Xuande Emperor

For the founding Shu Emperor also known as "Xuande", see Liu Bei.
Xuande Emperor
5th Emperor of the Ming dynasty
Reign 27 June 1425 – 31 January 1435
Predecessor Hongxi Emperor
Successor Zhengtong Emperor
Born (1399-03-16)16 March 1399
Died 31 January 1435(1435-01-31) (aged 35)
Burial Jingling, Ming tombs, Beijing
Spouse Empress Gongrangzhang
Empress Xiaogongzhang
Empress Dowager Xiaoyi
Issue Zhengtong Emperor
Jingtai Emperor
Princess Shunde
Princess Yongqing
Princess Changde
Full name
Zhu Zhanji (朱瞻基)
Era name and dates
Xuande (): 8 February 1426 – 17 January 1436
Posthumous name
Emperor Xiantian Chongdao Yingming Shensheng Qinwen Zhaowu Kuanren Chunxiao Zhang
Temple name
Ming Xuanzong
House House of Zhu
Father Hongxi Emperor
Mother Empress Chengxiaozhao
Xuande Emperor
Chinese 宣德帝
Ming dynasty Xuande mark and period (1426–35) imperial blue and white vase. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. 明宣德 景德鎮窯青花貫耳瓶, 纽约大都博物馆

The Xuande Emperor (Chinese: 宣德帝; pinyin: Xuāndédì; 16 March 1399[1] 31 January 1435), personal name Zhu Zhanji (朱瞻基), was the fifth emperor of the Ming dynasty of China, ruling from 1425 to 1435. His era name "Xuande" means "Proclamation of Virtue".


Zhu Zhanji was the eldest son of the Hongxi Emperor and Empress Chengxiaozhao. He was fond of poetry and literature. Although he continued to refer to Beijing as the secondary capital on all official documents, he maintained it as his residence and continued to rule there in the style of his grandfather, the Yongle Emperor. He permitted Zheng He to lead the seventh and last of his maritime expeditions.

The Xuande Emperor's uncle, Zhu Gaoxu (the Prince of Han), had been a favorite of the Yongle Emperor for his military successes, but he disobeyed imperial instructions and in 1417 had been exiled to the small fief of Le'an in Shandong. When Zhu Gaoxu revolted, the Xuande Emperor took 20,000 soldiers and attacked him at Le'an. Zhu Gaoxu surrendered soon afterward, was reduced to the status of a commoner. Six hundred rebelling officials were executed, and 2,200 were banished. The emperor did not wish to execute his uncle at the start, but later events angered the emperor so much that Zhu Gaoxu was executed through fire torture. All his sons were executed as well. It is very likely that Zhu Gaoxu's arrogance, well detailed in many historic texts, offended the emperor. A theory states that when the emperor went to visit his uncle, Zhu Gaoxu intentionally tripped him.

The Xuande Emperor granted King Hashi of Chūzan the family name Shang (尚, Shō in Japanese), gave him the title of Liuqiu Wang (琉球王, Jap: Ryūkyū-Ō, King of Ryūkyū), and gifted him a red lacquered tablet with Chung Shan (中山, Chūzan in Japanese) inscribed in gold.[2]

The Xuande Emperor wanted to withdraw his troops from Annam, but some of his advisors disagreed. After Ming garrisons suffered heavy casualties, the emperor sent Liu Sheng with an army. These were badly defeated by the Annamese, losing 70,000 men in 1427. The Ming forces withdrew and the Xuande Emperor eventually recognized the independence of Annam. In the north, the Xuande Emperor was inspecting the border with 3,000 cavalry troops in 1428 and was able to retaliate against a raid by the Mongols of the Northern Yuan dynasty. The Ming government let Arughtai's Eastern Mongols battle with Toghon's Oirat tribes of the west. The Ming imperial court received horses annually from Arughtai, but he was defeated by the Oirats in 1431 and was killed in 1434 when Toghon took over eastern Mongolia. The Ming government then maintained friendly relations with the Oirats. China's diplomatic relations with Japan improved in 1432. Relations with Korea were generally good with the exception of the Koreans resenting having to send virgins occasionally to the Xuande Emperor's imperial harem.

