Yongle Emperor

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Yongle Emperor
Portrait assis de l'empereur Ming Chengzu.jpg
Palace portrait on a hanging scroll, kept in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
3rd Emperor of the Ming dynasty
Reign17 July 1402 – 12 August 1424
Enthronement17 July 1402
Predecessor Jianwen Emperor
Successor Hongxi Emperor
Prince of Yan (燕王)
Tenure2 May 1370 – 17 July 1402
SuccessorCrowned as the emperor
Born2 May 1360
至正二十年 四月 十七日
(Zhizheng 20, 17th day of the 4th month)
Yingtian Prefecture, Jiangzhe Province, Yuan dynasty (present-day Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, then actually controlled by Zhu Yuanzhang's military government)
Died12 August 1424(1424-08-12) (aged 64)
永樂二十二年 七月 十八日
(Yongle 22, 18th day of 7th month)
Yumuchuan, Ming dynasty (present-day Duolun County, Inner Mongolia)
Burial19 December 1424
Changling Mausoleum, Ming tombs, Beijing
(m. 1376;died 1407)
Zhu Di
Era name and dates
Yongle (永樂): 23 January 1403 – 19 January 1425
Posthumous name
Before 1538:
  • Emperor Titian Hongdao Gaoming Guangyun Shengwu Shengong Chunren Zhixiao Wen [lower-alpha 1]
    (體天弘道高明廣運聖武神功純仁至孝文皇帝) →

After 1538:

  • Emperor Qitian Hongdao Gaoming Zhaoyun Shengwu Shengong Chunren Zhixiao Wen [lower-alpha 2]
Temple name
House House of Zhu
Dynasty Ming dynasty
Father Hongwu Emperor
Mother Empress Xiaocigao
Yongle Emperor
Yongle Emperor (Chinese characters).svg
"Yongle Emperor" in Traditional (top) and Simplified (bottom) Chinese characters

Wars against the Mongols

Mongol invaders were still causing many problems for the Ming Empire. The Yongle Emperor prepared to eliminate this threat. He mounted five military expeditions into the Mongol steppes and crushed the remnants of the Yuan dynasty that had fled north after being defeated by the Hongwu Emperor. He repaired the northern defences and forged buffer alliances to keep the Mongols at bay in order to build an army. His strategy was to force the Mongols into economic dependence on the Chinese and to launch periodic initiatives into Mongolia to cripple their offensive power. He attempted to compel Mongolia to become a Chinese tributary, with all the tribes submitting and proclaiming themselves vassals of the Ming Empire, and wanted to contain and isolate the Mongols. Through fighting, the Yongle Emperor learned to appreciate the importance of cavalry in battle and eventually began spending much of his resources to keep horses in good supply. The emperor spent his entire life fighting the Mongols. Failures and successes came and went, but after the emperor's second personal campaign against the Mongols, the Ming Empire was at peace for over seven years.

Conquest of Vietnam

Jiaozhi (northern Vietnam) when it was under Ming occupation Chine Ming - provinces Yongle-es.svg
Jiaozhi (northern Vietnam) when it was under Ming occupation

Vietnam was a significant source of difficulties during the Yongle Emperor's reign. In 1406, the emperor responded to several formal petitions from members of the Trần dynasty, however on arrival to Vietnam, both the Trần prince and the accompanying Chinese ambassador were ambushed and killed. In response to this insult, the Yongle Emperor sent two armies led by Zhang Fu and Mu Sheng to conquer Vietnam. As the Trần royal family were all executed, [21] :112–113 Vietnam was integrated as a province of China, just as it had been up until 939. With the Ho monarch defeated in 1407, the Chinese began a serious and sustained effort to sinicise the population. Various ancient sites such as pagoda Bao Minh were looted and destroyed. On 2 December 1407, the Yongle Emperor gave orders to Zhang Fu that innocent Vietnamese were not to be harmed, ordering family members of rebels to be spared such as young males if they themselves were not involved in rebellion. [22] In early 1418, Lê Lợi, who founded the Lê dynasty, started a major rebellion against Ming rule. By the time the Yongle Emperor died in 1424, the Vietnamese rebels under Lê Lợi's leadership had captured nearly the entire province. By 1427, the Xuande Emperor gave up the effort started by his grandfather and formally acknowledged Vietnam's independence on condition they accept vassal status.

