Xuande Emperor

The Xuande Emperor (宣德 [ɕɥántɤ̌]; Beijing , 16 March 1399– 31 January 1435) was Emperor of China from 1425 to 1435. His era name means "Proclamation of Virtue".


Born Zhu Zhanji, he was the eldest son of the Hongxi Emperor and Empress Cheng Xiao Zhao. Xuande was also fond of poetry and literature. Unlike his father, the Xuande Emperor (r. 1426-35) decided to keep Beijing as the capital and rule the dynasty in the style of his grandfather, Yongle. He ordered Zheng He to lead another maritime expedition to continue the Yongle Emperor's golden age.

Xuande's uncle Zhu Gaoxu, Prince of Han 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 troops in 1428 and was able to retaliate against 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 generally good with the exception of the Koreans resenting 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 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 farmers 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 for 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

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

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.

Personal information


Hongxi Emperor


Empress Cheng Xiao Zhao


Empress Gong Rang Zhang (恭讓章皇后), personal name Hu Shanxiang (胡善祥) (died 1443), married the Xuande Emperor in 1417 but was deposed in 1428, mother of Princess Shunde

Empress Xiao Gong Zhang (孝恭章皇后), family name Sun (孫) (died September/October 1462), daughter of Sun Zouzhong (孫鄒忠), initially created an Imperial Concubine (嬪) in 1417, elevated to the rank of Noble Consort (貴妃) upon the Xuande Emperor's accession in 1425, created empress in 1428 after the deposition of Empress Gong Rang Zhang, became Empress Dowager (皇太后) upon the accession of her son, created Empress Dowager Shang Sheng (上聖皇太后) in December 1449, created Empress Dowager Sheng Lie Ci Shou (聖烈慈壽皇太后), mother of the Zhengtong Emperor and Princess Changde

Empress Dowager Xiao Yi (孝翼太后), family name Wu (吳) (died December 1461), daughter of Wu An (吳安), granddaughter of Wu Yanming (吳彥名), created Consort Xian (賢妃) in 1428, initially given the posthumous name Consort Rong Si Xian (榮思賢妃), posthumously honored as Empress Dowager Xiao Yi by the Chongzhen Emperor, mother of the Jingtai Emperor

Imperial Concubine Guo Ai (嬪郭愛), personal name Guo Ai (郭愛), courtesy name Shanli (善理) (died 1435), was buried with the Xuande Emperor after his death

Noble Consort Duan Jing (端靜貴妃), family name He (何), was buried with the Xuande Emperor after his death

Consort Chun Jing Xian (純靜賢妃), family name Zhao (趙), was buried with the Xuande Emperor after his death

Consort Zhen Shun Hui (貞順惠妃), family name Wu (吳), was buried with the Xuande Emperor after his death

Consort Zhuang Jing Shu (莊靜淑妃), family name Jiao (焦), was buried with the Xuande Emperor after his death

Consort Zhuang Shun Jing (莊順敬妃), family name Cao (曹), was buried with the Xuande Emperor after his death

Consort Zhen Hui Shun (貞惠順妃), family name Xu (徐), was buried with the Xuande Emperor after his death

Consort Gong Ding Li (恭定麗妃), family name Yuan (袁), was buried with the Xuande Emperor after his death

Consort Zhen Jing Shu (貞靜淑妃), family name Zhu (諸), was buried with the Xuande Emperor after his death

Consort Gong Shun Chong (恭順充妃), family name Li (李), was buried with the Xuande Emperor after his death

Consort Su Xi Cheng (肅僖成妃), family name He (何), was buried with the Xuande Emperor after his death

Consort Gong Yi Hui (恭懿惠妃), family name Zhao (趙)

Consort Shu (淑妃), family name Liu (劉)



Formal Title





Zhu Qizhen

The Zhengtong Emperor
(7 Feb 1435 - 1 Sept 1449)

TheTianshun Emperor
(11 Feby 1457 - 23 Feb 1464)

Born on 29 Nov 1427

Died on 23 Feb 1464

Empress Xiao Gong Zhang

Empress Xiao Zhuang Rui

Empress Xiao Su

19 concubines

Princess Chongqing

Zhu Jianshen, 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

Zhu Qiyu

TheJingtai Emperor

Born on 21 Sep 1428

Died on 14 Mar 1457

Empress Dowager Xiao Yi

Empress Xiao Yuan Jing

Empress Su Xiao

2 concubines

Zhu Jianji, Crown Prince Huaixian
Princess Gu'an
unnamed daughter







Date Married




Princess Shunde

Family name: Zhu (朱)
(personal name unknown)




Shi Jing

Empress Gong Rang Zhang


Princess Yongqing

Family name: Zhu (朱)
(personal name unknown)







Princess Changde

Family name: Zhu (朱)
(personal name unknown)




Xue Huan

Empress Xiao Gong Zhang

Last update 01-06-2012

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