1399, Jimao Year
Ming Dynasty: Jianwen Reign, 1st Year
Dong Lun, Wang Jing and eight other ministers of rites compile the Veritable Records of Taizu (regarding the first emperor of the Ming dynasty). Academician Expositor-in-waiting Fang Xiaoru (1357-1402) directs the project.
Zhu Biao, who was the heir apparent of the Hongwu Emperor but died before ascending to the throne, is posthumously honored as the Xiaokang Emperor with the temple name Xingzong. His concbine, the deceased Lady Chang, is honored as empress with the honorary title the Xiaokang Empress after her husband. The Jianwen Emperor elevates his biological mother Lady Lü as the Empress Dowager and crowns Lady Ma as the empress and his eldest son, Zhu Wenkui, as heir apparent. His younger brother Zhu Yunteng/tong is appointed as Prince of Wu, Zhu Yunjian as Prince of Heng, and Zhu Yunxi as Prince of Xu. Academician Expositor-in-waiting Fang Xiaoru advocates restoring the ancestral institutional organization. He suggests that heads of the Six Ministries (Liubu) be elevated to rank one, the left and right director of the chancellery be installed and rank superior to the vice minister, and the Censorate and censor-in-chief be renamed. He also suggests the Twelve Investigating Circuits be substituted with left and right tribunals, with the left tribunal named Reminder (Shiyi) and the right Rectifier of Omissions (Buque); the Office of Transmission be renamed Court of Transmission (Tongzheng shi si), the Court of Judicial Review (Dali si) be renamed Office of Judicial Review; the School for the Heir Apparent (Zide yuan) be established under the Household Administration of the Heir Apparent (Zhanshi fu); the Hanlin cademician recipient of edicts be restored; the academician reader-in-waiting and academician expositor-in-waiting be renamed to erudite instructor; the Institute of Litterateurs (Wenhan guan, which assists the emperor in reading or drafting documents) and the Institute of History (Wenshi guan, for compilations and revisions) be established; the title Grand Academician be abridged to Academician and a chancellor be installed in each respective hall or palace the Hall of Scrupulous Behavior (Jinshen dian) be renamed the Hall of Mind Rectification (Zhengxin dian) with a chancellor; and other offices and ranking be rearranged based on The Rites of Zhou (Zhou li). The Jianwen Emperor approves his proposals.
The Jianwen Emperor reinforces guards around Beiping (present-day Beijing) and confidentially mandates Zhang Bing, the provincial administration commissioner of Beiping, and Xie Gui, the regional military commissioner, to take preemptive action for potential insurrections. Minister of Justice Bao Zhao, Vice-Minister of Revenue Xia Yuanji, and twenty-two other officials are sent as investigation commissioners. They detect the Prince of Yan’s hypocritical loyalty and imminent rebellion and secretly notify the emperor.
Zhu Bo, Prince of Xiang, commits suicide by self-immolation. Zhu Fu, Prince of Qi, and Zhu Gui, Prince of Dai are dethroned due to criminal behavior.
Zhu Pian, Prince of Min, is dethroned for crimes.
The emperor orders the arrest of subofficials in the Prince of Yan's Mansion. The Prince of Yan conspires with guards Zhang Yu, Zhu Neng, and Monk Daoyan and decides upon a strategy to free them. Troops are laid in ambush behind the Gate of Decorous Rites. The prince invites Zhang Bing and Xie Gui into the mansion on the pretense of presenting the list of convicts. Zhang Bing, Xie Gui and Ge Cheng are captured and killed. The prince incites a rebellion, denouncing Qi Tai and Huang Zicheng as treacherous court officials. The prince uses the Ancestral Injunctions as a pretext, quoting, "When there are no just officials and a ruler is being coerced, princes should assume command and lead a punitive campaign for the emperor. The Prince of Yan entitles his campaign “Pacification of Calamity” (Jingnan). The war begins. The emperor is anxious reading the memorial reporting that Marquis of Changxing (present-day Changxing in Zhejiang province), Geng Bingwen, is defeated in Zhending. He summons Geng Bingwen back to court and assigns Li Jinglong as general-in-chief. He summons the Prince of Liao, Zhu Zhi, and the Prince of Ning, Zhu Quan, to court. The Prince of Ning disobeys, and his escort guard is reduced as punishment. The Prince of Liao moves southward to Jingzhou per imperial order. By/This year, the Palace of Introspection (Xinggong dian) is established.
1400, Gengchen Year
Ming Dynasty: Jianwen Reign, 2nd Year
The emperor follows Qi Tai and Huang Zicheng’s stratagem. The court's army is repeatedly defeated. Seals Office Aide Li Decheng voluntarily seeks to persuade the Prince of Yan to withdraw troops in a truce. The prince refuses unless the emperor submits to him.
The Gate of Heavenly Succession (Chengtian men) is destroyed. The emperor seeks counsel. Fang Xiaoru proposes the Meridian Gate (Wu men) to be renamed the Gate of Correct Deportment (Duan men), the Gate of Heavenly Succession (Chengguang men) as Gao men (lit. Waterside Gate), Front Gate (Qian men) as Lu men (lit. Road Gate). The emperor consents.
