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Zhengde Emperor

Zhengde Emperor emperor of the Ming Dynasty

emperor of the Ming Dynasty
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro emperor of the Ming Dynasty
A.K.A. Zhengde, Chengtiandadaoyingsuruizhezhaodexiangonghongwensixiaoyihuangdi, Wu Zong, Zhu Houzhao, Daqingfawang, Yi Di, Shou
Countries Ming dynasty
Occupations Ruler
Gender male
Birth 26 October 1491 (Beijing)
Death 20 April 1521 (Beijing)
Star sign ScorpioScorpio
Family
Mother: Empress Zhang
Father: Hongzhi Emperor
Siblings: Zhu Houwei Princess Taikang
Spouse: Empress Xia (Ming dynasty)
Zhengde Emperor
The details
Biography

The Zhengde Emperor (Chinese: 正德帝; pinyin: Zhèngdé Dì; 26 October 1491 – 20 April 1521) was the 11th Ming dynasty Emperor of China between 1505–1521. Born Zhu Houzhao, he was the Hongzhi Emperor's eldest son. His era name means "Right virtue" or "Rectification of virtue".

Early years

Zhu Houzhao was created crown prince at a very early age and because his father did not take up any other concubines, Zhu did not have to contend with other princes for the throne. (His younger brother died in infancy.) The prince was thoroughly educated in Confucian literature and he excelled in his studies. Many of the Hongzhi Emperor's ministers expected that Zhu Houzhao would become a benevolent and brilliant emperor like his father.

Reign as emperor

Zhu Houzhao ascended the throne as the Zhengde Emperor and was married to his Empress at the age of 14. Unlike his father, the Zhengde Emperor was not interested in ruling or his Empress and disregarded most state affairs. His actions have been considered reckless, foolish or pointless. There are many instances where he showed a lack of responsibility.

The Zhengde Emperor took up a luxurious and prodigal lifestyle and indulged himself in women. It was said that he liked to frequent brothels and even created palaces called "Bao Fang" (豹房; literally "The Leopards' Chamber") outside the Forbidden City in Beijing initially to house exotic animals such as tigers and leopards for his amusement and then later used to house beautiful women for his personal enjoyment. On one occasion he was badly mauled while hunting tigers, and could not appear in court audiences for a month. On another occasion he burned down his palace by storing gunpowder in the courtyards during the lantern festival. His harem was so overfilled that many of its women starved to death due to lack of supplies.

Zhu Houzhao was noted by many sources as fairly efficient administrator, although indulging in an luxurious life style and refusing to attend most meetings, he showed himself to be competent in his decisions and governance. Under his rule, the economy continued to grow, and the people were generally prosperous.

Stele in memory of the renovation of the Temple of Yan in Qufu, 1509 (4th year of the Zhengde era)

For months at a time he would live outside the Forbidden City or travel around the country with heavy expenditures being paid from the Ming government's coffers. While being urged to return to the palace and attend to governmental matters, the Zhengde Emperor would refuse to receive all his ministers and ignored all their petitions. He also sanctioned the rise of eunuchs around him. One particular Liu Jin, leader of the Eight Tigers, was notorious for taking advantage of the young emperor and squandered immense amount of silver and valuables. The diverted funds were about 36 million pounds of gold and silver. There was even rumor of a plot that Liu Jin had intended to murder the emperor and place his own grandnephew on the throne. Liu Jin's plot was ultimately discovered, and he was executed in 1510. However, the rise of corrupt enunchs continued throughout the Zhengde Emperor's reign. There was also an uprising led by the Prince of Anhua and another uprising led by the Prince of Ning. The Prince of Anhua was the Zhengde Emperor's great-granduncle, while the Prince of Ning was his granduncle.

In time, the Zhengde Emperor became notorious for his childish behaviour as well as abusing his power as emperor. For instance, he set up a staged commercial district inside his palace and ordered all his ministers, eunuchs, soldiers and servants of the palace to dress up and act as merchants or street vendors while he walked through the scene pretending to be a commoner. Any unwilling participants, especially the ministers (who viewed it as degrading and an insult), would be punished or removed from their post.

Then in 1517, the Zhengde Emperor gave himself an alter ego named Zhu Shou (朱壽) so he could relinquish his imperial duties and send himself off on an expedition to the north to repel raiding expeditions several tens of thousands strong led by Dayan Khan. He met the enemy outside the city of Yingzhou and defeated them in a major battle by surrounding them. For a long period of time after this battle, the Mongols did not launch a raiding expedition into Ming territory. Then again in 1519, the Zhengde Emperor led another expedition to Jiangxi province to the south to quell the Prince of Ning rebellion by a powerful prince known as Zhu Chenhao who had bribed many people in the emperor's cabinet. He arrived only to discover that the revolt had already been put down by Wang Shouren, a local administrative officer. Frustrated at not being able to lead his troops to victory, the Zhengde Emperor's advisor suggested they release the prince in order to capture him again. In January 1521, the Zhengde Emperor had the rebel Prince of Ning executed in Tongzhou, an event that was recorded even by the Portuguese embassy to China.

