House of Zhu

The House of Zhu, also known as the House of Chu (Chinese: ; pinyin: Zhū; Wade–Giles: Chu), was the imperial family of the Ming dynasty of China. Zhu was the family name of the emperors of the Ming dynasty. The House of Zhu ruled China from 1368 until the fall of the Ming dynasty in 1644, followed by the rule as the Southern Ming dynasty until 1662, and the last Ming princes, the Prince of Ningjing Zhu Shugui and Prince Zhu Honghuan (朱弘桓) held out until the annexation of the Kingdom of Tungning in 1683.

CountryMing China
FounderHongwu Emperor
Current headNo
Final ruler1644: Chongzhen Emperor, Southern Ming: Yongli Emperor
Estate(s)Ming Palace, Nanjing Forbidden City, Beijing
  • 1644: Overthrown by the Shun dynasty
  • 1662: Southern Ming ends
  • 1683: Kingdom of Tungning surrenders and the remaining Ming princes lose their titles
  • 1725: A Ming descendant granted the title Marquis
  • 1750: the Marquis is elevated to Marquis of Extended Grace
  • 1929: the title is abolished by the Republic of China
  • 1933: all privileges of the former Marquis cancelled.

Family historyEdit


Portrait of the Hongwu Emperor (r. 1368–98)

The founder of the Ming dynasty was the Hongwu Emperor (21 October 1328 – 24 June 1398), who is also known variably by his personal name "Zhu Yuanzhang" and his temple name "Taizu of Ming" (literally "Great Ancestor of Ming"). He was the first emperor of the Ming dynasty. His regnal name, Hongwu, means "vastly martial".

In the middle of the 14th century, with famine, plagues and peasant revolts sweeping across China, Zhu Yuanzhang became a leader of an army that conquered China, ending the government of the Mongol-led Yuan dynasty, and forcing the Mongols to retreat to present-day Mongolia. With his seizure of the Yuan capital Khanbaliq (present-day Beijing), he claimed the Mandate of Heaven and established the Ming dynasty in 1368. The Ming's mission was to drive away the Mongols and restore Han Chinese rule in China.

Under the Hongwu Emperor's rule, the Mongol bureaucrats who dominated the government in the Yuan dynasty were replaced by Han Chinese officials. The Hongwu Emperor revamped the traditional Confucian examination system. Mongol-related things, including garments and names, were discontinued from use and boycotted. There were also attacks on palaces and administrative buildings previously used by the Mongol rulers.[1]

Rise of the Ming dynastyEdit

Portrait of the Yongle Emperor (r. 1402–24)

The Hongwu Emperor's grandson, Zhu Yunwen, assumed the throne as the Jianwen Emperor (r. 1398–1402) after the Hongwu Emperor's death in 1398. In a prelude to a three-year-long civil war beginning in 1399,[2] the Jianwen Emperor became engaged in a political showdown with his uncle Zhu Di, the Prince of Yan. The Jianwen Emperor was aware of the ambitions of his prince uncles, establishing measures to limit their authority. The militant Zhu Di, given charge over the area encompassing Beijing to watch the Mongols on the frontier, was the most feared of these princes. After the Jianwen Emperor arrested many of Zhu Di's associates, Zhu Di plotted a rebellion. Under the guise of rescuing the young Jianwen Emperor from corrupt officials, Zhu Di personally led forces in the revolt; the imperial palace in Nanjing was burned to the ground. The Jianwen Emperor, his wife, mother, and courtiers were supposedly killed. Having overthrown his nephew, Zhu Di seized the throne and became known as the Yongle Emperor (r. 1402–1424); his reign is universally viewed by scholars as a "second founding" of the Ming dynasty since he reversed many of his father's policies.[3]

The Ming Palace, the official imperial household of the Ming dynasties from 1368 until 1420 in Nanjing.
The Forbidden City, the official imperial household of the Ming dynasties from 1420 until 1644 in Beijing.
Wanli Emperor (r. 1572–1620)

After his coronation, the Yongle Emperor decided to move China's capital from Nanjing (lit. "Southern Capital") to Beijing (lit. "Northern Capital"). According to a popular legend, the capital was moved when the emperor's advisers brought the emperor to the hills surrounding Nanjing and pointed out the emperor's palace showing the vulnerability of the palace to artillery attack.

The Yongle Emperor also ordered to build a massive network of structures in Beijing in which government offices, officials, and the imperial family itself resided. After a painfully long construction time, the Forbidden City was finally completed and became the political capital of China for the next 500 years.

