Second Reign of Zhengtong (Tianshun) Emperor: The Sixth Emperor of the Ming Dynasty

Zhu Qizhen ( 29 November 1427 – 23 February 1464) was an emperor of the Ming Dynasty.

He ruled as the Zhengtong Emperor (正統 IPA: [tʂɤ̂ŋtʰʊ̀ŋ]) from 1435 to 1449, and as the Tianshun Emperor from 1457 to 1464. His first era name means "Right government" and the second one means "Obedient to Heaven".

At the age of 22, in 1449, he was imprisoned by the Mongols when, advised by Wang Zhen, he personally directed and lost the Battle of Tumu Fortress against the Mongols under Esen taishi (d.1455). His capture by the enemy force shook the Ming dynasty to its core and the ensuing crisis almost caused the dynasty to collapse had it not been for the capable governing of a prominent minister named Yu Qian. Although Zhengtong was a prisoner of the Mongols, he became a good friend to both Tayisung Khagan Toghtoa Bukha (1416–1453) and his grand preceptor (taishi) Esen. Meanwhile, to calm the crisis at home, his brother Zhu Qiyu was installed as the Jingtai Emperor. This reduced Zhengtong's imperial status and he was granted the title of "grand emperor".

The Zhengtong Emperor was released one year later in 1450 but when he returned to China, he was immediately put under house arrest by his brother for almost seven years. He resided in the southern palace of the Forbidden city and all outside contacts were severely curtailed by the Jingtai Emperor. Zhengtong's son (later Chenghua Emperor) was stripped of the title of crown prince and replaced by Jingtai's own son. This act greatly upset and devastated Zhengtong but the heir apparent died shortly thereafter. Overcome with grief, the Jingtai Emperor fell ill and Zhengtong decided to depose Jingtai by a palace coup which eventually reinstalled Zhu Qizhen as emperor, who renamed his second reign Tianshun ("heavenly obedience") and went on to rule for another seven years.

On 6 August 1461, the Tianshun Emperor issued an edict warning his subjects to be loyal to the throne and not to violate the laws.[4] This was a veiled threat aimed at the general Cao Qin (d. 1461), who had become embroiled in a controversy when he had one of his retainers kill a man whom Ming authorities were attempting to interrogate (to find out about Cao's illegal foreign business transactions). On 7 August 1461, General Cao Qin and his cohorts of Mongol descent attempted a coup against the Tianshun Emperor. However, during the first hours of the morning of 7 August, prominent Ming Mongol generals, Wu Jin and Wu Cong, were alerted of the coup and immediately relayed a warning to the emperor. Although alarmed, the emperor and his court made preparations for a conflict and barred the gates of the palace. During the ensuing onslaught in the capital later that morning, the Minister of Works and the Commander of the Imperial Guard were killed, while the rebels set the gates of the Forbidden City on fire. The eastern and western gates of the imperial city were only saved when pouring rains came and extinguished the fires. The fight lasted for nearly the entire day within the city; during which three of Cao Qin's brothers were killed, and Qin himself received wounds to both arms. With the failure of the coup, in order to escape being executed, Qin fled to his residence and committed suicide by jumping down a well within the walled compound of his home.
The Tianshun Emperor died at the age of 37 in 1464 and was buried in the Yuling (裕陵) tomb of the Ming Dynasty Tombs.

On April 6, 1437, the Emperor Zhu Qizhen was a boy of ten. The men in the apricot garden are among his advisors. Twelve years later, Zhu Qizhen would become a captive of the Mongols after an ill-advised war called the Tu Mu Debacle. China’s worthless army collapsed immediately beyond the Great Wall. It was one of the most shameful episodes in Chinese history and the scholarly gentlemen in the apricot garden proved inept commanders of soldiers. Zhu Qizhen befriended his captor the Mongol Esen Taisi. Four years later, Esen Taisi genially released the young emperor, for Esen had troubles of his own. Esen’s adventures south of the Great Wall were as disastrous as Zhu’s had been north of the wall.

Zhu Qizhen returned to Beijing to find his brother in charge. His brother the Jingtai Emperor was not pleased and confined Zhu Qizhen to the Southern Palace in the Forbidden City for another seven years. When the Jingtai Emperor’s son and heir-apparent died, Zhu Qizhen ousted his usurping brother and declared himself the Tian Shun Emperor, for Tian Shun means Heavenly Obedience.

The world of the Ming was changing: for the first time, taxes were paid in silver and not in grain. Esen Taisi and the Mongols were back on reasonably good terms with the Chinese: both depended on trade and tribute. Economic pressures combined with personal friendship to create a hybrid culture.