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 Hongzhi Emperor (approx. 1488–1505)
Wushen Year (approx. 1488)
Hongzhi Reign, 1st Year
The newly enthroned emperor inspects the Directorate of Education (Tai xue) on the ninth day. He commences the Classics Colloquium lectures on the twelfth day; they are conducted the following day in the Hall of Literary Brilliance (Wenhua dian). At noon on the eighteenth day, the emperor holds court at the Gate of Left Obedience (Zuoshun men, what is now Xiehe men, the Gate of Mutual Harmony) for the first time.
Yiyou Year (approx. 1489)
Hongzhi Reign, 2nd Year
On the eighth day, the late Junior Guardian Yu Qian (1398-1457) is granted his posthumous title Sumin (lit. “solemnity and grief”). A shrine is built in recognition of his distinguished service during the captivity of the Zhengtong Emperor and Mongolian aggression.
Xinhai Year (approx. 1491)
Hongzhi Reign, 4th Year
The eldest imperial son Zhu Houzhao is born.
Renzi Year (approx. 1492)
Hongzhi Reign, 5th Year
Zhu Houzhao is named as the heir apparent to the throne on the eighth day.
The Prince of Jing, Zhu Jianxiao, an imperial kinsman from a collateral clan, is demoted to commoner status due to his despicable behavior in his fief (e.g., starving his mother to death) and is confined in the imperial palace.
Guichou Year (approx. 1493)
Hongzhi Reign, 6th Year
The emperor orders Zhu Jianxiao to commit suicide on the thirteenth day.
Jiayin Year (approx. 1494)
Hongzhi Reign, 7th Year
Zhu Youyuan, the Prince of Xing and brother of the emperor, assumes his post in his designated fief of Anlu (in present-day Hubei Province).
Bingchen Year (approx. 1496)
Hongzhi Reign, 9th Year
The heir apparent's capping ceremony (guanli, a ritual for young men marking passage into adulthood) is held at the Hall of Literary Brilliance (Wenhua dian) even though he is but months shy of his fifth birthday. According to the Ming patriarch system, this ritual entitles the imperial successor rights to engage in politics, attend to state affairs, marry, produce offspring, and participate in imperial sacrifices. Unlike the typical capping ceremony, this ritual represents the heir's rise to power rather than a mere passage into adulthood.
3rd Month (Intercalary):
The heir apparent acts in official capacity at the Hall of Literary Brilliance (Wenhua dian) for the first time.
Dingsi Year (approx. 1497)
Hongzhi Reign, 10th Year
The compilation of Collected Statutes of the Ming Dynasty (Daming huidian) is commissioned.
Wuwu Year (approx. 1498)
Hongzhi Reign, 11th Year
The heir apparent begins his formal education.
The Palace of Pure Tranquility (Qingning gong), the residence of the grand empress dowager, is destroyed in a fire.
Renxu Year (approx. 1502)
Hongzhi Reign, 15th Year
The compilation of Collected Statutes of the Ming Dynasty (Daming huidian) is completed.
Jiazi Year (approx. 1504)
Hongzhi Reign, 17th Year
The grand empress dowager, née Zhou, the principal consort of the late Tianshun Emperor, dies.
The grand empress dowager, posthumously titled Xiaosu (lit. “filial and solemn”), is buried at the Yu Tomb.
Yichou Year (approx. 1505)
Hongzhi Reign, 18th Year
The emperor falls ill.
On the sixth day, the emperor’s condition is critical. He dies at midday on the following day. Heir Apparent Zhu Houzhao succeeds the throne, and the following year is designated as the first year of the Zhengde reign.
The late emperor is given his posthumous title on the seventh day.
The empress dowager is promoted as the grand empress dowager and the empress as the empress dowager.
The late emperor is posthumously titled Xiaozong (lit. “the Filial Ancestor”) and buried at the Tai Tomb.
The newly enthroned emperor attends the Daily Lecture (a condensed form of the Classics Colloquium lectures) at the Hall of Literary Brilliance.
Translated and edited by Li Yang, Zhuang Ying, Adam J. Ensign, et al.
The Hongzhi Emperor (r. 1488-1505)
Zhu Youtang, the Hongzhi Emperor (temple name Emperor Xiaozong), was born in the Western Palace in 1470 (on the third day of the seventh lunar month in the sixth year of the Chenghua reign). He was the third son of the Chenghua Emperor (r. 1465-1487) and Consort Shu née Ji. Since his two half-brothers died prematurely, Zhu Youtang was appointed heir apparent in 1475 (the eleventh year of the Chenghua reign).
The Hongzhi Emperor turned out to be a benevolent ruler in the mid-Ming dynasty. He had an unfortunate childhood. His mother, Consort Shu, was daughter of an aboriginal tribal leader in Guangxi province who led a rebellion against the court. After the insurgence was quelled, the girl was brought to the imperial palace. Because of her virtuousness and intelligence, she was sent to study in the inner palace school, and then assigned to a palace storehouse. One day, the emperor went to the storehouse and encountered her. He was charmed by her manner and “favored” her. She was soon pregnant with a baby.