1401, Xinsi Year
Ming Dynasty: Jianwen Reign, 3rd Year
According to Monk Daoyan’s strategy, the Prince of Yan’s troops advance southward to take the southern capital. The emperor orders the prince to withdraw his troops, but the prince refuses. The emperor sends Qi Tai and Huang Zicheng to delay the approaching army.
1402, Renwu Year
Ming Dynasty: Jianwen Reign, 4th Year
Lingbi falls to thePrince of Yan. The emperor summons Qi Tai and Huang Zicheng back and resolves to cede territory in concilliation but was refused.
The troops of Yan cross the Yangtze River, storming the capital at the Jinchuan Gate. The Prince of Gu, Zhu Hui, and the Duke of the State of Cao, Li Jinglong, open the gate and welcome the enemy. Thus the capital fell. The imperial palace is set ablaze and the Jianwen Emperor is never seen again. Qi Tai, Huang Zicheng, and Fang Xiaoru are targeted as principal villains with eighty other officials as well as a host of others guilty by association. More than twenty civil officials, including Yang Rong, Yang Pu and Yang Shiqi, obsequiously welcome the Prince of Yan. On the seventeenth day, the Prince of Yan, Zhu Di, takes the throne. The Prince of Zhou and the Prince of Qi are rehabilitated. The new emperor mandates the Princely Establishment and Six Ministries to overturn the policies and regulations revised by the Jianwen Emperor and return to the previous system. The year designated according to the previous reign as the thirty-fifth year of the Hongwu reign. The gates and halls resume previous appellations.
Xie Jin, the academician awaiting orders, is appointed as reader-in-waiting. Junior compilers Yang Rong, Yang Pu and Yang Shiqi are appointed senior compilers.
The new emperor rewards officials for outstanding service in the "Pacification of Calamity" (Jingnan) campaign. Qiu Fu is awarded with the title the Duke of the State of Qi. Zhu Neng is named as the Duke of Cheng. Dozens are granted the title of marquis. Reader-in-waiting Hu Guang, Senior Compiler Yang Rong, Junior Compiler Yang Shiqi, and Examining Editors Jin Youzi and Hu Yan are additionally requested to serve in the Hall of Literary Profundity (Wenyuan ge), assisting the emperor with state affairs at court with seven other officials, including Xie Jin and Huang Huai.
The emperor names his principal consort Lady Xu as the empress.
The Jianwen Emperor (r. 1399-1402)
Zhu Yunwen, the Jianwen Emperor, was born on the fifth day of the eleventh lunar month in 1377, the tenth year of his grandfather Hongwu Emperor’s reign (1368-1398). He was the second son of the heir apparent Zhu Biao with his second consort née Lü。 His father died prematurely in the summer of 1392. In the following month, Zhu Yunwen was designated legitimate successor to the throne.
After his ascension to the throne, the Jianwen Emperor followed the advice of Confucian scholars and ameliorated the harsh administration of the dynastic founder. Attracted to an ideal version of benevolent rule, the Jianwen Emperor re-examined cases involving unjust, false or wrong charges and reversed the verdicts that where passed on them during the Hongwu reign. During his time, the number of prisoners was reduced to one third of that during his predecessor. He canceled those rent and tax payments in arrears, relieved people’s suffering in disaster-ridden regions, and ordered local governments to buy out of slavery those youngsters sold by their parents in hard times. He strictly limited the farmland that could be occupied by Buddhist monasteries, and distributed surplus farmland to common people. These measures contributed to economic development and social harmony. When realizing the princedoms threatened the central authority of the emperor, the Jianwen Emperor listened to his confidants Huang Zicheng (d. 1402) and Qi Tai’s advice to adopt a policy of reducing the feudatories (xiaofan) following the tradition established in the Western Han dynasty (206 BCE-8 CE). In less than a year’s time, the emperor took back fiefs originally conferred on five princes. This spurred the Hongwu Emperor’s fourth son, Zhu Di, the Prince of Yan to launch a campaign against the throne in the name of “clearing away” disorders (jingnan) in order to preserve his own power and influence. The Jianwen Emperor ordered the pacification of the rebellion and the civil war dragged on for four years. In the end, with a eunuch operating from within, two guarding military officers opened the city gate for Prince Yan’s army. When Zhu Di entered the capital, the imperial palace compound was set ablaze. He searched through the palace rubble for three days without finding the body of the Jianwen Emperor. The true fate of the dethroned emperor remains a mystery. Some scholars believed that he was killed in the fire; others believed that Zhu Yunwen, accompanied by an entourage of nine officials, fled via an underground tunnel, and he later became a Buddhist monk.
The Jianwen Emperor had no posthumous title until the southern Ming regime (1645-1648). In the Qing dynasty, the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1736-1795) conferred on him the posthumous title “Modest, Commiserate and Kind Emperor”.