The Chongzhen Emperor (Chinese: 崇禎; pinyin: Chóngzhēn; 6 February 1611 – 25 April 1644), personal name Zhu Youjian (Chinese: 朱由檢; pinyin: Zhū Yóujiǎn), was the 17th and last emperor of the Ming dynasty in China, reigning from 1627–1644. "Chongzhen," the era name of his reign, means "honorable and auspicious."

Early years

Zhu Youjian was the fifth son of Zhu Changluo, the Taichang Emperor, and one of his low-ranking concubines, Lady Liu. When Zhu Youjian was four years old, his mother was executed by his father for reasons unknown and was buried secretly. Zhu Youjian was then adopted by his father's other concubines. He was first raised by Consort Kang, and after she adopted his eldest brother Zhu Youxiao, he was raised by Consort Zhuang.

All of the Taichang Emperor's sons died before reaching adulthood except for Zhu Youxiao and Zhu Youjian. Zhu Youjian grew up in a relatively lonely but quiet environment. After the Taichang Emperor died in 1620, Zhu Youjian's elder brother Zhu Youxiao succeeded their father and was enthroned as the Tianqi Emperor. He granted the title "Prince of Xin" (信王) to Zhu Youjian and posthumously honoured Zhu Youjian’s mother, Lady Liu, as "Consort Xian" (賢妃). Fearing the court eunuch Wei Zhongxian, who controlled the Tianqi Emperor, Zhu Youjian avoided attending imperial court sessions under the pretext of illness until he was summoned to court by his brother in 1627. At the time, the Tianqi Emperor was gravely ill and wanted Zhu Youjian to rely on Wei Zhongxian in the future.[2]

When the Tianqi Emperor died in October 1627, Zhu Youjian, then about 16 years old, ascended the throne as the Chongzhen Emperor.[3] His succession was helped by Empress Zhang (widow of the Tianqi Emperor), despite the manoeuvres of the chief eunuch, Wei Zhongxian, who wanted to continue to dominate the imperial court.[4] From the beginning of his rule, the Chongzhen Emperor did his best to stem the decline of the Ming dynasty. His efforts at reform focused on the top ranks of the civil and military establishment. However, years of internal corruption and an empty treasury made it almost impossible to find capable ministers to fill important government posts. The emperor also tended to be suspicious of his subordinates, executing dozens of field commanders, including general Yuan Chonghuan, who had directed the defence of the northern frontier against the Manchu "Later Jin dynasty" (later known as the Qing dynasty). The Chongzhen Emperor's reign was marked by his fear of factionalism among his officials, which had been a serious issue during the reign of the Tianqi Emperor. Soon after his brother's death, the Chongzhen Emperor immediately eliminated Wei Zhongxian and Madam Ke, as well as other officials thought to be involved in the "Wei-Ke conspiracy".[5]

Meanwhile, partisans of the Donglin Academy faction, which had been devastated under Wei Zhongxian's influence, established political organizations throughout the Jiangnan region.[6] Chief among these was the Fushe, or Restoration Society, whose members were a new generation of scholars who identified with the old Donglin faction.[7] They succeeded in placing their members into high government posts through the imperial examinations of 1630 and 1631. The reversal of Wei Zhongxian's fortunes resulted in a renewal of the Donglin faction's influence at court, arousing great suspicion from the Chongzhen Emperor.[8] The nomination of Donglin favorite Qian Qianyi for the post of Grand Secretary led to accusations of corruption and factionalism by his rival Wen Tiren. Qian Qianyi was imprisoned on the emperor's orders. Though he was soon released, his status was reduced to that of a commoner and he returned to Jiangnan. Wen Tiren would later become Grand Secretary himself.[9]

Peasant rebellions and Manchu invasion

In the early 17th century, persistent drought and famine driven by the Little Ice Age accelerated the collapse of the Ming dynasty.[10] Two major popular uprisings swelled up, led by Zhang Xianzhong and Li Zicheng, both poor men from famine-hit Shaanxi who took up arms in the 1620s.[11] At the same time, Ming armies were occupied in the defence of the northern border against the Manchu ruler Huangtaiji, whose father, Nurhaci, had united the Manchu tribes into a cohesive force. In 1636, after years of campaigns against Ming fortifications north of the Great Wall, Huangtaiji declared himself emperor of the Qing dynasty.[12]