The Senior Consort Wan who was seventeen years older than the emperor was then specially favored among the consorts. She acted willfully against other consorts by keeping close watch over them to make sure no male offspring would survive. Consort Shu’s pregnancy was concealed with the help of other palace women [and sympathetic eunuchs]. She gave birth to the baby Zhu Youtang in cold palace and secretly brought him up to the age of five. One day in 1475 when the emperor, then almost middle age, was sadly worried that he was getting old and still had no son, a eunuch informed him of the existence of the boy Zhu Youtang. The first time the Chenghua emperor saw his son, he became very emotional. The little child’s hair was still uncut and trailing along the floor. In the following year, Zhu Youtang was designated heir apparent. His mother, Consort Shu, however, was poisoned and died within the month.
Zhu Youtang was enthroned at the age of eighteen, with the reign title Hongzhi. During his reign, a series of measures was taken to clean out the defiled court and banish all the crafty sycophants favored by the Chenghua Emperor. Minister of Personnel Wan An, Vice Minister of Rites Li Zixing, and the Buddhist monk Jixiao were either executed, banished from the capital and sent into exile in frontier areas, or dispatched to watch the imperial mausoleums. He appointed worthy and upright officials to his court. He ordered the Ministry of Justice to reform the penal code, and abolished many policies inappropriately implemented by his father. The emperor was widely admired throughout the government. Historically this period is called the “Revivement during the Hongzhi Reign”.
One of the major accomplishments of the Hongzhi Emperor was his water conservatory project, which benefited agriculture and brought economic prosperity. In 1489 (the fifth lunar month of the second year of the Hongzhi reign), the dikes of the Yellow River in Kaifeng broke causing severe flooding. The emperor ordered Bai Ang to lead about 50,000 laborers to carry out extensive repairs. In 1492 (the fifth year of the Hongzhi reign), the waterways in Susong were silted up and an extensive flood ravaged the area. The emperor ordered Xu Guan, the Minister of Works to administer the repairs. After nearly three-year’s hard work, they brought the river under control and restored this area to fertile farmland, free from floods.
The eighteen-year Hongzhi reign is characterized by a diligent and benevolent ruler, a court filled by capable and worthy courtiers, and a government troubled by its people’s sufferings. Throughout the history of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), it was a rare period of peace and prosperity. Nevertheless, the emperor paid little attention to defense matters and adopted no substantial measures to reinforce the military garrisons in the northern frontier areas against the Mongols.
For all his life, the Hongzhi Emperor was completed devoted to his chief consort, Empress Zhang, and had relations with no other women. He was the only monogamist emperor in all imperial Chinese history.
Due to his inborn weakness, the Hongzhi Emperor died in 1505 (on the seventh day of the fifth lunar month in the eighteenth year of the Hongzhi reign), at the age of thirty-six sui. With the temple name Emperor Xiaozong, he was buried in the Conscientious Mausoleum (Tai ling) in Changping, on the northern outskirts of Beijing.
Lady Zhang, Empress Xiaokang of the Hongzhi Emperor (r. 1506-1521)
Introduction: Lady Zhang and her husband the Hongzhi Emperor deeply loved each other like an ordinary couple. Because of her status, her family enjoyed great favor. She was the biological mother of the Zhengde Emperor (r. 1506-1521). But when her son died, the new emperor did not treat her well. For the rest of her life she lived in misery.
Lady Zhang (? -1541) was a native of Hebei province in north China. In 1487 she was given the title of princess of the heir apparent, and in the same year that her husband ascended the throne as the Hongzhi Emperor (r. 1506-1521), she became his Empress.
Lady Zhang and the Hongzhi Emperor loved each other very much. Like an ordinary husband, the Emperor devoted all of his affection to her. He even extended favors to the empress’s family, conferring titles on her father and two brothers, and appointing her relatives as officials. He also ordered the construction of a magnificent family shrine for Zhang. Throughout the entire Ming dynasty, no other family of a primary consort received the many benefits that were enjoyed by the Zhang’s. Lady Zhang’s two brothers, taking advantage of the emperor’s excessive favor, engaged in outrageous illegal behavior, but no one dared to stop them.
In 1505 the Hongzhi Emperor died. Lady Zhang’s son Zhu Houzhao succeeded to the throne as the Zhengde Emperor (r. 1506-1521) and venerated her as the Empress Dowager. On the death of the Zhengde Emperor in 1521, Jiang Bin, a sycophantic official, tried to usurp the throne. It was the joint decision of Lady Zhang and a leading official that Zhu Houcong, the half-brother of the late emperor, succeeded him to the throne. However, after his enthronement, the ungrateful Zhu Houcong became mean and cold to her while promoting his biological mother to Empress Dowager Xingguo. Lady Zhang died in 1541 (twentieth year of Jiajing reign).