A privy council of eunuchs strengthened centralized power by controlling the Jinyiwei (secret police), and their influence continued to grow. In 1428, the notorious censor Liu Guan was sentenced to penal servitude and was replaced by the incorruptible Gu Zuo (d. 1446), who dismissed 43 members of the Beijing and Nanjing censorates for incompetence. Some censors were demoted, imprisoned, and banished, but none were executed. Replacements were put on probation as the censorate investigated the entire Ming administration including the military. The same year the emperor reformed the rules governing military conscription and the treatment of deserters. Yet the hereditary military continued to be inefficient and to suffer from poor morale. Huge inequalities in tax burdens had caused many farmers in some areas to leave their farms in the past forty years. In 1430, the Xuande Emperor ordered tax reductions on all imperial lands and sent out "touring pacifiers" to coordinate provincial administration, exercising civilian control over the military. They attempted to eliminate the irregularities and the corruption of the revenue collectors. The emperor often ordered retrials that allowed thousands of innocent people to be released.

The Xuande Emperor died of illness in 1435 after ruling for ten years. He ruled over a remarkably peaceful period with no significant external or internal problems. Later historians have considered his reign to be the height of the Ming dynasty's golden age.

The emperor as an artist

"Gibbons at play", painting by the Xuande Emperor (1427)
A porcelain ding vessel from the Xuande era of the Ming dynasty.

The Xuande Emperor was known as an accomplished painter, particularly skilled at painting animals. Some of his art work is preserved in the National Palace Museum, Taipei and Arthur M. Sackler Museum (a division of Harvard Art Museum) in Cambridge. Robert D. Mowry, the curator of Chinese art at the Arthur M. Sackler Museum, described him as "the only Ming emperor who displayed genuine artistic talent and interest."[3]

Personal information



Number Name Formal Title Born Died Mother Spouse Issue Notes
1 Zhu Qizhen
The Zhengtong Emperor
(7 February 1435 – 1 September 1449)
The Tianshun Emperor
(11 February 1457 – 23 February 1464)
29 November 1427 23 February 1464 Empress Xiaogongzhang Empress Xiaozhuangrui
Empress Xiaosu
19 concubines
Princess Chongqing
Zhu Jianshen, the Chenghua Emperor
Zhu Jianlin, Prince Zhuang of De
Zhu Jianshi
Zhu Jianchun, Prince Dao of Xu
Zhu Jianshu, Prince Huai of Xiu
Zhu Jianze, Prince Jian of Chong
Zhu Jianjun, Prince Jian of Ji
Zhu Jianzhi, Prince Mu of Xin
Zhu Jianpei, Prince Zhuang of Hui
Princess Jiashan
Princess Chun'an
Princess Chongde
Princess Guangde
Princess Yixing
Princess Longqing
Princess Jiaxiang
two unnamed daughters
2 Zhu Qiyu
The Jingtai Emperor 21 September 1428 14 March 1457
Empress Dowager Xiaoyi Empress Xiaoyuanjing
Empress Suxiao
2 concubines
Zhu Jianji, Crown Prince Huaixian
Princess Gu'an
unnamed daughter


Number Title Name Born Died Date Married Spouse Mother Notes
1 Princess Shunde
Family name: Zhu (朱)
(personal name unknown)
1420 1443 1437 Shi Jing
Hu Shanxiang
2 Princess Yongqing
Family name: Zhu (朱)
(personal name unknown)
? 1433 Died before getting married
3 Princess Changde
Family name: Zhu (朱)
(personal name unknown)
1424 1470 1440 Xue Huan
Empress Xiaogongzhang


  1. 《宣宗章皇帝實錄》. “仁宗昭皇帝嫡長子,母今太皇太后,以己卯歲二月九日生上於北京。” (Chinese)
  2. Kerr, George. Okinawa: History of an Island People. 1958, Tokyo, Charles E. Tuttle Company. Page 90.
  3. "Imperial Salukis: Speedy hounds, portrayed by a Chinese emperor". Harvard Magazine, May–June 2007.


Wikimedia Commons has media related to Xuande Emperor.

For details on the Xuande Emperor see The Cambridge History of China Vol 7, pages 285 to 304. This article is essentially a summary of those pages.

Further reading

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Xuande Emperor
Born: 25 February 1398 Died: 31 January 1435
Regnal titles
Preceded by
The Hongxi Emperor
Emperor of China
Succeeded by
The Zhengtong Emperor
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