Through the 1630s, rebellion spread from Shaanxi to nearby Huguang and Henan. In 1641, Xiangyang fell to Zhang Xianzhong, and Luoyang to Li Zicheng. The next year, Li Zicheng captured Kaifeng.[13] The year after that, Zhang Xianzhong took Wuchang and established himself the ruler of his Xi kingdom.[11] Court officials offered a number of unrealistic proposals to stop the rebel armies, including the establishment of archery contests, the restoration of the weisuo military colony system, and the execution of disloyal peasants.[14] Li Zicheng took Xi'an in last 1643, renaming it Chang'an, which had been the city's name when it was the capital of the Tang dynasty. On the lunar New Year of 1644, he proclaimed himself king of the Shun dynasty and prepared to capture Beijing.[15]

By this point, the situation had become critical for the Chongzhen Emperor, who rejected proposals to recruit new militias from the Beijing region and to recall general Wu Sangui, the defender of Shanhai Pass on the Great Wall. The Chongzhen Emperor had dispatched a new field commander, Yu Yinggui, who failed to stop Li Zicheng's armies as they crossed the Yellow River in December 1643. Back in Beijing, the capital defence forces consisted of old and feeble men, who were starving because of the corruption of eunuchs responsible for provisioning their supplies. The troops had not been paid for nearly a year.[16] Meanwhile, the capture of Taiyuan by Li Zicheng's forces gave his campaign additional momentum; garrisons began to surrender to him without a fight. Through February and March 1644, the Chongzhen Emperor declined repeated proposals to move the court south to Nanjing, and in early April, he rejected a suggestion to move the crown prince to the south.[17]


The Chongzhen Emperor Slays One of His Daughters, from Martino Martini's De Bello Tartarico Historia (1655)

In April 1644, the Ming imperial court finally ordered Wu Sangui to move his army south from his fortress at Ningyuan to Shanhai Pass.[18] It was too late, however, and Wu would not reach Shanhai Pass until 26 April.[19] Word reached Beijing that Shun rebels were approaching the capital through Juyong Pass, and the Chongzhen Emperor held his last audience with his ministers on 23 April. Li Zicheng offered the emperor an opportunity to surrender, but the negotiations produced no result. Li commanded his forces to attack on 24 April. Rather than face capture by the rebels, the Chongzhen Emperor gathered all members of the imperial household except his sons. Using his sword, he killed Consort Yuan and Princess Kunyi, and severed the arm of Princess Changping. The emperor hanged himself.[20]

A modern replacement of the tree from which the Chongzhen Emperor was said to have hanged himself

On 25 April, the Chongzhen Emperor was said to have walked to Meishan, a small hill in present-day Jingshan Park. There, he either hanged himself or strangled himself with a sash. By some accounts, the emperor left a suicide note that said, "I die unable to face my ancestors in the underworld, dejected and ashamed. May the rebels dismember my corpse and slaughter my officials, but let them not despoil the imperial tombs nor harm a single one of our people."[21] According to a servant who discovered the emperor's body under a tree, however, the words tianzi (Son of Heaven) were the only written evidence left after his death.[22] The emperor was buried in the Ming tombs.

The Manchus were quick to exploit the death of the Chongzhen Emperor: by claiming to "avenge the emperor," they rallied support from loyalist Ming forces and civilians. The Shun dynasty lasted less than a year with Li Zicheng's defeat at the Battle of Shanhai Pass. The victorious Manchus established the Shunzhi Emperor of the Qing dynasty as ruler of all China. Because the Chongzhen Emperor had refused to move the court south to Nanjing, the new Qing government was able to take over a largely intact Beijing bureaucracy, aiding their efforts to displace the Ming.[23]

After the Chongzhen Emperor's death, loyalist forces proclaimed a Southern Ming dynasty in Nanjing, naming Zhu Yousong (the Prince of Fu) as the Hongguang Emperor. In 1645, however, Qing armies started to move against the Ming remnants. The Southern Ming, again bogged down by factional infighting, were unable to hold back the Qing onslaught, and Nanjing surrendered on 8 June 1645. Zhu Yousong was captured on 15 June and brought to Beijing, where he died the following year. The dwindling Southern Ming were continually pushed farther south, and the last emperor of the Southern Ming, Zhu Youlang, was finally caught in Burma, transported to Yunnan, and executed in 1662 by Wu Sangui.


