1425, Yisi Year
Ming Dynasty: Hongxi Reign, 1st Year
On the eleventh day, the deathly-ill newly enthroned emperor orders Grand Secretary Yang Shiqi (1366-1444) to draft posthumous orders. On the following day, he dies in the Hall of Imperial Peace (Qin’an dian) at the imperial palace at the age of forty-eight. According to his final wishes, the heir apparent succeeds to the throne. The following year is designated as the first year of the Xuande reign.
Zhu Zhanji, the heir apparent, ascends the throne on the twelfth day.
On the second day, the late Hongxi emperor receives his posthumous title, and the late Honored Consort Guo is given the posthumous title of “Reverent and Solemn” (Gongsu). Pure Consort Wang, Elegant Consort Wang, Complaisant Consort Tan, and Consort of Fulfillment Huang are designated with posthumous titles “Chaste and Gracious” (Zhenhui), “Gracious and Peaceful” (Hui'an), “Reverent and Generous”(Gongshe), and “Reverent and Tranquil” (Gongjing), respectively. On the eighth day, the emperor elevates Lady Zhang as the empress dowager, establishes Lady Hu as the empress, and designates Lady Sun, Lady Liu, and Lady He as the honored consort (Guifei), the pure consort (Shufei), and the gracious consort (Huifei), respectively.
The late Hongxi Emperor is buried in the Xian Tomb (or Xianling)
The Hongxi Emperor (r. 1425-1425)
The Hongxi Emperor (temple name Emperor Renzong) was the eldest son of the Yongle Emperor (r. 1403-1424) and his chief consort née Xu, the daughter of Xu Da (1332-1385), one of the generals who aided in founding the dynasty. He was born Zhu Gaochi, in Fengyang, Anhui province on the twenty-third day of the seventh lunar month in the eleventh year of the Hongwu reign (1378). During his boyhood, he received a standard education in Confucian studies, while showing little flair for the military. Even during the reign of his grandfather the Hongwu Emperor, his literary and administrative talent already impressed the emperor, who showed marked affection towards this grandson. In 1395, the twenty-eighth year of the Hongwu reign, he was designated “Heir of Yan” (Yan shizi). In 1404, the second year of his father, the Yongle Emperor’s reign, he was installed as heir apparent to the throne. From the seventh year of the Yongle reign (1409), when the northern expedition and the plan to relocate the capital kept the emperor in Beijing, he started to carry out administrative duties on behalf of the emperor until the nineteenth year of the Yongle reign (1421), when the dynasty’s capital was formally moved to Beijing. When Zhu Gaochi served as administrator in Nanjing, he was incessantly challenged by his father’s suspicions and by his two brothers Zhu Gaoxu (the Prince of Han) and Zhu Gaosui (the Prince of Zhao) plotting against him. His weak physique and bad health also contrasted dramatically with the martial spirit of Zhu Gaoxu, to whom the Yongle Emperor gave much credit for the success of the rebellion against the Jianwen Emperor (1399-1402). The fact that Zhu Di postponed a decision on heir apparent until 1404 suggests that he was wavering. However, with the assistance of advisors like Yang Shiqi (1365-1444), Zhu Gaochi was able to handle complex situations. He successfully defended Beijing during Zhu Di’s rebellion against the court, kept administrative affairs running smoothly, maintained harmonious relations between the throne and officials, and among family members. Later the two princes’ ambition was discovered, and the Yongle Emperor exiled,them. At the same time, Zhu Di’s fondness for Zhu Gaochi’s consort née Zhang and grandson Zhu Zhanji consolidated Zhu Gaochi’s position as heir apparent. His ten-year’s administrative experience acquainted him with existing social problems and matters of state, preparing him well for the throne.
