Jianwen Emperor

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Jianwen Emperor
Jianwen Emperor.jpg
Emperor of China
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: Zhū ()
Given name: Yŭnwén (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, p Jiànwéndì; 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 Jianwen meant "Establishing Civility" and represented a sharp change in tone from his grandfather's era of "Great Martiality" (Hongwu).[6] His reign did not last long: an attempt to restrain his powerful uncles led to the Jingnan rebellion and usurpation by the Yongle Emperor. Although the new emperor presented a charred body as Zhu Yunwen's, rumors circulated for decades that the young emperor had escaped his burning palace in a monk's robe. This rumor is credited by some[who?] as having prompted Zheng He's voyages of exploration to the Indian Ocean.[7] [8] Some historians believe that Jianwen Emperor did indeed escape Nanjing and the Ming official history texts were altered by officials in the Qing dynasty to please their emperor.[citation needed]

Early life[edit]

His father Zhu Biao was the son and crown prince of the Hongwu Emperor, founder of the Ming Dynasty. When Zhu Biao died young in 1392, the Hongwu Emperor – after several months' deliberation – upheld the strict rules of primogeniture laid out in his instructions to the dynasty and favored the bookish and 14-year-old Zhu Yunwen over his other sons, despite the powerful feudal grants he had provided them throughout the empire.


The Jianwen era (1398 – 1402) was short.

Although he was the judge of Lan Yu Case he set free all those people accused and survived after the Hongwu Emperor's purges after he went to the throne. Upon the advice of his Confucian scholars, he continued his grandfather's policy of restraining the court eunuchs and began clawing back territory and forces from his uncles. Over the course of 1399, he demoted or arrested several and prompted the suicide of one.

Reacting to this, the Prince of Yan Zhu Di captured and coöpted the Prince of Ning Zhu Quan – between the two of them, he now possessed the bulk of the empire's large northern army. He also won the support of several Mongolian tribes by torching his brother's capital at Daning and evacuating the province. Feigning sickness and madness, Zhu Di succeeded in convincing the Jianwen Emperor to release the three sons of his held hostage in Nanjing: almost immediately upon their arrival, the emperor attempted to arrest Zhu Di himself and the prince launched the Jingnan Campaign against the court.

Fall from power[edit]

Aided by eunuch spies and turncoat generals, the Prince of Yan succeeded in capturing the emperor's Yangtze fleet and entered the capital Nanjing through an opened gate in 1402. Although his propaganda had portrayed him as the Duke of Zhou, who famously supported his young nephew King Cheng by waging war on the king's evil advisors, Zhu Di's entrance to the capital was almost immediately followed by the torching of the imperial palace and the presentation of three charred bodies as the emperor's, his consort's, and his heir's. The Jianwen era was declared void and its records systematically altered or destroyed, while the prince established himself as the new Yongle Emperor. Thousands of scholars and their families who opposed these measures were executed – the most famous were Fang Xiaoru and three others remembered as the Four Martyrs.

Many rumors stated that the Jianwen Emperor – on his own or thanks to the Hongwu Emperor's foresight – managed to escape the sack of Nanjing disguised as a monk. Some records reported that one year after he became emperor, the Yongle Emperor sent Zheng He and Hu Ying (胡濙) to discover him; After many years, in 1423 Hu came back and report to him, he relaxed and promoted Hu but no one else heard what they were talking. Passages in the official History of Ming even present the initial impetus to Zheng He's voyages as discovering whether countries to the south had provided him haven. Still other records relate that decades later the Jianwen Emperor returned to the imperial palace and lived the rest of his life in obscure retirement.[9]

The bodies presented as the imperial family by the Yongle Emperor were not given a full burial and there is no known grave of the Jianwen Emperor.[10] He was initially denied a temple name and left unhonored at Ming family shrines. The Prince of Fu, self-proclaimed emperor of the Southern Ming, granted him the temple name Huizong (惠宗) in 1644, but this name is not generally remembered or accepted in the official Chinese histories. Yongle Emperor changed many history records about him but the people remembered his kindness in his four years reign (四載寬政解嚴霜).[11][12]


  • Father
  • 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 Xiao Min Rang
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 Xiao Min Rang Believed to have perished in the palace fire that also killed his parents
2 Zhu Wengui
Prince Huai of Run
1401 1457
Empress Xiao Min Rang none 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 at 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, 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 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. ^ 明朝那些事儿. 
  9. ^ 壹、前言貳、史仲彬與《致身錄》 - 淡江大學
  10. ^ The Ming Ancestor Tomb
  11. ^ 明太祖实录_百度百科
  12. ^ 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