The Ming Emperor Yongle
Publication Year: 2001
Published by: University of Washington Press
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For their help in gathering the source materials for this book, I am indebted to Hoyt Purvis, my student Takashi Yasuda, and my brother Wen-ching. I also had the advantage of relying upon the works of fellow Ming scholars who have done detailed research in various aspects of history. In particular, I wish to acknowledge my debt to Edward L. Dreyer and ...
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The indomitable Yongle has been lionized as the best of imperial China because he was a tireless and restless monarch who laid the agenda not only for fifteenth-century China but for most of Asia during the early modern era. At the same time, he has been criticized as the worst of imperial China because he committed an act of lèse-majesté by savaging his nephew, the incumbent emperor, and because, ...
1 / A Day in the Life of Yongle’s Court: February 23, 1423
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One night, while the Roman emperor Titus (39–81 c.e.) was dining with several of his intimates, he realized that he had done nothing of merit for anyone that entire day. It was then that he uttered his immortal phrase, “Amici, diem perdidi”: “Friends, I’ve lost a day.” Emperor Yongle of the Ming dynasty died on August 12, 1424, having been on the throne since July ...
2 / The Formative Years, 1360–1382
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In the middle of the fourteenth century, when the English and the French were engaged in an early stage of the Hundred Years’ War, various Chinese rebel leaders raised armies of different sizes, hoping to throw of the rule of the Mongols, who were by then corrupted and softened by the wealth of the nation they had conquered back in 1279. One great seat of insurrection was in ...
3 / The Years of Waiting, 1382–1398
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During Zhu Di’s three years of mourning for his mother, much was happening regarding Ming laws, institutions, foreign policies, and administrative practices that served as the basis on which his own future government would rest. For example, in 1381 The Yellow Registers (Huangce)— which recorded the population by family membership, place of residence, and labor services owed—were promulgated. In 1382 the tax captains were abolished, their functions being transferred to the lijia system, whereby peasant ...
4 / The Years of Successional Struggle, 1398–1402
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When the Prince of Jin died, Emperor Hongwu was already seventy and was at war not only with the enemies beyond the Great Wall but also with his own mortality. Within only a month, he fell ill. A few weeks later, on June 24, 1398, the Ming patriarch followed his third son ...
5 / The Years of Reconstruction: Government and Politics, 1402–1420
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On July 17, 1402, after a brief visit to his father’s tomb at Mount Zhong, Zhu Di, at the prime age of forty-two, was enthroned as Emperor Yongle at Respect Heaven Hall, the tallest palace building in Nanjing. However, he did not install his wife as Empress Xu until four months later. Neither did he issue his inauguration decree proclaiming the imperial will until July 30, when he conducted a state sacrificial ceremony in the southern suburb of Nanjing. In his first imperial decree, Yongle gave routine amnesties to ...
6 / The Years of Rehabilitation: Society and Economy, 1402–1421
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After four years of strife and chaos, China’s economy was ruined and its society was on the brink of a meltdown when Emperor Yongle ascended the throne in 1402. The whole Huai River valley had suffered terribly from the civil war, and some parts of the North China Plain—in particular, the Beijing area—were nearly depopulated. Land, dikes, warehouses, granaries, and canals north ...
7 / The Emperor of Culture
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Immediately after his death, Yongle was given the temple name Taizong, or Grand Ancestor, which had traditionally been used for strong second emperors in Chinese dynasties. But Yongle was also canonized as Wen Huangdi, or Emperor of Culture, the highest accolade for a Chinese emperor. Readers might wonder why a dynamic political leader ...
8 / Yongle and the Mongols
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While Yongle forged ahead with his political, social, economic, and cultural reconstruction programs, he carefully monitored the activities of the Mongols inside as well as outside his empire. One of the critical reasons for moving his capital from Nanjing to Beijing was that the northern ...
9 / The Price of Glory
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While Yongle was expanding his influence beyond his northern borders and waging war against the Mongols, he was also very much occupied with the problems in Annam, the northern part of what is now Vietnam. Of all the Ming’s neighboring states, Annam was, next to Korea, the most sinicized buffer. For nearly a thousand years, China had had an imperialistic relationship ...
10 / Epilogue
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Yongle’s unshakeable sense of destiny and his relentless pursuit of power, prestige, and glory are apparent throughout the story of his extraordinary life. By the time he had reached the age of thirty-nine, in 1399, the restless and ebullient prince believed that the achievements of his father were like fragile sand castles built on the edge of the sea. As he believed ...
Appendix: The Children of Emperor Hongwu
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Glossary of Chinese Characters
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Publication Year: 2001