1351, Xinmao Year
Yuan Dynasty: Zhizheng Reign, 11th Year
The Red Turban Rebellion erupts.
1356, Bingshen Year
Yuan Dynasty: Zhizheng Reign, 16th Year
Zhu Yuanzhang establishes order in the city of Jiqing (later renamed Yingtian and Jiankang, now known as Nanjing), which becomes his base for further conquest. The old Confucius scholar Zhu Sheng (1299-1370) of Huizhou prescribes war strategy.
1363, Guimao Year
Yuan Dynasty: Zhizheng Reign, 23rd Year
Zhu Yuanzhang and Chen Youliang (1320-1363) battle at Lake Poyang.
The Courteous Reception of the Virtuous (Lixian guan) is established. Scholars Liu Ji (1311-1375), Tao An and others lecture on classical studies.
Chen Youliang is killed on the battlefield. The impending conquest of his insurgent regime, the Great Han, begins.
1364, Jiachen Year
Yuan Dynasty: Zhizheng Reign, 24th Year
Assistant Administrator Li Shanchang (1314-1390) and General-in-chief Xu Da (1332-1385) repeatedly present memorials outlining Zhu Yuanzhang's rightful authority. Eventually Zhu Yuanzhang declares himself the Prince of Wu and establishes his government with official rankings. He institutes the Secretariat and names Li Shanchang and Xu Da as his right (civil) and left (military) grand councilors, respectively. Chang Yuchun (1330-1369) and Yu Tonghai are appointed as managers of governmental affairs. Wang Guangyang is instated as director of the Right Office and Zhang Chang as Left Office manager.
Zhu Yuanzhang sets his capital in Jiankang (modern day Nanjing) and establishes Yamen official rankings. A provincial-level official of Jiangxi presents the incised gold bed of Chen Youliang to Zhu Yuanzhang, who orders its destruction saying "The senior and junior Chens were extravagant to a wasteful extreme! How could their regime not be overturned!"
1366, Bingwu Year
Yuan Dynasty: Zhizheng Reign, 26th Year
The capital Jiankang (modern day Nanjing) is expanded. Liu Ji and others are commissioned to select a tract of land to build the new palace on the southern side of Mount Zhong, some two li (approx. a kilometer) outside of the Baixia Gate on the east side of the old city (some sources read " some 3 li”, approx. 1.5 kilometers).
Xu Da is sent with an army to vanquish remaining Yuan dynasty forces.
The architects present sketches of the future palace to Zhu Yuanzhang. He orders the elimination of elaborate ornamentation.
1367, Dingwei Year
1st Year of the Prince of Wu's Reign
(Yuan Dynasty: Zhizheng Reign, 27th Year)
The expansion of Jiankang is completed.
Young, handsome, talented Taoist children are chosen to serve as musicians and dancers. Zhu Yuanzhang summons the scholar Zhu Sheng and Fan Quan at the Gate of Ji (where imperial insignia is stored) and instructs the musicians and dancers. Zhu Yuanzhang personally plays the stone chimes and orders Zhu Sheng to distinguish the five tones in the traditional Chinese musical scale. Zhu Sheng is unable to do so, wrongly identifying gong (the first tone) as zhi (the fourth tone).
The Circular Mound Altar (Yuan qiu) and Square Mound Altar (Fang qiu) as well as the Altar of Land and Grain are completed. The Circular Mound Altar is located to the southeast of the capital city outside the Zhengyang Gate on the southern side of Mount Zhong. The Square Mound Altar is located outside the Taiping Gate on the northern side of Mount Zhong. Facing north, the Altar of Land and Grain is located to the southwest of the palace complex.
The Imperial Ancestral Shrine (Tai miao) faces south and is completed to the southeast of the palace. The Directorate of Palace Attendants (Neishi jian) is established with the director-eunuch as a rank-four official, whose position is later changed to rank three, when the additional rank-three Directorate for Imperial Accoutrements (Yuyong jian) is established within the consortium of eunuch services. These managed various affairs, including everything from archives to clothing and medicine.