皇孫府[4] The Ming dynasty modified and made changes from the Tang dynasty system for regulating the Imperial family.[5][6]

The early Ming Emperors from Hongwu to Zhengde continued Yuan practices such as hereditary military institutions, demanding Korean concubines and eunuchs, having Muslim eunuchs, wearing Mongol style clothing and Mongol hats, engaging in archery and horseback riding, patronizing Tibetan Buddhism, with the early Ming Emperors seeking to project themselves as "universal rulers" to various peoples such as Central Asian Muslims, Tibetans, and Mongols, modeled after the Mongol Khagan, however, this history of Ming universalism has been obscured and denied by historians who covered it up and presented the Ming as xenophobes seeking to expunge Mongol influence and presenting while they presented the Qing and Yuan as "universal" rulers in contrast to the Ming.[7][8][9][10] The Zhengde Emperor even learned to speak Mongolian and Tibetan.[11] The martial-themed Ming dynasty Grand Review was copied by the Qing, as noted in rebuke to those who sought to present it as a Qing feature from the "New Qing History" school, in a review of David M. Robinson's Martial Spectacles of the Ming Court.[12]

Hongu had a "mirror" 宗藩昭鑒錄 宗藩昭鉴录 宗藩昭鑑錄 written for Ming Princes to educate them and stop misbehavior after having to discipline his nephew Zhu Wenzheng's son, grandnephew Zhu Shouqian.[13][14]

Military power was delegated to princes.[13] Korean and Mongol women were among the concubines of Zhu Yuanzhang who bore his 26 sons. The sons of the founder were given their own fiefs.[15]

Land was granted to the Princes as their fiefs during the Ming.[16] The Ming dynasty granted fiefs to its Princes.[17] In the 17th century were more than 80,000 members of the Ming Imperial Zhu family.[18] The Ming drew on the example of the Song dynasty Imperial family.[19][20][21]

The Prince Liaojian was Zhu Quan.[22] Zhu Yuelian was the Prince of Shu.[23]

One of the Princes was noted for delinquent behavior. Zhu Shuang the Prince of Qin, while he was high on drugs, had some Tibetan boys castrated and Tibetan women seized after a war against minority Tibetan peoples and as a result was reprimanded after he died from overdose.[24][25][26][27][28][29][30][31][32][33] 征西番,將番人七八歲幼女擄到一百五十名,又將七歲,八歲,九歲,十歲男童,閹割百五十五名,未及二十日,令人馱背赴府,致命去處所傷未好,即便挪動,因傷致死著大

The Prince of Ning rebellion was led by Prince Zhu Chenhao. An accomplished military commander and archer was demoted to commoner status on a wrongful charge of treason was the Prince of Lu's grandson in 1514.[34]

At the Guozijian, law, math, calligraphy, equestrianism, and archery were emphasized by the Ming Hongwu Emperor in addition to Confucian classics and also required in the Imperial Examinations .[35]

Archery and equestrianism were frequent pastimes by Zhengde.[36] He practiced archery and horseriding with eunuchs.[37] Tibetan Buddhist monks, Muslim women and musicians were obtained and provided to Zhengde by his guard Ch'ien Ning, who acquainted him with the ambidextrous archer and military officer Chiang Pin.[38] An accomplished military commander and archer was demoted to commoner status on a wrongful charge of treason was the Prince of Lu's grandson in 1514.[34]

He was disinterested in military matters but had prowess in archery (Hongxi Emperor).[39]

Archery competitions, equestrianism and calligraphy were some of the pastimes of Wanli Emperor.[40]

The Imperial Princes who were enfeoffed were kept under heavy control by the Ming government.[41]


The financial drain of the Imjin War in Korea against the Japanese was one of the many problems—fiscal or other—facing Ming China during the reign of the Wanli Emperor (r. 1572–1620). In the beginning of his reign, the Wanli Emperor surrounded himself with able advisors and made a conscientious effort to handle state affairs. His Grand Secretary Zhang Juzheng (in office from 1572 to 1582) built up an effective network of alliances with senior officials. However, there was no one after Zhang Juzheng who was as excellent as him in maintaining the stability of these official alliances;[42] these officials soon banded together in opposing political factions. Over time, the Wanli Emperor grew tired and frustrated about court affairs and frequent political quarreling amongst his ministers, and chose to stay behind the walls of the Forbidden City and out of his officials' sight.[43]

