An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Ming Yingzong 明英宗, the Zhengtong 正統 and Tianshun 天順 Emperor

Jan 17, 2014 © Ulrich Theobald

Emperor Yingzong 明英宗, personal name Zhu Qizhen 朱祁鎮 (1427-1464, r. 1435-1449 and 1457-1464), was a ruler of the early Ming period 明 (1368-1644). During his first reign he was captured by the Mongols and only later regained his throne.
He was the oldest son of Emperor Xuanzong 明宣宗 (the Xuande Emperor 宣德, r. 1425-1435) to whom he succeeded in the age of nine sui, assuming the reign motto Zhengtong 正統 "Correct Rule". Regency was nominally taken over by the Empress Dowager, but political power was practice exerted by Yang Shiqi 楊士奇, Yang Rong 楊榮 and Yang Pu 楊溥. It fell son into the hands of the Director of Ceremonial (silijian 司禮監), the eunuch Wang Zheng 王振, who had become the emperor's minion. His rose to factual power is seen as the beginning of the regency by the eunuchs that characterized the whole Ming period. Disastrous circumstances in the local administration led to several peasant rebellions like that of Deng Maoqi 鄧茂七 in Fujian, Chen Jian 陳鑒胡 or Huang Xiaoyang 黃蕭養 in Guangdong who made themself kings and adopted reign mottos.
In 1449 the Mongolian leader Esen Khan 也先 raided the border regions, and Wang Zhen urged the emperor to undertake a punitive campaign against the steppe people, while his younger brother Zhu Qiyu 朱祁鈺, the Prince of Cheng 郕王 (Emperor Daizong 明代宗, the Jingtai Emperor 景泰, r. 1449-1457), was ordered to protect the capital Beijing as resident regent. Yet preparations for this campaign were not well accomplished, and bad decisions resulted in the capture of the emperor by the Mongols in the vicinity of Tumu 土木堡 (near modern Huailai 懷來, Hebei). This event is known as the "Tumu incident" (Tumu zhi bian 土木之變).
The Empress Dowager ordered the Prince of Cheng to act as prince regent until the return of the emperor, but the former decided to adopt the title of emperor and to assume a reign motto (Jingtai 景泰), while he made his brother "emperor emeritus" (taishanghuang 太上皇). Although this decision was de facto an usurpation, it made the Mongols' hostage worthless, and he was returned in 1450. Yet the Prince of Cheng detained him in the Southern Palace 南宮 for eight years. Only when the Prince of Cheng fell seriously ill in 1457 general Shi Heng 石亨 and the chief eunuch Cao Jixiang 曹吉祥 liberated the former emperor and brought him back to the throne. This affair is called the "gate ramming incident" (fenmen zhi bian 奪門之變).
Yingzong chose a different reign motto, namely Tianshun 天順 "Heavenly Compliance". He took revenge, executed Yu Qian and canonized his former minion Wang Zhen, who had been killed during the Tumu incident, by erecting the Jingzhong Shrine 旌忠祠 for him.
When he died Zhu Qizhen was buried in the tomb hill Yuling 裕陵. His posthumous honorific title is Emperor Xiaorui 孝睿皇帝, his temple name Yingzong 英宗. He was succeeded by his son Zhu Jianshen 朱見深, Emperor Xianzong 明憲宗 (the Chenghua Emperor 成化, r. 1464-1487).

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Xiong Tieji 熊鐵基, Yang Youli 楊有禮, eds. (1994). Zhongguo diwang zaixiang cidian 中國帝王宰相辭典 (Wuhan: Hubei jiaoyu chubanshe), 340.