1450, Gengwu Year
Ming Dynasty: Jingtai Reign, 1st Year
The Ming court sends an envoy to negotiate with the Mongolian Oyrats, and the captive emperor emeritus is eventually released. When he arrives in the capital on the fifteenth day, the emperor salutes him at the Gate of Eastern Peace (Dong’an men, the east gate of the imperial city, now nonexistent). The emperor emeritus returns the salute. They embrace each other and weep. The emperor emeritus is escorted to his new residence in the “southern palace” (located immediately outside the southeastern corner of the imperial palace). The emperor leads the court in paying homage to the returned emperor emeritus.
1451, Xinwei Year
Ming Dynasty: Jingtai Reign, 2nd Year
Vice Minister of Rites Wang Yining and Chancellor of the Directorate of Education Xiao Zi (1393-1464) are appointed as chancellors of the Hanlin Academy with the office installed in the Belvedere of Literary Profundity (Wenyuan ge). Their original posts are maintain. The two chancellors are now entitled to participate in discussions and decisions regarding state affairs.
1452, Renshen Year
Ming Dynasty: Jingtai Reign, 3rd Year
Former Heir Apparent Zhu Jianshen is dethroned as the Prince of Yi, while the emperor's son Zhu Jianji is installed as the heir apparent. The former Empress Wang is deposed, and in her place, Lady Hang, the biological mother of Zhu Jianji, is designated as the empress.
1453, Jingtai Year
Ming Dynasty: Jingtai Reign, 4th Year
The newly installed heir apparent, Zhu Jianji, dies. He is given the posthumous title of “Huaixian” (lit. "cherishing statutes").
1455, Yihai Year
Ming Dynasty: Jingtai Reign, 6th Year
The eunuch Gao Ping suggests cutting down the trees in and around the southern palace where the emperor emeritus resides to prevent people from scaling the wall for sinister purposes (while the true purpose is to prevent contact with the emperor emeritus who is in fact confined and isolated in the palace). In the sweltering summer heat, the emperor emeritus had enjoyed rest in the shade and is startled by the felling of the trees.
1456, Bingzi Year
Ming Dynasty: Jingtai Reign, 7th Year
Empress Hang dies.
The emperor falls ill. He cancels court ceremonies for the coming solar new year.
1457, Dingchou Year
Ming dynasty: Jingtai Reign, 8th Year
On the twelfth day, the emperor is still in poor health and orders court officials to discuss the appointment of the heir apparent. Officials disagree with the sovereign's choices and merely request him to “appoint an heir as soon as possible”. On the fourteenth day, a court memorial recommending the Prince of Yi as the heir apparent is submitted but is rejected by the emperor. Marquis of Wuqing, Shi Heng, an opportunist, plots with others to restore the emperor emeritus instead of installing a new heir apparent, hoping to take advantage of the restoration campaign and receive handsome recompense. On the sixteenth day, Wang Zhi, Hu Ying, and Yu Qian meet with other high officials, preparing the paperwork to re-establish the Prince of Yi as the heir apparent. They plan to submit the proposal the next dawn. Meanwhile, Shi Heng, Zhang Yue, and the eunuch Cao Jixiang are secretly plotting the restoration and take immediate action. The next morning when the court assembles, they are astonished to see the emperor emeritus sitting on the throne. He has been rescued from his residence and borne on a palanquin by supporters. The emperor emeritus successfully resumes his authority in an incident that is described in Chinese as duomen (lit. "forcing in the door” or “seizing the palace gate").
Jingtai Emperor (r. 1450-1456)
The Jingtai Emperor (r. 1450-1456) Zhu Qiyu (temple name Emperor Daizong) was born on the thirteenth day of the eighth lunar month of 1428 (the third year of the Xuande reign). He was the second son of the Xuande Emperor (r. 1426-1435) with his consort née Wu. He was the seventh emperor of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). His temple name “daizong” (literally “acting ancestor”) indicates the provisionality of his power. Later he was downgraded to Prince of Cheng. After his death, he was buried in Mount Jin west of Beijing instead of in the area for imperial mausoleums.
In 1449, the fourteenth year of the Zhengtong reign, the news of the emperor’s capture by the Oirats threw the court into chaos. In order to provide stability and give courage to the army and the population, the Empress Dowager issued an edict designating the emperor’s two-year-old son Zhu Jianshen as heir apparent and installing the Prince of Cheng, Zhu Qiyu, as Protector of the State (jianguo) in charge of government affairs. In his regency, he resolutely punished associates of the eunuch Wang Zhen and relied upon the senior military figure in Beijing, Vice Minister of War Yu Qian (1398-1457), for military decisions. These decisive measures impressed the court officials. Although the situation improved, it is clear that the court would need more stable control. The Oirats attempted to use the captured emperor as their bargaining chip and kept harassing the northern frontiers, asking for land cession and indemnities. Court officials urged the Prince of Cheng to ascend the throne in person, since the emperor was a captive and his infant son incapable of ruling. The Empress Dowager reluctantly assented to the appeal and ordered that the regent be enthroned. The year 1450 became the first year of the Jingtai (literally “bright exhalation”) reign. The captured ex-emperor was given the title Emperor Emeritus.