The new palace complex is completed. The main hall is called the Hall of Venerating Heaven (Fengtian dian), which is behind the Hall of Splendid Canopy (Huagai dian) and in front of the Hall of Scrupulous Behavior (Jinshen dian). These halls are all flanked with colonnades. To the left and right of the Hall of Venerating Heaven are the Edifice of Literary Accomplishment (Wen lou) and Edifice of Martial Deeds (Wu lou). Behind the Hall of Scrupulous Behavior is the Palace of Heavenly Purity (Qianqing gong), Palace of Earthly Tranquility (Kunning gong), and the Six Palaces (Liu gong). The greater Imperial City complex surrounds these halls, with the Meridian Gate (Wu men) opening to the south, East Prosperity Gate (Donghua men) to the east, West Prosperity Gate (Xihua men) on the west side, and the Dark Warrior Gate (Xuanwu men) to the north.
All officials are ordered to follow the rites, in which the “left” are superior to the “right”. The former becomes the left grand councilor (in charge of civil affairs), while the former left grand councilor becomes the right grand councilor (in charge of military affairs). The ordering of all officials follows this pattern.
The Seals and Music Offices are established. The Seals Office is headed by a high rank-five chief minister, with a subordinate rank-five vice minister, and a high rank-six aide. The Palace Ceremonial Office is founded with the highest ranking official holding a rank of a subordinate rank-five official. The Music Office is established, with the chief official holding a high ninth rank. This agency organizes banquet music and is headed by a commissioner and vice commissioner with two subordinate attendants. The Six Matrons, heads of the Six Palace Services, are installed. The Left Grand Councilor of the Secretariat Li Shanchang leading officials proposes the ceremonial rites for the Prince of Wu's ascension to the imperial throne, and rites for the arrangement of imperial processionals, the placement of officials during audiences, and the coronation ceremonies for the imperial consort and heir apparent.
1368, Wushen Year
Ming Dynasty: The First Year of the Hongwu Reign
(Yuan Dynasty: Zhizheng Reign, 28th Year)
1st Month,4th Day
Zhu Yuanzhang (the Prince of Wu) sacrifices to heaven and earth at the southern border altar of Jiankang (modern day Nanjing) and ascends to the imperial throne. He proclaims the name of his dominion as "Ming" and establishes his Hongwu Reign. He installs Consort Lady Ma as the empress and his son, Zhu Biao, as heir apparent. These proceedings are announced throughout the land. Zhu Yuanzhang takes up residence in the new palace. Officials are appointed to serve in the Eastern Palace (the residence of the heir apparent), and Li Shanchang concurrently serves as the heir's Junior Preceptor, Xu Da as Junior Mentor, and Chang Yuchun as Junior Guardian. The Hanlin Academy under the Secretariat proposes sacrificial rites for the border altar and ancestral shrine in the southern outskirts of the city.
Zhu Yuanzhang decides to implement the "two capitals, one administrative center" policy. Jinling (originally called Jiankang, modern day Nanjing) is named as the southern capital and Daliang (modern day Kaifeng) as the northern capital. Many inspection tours are taken to the northern capital.
1369, Jiyou Year
Ming Dynasty: Hongwu Reign, 2nd Year
The Yuan dynasty (1271-1368) Veritable Records of the Thirteen Reigns (Shisan chao shilu) is obtained and a literary team led by Left Grand Councilor Li Shanchang and Song Lian (the former archivist) compile History of the Yuan Dynasty (Yuan shi). The Hongwu Emperor personally sacrifices to the god of agriculture and plows the sacred field (jitian).
The organizational structure of Palace Attendants is established. The Directorate of Palace Attendants (nei shi) is formed with sixty Chief Stewards (eunuchs) to manage everything from seals and headgear to archives and delicacies. Additional posts were filled for the management of commodities, horses, and other items for daily use. Special attention was given to the management of the Eastern Palace with six services for seals, writing implements, cuisine, attire, music, and chariots. Gate attendants were also appointed.