Diplomatic missions and exploration of the world

An African giraffe, originally from Malindi, being presented to the Yongle Emperor by the Bengali ruler in 1414, and taken to be an auspicious qilin. Tribute Giraffe with Attendant.jpg
An African giraffe, originally from Malindi, being presented to the Yongle Emperor by the Bengali ruler in 1414, and taken to be an auspicious qilin .

As part of his desire to expand Chinese influence throughout the known world, the Yongle Emperor sponsored the massive and long term treasure voyages led by admiral Zheng He. While Chinese ships continued travelling to Japan, Ryukyu, and many locations in Southeast Asia before and after the Yongle Emperor's reign, Zheng He's expeditions were China's only major sea-going explorations of the world (although the Chinese may have been sailing to Arabia, East Africa, and Egypt since the Tang dynasty [24] or earlier). The first expedition was launched in 1405 (18 years before Henry the Navigator began Portugal's voyages of discovery). The expeditions were under the command of Zheng He and his associates (Wang Jinghong, Hong Bao, etc.). Seven expeditions were launched between 1405 and 1433, reaching major trade centres of Asia (as far as Tenavarai (Dondra Head), Hormuz and Aden) and northeastern Africa (Malindi). Some of the ships used were apparently the largest sail-powered wooden ships in human history. [25]

The Chinese expeditions were a remarkable technical and logistical achievement. The Yongle Emperor's successors, the Hongxi and Xuande Emperors, felt that the costly expeditions were harmful to the Ming Empire. The Hongxi Emperor ended further expeditions and the descendants of the Xuande Emperor suppressed much of the information about Zheng He's treasure voyages.

On 30 January 1406, the Yongle Emperor expressed horror when the Ryukyuans castrated some of their own children to become eunuchs to serve in the Ming imperial palace. The emperor said that the boys who were castrated were innocent and did not deserve castration, and he returned the boys to Ryukyu and instructed them not to send eunuchs again. [26]

In 1411, a smaller fleet, built in Jilin and commanded by another eunuch Yishiha, who was a Jurchen, sailed down the Sungari and Amur Rivers. The expedition established a Nurgan Regional Military Commission in the region, headquartered at the place the Chinese called Telin (特林; now the village of Tyr, Russia). The local Nivkh or Tungusic chiefs were granted ranks in the imperial administration. Yishiha's expeditions returned to the lower Amur several more times during the reigns of the Yongle and Xuande Emperors, the last one visiting the region in the 1430s. [27] [28] [29]

After the death of Timur, who intended to invade China, relations between the Ming Empire and Shakhrukh's state in Persia and Transoxania state considerably improved, and the states exchanged large official delegations on a number of occasions. Both the Ming Empire's envoy to Samarkand and Herat, Chen Cheng, and his counterpart, Ghiyasu'd-Din Naqqah, recorded detailed accounts of their visits to each other's states.

One of the Yongle Emperor's consorts was a Jurchen princess, which resulted in many of the eunuchs serving him being of Jurchen origin, notably Yishiha. [30] [31]

Due to Ming rule in Manchuria, Chinese cultural and religious influence such as Chinese New Year, the "Chinese god", Chinese motifs like the dragon, spirals, scrolls, and material goods like agriculture, husbandry, heating, iron cooking pots, silk, and cotton spread among the Amur natives like the Udeghes, Ulchis, and Nanais. [32]

After Manchuria under Yuan rule, Ainu and Nivkh of Sakhalin became tributaries to the Ming dynasty of China after Manchuria came under Ming rule as part of the Nurgan Regional Military Commission. Boluohe, Nanghar and Wuliehe were Yuan posts set up to receive tribute from the Ainu after their war with the Yuan ended in 1308. Ming Chinese outposts in Sakhalin and the Amur river area received animal skin tribute from Ainu on Sakhalin, Uilta and Nivkh in the 15th century after the Tyr based Yongning Temple was set up along with the Nurkan (Nurgan) outposts by the Yongle emperor in 1409. The Ming also held the post at Wuliehe and received marten pelt fur tribute from the assistant commander Alige in 1431 from Sakhalin after the Ming assigned titles like weizhenfu (official charged with subjugation), zhihui qianshi (assistance commander), zhihui tongzhi (vice commander) and Zhihuishi (commander) from Sakhalin indigenous headmen. The Ming received tribute from the headmen Alingge, Tuolingha, Sanchiha and Zhaluha in 1437. The position of headman among Sakhalin indigenous peoples was inherited paternally from father to son and the sons came with their fathers to Wuliehe. Ming officials gave silk uniforms with the appropriate rank to the Sakhalin Ainu, Uilta and Nivkh after they gave tribute. The Maritime Province region had the Ming "system for subjugated peoples' implementers in it for the Sakhalin indigenous peoples. Sakhalin received iron tools from mainland Asia through this trade as Tungus groups joined in from 1456-1487. Local indigenous hierarchies had Ming Chinese given political offices integrated with them. The Ming system on Sakhalin was imitated by the Qing. [33] Nivkh women in Sakhalin married Han Chinese Ming officials when the Ming took tribute from Sakhalin and the Amur river region. [34] [35]

