji resumed his role as Minister of Revenue, and Wu Zhong also returned to his ministerial position at the same time.[5][6]

The reorganization of the Grand Secretariat occurred on 9 September. Huang Huai and Yang Pu, who had been imprisoned since 1414, were appointed to it. Yang Shiqi, who was promoted to Senior Grand Secretary, Yang Yong, who remained Grand Secretary, and Jin Youzi (金幼孜) also remained in it. The Grand Secretaries were given the high ranks of vice ministers, elevating their formal status to match their actual influence.[6] Later, they received an even higher first rank and the supernumerary title of minister (of War, Yang Shiqi; of Works, Yang Yong; and of Revenue, Huang Huai), which allowed them to directly participate in government affairs. The emperor worked closely with the Grand Secretaries and ministers, encouraging them to openly discuss matters in meetings. Decisions were made through collective discussion, resulting in the cancellation of the Yongle Emperor's unpopular programs.[7]

On 29 October, he elevated his wife, Lady Zhang, to empress. (She served as regent alongside the Grand Secretaries from 1435 until her death in 1442, during the minority of her grandson, Emperor Yingzong.) Three days later, he named his eldest son, Zhu Zhanji, as crown prince and his other sons as princes. He also raised the incomes of members of the imperial family, but maintained their exclusion from involvement in state affairs.[8]


By the end of 1424, officials who were redundant, incompetent, or too old were dismissed, while those who were successful were promoted.[7][6] Censors were sent throughout the empire to investigate abuse of power and corruption, and to find capable individuals to fill vacant positions.[9] On 18 October 1424, Grand Secretaries Yang Shiqi, Yang Yong, and Jin Youzi, along with Minister of Personnel, Jian Yi (蹇義), were given the authority to confidentially report any misconduct by other officials to the emperor. At the end of the year, Xia Yuanji was also granted this privilege.[8] However, the corrupt Liu Quan (劉觀) remained as the chief censor, and he was not the only corrupt official who was not removed.[8]

Confucian morality was emphasized during this time. In February 1425, Zheng He was appointed as the grand defender of Nanjing; however, generally, the eunuchs were generally kept under close observation. The changes also affected the civil service exams, as there was a significant preponderance of candidates from the southern provinces, which outnumbered the northern provinces in terms of population and level of education. The emperor, therefore, decided that 40% of the successful candidates in the metropolitan examinations would be from the North in order to increase the representation of Northerners in the civil service. This policy was maintained by his successors and adopted by the Qing dynasty.[9]

Domestic and foreign policy[edit]

The Hongxi Emperor made efforts to rectify the judicial mistakes made by the previous government. Several cases were reevaluated, and by late 1424,[8] the families of officials who had been executed for their loyalty to the Jianwen Emperor were vindicated and their confiscated property was returned. The emperor also reversed some of his own rulings, acknowledging that they had been made in a fit of anger without considering the circumstances.[9]

The aim of his economic policy was to lessen the tax burden on the population, which had significantly increased under the Yongle Emperor due to the expenses of foreign policy.[10] On the day of his coronation, he put an end to long-distance overseas voyages that had been halted for several years, the trade of tea for horses on the western and northern borders, and the excessive logging in Yunnan and Jiaozhi.[6] His administration encouraged vagrants and the homeless to return to their homes and settle down. Many people had left their homes because of the heavy state taxes and demands of the Yongle government. The Hongxi Emperor promised a two-year tax and work obligation exemption for those who returned. He also dispatched a special investigative commission, led by Zhou Gan (周干), to Jiangnan (where desertion was prevalent). Based on their reports, the Hongxi Emperor's successor, the Xuande Emperor, pardoned the outstanding taxes and reduced the taxes.[10]

He waived taxes for areas that were impacted by disasters and oversaw the distribution of food from government reserves. In these situations, he also lessened the burden of taxes and fees on the people, and eliminated additional taxes on resources such as wood, gold, and silver.[10] He reprimanded officials who did not demonstrate enough effort in aiding the population.[8]

The Hongxi Emperor halted military campaigns into Mongolia and focused on strengthening the empire's northern outposts.[10] He put an end to long-distance voyages, but maintained normal relations with other countries, such as those in Central Asia. The Hongxi government's main military concern was the ongoing war in Vietnam. The emperor recalled Huang Fu (黃福) from his position in Vietnam (where he had been the head of civil administration and surveillance commissioner since 1407) and replaced him with Chen Zhi (陳智), Earl of Yongchang. However, the army was not reinforced and the Vietnamese rebellion continued. Historians view Huang Fu's recall negatively and consider it to be the main reason for the Ming dynasty's defeat, as he was highly experienced and respected in the province.[11]