Six imperial seals are crafted with three of white jade and three of green jade, which were inscribed with "Son of Heaven: Representative Seal" (Tianzi xingbao, used when conferring titles on foreign dignitaries or for bestowing gifts to them), "Son of Heaven: Seal of Trust" (Tianzi xinbao, used when summoning vassal states or setting out troops), "Seal of the Son of Heaven" (Tianzi zhi bao, used when making sacrifices to the Heaven, mountains , demons, divine spirits, and gods), "Imperial Representative Seal" (Huangdi xingbao, used when conferring or bestowing), "Imperial Seal of Trust" (Huangdi xinbao, used when summoning imperial princes, court officials, or maneuvering troops), and "Imperial Treasure"(Huangdi zhi bao, used when issuing imperial edicts and designations). Linhao (modern day Fengyang in Anhui Province) is named as the central capital (zhongdu).
1370, Gengxu Year
Ming Dynasty: Hongwu Reign, 3rd Year
The imperial civil service examinations (keju) are reinstated.
The land is subdivided under various princes. Zhu Shang, the emperor's second son, is named Prince of Qin. Zhu Gang, the third son, is appointed Prince of Jin. Zhu Di, the fourth son, is named Prince of Yan. Zhu Su, the fifth son, is appointed as Prince of Wu. Zhu Zhen, the sixth son, is named Prince of Chu. Zhu Fu, the seventh son, is named Prince of Qi. Zhu Zi, the eighth son, is appointed as Prince of Tan. Zhu Qi, the ninth son, is named Prince of Zhao. Zhu Tan, the tenth son, is appointed as Prince of Lu. Later some feudal designations are changed.
Lady Sun is conferred the title the Honored Consort. Lady Wu is named as Consort of Fulfillment (Chong fei). Lady Guo is given the title the Gracious Consort (Hui fei), while another Lady Guo is conferred the title the Restful Consort (Ning fei). Lady Da is given the title the Consort of Pacification (Ding fei), and Lady Hu is conferred the title the Complaisant Consort (Shun fei).
The rites for imperial audiences are instituted.
The order of music and dance at audiences, banquets, and sacrifices is established.
The winter attire for civil and military officials is determined. The manner of dress for the Palace Attendants is reorganized.
Hall for Ancestral Worship (Fengxian dian) is built. Sacrifices are held on the first and fifteenth days of the lunar month as well as on the seasonal sacrifice day and the family rites are conducted.
1371, Xinhai Year
Ming Dynasty: Hongwu Reign, 4th Year
Left Grand Councilor Li Shanchang (who is also the grand preceptor and Duke of the State of Han) resigns. Right Aide of the Secretariat and The Faithful Earl Wang Guangyang becomes the right grand councilor, while Administration Vice Commissioner Hu Weiyong (d. 1380) becomes Right Aide.
The daughter of Chang Yuchun is summoned as the crowned prince's principal consort.
Eunuchs are banned from court. Women servants are appointed in their place with one directress over each of the Six Palace Services, namely, the General Palace Service (Shanggong ju), Workshops Service (Shanggong ju), Ceremonial Service (Shangyi ju), Wardrobe Service (Shangfu ju), Food Service (Shangshi ju), and Housekeeping Service (Shangqin ju). Each service heads four subordinate Offices, of which the Office of Palace Surveillance (Gongzheng si) is in charge of keeping watch over and disciplining the whole staff of palace women. Officials number seventy-five, and female attendants number eighteen. The regulations for architectural style of the princess residence is established. Red plaque inscribed with admonitions for the imperial consort and concubines are created.
1374, Jiayin Year
Ming Dynasty: Hongwu Reign, 7th Year
The military system (weisuo, a term used to denote guards, or wei, and battalions and companies, or suo) is established.
The Honored Consort Lady Sun dies at the age of thirty-two.
The Hall for Ancestral Worship (Fengxian dian) is expanded.
1375, Yimao Year
Ming Dynasty: Hongwu Reign, 8th Year
Imperial Ancestral Shrine is rebuilt.
The inner halls of the palace are reconstructed.