The Yongle Emperor instituted a Ming governor on Luzon during Zheng He's voyages and appointed Ko-ch'a-lao (許柴佬; Xu Chailao) to that position in 1405. [36] [37] China also had vassals among the leaders in the archipelago. [38] [39] China attained ascendancy in trade with the area in the Yongle Emperor's reign. [40] The local rulers on Luzon were "confirmed" by the governor or "high officer" appointed by the Yongle Emperor. [41]

States in Luzon, [42] [43] Sulu (under King Paduka Pahala), [41] [44] Sumatra, [45] and Brunei [46] [47] all established diplomatic relations with the Ming Empire and exchanged envoys and sent tribute to the Yongle Emperor.

The Yongle Emperor exchanged ambassadors with Shahrukh Mirza, sending Chen Cheng to Samarkand and Herat, and Shahrukh sent Ghiyāth al-dīn Naqqāsh to Beijing.


Changling (Chang Ling ) Mingchangling201910.jpg
Changling (長陵)

On 1 April 1424, the Yongle Emperor launched a large campaign into the Gobi Desert to chase an army of fleeing Oirats. Frustrated at his inability to catch up with his swift opponents, Yongle fell into a deep depression and then into illness, possibly owing to a series of minor strokes.[ citation needed ] On 12 August 1424, the Yongle Emperor died. He was entombed in Changling (長陵), a location northwest of Beijing.


The Porcelain Tower Nanking Erlach.jpg
The Porcelain Tower
The Yongle Bell, cast in the 1420s Yongle Bell 03.jpg
The Yongle Bell, cast in the 1420s

The Yongle Emperor is generally regarded to have had a lifelong pursuit of glory, power, and wealth. He respected and worked hard to preserve Chinese culture by designing monuments such as the Porcelain Tower of Nanjing, while undermining and expelling from Chinese society people from foreign cultures. He deeply admired and wished to save his father's accomplishments[ citation needed ] and spent a lot of time proving his claim to the throne. His reign was a mixed blessing for the Chinese populace. The Yongle Emperor's economic, educational, and military reforms provided unprecedented benefits for the people[ citation needed ], but his despotic style of government set up a spy agency. Despite these negatives, the Yongle Emperor is considered an architect and keeper of Chinese culture, history, and statecraft and an influential ruler in Chinese history.

He is remembered very much for his cruelty, just like his father. He killed most of the Jianwen Emperor's palace servants, tortured many of his nephew's loyalists to death, killed or by other means badly treated their relatives. [48] [49] [50] [51] He ordered 2,800 concubines, servant girls and eunuchs who guarded them put to death as the Yongle Emperor tried to suppress a sex scandal which threatened to humiliate him. [52] [ better source needed ] His successor, Hongxi Emperor freed most of the survivors.


Tai Zong Wen Huang Di .jpg
Ren Xiao Wen Huang Hou Xu Shi (Ming Tai Zong (Cheng Zu )).jpg
Portraits of Emperor Yongle and Empress Renxiaowen

Consorts and Issue:


Zhu Sijiu
Zhu Chuyi
Empress Heng
Zhu Shizhen (1281–1344)
Empress Yu
Hongwu Emperor (1328–1398)
Lord Chen (1235–1334)
Empress Chun (1286–1344)
Yongle Emperor (1360–1424)
Empress Xiaocigao (1332–1382)
Lady Zheng

See also


  1. 1 2 The name was given by the Hongxi Emperor.
  2. 1 2 The name was changed by the Jiajing Emperor.

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Further reading

Yongle Emperor
Born: 2 May 1360 Died: 12 August 1424
Chinese royalty
New creation Prince of Yan
Merged into the Crown
Regnal titles
Preceded by Emperor of the Ming dynasty
Emperor of China

Succeeded by