An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Ming Xianzong 明憲宗, the Chenghua Emperor 成化

Jan 17, 2014 © Ulrich Theobald

Emperor Xianzong 明憲宗 (1447-1487, r. 1464-1487), personal name Zhu Jianjun 朱見浚, later called Zhu Jianshen 朱見深, was an emperor of the Ming dynasty 明 (1368-1644). He was the oldest son of Emperor Yingzong 明英宗 (r. 1435-1449, 1457-1464) and was made heir apparent by the Empress Dowager when his father was captured by the Mongols in 1449, but was degraded to Prince of Yi 沂王 when the Prince of Cheng 郕王 (known as Emperor Daizong 明代宗, r. 1449-1457) occupied the throne as a prince regent. In 1457 his father regained power, and Zhu Jianshen was restored in the position of heir apparent. When he mounted the throne after the death of his father, he assumed the reign motto Chenghua 成化 "Completed Transformation".
One of his first decisions was to rehabilitate Yu Qian 于謙. He also posthumously awarded Prince Li of Cheng the title of Emperor Jing 明景帝. Emperor Xianzong heavily relied on eunuchs to manage palace affairs. With the help of Wang Zhi 汪直 he created the Western Depot (xichang 西廠) and made Wang its director. This institution housed the infamous Brocade Guard (jinyiwei 錦衣衛) that spied on court officials and purged a lot of them. Wang himself often undertook inspection tours in the north where he exploited the local population and neglected the border garrisons.
The chief eunuch Liang Fang 梁芳 was notorious for his fleecing the populace and serving himself of the state treasury to please Lady Wan 萬貴妃, the Emperor's favourite, who tried to alienate Empress Wu 吳氏 from her lord. The emperor spent tremendous amounts of money for Buddhist and Daoist shrines and so emptied the empire's chest.
In later years Xianzong abolished the Western Depot and dismissed Wang Zhi, but bad habits had already become so much custom that these measures did not help a lot. There were several rebellions during the Chenghua reign like Liu Tong 劉通, Shi Long 石龍 and Liu Changzi 劉長子 who proclaimed themselves King of Han 漢王 and adopted the reign motto Desheng 德勝 "Virtuous victory". After Liu Tong's death Li Yuan 李原 took over the lead of this rebellion with the title of "King of Great Peace" 太平王.
At least, Xiaochun managed to reinforce the Great Wall. General Yu Zijun 余子俊 had built a long stretch of this fortification wall in the region of Yulin 榆林.
Emperor Xianzong was buried in the tomb mound Maoling 明茂陵. His posthumous honorific title is Emperor Xiaochun 孝純皇帝, and his temple name Xiaozong 憲宗. He was succeeded by his third son, Emperor Xiaozong 明孝宗 (the Hongzhi Emperor 弘治, r. 1487-1505).

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Xiong Tieji 熊鐵基, Yang Youli 楊有禮, eds. (1994). Zhongguo diwang zaixiang cidian 中國帝王宰相辭典 (Wuhan: Hubei jiaoyu chubanshe), 341.