By imperial order, the heir apparent, Prince of Qin, Prince of Jin, Prince of Chu, and Prince of Jingjiang tour the central capital and conduct martial training.
1376, Bingchen Year
Ming Dynasty: Hongwu Reign, 9th Year
Li Hong, the eldest son of the Duke of the State of Han (Li Shanchang), marries the emperor's eldest daughter Princess Lin'an.
1377, Dingsi Year
Ming Dynasty: Hongwu Reign, 10th Year
On the bingyin day (July 25), the order is given for political happenings at home and abroad to first be reported to the heir apparent and then officially reported in memorials to the throne.
The reconstruction of the inner halls of the palace is completed.
The emperor sought simplicity is the design of inner palace halls, and is recorded saying, "Frugality is sufficient for character cultivation, whereas extravagance will result in immorality."The emperor's second grandson, Zhu Yunwen, is born on the jimao day (December 5). On the Winter Solstice (the dinghai day, December 13), joint sacrifice to heaven and earth are held at the Hall of Venerating Heaven.
1378, Wuwu Year
Ming Dynasty: Hongwu Reign, 11th Year
The following sons of the emperor are given titles: Zhu Chun as Prince of Shu, Zhu Bo as Prince of Xiang, Zhu Gui as Prince of Yu, Zhu Ying as Prince of Han, and Zhu Zhi as Prince of Wei. The title of Zhu Su, the Prince of Wu, is changed to the Prince of Zhou. The stele for the imperial tomb at the central capital is designed. Not satisfied with the epitaph written by his Confucian court officials who whitewash his humble origin, the emperor personally drafts the text, clearly describing the hardships he encountered in difficult times. The stele is thus engraved.
The emperor's grandson Zhu Gaochi is born on the guisi day (August 16) to the Prince of Yan as the first son of his primary wife.
1379, Jiwei Year
Ming Dynasty: Hongwu Reign, 12th Year
The Imperial Music Office (Shenyue guan) is established.
Right Grand Councilor Wang Guangyang is demoted for withholding truth from the emperor and banished to Hainan island, the southern extremes of imperial territory. He is executed by imperial order on the way to Hainan.
1380, Gengshen Year
Ming Dynasty: Hongwu Reign, 13th Year
Left Grand Councilor Hu Weiyong is executed for treason and around 15,000 individuals associated with him are either executed or imprisoned.
The Prince of Yan, Zhu Di, begins his rule over Beiping (the ancient name of Beijing).
On the emperor's birthday, called the Festival of Ten Thousand Longevities (Wanshou jie), the yisi day (October 16), Zhu Yuanzhang holds an audience at the Hall of Venerating Heaven (Fengtian dian) to receive felicitations and a feast for officials in the Hall of Scrupulous Behavior (Jinshen dian). This precedent is followed henceforth.
1381, Xinyou Year
Ming Dynasty: Hongwu Reign, 14th Year
The imperial consort's birthday is celebrated as the Thousand Autumns Festival (Qianqiu jie), and rites for the observance of this day are established.
1382, Renxu Year
Ming Dynasty: Hongwu Reign, 15th Year
1st Month, 1st Day
Feasting is held in the Hall of Scrupulous Behavior (Jinshen dian) and the Nine Songs (Jiuzou) are first used.
1384, jiazi Year
Ming Dynasty: Hongwu Reign, 17th Year
Lady Li is promoted to the title of the Pure Consort (Shu fei) and is designated to manage affairs in the Six Palaces. She dies shortly thereafter, and Lady Guo, who was originally named as the Restful Consort (Ning fei), replaces her as the Pure Consort and assumes her duties.
1386, Bingyin Year
Ming Dynasty: Hongwu Reign, 19th Year
The heir apparent goes to Xuyi in the north and buries the crown and garments of his great-grandfather, great-great-grandfather, and great-great-great-grandfather and their empresses. He has the architecture enhanced and names the complex the Ancestral Mausoleum.
