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Timeline of the Ming & Qing Palace Events

Introductory Matters
In this imperial chronology, each year is listed according to the Chinese lunar calendar with traditional notations for each year (e.g., jiashen) followed by the internationally recognized Gregorian calendar year (e.g., 1644) that approximately corresponds to the given lunar year. Information on the imperial reign is listed with each calendar year. Specific events are listed after a title denoting the lunar month (e.g., 1st Month) in which they occurred.

Ages of historical figures are given as traditionally calculated by the Chinese lunar calendar. This traditional way of counting a person's age uses the word sui (year of age). The word conveys how many lunar years—even if only for a few days or months—an individual has experienced in life.

Chinese names are shown in the conventional Chinese order with the surname (family name) followed by the given name. When possible, Manchu names are rendered according to the Möllendorff system of transliteration (Romanization). If the original Manchu name is unknown, the name is shown with a hyphenated version of the transliterated Chinese name. Some Jurchen and Manchu figures are more commonly known by their Chinese names; in those cases, the Chinese name is used. Official titles and imperial institutions are rendered according to Charles O. Hucker's A Dictionary of Official Titles in Imperial China (Stanford, 1985) when possible.

The Reign of the Yongle Emperor (approx. 1403–1424)

Guiwei Year (approx. 1403)
Yongle Reign, 1st Year 

 
1st Month:
The emperor entertains princes with a feast at the Hall of Splendid Canopy (Huagai dian). An imperial edict is issued to designate Beiping as the northern capital.
 
Jiashen Year (approx. 1404)
Yongle Reign, 2nd Year

4th Month: 
Monk Daoyan is designated as the junior preceptor of the heir apparent. He resumes his secular identity with his family name Yao. The emperor bestows upon him the given name Guangxiao. The heir, Zhu Gaochi, is named the heir apparent. Zhu Gaoxun is named the Prince of Han, while Zhu Gaosui is appointed as the Prince of Zhao.
 
Yiyou Year (approx. 1405)
Yongle Reign, 3rd Year

6th Month:
The eunuch Zheng He is sent by imperial order on his maritime expedition to Southeast and South Asia. This voyage initiates his historic voyages. 

Bingxu Year (approx. 1406)
Yongle Reign, 4th Year

7th Month (Intercalary):
The emperor orders the commencement of the construction of the imperial palace in the northern capital, Beiping, for the following year. In preparation, he sends Song Li and others to gather timber and to fire bricks and commissions the Marquis of Taining, Chen Guidong, to manage the project.
 
Dinghai
Year (approx. 1407)
Yongle Reign, 5th Year

7th Month:
The empress (the principal consort of the emperor), née Xu, dies. She receives the posthumous title Renxiao in the tenth month. 
 
9th Month:
Zheng He returns from his first voyage.
 
11th Month:
Consisting of 22,937 volumes, the compilation of the Great Compendium of the Yongle Reign (Yongle dadian) is completed.
 
Yichou Year (approx. 1409)
Yongle Reign, 7th Year

2nd Month:
The emperor is on an inspection tour in the north, leaving the heir apparent supervising state affairs.
Lady Zhang is designated as the honored consort. Lady Quan is designated as Consort Xian (Xian fei, lit. “Worthy Consort). Lady Ren is named Consort Shun (Shun fei, lit. “Complaisant Consort”). Lady Wang is promoted as the Lady of Bright Countenance (Zhaorong, or Concubine Zhaorong). Lady Li is named Lady of Bright Deportment (Zhaoyi, or Concubine Zhaoyi). Another Lady Li is promoted as Lady of Handsome Fairness (Jieyu, or Concubine Jieyu), and Lady Cui is named as a Beauty (Meiren, a secondary wife or consort).

4th Month:
The emperor selects a site north of Beiping (Changping in present-day Beijing) for his tomb and names the mountain where the tomb shall be constructed Tianshou (lit. “heavenly longevity”).
 
Gengyin Year (approx. 1410)
Yongle Reign, 8th Year

2nd Month:
The emperor orders his eldest grandson Zhu Zhanji to stay in the northern capital. Leading the troops in person, the emperor defeats a Mongol force outside the empire’s northern frontier. In the seventh month, he returns to the northern capital (present-day Beijing), and in the tenth month, he returns to the southern capital (present-day Nanjing).

Xinmao Year (approx. 1411)
Yongle Reign, 9th Year

11th Month:
Zhu Zhanji is formally designated as the imperial grandson-heir. The crowning ritual is held at the Hall of Splendid Canopy (Huagai dian).
 
Renchen
Year (approx. 1412)
Yongle Reign, 10th Year

10th Month:
The imperial grandson-heir Zhu Zhanji leads a group of young soldiers to practice martial arts at Mount Fang. Frost descends the next morning and is considered a good omen. Officials offer their congratulations. 
 
