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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
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
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
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
The empress (the principal consort of the emperor), née Xu, dies. She receives the posthumous title Renxiao in the tenth month.
Zheng He returns from his first voyage.
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
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).
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
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
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
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.
The eunuch Zheng He is dispatched to lead a maritime expedition to Southeast Asia.
Guisi Year (approx. 1413)
Yongle Reign, 11th Year
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).
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
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
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
The construction of the West Palace begins in Beiping.
The emperor returns to the southern capital.
Discussions regarding the construction of the imperial palace in the northern capital resume.
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
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.
The construction of the West Palace in the northern capital is completed.
The emperor moves to the northern capital and receives an audience at the newly built West Palace.
Lady Hu is promoted as the principal consort of the imperial grandson-heir.
Wuxu Year (approx. 1418)
Yongle Reign, 16th Year
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).
The Eastern Depot (Dong chang) is established in Beiping.
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.
The transfer of the capital to the northern capital Beiping (present-day Beijing) is announced.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
Arughtai invades; the emperor prepares to personally command the army in a defensive campaign.
Jiachen Year (approx. 1424)
Yongle Reign, 22nd Year
Zheng He is commissioned for another maritime expedition to South and Southeast Asia.
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.
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).
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.
The late emperor receives his posthumous title, and, accordingly, the late empress, too, is given a posthumous title.
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.
The late emperor is buried in the Chang Tomb.
Translated and edited by Li Yang, Zhuang Ying, Adam J. Ensign, et al.