Chinese Islamic bronze incense burner made during the reign of Zhengde. Adilnor Collection, Sweden.

Relations with Muslims

Chinese ablution basin with word Taharat (cleanliness) in Thuluth calligraphy, Zhengde period

The Zhengde Emperor was fascinated by foreigners and invited many Muslims to serve as advisors, eunuchs, and envoys at his court. Works of art such as porcelain from his court contained Islamic inscriptions in Arabic or Persian.

An anti pig slaughter edict led to speculation that the Zhengde emperor adopted Islam due to his use of Muslim eunuchs who commissioned the production of porcelain with Persian and Arabic inscriptions in white and blue. It is unknown who really was behind the anti-pig slaughter edict.

The Zhengde Emperor preferred foreign Muslim women, having many relationships with them.

According to Bret Hinsch in the book Passions of the cut sleeve: the male homosexual tradition in China, the Zhengde Emperor had an alleged homosexual relationship with a Muslim leader from Hami, named Sayyid Husain, who served as the overseer in Hami during the Ming-Turpan border wars, although no evidence supporting this claim exists in Chinese sources.

Dark Affliction

Prior to the death of the Zhengde Emperor in early 1521, rumours about a mysterious group of creatures collectively called Dark Afflictions (Chinese: 黑眚; pinyin: Hēi Shěng) circulated the capital. Their attacks caused much unrest, because they randomly attacked people at night, causing wounds with their claws. The Minister for War asked the emperor to write an imperial edict proclaiming local security troops would arrest all those who frightened other people. The threat brought a sudden end to the spread of the stories.

Contact with Europe

Afonso de Albuquerque, who commissioned the first direct European maritime ventures to China from Portuguese Malacca.

The first direct European contacts with China occurred during the reign of the Zhengde Emperor. In several initial missions commissioned by Afonso de Albuquerque of Portuguese Malacca, the Portuguese explorers Jorge Álvares and Rafael Perestrello landed in southern China and traded with the Chinese merchants of Tuen Mun and Guangzhou. In 1513 their king, Manuel I of Portugal sent Fernão Pires de Andrade and Tomé Pires to formally open relations between the main court at Beijing and Lisbon, capital of Portugal. Although the Zhengde Emperor gave the Portuguese embassy his blessing while touring Nanjing in May 1520, he died soon after and the Portuguese (who were rumored to be troublemakers in Canton and even cannibals of kidnapped Chinese children), were ejected by Chinese authorities under the new Grand Secretary Yang Tinghe. Although illegal trade continued thereafter, official relations between the Portuguese and the Ming court would not improve until the 1540s, culminating in the Ming court's consent in 1557 which allowed Portugal to establish Macau as their trading base in China.

Sino-Malay alliance against Portugal

The Malay Malacca Sultanate was a tributary state and ally to Ming China. When Portugal conquered Malacca in 1511 and committed atrocities against the Malay Sultanate, the Chinese responded with violent force against Portugal.

The Ming government imprisoned and executed multiple Portuguese envoys after torturing them in Guangzhou. The Malaccans had informed the Chinese of the Portuguese seizure of Malacca, to which the Chinese responded with hostility toward the Portuguese. The Malaccans told the Chinese of the deception the Portuguese used, disguising plans for conquering territory as mere trading activities, and told of all the atrocities committed by the Portuguese.

Due to the Malaccan Sultan lodging a complaint against the Portuguese invasion to the Zhengde Emperor, the Portuguese were greeted with hostility from the Chinese when they arrived in China. The Malaccan Sultan, based in Bintan after fleeing Malacca, sent a message to the Chinese, which combined with Portuguese banditry and violent activity in China, led the Chinese authorities to execute 23 Portuguese and torture the rest of them in jails. After the Portuguese set up posts for trading in China and committed piratical activities and raids in China, the Chinese responded with the complete extermination of the Portuguese in Ningbo and Quanzhou Pires, a Portuguese trade envoy, was among those who died in the Chinese dungeons.

The Chinese defeated a Portuguese fleet in 1521 at the First Battle of Tamao (1521), killing and capturing so many Portuguese that the Portuguese had to abandon their junks and retreat with only three ships, only escaping back to Malacca because a wind scattered the Chinese ships as the Chinese launched a final attack.

The Chinese effectively held the Portuguese embassy hostage, using them as a bargaining chip in demanding that the Portuguese restore the deposed Malaccan Sultan (King) to his throne.

The Chinese proceeded to execute several Portuguese by beating and strangling them, and torturing the rest. The other Portuguese prisoners were put into iron chains and kept in prison. The Chinese confiscated all of the Portuguese property and goods in the Pires embassy's possession.