The change of ruler brought new hope to the embattled Ming court. Some officials suggested that the court surrender and retreat to the south. Their arguments were countered by a group of officials led by Yu Qian who argued for staying in Beijing and resisting the invasion. Yu proposed that the defense of Beijing be reinforced, that grain stocks in the city be built up, that more weapons be manufactured, and more soldiers be enlisted and rigorously trained for guarding the capital. His proposal gained the full backing of the emperor. When the enemy eventually approached Beijing, the people and army were united in hating them resulting in excellent morale. The Chinese army under the command of Yu Qian successfully rebuffed the attacks by the Mongols and defended the capital.
After the triumph in the Tumu incident, Esen was shocked to find a new emperor who rebuffed his proposal for negotiations. He was unable to conquer Beijing, either. In the meantime, Esen realized that his imperial hostage had already lost his value one year after his capture, and therefore returned the ex-emperor. At this time, the Jingtai Emperor was determined to retain his post as emperor in spite of Yingzong’s return. Upon Zhu Qizhen’s return to Beijing, the Jingtai Emperor held his hands and they cried together at the Gate of Eastern Peace (Dong’an men), but the Jingtai Emperor soon put his half brother under house arrest in the Southern Palace.
During the Jingtai reign, the court substantially reinforced the defense of the city and rebuffed the Oirat invasion. However, the emperor undermined the court unity by appointing his own son Zhu Jianji to replace the heir apparent Zhu Jianshen, ex-emperor Yingzong’s son, thus reversing the terms on which he had accepted the throne. This decision was vigorously opposed by many court officials and even by the Jingtai emperor’s own chief consort. In 1456, the eighth year of the Jingtai reign, Emperor Yingzong was restored to the throne through the historical “forcing the palace gate” incident (duomen zhibian), and the provisional Jingtai Emperor was deposed.
Two days after the restoration of Emperor Yingzong (the nineteenth day of the second lunar month), Zhu Qiyu, the deposed Jingtai Emperor died in the Western Palace at the age of thirty (by traditional account). His construction project for a Longevity Mausoleum (Shou ling) in the imperial mausoleum area outside Beijing was abolished. Downgraded to the level of Imperial Prince, he was buried in a western outskirt of Beijing at Bright Exhalation Mausoleum (Jingtai ling) in Heishanhu.
Lady Wang, Empress of the Jingtai Emperor (r. 1450-1456)
Introduction: Lady Wang, empress of the Jingtai Emperor, kept cardinal principles in mind and took the overall situation into consideration. She opposed the dethronement of Zhu Jianshen, the heir apparent of the kidnapped Zhengtong Emperor. Her disagreement caused her to be confined and demoted. After the Zhengtong Emperor resumed his rule - at the time changing his reign name to Tianshun, she gained respect and dignity.
Lady Wang (?-1506) was a native of Beijing. In 1445, the tenth year of the Zhengtong reign (1436-1449), she was made Princess of Cheng. Her husband Zhu Qiyu was the brother of the emperor. In 1449, the emperor was kidnapped by Mongolian Oirat troops. A month later, Zhu Qiyu accessed the throne as the Jingtai Emperor (r. 1450-1456), and soon he granted Lady Wang the status of Empress.
At the time, Zhu Jianshen, the son of the hostaged Zhengtong Emperor, was still the crown prince. Lady Wang had two daughters but no sons. The Jingtai Emperor intended to designate his son Zhu Jianji by another consort as the heir apparent, which was hotly rebutted by Lady Wang. The furious emperor demoted her and confined her to a section of the palace, designating his own son as the crown prince, and appointing Lady Hang, the biological mother of the crown prince as the empress.
In 1457, the former emperor resumed his reign, deposing the Jingtai Emperor who was demoted to his former status—the prince of Cheng. Lady Wang was officially the Princess of Cheng. After the Prince of Cheng died, the emperor, who had changed his reign name to Tianshun, planned to bury Lady Wang and other former concubines along with the deceased Prince of Cheng. He was stopped by Li Xian, Minister of Personnel, who told the emperor about the situation of Lady Wang and petitioned for sympathy on her behalf. The Tianshun Emperor was convinced and forgave her. Later, he learned the truth of Lady Wang’s disapproval of the dethronement of Zhu Jianshen, arousing his appreciation and respect for her.
Lady Wang died in 1506. She was buried with the Jingtai Emperor in Nanjing.