In the seventh lunar month of the twenty-seventh year of the Yongle reign (1424), the Yongle Emperor died on the way back from his last Mongolian campaign. Zhu Gaochi succeeded to the throne under the assistance of Grand Academicians Yang Shiqi, Yang Rong (1371-1440), and Ministers Jian Yi (1364-1435) and Xia Yuanji (1366-1430). In the following year, he promulgated his own calendar, calling 1425 “the first year of the Hongxi reign”. The Hongxi reign witnessed a series of policies aimed at internal reform. He redressed mishandled cases, restored officials imprisoned for their protest against the Yongle Emperor’s Mongolian expeditions or for taking Zhu Gaochi’s side when he was in disagreement with his father, and reinstated them to their respective ranks. He announced a comprehensive amnesty for left-over officials and family members of officials executed in 1402 for their loyalty to the Jianwen Emperor and abolished Zheng He’s scheduled maritime expedition to lighten the burden on the common people. He restructured the Grand Secretariat (neige) and gave it more power, making the office a major decision-making body to assist the Emperor. A benevolent ruler, the Hongxi Emperor also dismantled many oppressive policies implemented by his predecessor. He was both modest and open-minded towards the officials and exhorted them to speak up without fear of reprisal. This is considered a remarkable achievement of the Hongxi Emperor.
Only eight months after his enthronement, the feeble Hongxi Emperor was confined to his bed with a serious illness from which he never recovered. On the twelfth day of the fifth lunar month in the first year of his reign, the Emperor died in the Hall of Imperial Peace (Qin’an dian) at the age of forty-eight sui. With the temple name Benevolent Ancestor (Renzong), he was buried in the Exemplary Mausoleum (Xianling) in Changping, on the outskirts of Beijing.
Empress Chengxiao of the Hongxi Emperor (r. 1425-1425)
Introduction: Lady Zhang, the empress of the Hongxi Emperor, had assisted emperors of three generations. She was smart, virtuous, and perceptive. Traditional historians praised her decision not to rule from behind the screen when her young grandson became emperor.
Lady Zhang (? -1442) was a native of Henan province in central China. She was made princess of Zhu Gaozhi the crown prince. In 1424 her husband ascended the throne as the Hongxi Emperor (r. 1425-1425) and the court conferred on her the title of empress. Unfortunately the emperor died the next year. Zhang’s son succeeded to the throne as the Xuande Emperor (r. 1426-1435), and she was elevated to the Empress Dowager. In 1435 her son died, her grandson Zhu Qizhen succeeded to the throne as the Zhengtong Emperor (r. 1436-1449) and she was venerated as the Grand Empress Dowager.
Lady Zhang as the empress was well informed on politics of both domestic and neighboring countries. During the early years of the Xuande reign, as the mother of the emperor she acted as the actual decision maker for state affairs. In 1429 (fourth year of the Xuande reign), the emperor invited his grandma lady Zhang to pay homage to the tombs of the deceased Yongle Emperor (r. 1403-1424) and Hongxi Emperor. He rode in front of the empress dowager’s carriage, which attracted the attention of nearby residents. When the entourage passed by rural families, lady Zhang summoned an old peasant woman with whom she conversed like an old friend. She accepted the peasant’s gift of food and presented it to the emperor, indicating that the emperor should understand peasant’s hardship and be concerned about their lives.
Zhang’s grandson Zhu Qizhen ascended the throne when he was only nine. Ministers thought the young heir apparent needed support and petitioned lady Zhang to rule from behind a screen. “No,” responded lady Zhang, the then Grand Empress Dowager: “I would not break the court regulations made by our forefathers that women are forbidden to intervene in state affairs. What I am obliged to do is to encourage the emperor to study hard, and appoint honorable and capable ministers to assist him.” Wang Zhen, a chief eunuch serving as the Personal Secretary of the emperor, enjoyed high favor from the sovereign, which aroused lady Zhang’s suspicions of his intensions and her constant vigilance. Thus during lady Zhang’s lifetime, Wang Zhen dared not abuse his power.
Lady Zhang also was very strict with her maternal relatives. Although her younger brother was rigorous and trustworthy, she did not allow him to be involved in state affairs, taking into consideration the stability of the rulership and the consolidation of imperial supremacy.
Lady Zhang died in 1442. The Zhengtong Emperor conferred on her the title of “Chengxiao” - sincere and filial.