11th Month:

The eunuch Zheng He is dispatched to lead a maritime expedition to Southeast Asia. 
 
Guisi Year (approx. 1413)
Yongle Reign, 11th Year

 
1st Month: 
Escorted by the Prince of Han, Zhu Gaoxun, the coffin of Empress Renxiao, the emperor’s late principal consort, is moved to the capital. The construction of the imperial tomb at Mount Tianshou is completed and becomes known as the Chang Tomb (Changling). 
 
2nd Month:
The emperor begins his inspection tour to the north from the southern capital accompanied by the imperial grandson-heir, Zhu Zhanji. Empress Renxiao is buried in the Chang Tomb. 
 
Jiawu Year (approx. 1414)
Yongle Reign, 12th Year

 
6th Month:
The emperor leads the army to battle against Oyirat Mongols who are driven to the Tura River where the army withdraws.
 
Yiwei Year (approx. 1415)
Yongle Reign, 13th Year

5th Month:
The Prince of Han, Zhu Gaoxun, is imprisoned for breaking imperial law on numerous occasions and is to be demoted to a commoner's status. The heir apparent, Zhu Gaochi, earnestly attempts to rescue his brother from this fate. As a result, only two of Gaoxun's escort guards are reduced as punishment. The emperor relocates Zhu Gaoxun’s fief to Le’an (in present-day Shandong Province). Zhu Gaoxun harbors a grudge. 

Bingshen Year (approx. 1416)
Yongle Reign, 14th Year

8th Month:
The construction of the West Palace begins in Beiping. 
 
9th Month:
The emperor returns to the southern capital. 
 
11th Month:
Discussions regarding the construction of the imperial palace in the northern capital resume.  
 
12th Month:
Admiral Zheng He again sets out as the imperial envoy for another maritime expedition to South and Southeast Asia.
 
Dingyou
Year (approx. 1417)
Yongle Reign, 15th Year

2nd Month:
Relying on his merit of having assisted the Prince of Yan in the civil war by opening the city gate of Jinchuan for his troops in the fourth year of the Jianwen reign, Zhu Hui, the Prince of Gu, becomes arrogant and unbridled. He appropriates peasants’ farmland, kills innocent people, and plots against the regime. He is deposed and considered a commoner. The emperor orders Chen Gui, the Marquis of Taining, to resume his supervision of the construction in the northern capital and appoints Liu Sheng, the Marquis of Anyuan, and Wang Tong, the Marquis of Chengshan, as aides. 
 
4th Month:
The construction of the West Palace in the northern capital is completed. 
 
5th Month:

The emperor moves to the northern capital and receives an audience at the newly built West Palace. 
 
7th Month:

Lady Hu is promoted as the principal consort of the imperial grandson-heir.
 
Wuxu Year (approx. 1418)
Yongle Reign, 16th Year

3rd Month:
Yao Guangxiao (Monk Daoyan), the junior preceptor of the heir apparent, dies. 
 
Gengzi Year (approx. 1420)
Yongle Reign, 18th Year

 
1st Month (Intercalary):
Yang Rong and Jin Youzi, chancellors of the Hanlin Academy, are promoted as grand secretaries of the Hall of Literary Profundity (Wenyuan ge da xueshi). 
 
8th Month:
The Eastern Depot (Dong chang) is established in Beiping. 
 
9th Month:
The construction of the imperial palace at Beiping is close to completion. The emperor sends Xia Yuanji (1366-1430), the auxiliary minister of revenue, to summon the heir apparent to move to Beiping by the end of the twelfth month. He also asks the imperial grandson-heir to accompany him. The Auxiliary Ministry of Rites receives imperial instruction calling for the northern capital to be designated as the capital of the empire from the beginning of the following year. The prefix auxiliary is to then no longer be used, and the Six Ministries will be established. Seals are to be transferred from government offices in the former capital to those in the new capital. New seals for the government offices in the southern capital are to be made with two more characters Nan Jing (lit. Southern Capital) as a prefix added to the seal. 
 
11th Month:
The transfer of the capital to the northern capital Beiping (present-day Beijing) is announced. 
 
12th Month:

The heir apparent and the imperial grandson-heir arrive in Beiping, in which the construction of the imperial palace is completed with a similar layout as that in Yingtian but on a more magnificent scale. The construction project had taken thirteen years to finish since it began in the sixth month of the sixth year of the Yongle reign. The emperor awards contributors of the project with financial benefits. Among them, Cai Xin, a director of the Ministry of Works, is promoted as the right vice minister.