While the Chongzhen Emperor was not especially incompetent by the standards of the later Ming, he nevertheless sealed the fate of the Ming dynasty. In ways, he did his best to save the dynasty. However, despite a reputation for hard work, the emperor's paranoia, impatience, stubbornness and lack of regard for the plight of his people doomed his crumbling empire. His attempts at reform did not take into account the considerable decline of Ming power, which was already far advanced at the time of his accession. Over the course of his 17-year reign, the Chongzhen Emperor executed seven military governors, 11 regional commanders, replaced his minister of defence 14 times, and appointed an unprecedented 50 ministers to the Grand Secretariat (equivalent to the cabinet and chancellor).[24] Even though the Ming dynasty still possessed capable commanders and skilled politicians in its dying years, the Chongzhen Emperor's impatience and paranoid personality prevented any of them from enacting any real plan to salvage a perilous situation.

In particular, the Chongzhen Emperor's execution of Yuan Chonghuan on extremely flimsy grounds was regarded as the decisively fatal blow. At the time of his death, Yuan was supreme commander of all Ming forces in the northeast, and had just rushed from the borders to defend the capital against a surprise Manchu invasion. For much of the preceding decade, Yuan had served as the Ming Empire's bulwark in the north, where he was responsible for securing Ming borders at a time when the Empire was suffering humiliating defeat after defeat. His unjust death destroyed Ming military morale and removed one of the greatest obstacles to the eventual Manchu conquest of China.




Title Name Born Died Father Mother Issue Notes
Empress Xiaojie Lie
Lady Zhou 10 May 1611 24 Apr 1644 Zhou Kui
Lady Ding
1. Princess of Kunyi
1. Emperor Dao
2. Prince Yin of Huai
3. Prince Ai of Ding
Entered Sizong's harem as Princess Consort of Xin (信王妃)
Became Empress in 1627
Committed suicide by hanging on Sizong's orders after the fall of Ming
Posthumously honoured as Empress Xiaojie Lie in 1644
Adoptive mother of Princess of Changping

Imperial Noble Consorts

Title Name Born Died Father Mother Issue Notes
Imperial Noble Consort Gongshu
Tian Xiuying
1611 16 Oct 1642 Tian Hongyu
Lady Wu
4. Prince Dao of Yong
5. Prince Ling of Dao
6. Prince Huai of Dao
7. Prince Liang of Dao
Sizong's concubine
Became Courteous Consort (礼妃) in 1627
Promoted to Noble Consort
Posthumously honoured in 1642

Noble Consorts

Title Name Born Died Father Issue Notes
Noble Consort
Lady Yuan
1616 1654 Yuan You
daughter Sizong's concubine
Became Pure Consort (淑妃) in 1627
Promoted to Noble Consort
Survived suicide attempt after the fall of Ming in 1644


Title Name Born Died Issue Notes
Favourable Consort
Lady Wang
unknown 1629 2. Princess of Changping First Class Female Attendant (选侍)
Posthumously honoured in 1629
Lady Shen
unknown unknown none
Lady Wang
unknown unknown none
Lady Wang
unknown unknown none
Lady Liu
unknown unknown none
Lady Fang
unknown unknown none
Lady You
unknown unknown none



