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The Chenghua Emperor (Chinese: 成化; pinyin: Chénghuà; 9 December 1447 – 9 September 1487), born Zhu Jianshen, was the ninth Emperor of the Ming dynasty in China, between 1464 and 1487. His era name "Chenghua" means "accomplished change".

Childhood

Zhu Jianshen was a son of the Zhengtong Emperor. He was only two years old when his father was captured by the Oirat Mongols and held captive in 1449. After that his uncle, the Jingtai Emperor, took over whilst his father was put under house arrest for almost seven years. During this time, Zhu Jianshen lived under his uncle's shadow and even had his title of crown prince removed while the Jingtai Emperor installed his own son as heir. Zhu Jianshen was only reinstated as crown prince on the eve of the death of the Jingtai Emperor in 1457.

A Song dynasty (960–1279) painting of a mother hen and chicks, with a written eulogy at the top inscribed by the Chenghua Emperor describing his fondness for this work.

Reign as Emperor

The Chenghua Emperor ascended the throne at the age of 16. During the early part of his administration, he carried out new government policies to reduce tax and strengthen the Ming dynasty. However these did not last and by the closing years of his reign, governmental affairs once again fell into the hands of eunuchs, notably Wang Zhi. Peasant uprisings occurred throughout the country; however, they were violently suppressed. The Chenghua Emperor's reign was also more autocratic than his predecessors' and freedom was sharply curtailed when the emperor established institutes such as the Western Depot (to complement the existing Eastern Depot), monitoring all civilians' actions and words. This institute, not unlike a spy agency, would administer punishment to those whom they suspected of treason. The Western Depot would eventually be shut down but it was the start of a dangerous trend and the Chenghua Emperor's descendants would again revive the Western Depot during the 16th century.

Lady Wan

The Chenghua Emperor was also under the influence of Lady Wan who was an imperial concubine who was seventeen years older than him. Lady Wan had been a mother figure to the young emperor, rearing and protecting the young prince but after ascending the throne she quickly became the emperor's favourite consort after giving birth to a child in 1466. Although Lady Wan's only son died shortly thereafter, she would come to dominate the Emperor's harem for nearly two decades. Lady Wan would employ eunuchs to oversee the harem and report back to her if any concubines became pregnant. Tactics including the forced abortions and even murders of members of the harem resulting in the Chenghua Emperor lamenting that by the age of thirty one that he still lacked a male heir. It was only then revealed to the Emperor that a male heir, the future Hongzhi Emperor was secretly saved and raised in a secure location outside the palace. After reuniting with the young prince, Zhu Youcheng was created crown prince. Lady Wan died in 1487 and shortly after the Chenghua Emperor died in 1487, after 23 years on the throne. He was buried in the Maoling (茂陵) mausoleum of the Ming Dynasty Tombs.

Legacy

This painting, by an imperial court painter in 1485, depicts the Chenghua Emperor enjoying the festivities with families in the Forbidden City during the Lantern Festival. It includes acrobatic performances, operas, magic shows and setting off firecrackers.

The Chenghua Emperor's reign can be distinguished by his early attempts to reform the government and trying his best to rule the country. His reign also saw a cultural flourishing with famous persons such as Hu Juren and Chen Baisha dominating the academic scene. However, the Chenghua Emperor's reign was prone to dominating individuals in the government and the emperor was easily influenced into granting favours based on who he liked rather than their abilities. This led to the degradation of the ruling class and wasteful spending by corrupt individuals which eventually depleted the Ming government's coffers.