Officials aggravated the Wanli Emperor about which of his sons should succeed to the throne; he grew equally disgusted with senior advisors constantly bickering about how to manage the state.[43] There were rising factions at court and across the intellectual sphere of China stemming from the philosophical debate for or against the teaching of Wang Yangming (1472–1529), the latter of whom rejected some of the orthodox views of Neo-Confucianism.[44][45] Annoyed by all of this, the Wanli Emperor began neglecting his duties, remaining absent from court audiences to discuss politics, lost interest in studying the Confucian Classics, refused to read petitions and other state papers, and stopped filling the recurrent vacancies of vital upper level administrative posts.[43][46] Scholar-officials lost prominence in administration as eunuchs became intermediaries between the aloof emperor and his officials; any senior official who wanted to discuss state matters had to persuade powerful eunuchs with a bribe simply to have his demands or message relayed to the emperor.[43]

There were merely 29,000 members of Aisin Gioro in 1912 when the Qing dynasty fell, in sharp contrast to the more fecund and fertile Ming dynasty before it, whose ruling House of Zhu had 200,000 (0.2 million) members by the fall of the Ming dynasty. The Manchu emperors had smaller reproduction and harems than the Ming on average and taxed Chinese peasant less than the Ming did to maintain the harem. The Ming Wanli emperor's harem's daily expenditure was more than the Qing Yongzheng emperor's harem annual expenditure. There were 6 generations of Aisin Gioro before Emperor Shunzhi's reign since Nurhaci's grandfather founded the Aisin Gioro clan. Going by the lowest estimate of tribal chief's fertility, five sons per man, Aisin Gioro's number ought to have been 3,000 or 3,125 at the start of the Qing. This meant during that China's population growth in general exactly matched the entire Qing dynasty the Aisin Gioro clan's rate of growth for male members carrying the same surname from the start of the Qing to the end of the Qing, which was growth by a factor of 10 from the initial number at the beginning of the Qing dynasty. And it was only two time's China's general population's growth rate when it included non-male line descendants of the Qing imperial family via Aisin Gioro females who did not pass the family name to their descendants.[47] The Ming imperial Zhu family had more than 80,000 people by 1604, 62,000 in 1594, 28,492 in 1569, 28,840 in 1562, 19,611 in 1553, 2,495 in 1506-1521, 127 in 1403-1424 and 58 in 1368-1398.[48] The Empresses of the Qing were very infertile and most often when an emperor dead, there was no son of the empress alive. The Xianfeng Emperor had only one son surviving, the Tongzhi emperor. The Guangxu emperor and Tongzhi emperor both had no children. In 1660 the core branch of Aisin Gioro had 378 people while in 1915 it had 29,292 people.[49][50]

Fall of the Ming dynastyEdit

An Orientalist illustration of the Chongzhen Emperor killing his daughter before hanging himself. (Drawing by a European artist for Martino Martini's De bello tartarico)
Portrait of the Chongzhen Emperor (r. 1627–44)

In the early 1630s, a Minister named Li Zicheng (1606–45) mutinied with his fellow soldiers in western Shaanxi.[51] Li's rebel forces retaliated the government by killing the officials, and led a rebellion based in Rongyang, central Henan province by 1635.[52] By the 1640s, an ex-soldier and rival to Li—Zhang Xianzhong (1606–47)—had created a firm rebel base in Chengdu, Sichuan, while Li's center of power was in Hubei with extended influence over Shaanxi and Henan.[52]

Meanwhile, after years of providing tremendous support to the Korean royal family during the Imjin War against Japanese warlord Hideyoshi, the Ming military and finance, which had not gotten fully recovered, were forced to go into the new battles. Exhausted, Unpaid and unfed, the Ming army was struggling hard between the Manchu raiders from the north and huge peasant revolts in the provinces. Eventually, the Ming army fell apart, and was defeated by Li Zicheng—who called himself the King of Shun—and took the capital without much of a fight.[53] On 26 May 1644, Beijing fell to Li Zicheng's rebel forces; during the turmoil, rather than facing capture and probable execution at the hands of the rebels, the Chongzhen Emperor arranged a feast and gathered all members of the imperial household aside from his sons. Using his sword, he killed all of them there. All people died except his second daughter, Princess Changping, whose attempt to resist the sword blow resulted in her left arm being severed by her father. The Chongzhen Emperor then went to Jingshan Hill, and hanged himself with the hair covering his face on a tree in the imperial garden outside the Forbidden City.[53]

After the Ming dynastyEdit

Since the fall of the Ming Empire, the Manchu-led Qing dynasty started persecuting the Zhu clan, hence a number of members of the Zhu family have changed their surnames to Zhou (周),[54] Wang (王),[55] Gao (高),[56] Guang (廣),[57] Dong (東),[58] Zhang (張), Zhuang (莊),[59][60] and Yan (嚴).[59] Some of them changed their family names back to Zhu after the collapse of the Qing dynasty.