In 1522 Martim Afonso de Merlo Coutinho was appointed commander of another Portuguese fleet sent to establish diplomatic relations. The Chinese defeated the Portuguese ships led by Coutinho at the Second Battle of Tamao (1522). A large amount of Portuguese were captured and ships destroyed during the battle. The Portuguese were forced to retreat to Malacca.

The Chinese forced Pires to write letters for them, demanding that the Portuguese restore the deposed Malaccan Sultahn (King) back onto his throne. The Malay ambassador to China was to deliver the letter.

The Chinese had sent a message to the deposed Sultan (King) of Malacca concerning the fate of the Portuguese embassy, which the Chinese held prisoner. When they received his reply, the Chinese officials then proceeded to execute the Portuguese embassy, slicing their bodies into multiple pieces. Their genitalia were inserted into the oral cavity. The Portuguese were executed in public in multiple areas in Guangzhou, deliberately by the Chinese in order to show that the Portuguese were insignificant in the eyes of the Chinese. When more Portuguese ships landed and were seized by the Chinese, the Chinese then executed them as well, cutting off the genitalia and beheading the bodies and forcing their fellow Portuguese to wear the body parts, while the Chinese celebrated with music. The genitalia and heads were displayed strung up for display in public, after which they were discarded.

Death

The Zhengde Emperor died in 1521 at the age of 31. It was said that he was drunk while boating on a lake one day in the fall of 1520. He fell off his boat and almost drowned. He died after contracting illnesses from the Grand Canal waters. Since none of his several children had survived childhood, he was succeeded by his cousin Zhu Houcong, who became known as the Jiajing Emperor. His tomb is located at Kangling of the Ming Dynasty Tombs.

Legacy

Zhengde Emperor calligraphy plaque "Wonder of the World" on Pagoda of Fogong Temple

By the accounts of some historians, although bred to be a successful ruler, the Zhengde Emperor thoroughly neglected his duties, beginning a dangerous trend that would plague future Ming emperors. The abandonment of official duties to pursue personal gratification would slowly lead to the rise of powerful eunuchs that would dominate and eventually ruin the Ming dynasty. The Ming scholar Tan Qian argued that: "The Emperor was smart and playful... He also did not harm officials who argued against him. [He enjoyed] the support of the minister and the efficient works of the clerks. [He worked until] midnight to issue edicts that punished [the criminals] like Liu Jin and Qian Ning (Zhengde's own adoptive son)."

Some modern historians have come to view his reign in a new light and debate that his actions along with that of his successors such as the Wanli Emperor were a direct reaction to the bureaucratic gridlock that affected the Ming dynasty in its later half. The emperors were very limited in their policy decision and could not really implement any sort of lasting effective reforms despite the obvious need, while they were faced with constant pressure and were expected to be responsible for all the troubles the dynasty faced. As a result, the ministers became increasingly frustrated and disillusioned about their posts, and protested in different forms of what was essentially an imperial strike. Thus emperors such as the Zhengde Emperor sneaked out of the palace while emperors such as the Jiajing and Wanli emperors simply did not show up in the imperial court. Other authors state that Zhengde was a ruler with a strong will, who dealt decisively with Liu Jin, Prince Ning, Prince Anhua and the Mongol threat, acted competently in crises caused by natural disasters and plagues and collected taxes in a benevolent manner. Although his reign's achievements were in large parts the contributions of his very talented officials, they also reflected on the capability of the ruler.

Cultural references

  • In the 1959 film Kingdom and the Beauty (江山美人), the Zhengde Emperor disguises himself as a regular commoner among the people.
  • The film Chinese Odyssey 2002 was loosely based on a story of one of the Zhengde Emperor's tours in Zhejiang province.
  • In the 2005 television show Zhengde Commentary (正德演義), the Zhengde Emperor was portrayed by television variety show host He Jiong.

Family

  1. Empress Xiaojingyi, of the Xia clan (孝靜毅皇后 夏氏; 1492 – 1535)
  2. Consort Shuhuide, of the Wu clan (淑惠德妃 吳氏; d. 1539)
  3. Consort Rongshuxian, of the Shen clan (榮淑賢妃 沈氏; 1492 – 1542)
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Sources
References
http://www.worldcat.org/issn/2157-9679
http://www.worldcat.org/issn/2157-9687
http://book.qq.com/s/book/0/13/13953/12.shtm
http://data.movie.xunlei.com/movie/2695
http://home.chuhai.hk/~cwchau/mingdynasty/07.pdf
http://isni.org/isni/0000000063165321
http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/314935/The-Kingdom-and-the-Beauty/overview
http://news.cang.com/infos/201007/109498.html
http://taoci.chnart.com/index.php?m=content&c=index&a=show&catid=64&id=2246
http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/20024/lot/37/
http://www.fa.hku.hk/home/JenChianEssay.pdf
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