Family

Spouses

Empresses

Title Name Born Died Father Mother Issue Notes
Empress
皇后
Lady Wu
吴氏
unknown 1509 Wu Jun
吴俊
unknown none Xianzong's concubine
Became Empress and deposed in 1464
Adoptive mother of Xiaozong
Empress Xiaozhen Chun
孝贞纯皇后
Lady Wang
王氏
unknown 1518 unknown unknown none Xianzong's concubine
Became Empress in 1464
Became Empress Dowager (皇太后) in 1487
Became Grand Empress Dowager (太皇太后) in 1505
Empress Xiaomu
孝穆皇后
Ji Tangmei
纪唐妹
1451 1475 Ji Gong, Count Duanxi of Qingyuan
庆元端僖伯纪公
Countess of Qingyuan
庆元伯夫人
3. Xiaozong Yao
Entered the imperial court as court lady in 1466
Posthumously honoured as Pure Consort Gongke (恭恪淑妃) in 1475
Posthumously honoured as Empress Dowager Xiaomu (孝穆皇太后) in 1487
Posthumously honoured in 1536
Empress Xiaohui
孝惠皇后
Lady Shao
邵氏
unknown 1522 Shao Lin, Count of Changhua
昌化伯邵林
Lady Yang, Madame
夫人杨氏
4. Emperor Xian
5. Prince Hui of Qi
8. Prince Jing of Yong
Entered the harem in 1460
Became Imperial Consort (宸妃) in 1476
Promoted to Noble Consort (贵妃) in 1487
Became Empress Dowager (皇太后) in 1521
Became Empress Dowager Shou'an (寿安皇太后) and posthumously honoured as Empress Dowager Xiaohui (孝惠皇太后)
Posthumously honoured in 1536

Imperial Noble Consorts

Title Name Born Died Father Mother Issue Notes
Imperial Noble Consort Gongsu
恭肃皇贵妃
Wan Zhen'er
万贞儿
1428 1487 Wan Gui
万贵
Lady Wang
王氏
1. son Entered the imperial court and became Empress Xiaogong Zhang's palace maid in 1431
Became Xianzong's nursemaid in 1449
Became Consort in 1457
Promoted to Noble Consort in 1466
Promoted to Imperial Noble Consort in 1476

Consorts

Title Name Born Died Father Mother Issue Notes
Able Consort Duanshun
端顺贤妃
Lady Bo
柏氏
unknown 1527 Bo Zhen
柏珍
unknown 2. Crown Prince Daogong Entered Xianzong's harem in 1464
Became Able Consort in 1466
Favourable Consort Zhuangjing
庄靖顺妃
Lady Wang
王氏
22 Apr 1448 9 Jan 1495 Wang Xin
王信
Lady Guan
管氏
1. Princess of Renhe Entered the harem in 1460
Became Favourable Consort in 1476
Gentle Consort Gonghui
恭惠和妃
Lady Liang
梁氏
unknown 1533 unknown unknown none Became Gentle Consort in 1476
Bright Consort Duanrong
端荣昭妃
Lady Wang
王氏
unknown unknown unknown unknown none Became Bright Consort in 1476
Gracious Consort Jingshun
靖顺惠妃
Lady Guo
郭氏
unknown 13 Oct 1491 unknown unknown 2. Princess of Yongkang
Virtuous Consort Zhuangyi
庄懿德妃
Lady Zhang
张氏
unknown 1497 Zhang Jing
张敬
Lady Gao
高氏
6. Prince Duan of Yi
7. Prince Gong of Heng
11. Prince An of Ru
Became Virtuous Consort in 1479
Peaceful Consort Duanyi
端懿安妃
Lady Yao
姚氏
unknown 1491 unknown unknown 9. Prince Ding of Shou
Respectful Consort Ronghui
荣惠恭妃
Lady Yang
杨氏
unknown unknown unknown unknown 12. Prince Jian of Jing
14. Prince Yi of Shen
Became Respectful Consort in 1485
Final Consort Kangshun
康顺端妃
Lady Pan
潘氏
unknown 1538 unknown unknown 13. Prince Zhuang of Rong
Venerational Consort Gongyi
恭懿敬妃
Lady Wang
王氏
1465 1510 Wang Ao
王敖
Lady Huang
黄氏
10. son Entered Xianzong's harem in 1475
Became Venerational Consort in 1487
Elegant Consort Zhaoshun
昭顺丽妃
Lady Zhang
章氏
unknown 1501 unknown unknown princess Became Elegant Consort in 1487
Silent Consort Hehui
和惠静妃
Lady Yue
岳氏
1465 1534 Yue Ji
岳纪
Lady Shen
沈氏
6. Princess of Xianyou Entered the harem as palace maid in 1475
Became Silent Consort in 1487
Glorious Consort Jingxi
靖僖荣妃
Lady Tang
唐氏
unknown 1524 unknown unknown none