One month before his death, the Hongxi Emperor made a bold decision to move the capital back to Nanjing. This move was primarily influenced by Xia Yuanji and other high-ranking officials due to financial concerns. The emperor himself preferred Nanjing over the northern region. On 16 April 1425, he declared the Beijing authorities as "temporary" (行在, xingzai) and two weeks later, he sent his successor, Zhu Zhanji, to Nanjing. However, the transfer did not actually take place as the emperor died and his successor, who was more aligned with the policies of the Yongle Emperor and did not share the Hongxi Emperor's disapproval of the northern focus of government, cancelled the plan.[11]

Death and legacy[edit]

The Xianling Mausoleum where the Hongxi Emperor was buried. The picture shows its appearance in the autumn of 2019.

The Hongxi Emperor died suddenly in Beijing on 29 May 1425, most likely from a heart attack. This is not surprising considering his obesity and difficulty with walking.[12] He was given the posthumous name Emperor Zhao (昭帝; "Luminous Emperor") and the temple name Renzong (仁宗; "Benevolent Ancestor"). His Xianling Mausoleum, located near Beijing, was built in a simple and austere style, reflecting the manner of his reign.[12]

The emperor had ten sons and seven daughters, but only nine sons and four daughters survived to adulthood. The eldest son, Zhu Zhanji, was the crown prince from November 1424. He was the son of Empress Zhang. When the Hongxi Emperor died, Zhu Zhanji became the Xuande Emperor and took over the throne. [12]

The main objective of the Hongxi Emperor was to put an end to the actions of the Yongle government that he deemed incorrect and un-Confucian. He aimed to create a Confucian government that would serve as a model, with a morally upright emperor at the helm and wise and virtuous ministers. The relocation of the capital to Nanjing was also a clear indication of a departure from the Yongle Emperor's aggressive expansionist approach, which focused heavily on the northern border.[13]

Even after the death of the Hongxi Emperor, the empire was still governed by the grand secretaries and ministers he had chosen. They first served as advisors and ministers to his son, the Xuande Emperor, and later under the leadership of his widow, Empress Zhang. However, they gradually died out in the first half of the 1440s. [13] Due to his untimely death, the Hongxi Emperor was unable to fully achieve his goals. The Confucian-educated officials were not able to completely gain the support of other groups within the Ming elites.[14] They were also unable to eliminate the independent agencies of the eunuchs and prevent their growth under the Xuande Emperor and his successors. Despite this, they remained the dominant group in the Ming government and were responsible for managing the day-to-day affairs of the state until the end of the dynasty.[13] Although the policy of returning to Nanjing was officially abandoned in 1441, none of the emperors actually wanted to go back. As a result, the spirit of the Hongxi Emperor's rule, which was influenced by Confucian ideals, continued to persist. He was seen as a moderate emperor, surrounded by educated ministers and sympathetic to the people, and served as a model for future generations.[14]

Chinese historians, who shared Confucian values with the bureaucracy, praised the Hongxi Emperor as an exemplary ruler who consolidated the empire by reversing the costly and unpopular programs of the previous government.[12] Although he was occasionally criticized for his impulsiveness in punishing officials who displeased him, he was able to acknowledge his mistakes and apologize for them. His faults were balanced by his humanity and sincere pursuit of the public interest.[14]


Portrait of the Hongxi Emperor in daily dress

Consorts and Issue:

  • Empress Chengxiaozhao, of the Zhang clan (誠孝昭皇后 張氏; 1379 – 20 November 1442)
    • Zhu Zhanji, the Xuande Emperor (宣宗 朱瞻基; 16 March 1399 – 31 January 1435), first son
    • Zhu Zhanyong, Prince Jing of Yue (越靖王 朱瞻墉; 9 February 1405 – 5 August 1439), third son
    • Zhu Zhanshan, Prince Xian of Xiang (襄憲王 朱瞻墡; 4 April 1406 – 18 February 1478), fifth son
    • Princess Jiaxing (嘉興公主; 1409 – 9 March 1439), first daughter
      • Married Jing Yuan (井源; d. 1449) in 1428
  • Noble Consort Gongsu, of the Guo clan (恭肅貴妃 郭氏; 1392–1425)
    • Princess De'an (德安公主; b. 1409), fourth daughter
    • Zhu Zhankai, Prince Huai of Teng (滕懷王 朱瞻塏; 1409 – 26 August 1425), eighth son
    • Zhu Zhanji, Prince Zhuang of Liang (梁莊王 朱瞻垍; 7 July 1411 – 3 February 1441), ninth son
    • Zhu Zhanshan, Prince Gong of Wei (衛恭王 朱瞻埏; 9 January 1417 – 3 January 1439), tenth son
  • Consort Gongjingxian, of the Li clan (恭靜賢妃 李氏)
    • Zhu Zhanjun, Prince Jing of Zheng (鄭靖王 朱瞻埈; 27 March 1404 – 8 June 1466), second son
    • Zhu Zhanyin, Prince Xian of Qi (蘄獻王 朱瞻垠; 1406 – 7 November 1421), fourth son
    • Zhu Zhan'ao, Prince Jing of Huai (淮靖王 朱瞻墺; 28 January 1409 – 30 November 1446), seventh son
    • Princess Zhending (真定公主; d. 1450), seventh daughter
      • Married Wang Yi (王誼) in 1429, and had issue (one son)
  • Consort Zhenjingshun, of the Zhang clan (貞靜順妃 張氏; d. 1419)
    • Zhu Zhangang, Prince Xian of Jing (荊憲王 朱瞻堈; 4 November 1406 – 11 December 1453), sixth son
  • Consort Gongyihui, of the Zhao clan (恭懿惠妃 趙氏)
    • Princess Qingdu (慶都公主; 9 October 1409 – 12 June 1440), personal name Yuantong (圓通), second daughter
      • Married Jiao Jing (焦敬; d. 20 January 1467) in 1428
  • Consort Zhenhuishu, of the Wang clan (貞惠淑妃 王氏; d. 1425)
    • Unnamed daughter
  • Consort Hui'anli, of the Wang clan (惠安麗妃 王氏; d. 1425)
  • Consort Gongxishun, of the Tan clan (恭僖順妃 譚氏; d. 1425)
  • Consort Gongjingchong, of the Huang clan (恭靖充妃 黃氏; 1396–1425), personal name Jindi (金娣)
  • Consort Daoxili, of the Li clan (悼僖麗妃 李氏)
  • Consort Zhenjingjing, of the Zhang clan (貞靜敬妃 張氏; d. 1440)
  • Unknown
    • Princess Qinghe (清河公主; 1409–1433), third daughter
      • Married Li Ming (李銘; d. 1435) in 1429
    • Princess Yanping (延平公主), fifth daughter
    • Princess Deqing (德慶公主), sixth daughter


Zhu Chuyi
Zhu Shizhen (1281–1344)
Empress Yu
Hongwu Emperor (1328–1398)
Lord Chen (1235–1334)
Empress Chun (1286–1344)
Yongle Emperor (1360–1424)
Empress Xiaocigao (1332–1382)
Lady Zheng
Hongxi Emperor (1378–1425)
Xu Siqi
Xu Liusi
Lady Zhou
Xu Da (1332–1385)
Lady Cai
Empress Renxiaowen (1362–1407)
Xie Zaixing
Lady Xie

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Mote (2003), p. 622.
  2. ^ Hucker (1998), p. 17.
  3. ^ a b c d Chan (1988), p. 277.
  4. ^ a b c d Dreyer (1982), p. 221.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Chan (1988), p. 278.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Dreyer (1982), p. 222.
  7. ^ a b Chan (1988), p. 279.
  8. ^ a b c d e Dreyer (1982), p. 223.
  9. ^ a b c Chan (1988), p. 280.
  10. ^ a b c d Chan (1988), p. 281.
  11. ^ a b Chan (1988), p. 282.
  12. ^ a b c d Chan (1988), p. 283.
  13. ^ a b c Dreyer (1982), p. 225.
  14. ^ a b c Chan (1988), p. 284.

Works cited[edit]

  • Mote, Frederick W (2003). Imperial China 900-1800. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-01212-7.
  • Chan, Hok-lam (1988). "The Chien-wen, Yung-lo, Hung-hsi, and Hsüan-te reigns". In Mote, Frederick W.; Twitchett, Denis C (eds.). The Cambridge History of China Volume 7: The Ming Dynasty, 1368–1644, Part 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521243327.
  • Hucker, Charles O (1998). "Ming government". In Twitchett, Denis C; Mote, Frederick W. (eds.). The Cambridge History of China. Volume 8: The Ming Dynasty, 1368–1644, Part II. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521243335.
  • Dreyer, Edward L. (1982). Early Ming China: A Political History. Stanford: Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-1105-4.
  • Dreyer, Edward L. (2006), Zheng He: China and the oceans in the early Ming dynasty, 1405–1433, The library of world biography, Pearson Longman, ISBN 0-321-08443-8

External links[edit]

Hongxi Emperor
Born: 16 August 1378 Died: 29 May 1425
Regnal titles
Preceded by Emperor of the Ming dynasty
Emperor of China

Succeeded by