Xinchou Year (approx. 1421)
Yongle Reign, 19th Year

1st Month:
On the first day, the emperor issues an order to place the tablets of the five late ancestors of the imperial family in the Imperial Ancestral Temple. The heir apparent orders the placement of the tablets of the gods of heaven and earth at the southern border altar just outside the city complex. The imperial grandson-heir orders the placement of tablets for the worship of the gods at the Altar of Land and Grain. The Duke of the State of Qian, Mu Cheng, orders the placement of tablets for worshiping the god of agriculture at the Altar of the God of Agriculture.
The emperor holds celebrations in the Hall of Venerating Heaven, the most sacred building in the newly built imperial palace, to receive homage by the entire court and has a feast to entertain the court officials.
Zheng He is sent for another maritime expedition. 
 
4th Month:
The three main halls in the imperial palace, the Hall of Venerating Heaven (Fengtian dian), Hall of Splendid Canopy (Huagai dian), and Hall of Scrupulous Behavior (Jinshen dian), are destroyed by fire. 
 
Renyin Year (approx. 1422)
Yongle Reign, 20th Year

1st Month:
The emperor, against all dissuasions, decides to lead his army to battle Arughtai, a Mongolian general, in the north. He orders the heir apparent to stay in the capital and handle court affairs.

8th Month:
The army withdraws after victory and arrives at Beiping in the ninth month. 
 
12th Month (Intercalary):

The Palace of Heavenly Purity (Qianqing gong) is destroyed in a fire. 
 
Guimao Year (approx. 1423)
Yongle Reign, 21st Year

5th Month:
The commander of the Changshan Guard, Meng Xian, plots to poison the emperor, dethrone the heir apparent, and proclaim Zhu Gaosui, the Price of Zhao, as emperor. The conspiracy is uncovered. Meng Xian and his co-conspirators are executed. Zhu Gaosui, however, is spared the death penalty because the heir apparent asks the emperor for mercy.
 
7th Month:
Arughtai invades; the emperor prepares to personally command the army in a defensive campaign.

Jiachen Year (approx. 1424)
Yongle Reign, 22nd Year

1st Month:
Zheng He is commissioned for another maritime expedition to South and Southeast Asia.

4th Month:
The emperor sets out from Beiping accompanied by Grand Secretaries Yang Rong and Jin Youzi. He commands troops under the regional military commissions of Shanxi, Shandong, Henan, Shaanxi, and Liaodong to congregate with another three Guards at Xuanfu (present-day Xuanhua, Hebei Province) first and then to move toward the north. The heir apparent is ordered to stay to handle court affairs in the capital with Yang Shiqi as his aide.

7th Month:
On the seventeenth day, the army stations at Khailas-ausu (Chinese name Yumuchuan) upon their return. Critically ill, the emperor summons the Duke of the State of Ying, Zhang Fu, to announce his deathbed edict to pass the throne on to the imperial heir apparent. On the following day, the emperor dies at the age of sixty-five (in sui).
 
8th Month:
The heir apparent ascends the throne, designating the following year as the first year of the Hongxi reign. He promotes Yang Rong as the minister of the Court of Imperial Sacrifices. Jin Youzi is promoted as the vice minister of Ministry of Revenue while concurrently serving as grand secretary. Yang Shiqi is promoted as left vice minister of the Ministry of Rites while continuing as the grand secretary of the Hall of Splendid Canopy. Huang Huai is promoted as the commissioner of the Office of Transmission and grand secretary of the Hall of Martial Valor.
 
9th Month:

The late emperor receives his posthumous title, and, accordingly, the late empress, too, is given a posthumous title.

10th Month:
Lady Zhang, the principal consort of the former heir apparent, who is now the emperor, is designated as the empress. Lady Guo is named the honored consort (Gui fei). Lady Li is named Consort Xian (Xian fei, lit. “Worthy Consort”). Lady Zhao is named Consort Hui (Hui fei, lit. “Gracious Consort”). Two others, both named Lady Wang, are designated as Consort Shu (Shufei, lit. “Pure Consort”) and Lady of Bright Countenance (Zhaorong, or Concubine Zhaorong), respectively. The imperial grandson-heir Zhu Zhanji is designated as the heir apparent with his wife, Lady Hu, as his principal consort. A group of imperial kinsmen receive their titles as princes and heirs.
 
12th Month:

The late emperor is buried in the Chang Tomb.

-------------------------------------------------------

Translated and edited by Li Yang, Zhuang Ying, Adam J. Ensign, et al.

