Jianwen Emperor

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Jianwen Emperor
Jianwen Emperor.jpg
Emperor of the Ming Empire
Reign 30 June 1398 – 13 July 1402
Predecessor Hongwu Emperor
Successor Yongle Emperor
Spouse Empress Xiaominrang
Issue Zhu Wenkui, Crown Prince Hejian
Zhu Wengui, Prince Huai of Run
Full name
Family name: Zhu ()
Given name: Yunwen (允炆)
Era name and dates
Jiànwén (建文): 6 February 1399 – 29 July 1402[1]
Posthumous name

Emperor Rang (讓皇帝, 1644)[2]

Emperor Hui (惠皇帝, 1736)[3]
Temple name
Huizong (1644)[4]
House House of Zhu
Father Zhu Biao
Mother Empress Dowager Lü
Born (1377-12-05)5 December 1377
Died 13 July 1402(1402-07-13) (aged 24)?

The Jianwen Emperor (Chinese: 建文帝; pinyin: Jiànwén Dì; 5 December 1377 – 13 July 1402) was the second emperor of the Ming dynasty in China. His personal name was Zhu Yunwen (朱允炆). The era name of his reign, Jianwen, means "establishing civility" and represented a sharp change in tone from Hongwu ("vastly martial"), the era name of the reign of his grandfather and predecessor, the Hongwu Emperor.[6] His reign did not last long: an attempt to restrain his uncles led to the Jingnan rebellion. The Jianwen Emperor was eventually overthrown by one of his uncles, Zhu Di, who was then enthroned as the Yongle Emperor. Although the Yongle Emperor presented a charred body as Zhu Yunwen's, rumours circulated for decades that the Jianwen Emperor had disguised himself as a Buddhist monk and escaped from the palace when it was set on fire by Zhu Di's forces. Some people[who?] speculated that one of the reasons behind why the Yongle Emperor sponsored the admiral Zheng He on his treasure voyages in the early 15th century, was for Zheng He to search for the Jianwen Emperor, who was believed to have survived and fled to Southeast Asia.[7] Some historians[who?] believe that the Jianwen Emperor had indeed survived and escaped from Nanjing, but the official histories of the Ming dynasty were modified later during the Qing dynasty to please the Manchu rulers.[citation needed]

Early life[edit]

Zhu Yunwen's father, Zhu Biao, was the eldest son of Zhu Yuanzhang. He was made crown prince in 1368 after Zhu Yuanzhang founded the Ming dynasty and became known as the Hongwu Emperor. After Zhu Biao died in 1392, the Hongwu Emperor initially considered choosing a successor from among his other sons, who wielded considerable and influence in their respective princedoms throughout the Ming Empire. However, after several months of careful deliberation and discussion with his subjects, he decided to uphold the strict rules of primogeniture laid out in his imperial ancestral instructions, and designated Zhu Biao's son, Zhu Yunwen, as the new crown prince.


Zhu Yunwen succeeded his grandfather upon the latter's death in 1398, and was enthroned as the Jianwen Emperor. One of the first things he did after taking over the reins of power was to rehabilitate and set free the victims (and their families) of the Hongwu Emperor's purges, particularly those who had contributed to the founding the Ming dynasty. Upon the advice of the Confucian scholar-bureaucrats in his government, he continued his grandfather's policy of restraining the court eunuchs and began taking back territory and power from his uncles. Within the year 1399, he demoted or arrested several of his uncles and even caused one of them to commit suicide.

In response to the Jianwen Emperor's crackdown on the influence of imperial princes, Zhu Di (the Prince of Yan and fourth son of the Hongwu Emperor) captured and coöpted the princedom of his 17th brother, Zhu Quan (the Prince of Ning), thereby putting himself in control of the bulk of the Ming army in northern China. He also won the support of several Mongol tribes when he burnt down Daning, the capital of Zhu Quan's princedom, and evacuated Ming forces from the princedom. Later, Zhu Di feigned illness and madness to convince the Jianwen Emperor to release three of his sons, who were being kept as hostages in Nanjing to prevent Zhu Di from rebelling against the emperor. However, the Jianwen Emperor became wary of Zhu Di and tried to arrest him later but failed. Zhu Di then launched the Jingnan Campaign against the Jianwen Emperor.

