An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Ming Xuanzong 明宣宗, the Xuande Emperor 宣德

Jan 17, 2014 © Ulrich Theobald

Emperor Xuanzong 明宣宗 (1398-1435. r. 1426-1435), personal name Zhu Zhanji 朱瞻基, was a ruler of the early Ming period 明 (1368-1644). He was the oldest son of Emperor Renzong 明仁宗 (the Hongxi Emperor 洪熙, r. 1424-1425). In 1410, during Emperor Chengzu's 明成祖 (the Yongle Emperor 永樂, r. 1402-1424)Mongolian campaign, he remained in the capital as resident regent (liushou 留守). A year later he was therefore granted the title of Imperial Grandson-Heir (huang taisun 皇太孫). In the following years he undertook several inspection tours in the northern border regions and warded off Mongolian marauders. When his father acceded to the throne in 1410 he was named the heir apparent. An earthquake in the southern capital Nanjing 南京 in the same year made it necessary that Zhu Zhanji made an inspection and took care for reconstruction work. The emperor called him back soon because he had fallen seriously ill. In his testament Zhu Zhanji was chosen as his successor. He decided to adopt the reign motto Xuande 宣德 "Propagating virtue".
In 1426 Zhu Gaoxu 朱高煦, the Prince of Han 漢王 and second son of Emperor Chengzu, rebelled. Grand academician (daxueshi 大學士) Yang Rong 楊榮 suggested that the emperor might conduct the punitive campaign himself. The Prince was captured and demoted to the status of commoner, but soon executed in fear of further rebellion. Emperor Xuanzong also personally commanded the campaign in 1428 that led him beyond the northern borderline, where he defeated a contingent of Uriangkhad Mongols.
The reign of Emperor Xuanzong is seen as a relatively peaceful time, but encountered several heavy earthquakes that forced him to lower taxes and refrain from recruitment for official labour in the afflicted regions. The ministers Yu Qian 于謙 and Zhou Chen 周忱 urged him to undertake several inspections tours that led him into many parts of the empire. These instances resulted in the creation of the office of grand coordinator (xunfu 巡撫) that later became a regular post as "governor" under the Qing dynasty 清 (1644-1911). When he died unexpectedly he was buried in the tomb hill Jingling 明景陵, and given the posthumous honorific title Emperor Xiaozhang 孝章皇帝 and the temple name Xuanzong 宣宗. He was succeeded by his nine-years old son Zhu Qizhen 朱祁鎮, Emperor Yingzong 明英宗 (r. 1435-1449 and 1457-1464), but ordered in his testament that the Empress Dowager might act as regent.

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