The Yongle Emperor (r. 1403-1424)
 
Born in the Yuan dynasty, on the seventeenth day of the fourth lunar month of the twentieth year of the Zhizheng reign (1341-1368), Zhu Di, later known as the Yongle Emperor, was the fourth son of Zhu Yuanzhang, Emperor Taizu (r. 1368-1398) of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). His mother was Empress Ma, the Xiaoci Empress, while some argued that he was actually the son of Consort Gong. He was conferred the title "Prince of Yan (the name of present-day Beijing; after the fall of the Yuan dynasty it had been renamed Beiping)" in 1370. Competent both in wisdom and bravery, he scored many victories on the battlefield as a distinguished general. After the death of Emperor Taizu, the newly-enthroned Jianwen Emperor (r. 1399-1402) adopted a policy of "reduce the feudatories" (xiao fan) to right the excessive decentralization of military power implicit in the princedoms created for Emperor Taizu's many sons. Unwilling to be subdued, the Prince of Yan proclaimed a military campaign to "rescue his nephew" from the perverse officials whom he claimed were dominating the court. After a four-year civil war, Zhu Di seized power and was enthroned as the Yongle Emperor. His reign lasted twenty-two years. 
  That Zhu Di's temple name "Emperor Chengzu" (the Chinese character "Cheng" literally means accomplishment or success) indicates that he was regarded by his successor as the founder of 
the dynasty second only to his father. On one hand, the Yongle Emperor restored policies inaugurated by his father while nullifying the Jianwen Emperor's reforms. On the other hand, he consolidated and expanded the rule of the new dynasty. He relocated the capital from Nanjing to Beijing, launched military campaigns in Annan (present-day Vietnam), went on five military expeditions against the Mongolians, and reinforced political control over the Northwest, Northeast, and the Tibetan regions. Also, he sponsored the compilation of the Great Compendium Composed during the Yongle Reign (Yongle dadian). The Yongle Emperor also ordered "Eunuch Sanbao", the mariner and fleet admiral Zheng He to set off on six naval expeditions to the Indian Ocean. It is said that the Emperor did this in order to look for the deposed Jianwen Emperor. 
  His decision to relocate the capital and to construct the Forbidden City had significant implications for the unification of the Ming dynasty. After the fall of the Yuan dynasty, the dethroned Mongolians kept invading the northern borders. In order to consolidate the northern border, in 1406, the fourth year of the Yongle reign, the Emperor decided to initiate the construction of the imperial palaces in Beijing. The comprehensive construction started in 1417, and finished in the twelfth lunar month of eighteenth year of the Yongle reign.
  After moving his capital to Beijing, Zhu Di started preparations for his northern expeditions. From spring of 1422, three consecutive military expeditions were launched in three years' time. During his last expedition, on the seventeenth day of the seventh lunar month, the Yongle Emperor was close to death. He summoned Prince Ying to his bedside and designated the heir-apparent as his successor. The Emperor died the following day at the age of sixty-four. 
Lady Xu, Empress Renxiao of the Yongle Emperor (r. 1403-1424)
 
Introduction: Lady Xu, Empress Renxiao of the Yongle Emperor (r. 1403-1424), was a virtuous empress and gave significant support to her husband.
 
Lady Xu (1362-1407) was a native of Anhui province. She was the eldest daughter of Xu Da, one of the founders of the Ming empire, and the biological mother of Zhu Gaozhi, the future Hongxi Emperor (r. 1425-1425). In her childhood, Lady Xu showed her serenity, intelligence, virtue, and interest in reading. In 1376, she was given the title of Princess of Yan. At the time her husband Zhu Di was the Prince of Yan (today's Beijing). 
  The ambitious Zhu Di disputed the rule of his nephew Zhu Yunwen, the Jianwen Emperor (r. 1399-1402), who succeeded his grandfather to the throne after his father the heir apparent died. Zhu Di indirectly declared war against the Jianwen Emperor and led his troops down to the south where the capital was at Nanjing, leaving his wife and son in Beijing. Seizing the opportunity, the Jianwen Emperor dispatched troops north to encircle Zhu Di’s domain, trying to divert his uncle’s attention. Lady Xu came to the rescue and took charge of the defense. With few military forces left in the city, Lady Xu persuaded all the residents, whether civilians or soldiers, to put on armor and defend the city walls. It was her efforts that saved the city. 
  After Zhu Di succeeded in usurping the throne, he bestowed on Lady Xu the title of Empress. Xu persuaded her husband to continue to use the capable people of the Hongwu Emperor (r. 1368-1398), in order to ensure a quick recovery from the turmoil of the civil war and to establish a positive image for the new emperor. She also instructed the wives of ministers to be supportive of their husbands.
Before Zhu Di ascended the throne, the younger brother of Lady Xu sent a secret report about the Jianwen Emperor to Zhu Di and was executed by the Jianwen Emperor as a traitor. Years later, Zhu Di as the emperor wanted to bestow a posthumous title on his brother-in-law and allow his son to inherit the title. Disagreeing with her husband, Lady Xu reckoned that any conferment on her relatives might encourage ambition and threaten Zhu’s rulership. Ignoring her wife’s disapproval, Zhu Di did as he wanted. But Lady Xu gave no gratifying response to the conferment. 
  Lady Xu had three sons and four daughters. Her eldest son Zhu Gaozhi succeeded to the throne as the Hongxi Emperor. 
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