Several Ming princes accompanied Koxinga to Taiwan in 1661-1662, including the Prince of Ningjing Zhu Shugui[61] and Prince Zhu Honghuan (朱弘桓), son of Zhu Yihai, where they lived in the Kingdom of Tungning. Koxinga's grandson Zheng Keshuang surrendered to the Qing dynasty in 1683 and was rewarded by the Kangxi Emperor with the title "Duke of Haicheng" (海澄公) and he and his soldiers were inducted into the Eight Banners.[62][63][64] The Qing sent the 17 Ming princes still living on Taiwan back to mainland China where they spent the rest of their lives in exile since their lives were spared from execution.[65]

In 1725, the Yongzheng Emperor bestowed the hereditary title of marquis on a descendant of the Ming imperial family, Zhu Zhiliang, who received a salary from the Qing government and whose duty was to perform rituals at the Ming tombs, and was also inducted the Chinese Plain White Banner in the Eight Banners. Later, the Qianlong Emperor bestowed the title Marquis of Extended Grace posthumously on Zhu Zhuliang in 1750, and the title passed on through twelve generations of Ming descendants until the end of the Qing dynasty.

In 1912, after the overthrow of the Qing dynasty in the Xinhai Revolution, some advocated that a Han be installed as Emperor, either the descendant of Confucius, who was the Duke Yansheng,[66][67][68][69][70] or the Ming dynasty Imperial family descendant, the Marquis of Extended Grace.[71][72]

Notable membersEdit

Ming dynasty (1368–1644 C.E.)Edit

  • Hongwu Emperor, key leader of the rebel movement which ousted the Mongol-led Yuan dynasty; founder of the Ming dynasty
  • Jianwen Emperor, grandson of the Hongwu Emperor; second emperor of the Ming dynasty reigned from 1399 to 1402; overthrown by his uncle, the Yongle Emperor
  • Yongle Emperor, fourth son of the Hongwu Emperor and third emperor of the Ming dynasty; reigned from 1403 to 1424; he was responsible for expanding China's influence throughout Asia, East Africa and perhaps beyond through his fleet of treasure ships led by the admiral eunuch Zheng He; he founded the Forbidden City and the Ming Dynasty Tombs
An overview of the Changling Tomb
  • Hongxi Emperor, eldest son of the Yongle Emperor and fourth emperor of the Ming dynasty; he reigned for one year, 1425

Prominent princes of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644 C.E.)Edit

Southern Ming dynasty (1644–1662 C.E.)Edit

Artists and philosophersEdit

  • Zhu Zhiyu, also known as Zhu Shunshui (Chinese: 朱舜水), born in Zhejiang Province, great historian, philosopher, and litterateur. He went to Japan after the collapse of Ming. His philosophy influenced the development of Mitogaku.
  • Zhu Zaiyu (1536 – 19 May 1611), a prince of the Ming dynasty of China. He was a musician and one of the first people to describe equal temperament in music in 1584. He also wrote treatises (three survive) on mathematics and calendrics, although he was unsuccessful in his attempt to correct the inaccuracies of the Ming calendar.
  • Shitao (1642–1707), born Zhu Ruoji (朱若極), was a Chinese landscape painter and poet during the early Qing dynasty (1644–1911).[73]
Shi Tao, Master Shi Planting Pines, c. 1674, ink and color on paper. National Palace Museum
  • Bada Shanren (c. 1626–1705), born as Zhu Da (朱耷), was a Chinese painter of shuimohua and a calligrapher. He was of noble lineage, being a descendant of the Ming dynasty prince Zhu Quan. Bada Shanren, a purported child prodigy, began painting and writing poetry in his early childhood. About the year 1644,[citation needed] when the Ming emperor committed suicide and the Manchu army from the north attacked Beijing, the young Han man sought refuge in a Buddhist monastery. His paintings feature sharp brush strokes which are attributed to the sideways manner by which he held his brush. In the 1930s, Chinese painter Zhang Daqian produced several forgeries of Bada Shanren's works. But they are easily spotted by the trained eye, because the modern copies were softer and rounder. Yale University scholar, Wang Fangyu, was a major collector of Bada Shanren paintings from the 1960s until his death in 1997.
  • Niu Shihui (Chinese: 牛石慧), Bada Shanren's younger brother. He was also a famous painter.
The panorama painting "Departure Herald", painted during the reign of the Jiajing Emperor (1521–1567 AD), shows the emperor traveling on horseback with a large escort through the countryside from Beijing's Imperial City to the Ming dynasty tombs.

Modern eraEdit

Portrait of Zhu Rongji

See alsoEdit


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