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Xuande Emperor
Emperor of China
Reign 27 June 1425 – 31 January 1435 (&0000000000000009.0000009 years, &0000000000000218.000000218 days)
Predecessor Hongxi Emperor
Successor Zhengtong Emperor
Spouse Empress Gong Rang Zhang
Empress Xiao Gong Zhang
Qizhen (朱祁鎮), Crown Prince
Qiyu (朱祁鈺), Prince of Cheng
Princess Shunde (顺德公主)
Princess Yongqing (永清公主)
Princess Changde (常德公主)
Full name
Family name: Zhu (朱)
Given name: Zhanji (瞻基)
Era name and dates
Xuande (宣德): 8 February 1426 – 17 January 1436
Posthumous name
Emperor Xiantian Chongdao Yingming Shensheng Qinwen Zhaowu Kuanren Chunxiao Zhang
Temple name
Ming Xuanzong
Dynasty Ming Dynasty
Father Hongxi Emperor
Mother Empress Cheng Xiao Zhao
Born 25 February 1398(1398-02-25)
Died 31 January 1435 (aged 36)
Burial Jingling, Ming Dynasty Tombs, Beijing

The Xuande Emperor (IPA: [ɕu̯antɤ]) (February 25, 1398 – January 31, 1435) was Emperor of China (Ming dynasty) between 1425–1435. His era name means "Proclamation of virtue".



Born Zhu Zhanji, he was emperor Hongxi's son. Xuande was also fond of poetry and literature. Not like his father, Emperor Xuande (r. 1426-35) decided to keep Beijing as the capital and rule the dynasty according to Yongle style. Then he ordered Zheng He to have another maritime expedition to continued Yongle golden ages.

Xuande's uncle Zhu Gaoxu had been a favorite of Yongle 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 new emperor Xuande took 20,000 soldiers and attacked him at Le'an. Zhu Gaoxu surrendered soon afterward. Zhu Gaoxu was reduced to a commoner and died from torture. 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, and all Zhu Gaoxu's sons were executed as well. It is very likely that Zhu Gaoxu's arrogance, which is 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 the Emperor.

Emperor Xuande wanted to withdraw his troops from Annam, but some of his advisors disagreed. After Chinese garrisons suffered heavy casualties, the Emperor sent Liu Sheng with an army; but they were badly defeated by the Annamese, losing 70,000 men in 1427. The Chinese forces withdrew, and Xuande eventually recognized the independence of Annam. In the north Xuande was inspecting the border with 3,000 cavalry in 1428 and was able to punish a raid by Mongols. The Chinese let Arughtai's Eastern Mongols battle with Toghon's Oirat tribes of the west. Beijing 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 court then maintained friendly relations with the Oirats. China's diplomatic relations with Japan improved in 1432. Relations with Korea were good except they resented having to send virgins occasionally to the Ming court's harem. Xuande allowed Zheng He to make one more voyage; but such maritime expeditions by eunuch captains ended in 1434.

A porcelain ding vessel from Xuande's reign period

A privy council of eunuchs strengthened centralized power by controlling the secret police, and their influence would continue to grow. In 1428 the notorious censor Liu Guan was sentenced to penal servitude and 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 with poor morale. Huge inequalities in tax burdens had caused most in some areas to leave their farms in the past forty years. In 1430 Emperor Xuande 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. Xuande often ordered retrials that allowed thousands of innocent people to be released. Xuande died of illness after ruling ten years.

The Xuande Emperor ruled over a remarkably peaceful time with no significant external or internal problems. Later historians have considered his reign to be the Ming dynasty's golden age.

The emperor as an artist

"Gibbons at play", painting by the Xuande Emperor (1427)

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, as well as in foreign collections, such as Arthur M. Sackler Museum (a division of Harvard Art Museum). 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."[1]

Commenting on one of Xuande's works, "Gibbons at Play", at the Taipei collection, Robert van Gulik says while it is "not a great work of art", it is "ably executed". The life-like images of the apes make one surmise that the emperor painted from the live models that could have been kept in the palace gardens.[2][3]

Portrayal in art

The Xuande Emperor was portrayed in contemporary court portrait paintings, as well as in other works of art. For example, in this panoramic painting below, the Xuande Emperor can be seen in the right half riding a black steed and wearing a plumed helmet. He is distinguished from his entourage of bodyguards as an abnormally tall figure.

Original - A panoramic painting showing the Chinese Jiajing Emperor (1522-1566) traveling to the Ming Dynasty Tombs with a huge cavalry escort and an elephant-driven carriage.


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.

See also:

  • "Early Ming China" by Edward Dreyer (1982).
  • "Chinese Government in Ming Times" by Charles Hucker (1969).
  1. ^ "Imperial Salukis: Speedy hounds, portrayed by a Chinese emperor". Harvard Magazine, May-June 2007.
  2. ^ Robert van Gulik, The gibbon in China. An essay in Chinese animal lore. E.J. Brill, Leiden, Holland. (1967). Pages 94-95.
  3. ^ Thomas Geissmann, Gibbon paintings in China, Japan, and Korea: Historical distribution, production rate and context" . Gibbon Journal, No. 4, May 2008.
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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