The Yongle Emperor or “Yung-lo Emperor” (永楽帝 ) May 2, 1360 – August 12, 1424), born Zhu Di (Chu Ti; 朱棣; Pinyin Yonglo (reign name); temple name (Ming) Ch'eng Tsu; posthumous name (Ming) T'ai Tsung, was the third emperor of the Ming Dynasty (明朝) of China from 1402 to 1424. His father, the Hongwu Emperor, placed all of his sons as princes of strategic regions, and Zhu Di became Prince of Yan (燕王), possessing a heavy military base in Beijing. Though Zhu Di excelled as a military leader and administrator, the Hongwu emperor named Jianwen, the son of an older brother, as his successor. Zhu Di rose in rebellion, and by 1402, had taken the city of Nanking. His usurpation of the throne is now sometimes called the "Second Founding" of the Ming dynasty. His era name means "Perpetually Jubilant."
Though he was despotic and ruthless, Yongle is considered one of the greatest Chinese emperors. His economic, educational, and military reforms provided unprecedented benefits for the people and established the social and economic patterns for the rest of the Ming dynasty. Several major cultural landmarks were achieved during his reign, including the design and construction of the Forbidden City in Beijing; the completion of the monumental Yongle Encyclopedia (永樂大典); the erection of monuments such as the Porcelain Tower of Nanjing; and the exploratory sea voyages of Zheng He (鄭和).
As the Yongle Emperor, Zhu Di was domineering and protective of his authority. He staffed his central government with his loyal young protégés, and relied on eunuchs to an unprecedented extent for services beyond their usual palace duties, sending them for foreign envoys, and using them for regional oversight of military garrisons, and requisition of supplies for special construction projects. In 1420 he created a special agency of eunuchs, the Eastern Depot (Tung-ch'ang), which was responsible for espionage and the exposure of treason, and later came to be hated and feared.
The Yongle Emperor also made use of an advisory group of young scholars recruited from the Hanlin Academy; by the end of his reign they had become the Grand Secretariat, a buffer between the Emperor and the administrative agencies of the government. The Emperor was quick-tempered and sometimes abusive, but he built a strong and effective administration. During his reign, the stable political and economic patterns which characterized the remainder of the Ming dynasty were established.
Yongle followed traditional rituals closely and remained superstitious. He did not overindulge in the luxuries of palace life, but used Buddhism and Buddhist festivals to overcome some of the backwardness of the Chinese frontier and to help calm civil unrest. He stopped the wars between the various Chinese tribes and reorganized the provinces to best ensure peace within China.