Issue

Sons

# Title Name Born Died Mother Notes
1 4 Feb 1466 1466 Imperial Noble Consort Gongsu Died in infancy
2 Crown Prince Daogong
悼恭太子
Youji
佑极
7 Jun 1469 5 Mar 1472 Able Consort Duanshun Became Crown Prince (皇太子) in 1469
Died young
3 Xiaozong
孝宗
Youcheng
佑樘
30 Jul 1470 9 Jun 1505 Empress Xiaomu Became Crown Prince (皇太子) in 1474
Became Emperor (皇帝) in 1487
4 Emperor Xian
献皇帝
Youwan
佑杬
22 Jul 1476 13 Jul 1519 Empress Xiaohui Became Prince of Xing (兴王) in 1487
Posthumous name Xian in 1519
Posthumously honoured as Emperor Xian of Xing (兴献帝) in 1521
Posthumously honoured as Emperor Xian in 1525
Son: Shizong
5 Prince Hui of Qi
岐惠王
Youlun
佑棆
12 Nov 1478 2 Dec 1501 Became Prince of Qi in 1487
6 Prince Duan of Yi
益端王
Youbin
佑槟
26 Jan 1479 5 Oct 1539 Virtuous Consort Zhuangyi Became Prince of Yi in 1487
7 Prince Gong of Heng
衡恭王
Youhui
佑楎
8 Dec 1479 30 Aug 1538 Became Prince of Heng in 1487
8 Prince Jing of Yong
雍靖王
Youyun
佑枟
29 Jun 1481 17 Jan 1507 Empress Xiaohui Became Prince of Yong in 1487
9 Prince Ding of Shou
寿定王
Youzhi
佑榰
2 Dec 1481 1545 Peaceful Consort Duanyi Became Prince of Shou in 1491
10 19 Aug 1483 8 Oct 1483 Venerational Consort Gongyi Died in infancy
11 Prince An of Ru
汝安王
Youpeng
佑梈
13 Oct 1484 1541 Virtuous Consort Zhuangyi Became Prince of Ru in 1491
12 Prince Jian of Jing
泾简王
Youshun
佑橓
31 Mar 1485 10 Jul 1537 Respectful Consort Ronghui Became Prince of Jing in 1491
13 Prince Zhuang of Rong
荣庄王
Youshu
佑枢
22 Jan 1486 16 Feb 1539 Final Consort Kangshun Became Prince of Rong in 1491
14 Prince Yi of Shen
申懿王
Youkai
佑楷
3 Feb 1487 20 Aug 1503 Respectful Consort Ronghui Became Prince of Shen in 1491

Daughters

# Title Name Born Died Mother Spouses Issue Notes
1 Princess of Renhe
仁和公主
unknown c.1474 1544 Favourable Consort Zhuangjing 1489: Qi Shimei (齐世美) Qi Liang (齐良)
Qi (齐)
Qi (齐)
Qi (齐)
Qi (齐)
2 Princess of Yongkang
永康公主
unknown 1478 1547 Gracious Consort Jingshun 1493: Cui Yuan (崔元) Cui Fengzheng (崔凤征)
Cui Qizheng (崔麒征)
Lady Cui (崔氏)
Lady Cui (崔氏)
3 Princess of Deqing
德清公主
unknown c.1481 1548 unknown 1496: Lin Yue (林岳) Lin Lu (林鹿)
Lin Zhi (林廌)
4 unknown unknown unknown unknown none none Died young
5 Princess of Changtai
长泰公主
unknown unknown 1487 unknown none none Died young
Posthumously honoured in 1487
6 Princess of Xianyou
仙游公主
unknown 1487 1492 Silent Consort Hehui none none Died young
Posthumously honoured in 1492

Ancestry

See also

Notes

  1. ^ His original given name Jianjun was changed into Jianshen in 1457 when his father was restored on the throne as the Tianshun Emperor.

Sources

¹ Imperial China – 900–1800, F.W. Mote, Page 630, First Harvard University Press, 2003.

Chenghua Emperor
Born: December 9 1447 Died: September 9 1487
Regnal titles
Preceded by
The Tianshun Emperor
Emperor of China
1464–1487
Succeeded by
The Hongzhi Emperor