Reign of Yongle Emperor: The Third Emperor of the Ming Dynasty

The Yongle Emperor (Traditional Chinese: 永樂; Simplified Chinese: 永乐; pinyin: Yǒnglè; Wade-Giles: Yung-lo; IPA: [jʊ̀ŋlɤ̂]) (May 2, 1360 – August 12, 1424), born Zhu Di (Chu Ti), was the third emperor of the Ming Dynasty of China from 1402 to 1424.

His era name Yongle means "Perpetual Happiness". He was the Prince of Yan (燕王), possessing a heavy military base in Beiping. He became known as Chengzu of Ming Dynasty (明成祖 also written Cheng Zu, or Ch'eng Tsu (Cheng Tsu) in Wade-Giles) after becoming emperor (self title). He became emperor by conspiring to usurp the throne which was against Hongwu Emperor's wishes.

he Hongwu Emperor died on June 24, 1398. His grandson Zhu Yunwen, the son of the late Zhu Biao, was crowned as the Jianwen Emperor. Zhu Di and Jianwen began a deadly feud. When Zhu Di traveled with his guards to pay tribute to his father, Jianwen took his actions as a threat and sent troops to repel him. Zhu Di was forced to leave in humiliation. Jianwen persisted in refusing to let Zhu Di see his father's tomb; Zhu Di challenged the emperor's judgment. Zhu Di quickly became the biggest threat to the imperial court. Jianwen tried to avoid direct contact with Zhu Di as much as possible.

On January 15, 1402 Zhu Di made the bold decision to march his army straight to Nanjing, encountering stiff resistance. But his decision proved successful, forcing an imperial retreat to protect the defenseless residence of Jianwen. When Zhu Di reached the capital city, the frustrated and disgraced General Li Jinglong opened the doors and permitted Zhu Di's army to freely enter. In the wide spread panic caused by the sudden entry, the emperor's palace caught fire. Jianwen and his wife disappeared, most likely falling victim to the fire.

Having ended Jianwen's reign, Zhu Di and his administration spent the latter part of 1402 brutally purging China of Jianwen's supporters. Such an action was believed to be required to pacify China and maintain his rule. He ordered all records of the four-year-reign of Jianwen Emperor to be dated as year 32 through year 35 of the Hongwu Emperor, in order to establish himself as the legitimate successor of the Hongwu Emperor.

On July 17, 1402, after a brief visit to his father's tomb, Zhu Di was crowned Emperor Yongle at the age of 42. He would spend most of his early years suppressing rumors, stopping bandits, and healing the wounds of the land scarred by rebellion.

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.