# Title Name Born Died Mother Notes
1 Emperor Dao
26 Feb 1629 1644 Empress Xiaojie Lie Became Crown Prince in 1630
Disappeared after Li Zicheng's defeat in 1644
Posthumously honoured as Crown Prince Xianmin (献愍太子) in 1644
Posthumously honoured in 1646
2 Prince Yin of Huai
15 Jan 1630 15 Jan 1630 Posthumously honoured in 1630
3 Prince Ai of Ding
1632 unknown Became Prince of Ding in 1643
Disappeared after Li Zicheng's defeat in 1644
Posthumously honoured as Prince Ai of Ding in 1644
Known as the third Crown Prince (朱三太子), he became the figurehead for many uprisings after the fall of Ming
4 Prince Dao of Yong
1632 unknown Imperial Noble Consort Gongshu Became Prince of Yong in 1642
Disappeared after Li Zicheng captured Beijing in 1644
5 Prince Ling of Dao
1633 1637 Died young
Posthumously honoured in 1637
Popularly mistaken for the third Crown Prince (朱三太子)
6 Prince Huai of Dao
1637 5 May 1639 Died young
Posthumously honoured in 1639
7 Prince Liang of Dao
unknown unknown unknown Died young


Sizong was the father of six daughters, of which three died in infancy and are not recorded in history.

# Title Name Born Died Mother Spouses Issue Notes
1 Princess of Kunyi
unknown unknown 1630 Empress Xiaojie Lie none none Died young
Posthumously honoured in 1630
2 Princess of Changping
1629 26 Sep 1646 Favourable Consort Wang 1645: Zhou Xian (周显) none Her left arm was cut off by Sizong after Li Zicheng captured Beijing
Died of illness during pregnancy
3 Princess of Zhaoren
unknown 1639 24 Apr 1644 unknown none none Killed by Sizong after Li Zicheng captured Beijing


See also


  1. ^ In 1644, Zhu Yousong, who had proclaimed himself the Hongguang Emperor of the Southern Ming dynasty, gave the Chongzhen Emperor the temple name "Sizong". In historical texts, "Sizong" is the most common temple name of the Chongzhen Emperor, even though the Southern Ming rulers had changed "Sizong" to "Yizong" (毅宗) and then to "Weizong" (威宗). During the Qing dynasty, the Chongzhen Emperor's temple name was changed to "Huaizong" (懷宗).
  2. ^ 至是八月熹宗疾大漸十一日命召帝帝初慮不為忠賢所容深自韜晦常稱病不朝承召乃入問疾熹宗憑榻顧帝曰來吾弟當為堯舜帝懼不敢應良久奏曰臣死罪陛下為此言臣應萬死熹宗慰勉至再又曰善視中宮魏忠賢可任也帝益懼而與忠賢相勞若語甚溫求出 (崇禎長編 卷一)
  3. ^ Mote 2003, p. 777.
  4. ^ 及熹宗大渐,折忠贤逆谋、传位信王者,后力也。 (明史 卷一百一十四)
  5. ^ Wakeman Jr. 1986, pp. 87-90.
  6. ^ Wakeman Jr. 1986, pp. 111-115.
  7. ^ Mote 2003, p. 779.
  8. ^ Wakeman Jr. 1986, pp. 119-122.
  9. ^ Wakeman Jr. 1986, pp. 125-126.
  10. ^ Fagan 2000, p. 50.
  11. ^ a b Mote 2003, p. 798.
  12. ^ Wakeman Jr. 1986, p. 206.
  13. ^ Wakeman Jr. 1986, pp. 226-227.
  14. ^ Wakeman Jr. 1986, pp. 236-238.
  15. ^ Wakeman Jr. 1986, pp. 233-234.
  16. ^ Wakeman Jr. 1986, pp. 234-240.
  17. ^ Wakeman Jr. 1986, pp. 240-247.
  18. ^ Mote 2003, p. 808.
  19. ^ Wakeman Jr. 1986, p. 290.
  20. ^ Wakeman Jr. 1986, pp. 259-263.
  21. ^ Mingji beilüe, quoted in Wakeman Jr. 1986, p. 266
  22. ^ Wakeman Jr. 1986, p. 266.
  23. ^ Wakeman Jr. 1986, p. 257.
  24. ^ 古代碑石墓志的宝库


Chongzhen Emperor
Born: 6 February 1611 Died: 25 April 1644
Regnal titles
Preceded by
The Tianqi Emperor
Emperor of the Ming dynasty
Succeeded by
The Hongguang Emperor
Emperor of China
Succeeded by
The Shunzhi Emperor