1387, Dingmao Year
Ming Dynasty: Hongwu Reign, 20th Year
The emperor conducts a military inspection outside the Meridian Gate. He commands generals and guards to practice archery outside the Meridian Gate everyday thereafter.
1390, Gengwu Year
Ming Dynasty: Hongwu Reign, 23rd Year
At the age of seventy-seven, the Grand Preceptor and Duke of the State of Han Li Shanchang is ordered to commit suicide on suspicion of conspiracy against the state. More than seventy members of his family are executed for guilt by association.
1391, Xinwei Year
Ming Dynasty: Hongwu Reign, 24th Year
Zhu Zhan is named as Prince of Qing, Zhu Quan as Prince of Ning, Zhu Pian as Prince of Min, Zhu Hui as Prince of Gu, Zhu Song as Prince of Han, Zhu Mo as Prince of Shen, Zhu Ying as Prince of An, Zhu Jing as Prince of Tang, Zhu Dong as Prince of Ying, and Zhu Yi as Prince of Yi.
In the eighth month of this year, the heir apparent receives orders to undertake the position of Grand Coordinator of Shaanxi. He then returns to the capital and offers the topographical map of the north-central region stretching from Guanzhong to Luoyang as a gift to the emperor, suggesting that his new capital be sited in the city of Chang'an.
1392, Renshen Year
Ming Dynasty: Hongwu Reign, 25th Year
The Prince of Yu's (Zhu Gui) title changes to the Prince of Dai. The Prince of Han (Zhu Ying) is re-titled as the Prince of Su. The Prince of Wei (Zhu Zhi) is renamed the Prince of Liao.
The heir apparent dies at the age of thirty-nine.
The heir apparent is buried to the right of Empress Ma's tomb and is given the posthumous title Yiwen. The Court of the Imperial Clan (Zongren fu), Five Chief Military Commissions (Wu fu), Six Ministries (Liu bu), Office of Imperial Sacrifices (Taichang si) are built outside the Gate of Venerating Heaven, facing east and west, only the Three Judicial Offices remain outside the Taiping Gate (lit. Peace Gate, one of the city gates).
On the gengyin day (September 28), the emperor's third grandson Zhu Yunwen is named as Imperial Grandson-heir.
1393, Guiyou Year
Ming Dynasty: Hongwu Reign, 26th Year
All of the concubines who had born children are officially listed.
The incident regarding General Lan Yu begins.
1398, Wuyin Year
Ming Dynasty: Hongwu Reign, 31st Year
5th Month (Intercalary)
On the eighth day, the emperor lies on his deathbed. On the tenth day he dies in the West Palace at the age of seventy-one. The posthumous edict for his grandson Zhu Yunwen to succeed to the throne is proclaimed. On the sixteenth day, Zhu Yunwen ascends to the throne, and the next year is deemed the first year of the Jianwen reign. On the same day, the emperor and empress are buried together on the southern side of Mount Zhong. Their tomb is called Xiaoling (lit. filial mausoleum), and they are given posthumous titles. The Hongwu Emperor is posthumously named Taizu (lit. Great Ancestor). Lady Lü, mother of the Jianwen Emperor, is honored as the empress dowager.
According to the posthumous order, Vice Minister Qi Tai becomes Minister of the Ministry of War. The Chief Minister of the Court of Imperial Sacrifices (Taichang si qing) and former Reader-companion in the East Palace, Huang Zicheng, concurrently serves as a Hanlin Academician, participating in the handling of military affairs.
Qi Tai and Huang Zicheng suggest the reclamation of feudal lands. The Prince of Zhou, Zhu Su, is apprehended on charges of conspiracy. Confucian Scholar Fang Xiaoru of the Hanzhong Prefecture is selected for service in the Hanlin Academy. He serves daily as the emperor's consultant and comes to audience for official reports, negotiations with court officials, and commenting on and replying to issues reported to the throne.
The Prince of Zhou (Zhu Su) is deposed as a commoner. The arrest for the Princes of Qi (Zhu Fu), Dai (Zhu Gui), and Min (Zhu Pian) is ordered, while the Prince of Yan (Zhu Di) is plagued by doubts and fear.
