Reign of Xuande Emperor: The Fifth Emperor of the Ming Dynasty

The Xuande Emperor (宣德 [ɕɥántɤ̌]; February 25, 1398 – January 31, 1435) was Emperor of China (Ming dynasty) between 1425–1435.

His era name means "Proclamation of virtue".

Born Zhu Zhanji, he was emperor Hongxi's son. Xuande was also fond of poetry and literature. Not like his father, Emperor Xuande (r. 1426-35) decided to keep Beijing as the capital and rule the dynasty according to Yongle style. Then he ordered Zheng He to have another maritime expedition to continued Yongle golden ages.

The Xuande Emperor ruled over a remarkably peaceful time with no significant external or internal problems. Later historians have considered his reign to be the Ming dynasty's golden age.

The Xuande Emperor was known as an accomplished painter, particularly skilled at painting animals. Some of his art work is preserved in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, as well as in foreign collections, such as Arthur M. Sackler Museum (a division of Harvard Art Museum). Robert D. Mowry, the curator of Chinese art at the Arthur M. Sackler Museum, described him as “the only Ming emperor who displayed genuine artistic talent and interest." Commenting on one of Xuande's works, "Gibbons at Play", at the Taipei collection, Robert van Gulik says while it is "not a great work of art", it is "ably executed". The life-like images of the apes make one surmise that the emperor painted from the live models that could have been kept in the palace gardens.

Born 1399 as Zhu Zhanji, eldest son of Emperor Hongxi and Empress Zhang, Xuanzong ascended to the throne on February 8, 1426 with reign title of Xuande.

He successfully suppressed an early internal rebellion by an uncle after which he kept grip on power till his death in 1435. The rebel leader, his uncle Zhu Gaoxu, was strong as an ox and could lift the heavy bronze vessel under which he was being roasted to death for his betrayal.

Xuande fought natural calamities, safeguarded the borders and patronized the arts. Supported by his mother, Empress Dowager Zhang, his 10 years of rule brought peace and prosperity to the empire.

His first Empress Hu was childless and abdicated in 1425 in favor of second Empress Sun who gave birth to two sons and two daughters. Both empresses survived the emperor who died 36 years old in 1435.

Whereas his uncle and his father wisely had eliminated all political influence by the palace eunuchs, Xuande as part of his otherwise sound reforms made the monumental mistake of re-introducing power to the eunuchs. He established a palace school for eunuchs and even appointed them as military supervisors.

This unfortunately was the one reform that would prove to be the beginning of the end of the entire Ming dynasty, the last genuine Chinese imperial rule.