Reign of Jingtai Emperor: The Seventh Emperor of the Ming Dynasty
Zhu Qiyu ( 21 September 1428 – 14 March 1457) was, as the Jingtai Emperor (景泰 IPA: [tɕìŋtʰâɪ]), a Ming Dynasty Emperor of China from 1449 to 1457.
His era name means "Exalted view".
Zhu Qiyu ascended the throne in 1449 after his older brother (the Zhengtong Emperor) was heavily defeated and taken prisoner by the Oirat Mongols of Esen Khan.
The Zhengtong Emperor was eventually released in 1450 after the Mongols learned that the Ming government had installed Jingtai as the new emperor. After that, Jingtai continued to rule as emperor while his brother was granted a technical title of "grand-emperor" and was forced to live in obscurity.
During Jingtai's reign, aided by a prominent minister Yu Qian, he paid particular attention to matters affecting his country. He repaired the Grand Canal as well as the system of dykes along the Yellow River. As a result of his administration, the economy prospered and the dynasty was further strengthened.
Zhu Qiyu reigned for eight years. When his death was imminent in 1457, he refused to name an heir, particularly because his own son died mysteriously — perhaps poisoned. The sidelined Zhengtong saw an opportunity to regain the throne and through a military coup overthrew Jingtai and declared himself the successor. Zhengtong, now emperor again, renamed his era name as Tianshun (it has never been discovered why he changed his name). Jingtai was demoted to King of the State of Cheng (郕) and placed under house arrest in Xiyuan (西苑). Jingtai died a month later with some sources hinting that he was murdered by eunuchs on the order of the Tianshun emperor.
Zhu Qiyu (born 1428) was 22 years old when he ascended the throne. He was a weak and indecisive person but luckily for the empire able ministers stood by to handle the court duties.
The catastrophic 1949 Tumu incident where the Ming troops were slaughtered and the emperor taken hostage led to widespread panic in Beijing. Anticipating that the Mongols would press their luck and assault the capital many officials called for the court to immediately abandoning the city.
But vice-minister of war, Yu Qian, saw it differently. He mustered all able bodied men in and around Beijing and took charge of the defense. Well equipped troops were positioned outside the nine gates of the capital and when the Mongols indeed attacked in 1450 they suffered a heavy defeat after a battle lasting 5 days. The Mongols were driven back up north -behind the Great Wall.
The defeat of the Tumu incident was blamed on the hereditary military elite. And the consequent rise of Yu Qian became the turning point in recent Chinese history where the civil bureaucracy replaced the military leadership in terms of imperial power.
The Mongols treated the captured - now officially "retired" Supreme Emperor - well and he even befriended Esen Khan, the Mongol leader.
The Mongols realized that the captured emperor had little value as ransom and when they furthermore suffered a defeat when attacking Beijing the following year, Esen Khan decided to release the emperor.
The new emperor sinisterly decided to send only a sedan chair and two horses to meet the released emperor - a major loss of face for the dethroned emperor Zhengtong. He would never forget or forgive this massive embarrassment and it played an essential driver for his coup seven years later.
Emperor Jingtai appointed his only son as Heir Apparent but to his dismay his son died very young. And when Jingtai fell seriously ill in February 1457, his older brother rammed open the gate of the Southern Palace and with the aid of his collaborators dethroned Jingtai in what is now known as the "Storming of the Gate" incident.
The dethroned emperor Jingtai was demoted to the title of prince and died shortly after. Rumors have it that he was strangled to death - possibly with a little "help" from his older brother.