Fall from power[edit]

Aided by eunuch spies and turncoat generals, Zhu Di succeeded in capturing the Ming army's Yangtze fleet and entered the capital Nanjing through an opened gate in 1402. Through propaganda, Zhu Di tried to portray himself as someone like the Duke of Zhou, who supported his nephew, King Cheng of the Zhou dynasty, and waged war against the king's evil advisors. Zhu Di's entrance into Nanjing was almost immediately followed by the burning of the imperial palace and the presentation of three charred bodies identified as the Jianwen Emperor, his consort and his crown prince. The Jianwen era was then declared void and historical records about this era were systematically altered or destroyed. Zhu Di ascended the throne as the Yongle Emperor and established the new imperial capital in Beijing, formerly the capital of his princedom. Thousands of scholars and their families who opposed the Yongle Emperor were executed – the most famous were Fang Xiaoru and three others remembered as the Four Martyrs.

There were rumours that the Jianwen Emperor managed to escape from Nanjing by disguising as a Buddhist monk. Some records reported that one year after he became emperor, the Yongle Emperor sent Zheng He and Hu Ying (胡濙) to search for the Jianwen Emperor. In 1423, Hu returned and reported to the Yongle Emperor about his findings in a private conversation. The Yongle Emperor subsequently promoted Hu.

Some parts of the historical text History of Ming, the authoritative history of the Ming dynasty, mentioned that one of the reasons behind why the Yongle Emperor sponsored the admiral Zheng He's treasure voyages in the early 15th century was that the emperor wanted Zheng He to help him search for the Jianwen Emperor, who was believed to have survived and fled to Southeast Asia. Other records relate that decades later, the Jianwen Emperor returned to the imperial palace and lived the rest of his life in obscure retirement.[8]

The three charred bodies presented to the Yongle Emperor were not given a full burial and there is no known tomb of the Jianwen Emperor.[9] He was initially denied a temple name and left unhonoured in imperial shrines. The Prince of Fu, a self-proclaimed emperor of the Southern Ming dynasty, granted the Jianwen Emperor the temple name Huizong (惠宗) in 1644, but this name is not generally remembered or accepted in official Chinese histories. The Yongle Emperor changed many history records about the Jianwen Emperor, but the people still remembered the Jianwen Emperor's kindness during his four-year reign.[10][11]


  • Father: Zhu Biao, Crown Prince Yiwen (10 October 1355 – 17 May 1392), eldest son and initial successor of the Hongwu Emperor.
  • Mother: Lady Lü (呂氏) (1321–1414), daughter of Lü Changben (呂昌本) and Zhu Biao's second wife, honored as Empress Dowager after her son ascended the throne.


Formal Title Maiden Name Birth Death Father Mother Issue Notes
Empress Xiaominrang
Family name:
Ma (馬)
1378 13 July 1402 Ma Quan
Zhu Wenkui, Crown Prince Hejian
Zhu Wengui, Prince Huai of Run


Number Name Formal Title Born Died Mother Spouse Issue Notes
1 Zhu Wenkui
Crown Prince Hejian
30 November 1396 unknown Empress Xiaominrang Believed to have perished in the palace fire that also killed his parents
2 Zhu Wengui
Prince Huai of Run
1401 1457
Empress Xiaominrang - Survived the palace fire that was believed to have killed his parents and brother; lived in obscurity for the rest of his life mostly under house arrest at Guang'an Palace in Fengyang


  1. ^ On 30 July 1402 the Jianwen era was officially abolished by the new emperor, and the former Hongwu era was reestablished until the beginning of 1403 when the Yongle era officially started.
  2. ^ This name was provided by the Prince of Fu, self-proclaimed emperor of the Southern Ming dynasty, in 1644. The full title was "Sìtiān Zhāngdào Chéngyì Yuāngōng Guānwén Yángwǔ Kèrén Dǔxiào Ràng Huángdì" (嗣天章道誠懿淵功觀文揚武克仁篤孝讓皇帝).
  3. ^ This name was provided by the Qianlong Emperor of the Qing dynasty in 1736. The full title was "Gōngmǐn Huì Huángdì" (恭閔惠皇帝)
  4. ^ This name was provided by the Prince of Fu.
  5. ^ Supposed to have died in the burning of the Imperial Palace. However, it is widely believed that he survived and lived underground for many more years as a Buddhist monk.
  6. ^ Dardess, John. Ming China, 1368-1644: A Concise History of a Resilient Empire. Rowman & Littlefield, 2011. ISBN 1442204915, 9781442204911. Accessed 14 October 2012.
  7. ^ "Ming Emperor overseas?". Chinatownology. 
  8. ^ 壹、前言貳、史仲彬與《致身錄》 - 淡江大學
  9. ^ The Ming Ancestor Tomb
  10. ^ 明太祖实录_百度百科
  11. ^ 奉天靖難記
Jianwen Emperor
Born: 5 December 1377 Died: 13 July 1402
Regnal titles
Preceded by
The Hongwu Emperor
Emperor of China
Succeeded by
The Yongle Emperor