Xuande Emperor

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Xuande Emperor
5th Emperor of the Ming dynasty
Reign 27 June 1425 – 31 January 1435
Coronation 27 June 1425
Predecessor Hongxi Emperor
Successor Zhengtong Emperor
Born (1399-03-16)16 March 1399
Died 31 January 1435(1435-01-31) (aged 35)
Burial Jingling, Ming tombs, Beijing
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
Temple name
Ming Xuanzong
House House of Zhu
Father Hongxi Emperor
Mother Empress Chengxiaozhao
Xuande Emperor
Chinese 宣德帝
Ming dynasty Xuande mark and period (1426–35) imperial blue and white vase. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

The Xuande Emperor (Chinese: 宣德帝; pinyin: 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, ruling from 1425 to 1435. His era name "Xuande" means "Proclamation of Virtue".


Zhu Zhanji was the eldest son of the Hongxi Emperor and Empress Chengxiaozhao. He was described as a crown prince who was endowed with the quality of an excellent monarch in a section surrounded by superstition, of his biography. His grandfather, Yongle Emperor, had high hopes that he might play an important part to assist his father.[2]

He was 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.

The Xuande Emperor's uncle, Zhu Gaoxu (the 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 Xuande Emperor took 20,000 soldiers and attacked him at Le'an. Zhu Gaoxu surrendered soon afterward, was reduced to the status of a commoner. 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.

In 1428, the Xuande Emperor granted King Hashi of Chūzan the family name Shang (尚, Shō in Japanese), gave him the title of Liuqiu Wang (琉球王, Jap: Ryūkyū-Ō, King of Ryūkyū), and gifted him a red lacquered tablet with Chung Shan (中山, Chūzan in Japanese) inscribed in gold, which was then placed on the Chūzonmon gate near Shuri Castle.[3]

The Xuande Emperor wanted to withdraw his troops from Việt Nam, but some of his advisors disagreed. After Ming garrisons suffered heavy casualties, the emperor sent Liu Sheng with an army. These were badly defeated by the Vietnamese. The Ming forces withdrew and the Xuande Emperor eventually recognized the independence of Việt Nam. 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 the Mongols of the Northern Yuan dynasty. The Ming government let Arughtai's Eastern Mongols battle with Toghon's Oirat tribes of the west. The Ming imperial court 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 government 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 Xuande Emperor's imperial harem.

A privy council of eunuchs strengthened centralized power by controlling the Jinyiwei (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 in 1435 after ruling for ten years. He ruled over a remarkably peaceful period with no significant external or internal problems. Later historians have considered his reign to be the height of the Ming dynasty's golden age.

The emperor as an artist[edit]

"Gibbons at play", painting by the Xuande Emperor (1427)
A porcelain ding vessel from the Xuande era of the Ming dynasty.

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."[4]

Also, the Xuande mark and period (1426-35) is often considered one of the most sophisticated periods in the history of Chinese Blue and White porcelain crafts. [5]




Title Name Born Died Father Mother Issue Notes
Empress Gongrang Zhang
Hu Shanxiang
1402 1443 Hu Rong
Lady Liu
1. Princess of Shunde
2. Princess of Yongqing
Married Xuanzong in 1417
Became Crown Princess (皇太子妃) in 1424
Became Empress in 1425
Deposed in 1428
Posthumously honoured in 1463
Empress Xiaogong Zhang
Lady Sun
1399 1462 Sun Zhong, Count of Huichang
Dong Yuanzhen
3. Princess of Changde
1. Yingzong
Became Xuanzong's concubine in 1417
Became Noble Consort (贵妃) in 1424
Became Empress in 1428
Became Empress Dowager (皇太后) in 1435
Became Empress Dowager Shangsheng (上圣皇太后) in 1449
Became Empress Dowager Shenglie (圣烈皇太后) in 1457
Empress Dowager Xiaoyi
Lady Wu
1397 16 Jan 1462 Wu Yanming
Lady Shen
2. Daizong Entered the imperial court in 1412
Became Able Consort (贤妃) in 1428
Became Empress Dowager (皇太后) in 1449
Demoted to Able Consort Xuanmiao (宣庙贤妃) in 1457
Posthumously honoured as Able Consort Rongsi (荣思贤妃) in 1462
Posthumously honoured in 1644

Noble Consorts[edit]

Title Name Born Died Issue Notes
Noble Consort Duanjing
Lady He
unknown 1435 none Xuanzong's concubine
Became Gracious Consort (惠妃) in 1426
Forced to commit self-immolation


Title Name Born Died Issue Notes
Able Consort Chunjing
Lady Zhao
unknown 1435 none Forced to commit self-immolation
Gracious Consort Zhenshun
Lady Wu
unknown 1435 none Forced to commit self-immolation
Pure Consort Zhuangjing
Lady Jiao
unknown 1435 none Forced to commit self-immolation
Venerational Consort Zhuangshun
Lady Cao
unknown 1435 none Forced to commit self-immolation
Favourable Consort Zhenhui
Lady Xu
unknown 1435 none Forced to commit self-immolation
Elegant Consort Gongding
Lady Yuan
unknown 1435 none Forced to commit self-immolation
Respectful Consort Zhenjing
Lady Zhu
unknown 1435 none Forced to commit self-immolation
Complete Consort Gongshun
Lady Li
unknown 1435 none Forced to commit self-immolation
Accomplished Consort Suxi
Lady He
unknown 1435 none Forced to commit self-immolation
Pure Consort
Lady Liu
unknown unknown none Xuanzong's concubine



# Title Name Born Died Mother Notes
1 Yingzong
29 Nov 1427 23 Feb 1464 Empress Xiaogong Zhang Became Crown Prince (皇太子) in 1428
Became Emperor (皇帝) in 1435
Captured during Tumu Crisis and became Retired Emperor (太上皇) in 1449
Restored in 1457
2 Daizong
21 Sep 1428 14 Mar 1457 Empress Dowager Xiaoyi Became Prince of Cheng (郕王) in 1435
Became Emperor (皇帝) in 1449
Deposed, placed under house arrest and posthumously honoured as Prince Li of Cheng (郕戾王)
Posthumously honoured as Emperor Jing (景皇帝) in 1464
Posthumously honoured in 1644


# Title Name Born Died Mother Spouses Issue Notes
1 Princess of Shunde
unknown 1420 1443 Empress Gongrang Zhang 1437: Shi Jing (石璟) none
2 Princess of Yongqing
unknown unknown 1433 none none Died young
3 Princess of Changde
unknown 1424 1470 Empress Xiaogong Zhang 1440: Xue Huan (薛桓)


See also[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。” (in Chinese)
  2. ^ History of Ming, Vol.9
  3. ^ Kerr, George. Okinawa: History of an Island People. 1958, Tokyo, Charles E. Tuttle Company. Page 90.
  4. ^ "Imperial Salukis: Speedy hounds, portrayed by a Chinese emperor". Harvard Magazine, May–June 2007.
  5. ^ Yi Ching, Leung. "2016 Top 20 Chinese porcelain auctions (Sotheby's/ Christie's)". www.zentopia-culture.com/. Leung Yi Ching. Retrieved 15 January 2017. 


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
Succeeded by
The Zhengtong Emperor