Emperor Jingtai

Chenghua Emperor

The Chenghua Emperor (December 9, 1447September 9, 1487) was Emperor of the Ming dynasty in China, between 1464 and 1487.


Born Zhu Jianshen, he was the Zhengtong Emperor's son. He was only 2 years old when his father - the Zhengtong emperor was captured by the Oirat Mongols and held captive in 1449. After that his uncle, the Jingtai Emperor took over whilst his father was put under house arrest for almost 7 years. During this time, Chenghua lived under his uncle's shadow and even had his title of crown prince removed while Jingtai installed his own son as heir. Chenghua was only reinstated as crown prince on the eve of death of Emperor Jingtai in 1457.

Reign as Emperor

Chenghua ascended the throne at the age of 17. During the early part of his administration, Chenghua carried out new government policies to reduce tax and strengthen the dynasty. However these did not last and by the closing years of his reign, governmental affairs once again fell into the hands of eunuchs, notably Wang Zhi. Peasant uprisings occurred throughout the country; however, they were violently suppressed. Chenghua's reign was also more autocratic than his predecessors' and freedom was sharply curtailed when Chenghua established institutes such as the Xi Chang (to complement the existing Dong Chang), monitoring all civilians' actions and words. This institute, not unlike a spy agency, would administer punishment to those whom they suspected of treason. The Xi Chang would eventually be shut down but it was the start of a dangerous trend and Chenghua's descendants would again revive the Xi Chang during the 16th century.

Chenghua was also under the influence of Lady Wan who was a palace lady more than twice his age. Lady Wan had been a mother figure to young Chenghua but after ascending the throne she quickly became Chenghua's favourite consort after giving birth to a child in 1464. The child soon died however Lady Wan held sway over the imperial harem and prevented the young emperor from bearing any offspring. Lady Wan and her eunuchs would either induce abortion to those who were about to bear the emperor's child or administer poison to mother and child if birth had occurred ¹.

It was not until 1475 that Chenghua discovered that he had a son (later Hongzhi Emperor) who survived and was raised in secrecy.

Chenghua died in 1487, after 23 years on the throne. He was buried in Maoling (茂陵)。


Emperor Chenghua's reign can be distinguished by his early attempts to reform the government and trying his best to rule the country. His reign also saw a cultural flourishing with famous Ming personnel such as Hu Juren and Chen Baisha dominating the academic scene. However Chenghua's reign was prone to dominating individuals in the government and Chenghua was easily influenced into granting favours based on who he likes rather than their abilities. This led to the degradation at the ruling class and wasteful spending by corrupt individuals which eventually depleted the empire's coffer.


¹ Imperial China - 900-1800, F.W. Mote, Page 630, First Harvard University Press, 2003.

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