Monk Daoyan (originally named Yao Guangxiao, 1335-1418), who went with the Prince of Yan to Beiping, secretly advises the prince to take up arms. The Prince of Yan feigns illness yet secretly trains soldiers.
The emperor sends Vice Minister Zhang Bing of the Ministry of Works as the Provincial Administration Commissioner of Beiping . He also designates the Regional Military Commissioner Xie Gui and Zhang Xin to administer the Regional Military Commission of Beiping. Meanwhile they receive covert imperial orders to monitor the Prince of Yan.
Yan Prefecture Administrator Ge Cheng is sent by the Prince of Yan to the metropolitan area (the imperial capital) to report to the emperor. Meeting the emperor, he faithfully reports happenings in Beiping. The emperor sends Ge Cheng back, calling for Ge Cheng to act as internal agent for the arrest of the Prince of Yan. The Prince of Yan senses that a plot is at hand.
The Hongwu Emperor (r. 1368-1398)
On the eighteenth day of the ninth lunar month of 1328 (the first year of the Yuan-dynasty [1272-1368] Tianli reign [1328-1330]), Zhu Yuanzhang was born in Haozhou (today’s Fengyang, Anhui province). Later he would become the Hongwu Emperor (temple name Emperor Taizu) of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). The son of Zhu Shizhen and his wife née Chen, he was originally named Chongba, but later his name was formally changed to Yuanzhang, with the style name Guorui.
Zhu was born into a household of destitute farmers. In 1344, he was offered to a nearby Buddhist monastery as a novice at a time when growing social tensions were increasing people’s misery. In 1352, he joined rebel leader Guo Zixing’s insurgents but soon left to return to his village to recruit a force and established himself as a rebel leader. In 1355, (the fifteenth year of the Zhizheng reign, 1341-1368), Han Liner declared himself as emperor in Haozhou, and Zhu Yuanzhang was named second in command. In March of the following year, Zhu and his army conquered Jiqing (today’s Nanjing, Jiangsu province) and renamed the city Yingtian (literally “In Response to Heaven”). To pacify the locals, he abolished the oppressive and tyrannical policies imposed by the Yuan dynasty, and followed his advisor Zhu Sheng’s (1299-1370) advice to “build the walls high, store grain everywhere, and delay declaring victory”. In 1363, he successfully vanquished his archrival Chen Youliang (1320-1363) and proclaimed himself the Prince of Wu in the first lunar month the following year. In 1366, in an official denunciation of his rival Zhang Shicheng (1321-1367), he condemned the Red Turban Army for “casting spells on people”, and declared that “if their heterodoxy spread, they would prevail”. In the twelfth lunar month of the same year, the puppet, Young Prince Han Liner，conveniently died. On the first day of the following year Zhu promulgated his own calendar, calling 1367 the “first year of Wu”. After wiping out other rivals such as Zhang Shicheng and Fang Guozhen (1319-1374), he set out on an expedition to conquer the southern part of the country, including Guangdong, Guangxi, and Fujian provinces. In his official denunciation of the Mongol rulers, he raised the clarion call to “expel the northern barbarians, restore China, establish social law and order, and relieve the people in stricken areas”. At the end of the same year, his northern expeditionary army conquered Shandong province. In 1368, Zhu proclaimed himself emperor in Yingtian, and changed the dynastic name to “Great Ming” (Da Ming). In the eighth lunar month, his northern expeditionary army entered the Yuan capital Dadu (today’s Beijing), which marked the end of the Mongol Yuan dynasty. Gradually, Zhu reunified the whole country.
In 1378, he ordered that Nanjing be designated the Capital (Jingshi). During his reign, he implemented a series of policies to consolidate his rule and reinvigorate the economy. He granted his sons “fiefs” throughout the empire, especially in sensitive border regions to safeguard the dynasty. He established the system of Guards and Battalions (wei suo) to centralize military power. He reformed the structure of the central government by abolishing the Central Secretariat, or Zhongshu Sheng, and the position of Chief Councillor (chengxiang), which was considered a locus of power that threatened the throne and replaced them with six divided executive agencies, chief of which were the Six Ministries. He ordered household registration, and the compilation of yellow registers of labor services (huangce), and a national land survey for the compilation of land-survey maps and land-tax handbooks called the “Fish-Scale Maps and Books” (Yulin tuce), providing detailed information important to the state for fiscal planning. He encouraged land cultivation and alleviated taxes in an effort to facilitate a full recovery from the aftermath of war. During his reign, he fought relentlessly against corruption. He also established an imperial bodyguard system, the Embroidered Uniform Guard (jinyi wei). Also as measures to consolidate his rule, he reformed the censorial mechanism by reforming the structures of the Censorate (yushi tai) and renamed it “Ducha yuan”. Zhu also ordered the compilation and promulgation of the Great Ming Code (Daming lü). In the 1390s to assert the authority of the throne, Zhu Yuanzhang executed many officials, and cashiered many generals who had participated in the building of the dynasty.
On the tenth day of the fifth lunar month of 1398 (the thirty-first year of the Hongwu reign), Zhu Yuanzhang died in Nanjing at the age of seventy-one (by traditional count). With the temple name “Great Progenitor” (Taizu), he was buried at the Filial Piety Mausoleum (Xiaoling) in Nanjing.
Empress Xiaoci of the Hongwu Emperor (r. 1368-1398)
Introduction: Lady Ma, Empress Xiaoci of Zhu Yuanzhang, the founding emperor of the Ming dynasty who ruled as the Hongwu Emperor. She was benevolent, smart, and frugal. The Hongwu Emperor respected her so much that he accorded her the same status as Lady Zhangsun, the acclaimed empress of Tang Taizong (r. 627-649). After Lady Ma died, Zhu Yuanzhang did not elevate any other palace lady as his primary consort.
Empress Xiaoci (1332-1382), maiden named Ma, had a sad childhood. She was orphaned when she was very young. Before her father died, he asked his friend Guo Zixing to take care of his daughter. Thus, Lady Ma became the adopted daughter of Guo, through whom she was married to his subordinate Zhu Yuanzhang, the founding emperor of the Ming dynasty.
The couple deeply loved each other. Once Guo Zixing punished Zhu, who had already posed a threat to his leadership, by imprisoning and starving him. Anxious about her husband, Lady Ma secretly went to see Zhu, hiding freshly cooked sesame seed cakes inside her jacket. It was after her visit that she found her bosom was all scalded.
Generous, smart, and frugal, she gave unstinting support to her husband. After Zhu Yuanzhang defeated his foes and became founding emperor of the Ming dynasty, she, as the noble empress, still led a frugal life. She would patch her clothes and continue wearing them. At her order, old cloth was made into bed covers and clothing to give to old people who were widowed or abandoned.
The Empress instructed her children to live simple lives and to value what they had. She encouraged them to study and improve themselves. Whenever her husband, the hot-tempered and ferocious emperor, planned to execute veterans and advisors who had helped him to become emperor, she would plead tactfully, no doubt saving many lives.
Lady Ma missed her parents so much that each time she mentioned them she would dissolve into tears. Zhu intended to find and visit her lost relatives in order to grant titles and property to them, but her wife stopped him, reckoning that the rewards would encourage ambitious relatives to use their privilege to intervene with the court administration. Lady Ma’s virtue gained her husband’s affection and respect, such that he accorded her the same high status as the acclaimed empress of Tang Taizong (r. 627-649), Lady Zhangsun.
Lady Ma gave birth to five sons, Zhu Biao the oldest son who was appointed as the heir apparent, Zhu Shuang, Zhu Gang, Zhu Di, and Zhu Xiao.
In the eighth lunar month of 1382 (fifteenth year of the Hongwu reign), Lady Ma died at the age of fifty-one. She was buried in the Xiao tomb in Nanjing and given the posthumous title of Xiaoci. After her death, the emperor Zhu Yuanzhang did not designate any other palace lady as his primary consort, showing his deep love for her.