Reign of Chenghua Emperor: The Eighth Emperor of the Ming Dynasty
The Chenghua Emperor (pronounced [tʂʰɤ̌ŋxwâ]; December 9, 1447 – September 9, 1487) was Emperor of the Ming dynasty in China, between 1464 and 1487.
His era name means "Accomplished change".
Chenghua ascended the throne at the age of 16. During the early part of his administration, Chenghua carried out new government policies to reduce tax and strengthen the dynasty. However these did not last and by the closing years of his reign, governmental affairs once again fell into the hands of eunuchs, notably Wang Zhi. Peasant uprisings occurred throughout the country; however, they were violently suppressed. Chenghua's reign was also more autocratic than his predecessors' and freedom was sharply curtailed when Chenghua established institutes such as the Xi Chang (to complement the existing Dong Chang), monitoring all civilians' actions and words. This institute, not unlike a spy agency, would administer punishment to those whom they suspected of treason. The Xi Chang would eventually be shut down but it was the start of a dangerous trend and Chenghua's descendants would again revive the Xi Chang during the 16th century.
Chenghua was also under the influence of Lady Wan who was an imperial concubine more than twice his age. Lady Wan had been a mother figure to young Chenghua but after ascending the throne she quickly became Chenghua's favourite consort after giving birth to a child in 1464. The child soon died however Lady Wan held sway over the imperial harem and prevented the young emperor from bearing any offspring. Lady Wan and her eunuchs would either induce abortion to those who were about to bear the emperor's child or administer poison to mother and child if birth had occurred.
It was not until 1475 that Chenghua discovered that he had a son (later Hongzhi Emperor) who survived and was raised in secrecy.
Emperor Chenghua's reign can be distinguished by his early attempts to reform the government and trying his best to rule the country. His reign also saw a cultural flourishing with famous Ming personnel such as Hu Juren and Chen Baisha dominating the academic scene. However Chenghua's reign was prone to dominating individuals in the government and Chenghua was easily influenced into granting favours based on who he likes rather than their abilities. This led to the degradation at the ruling class and wasteful spending by corrupt individuals which eventually depleted the empire's coffer.
Chenghua died in 1487, after 23 years on the throne. He was buried in Maoling (茂陵)。
The eldest son of emperor Zhengtong aka. Tianshun did not exactly have an easy childhood. First he was Heir Apparent, then just three years old he was imprisoned in the imperial palace; then again he became heir apparent before age 10 and finally in 1464 at the age of 18 he was enthroned as the eighth Ming emperor with a reign title of Chenghua.
He was a mild-mannered person, fond of the arts and himself a good calligrapher. But his difficult upbringing left its mark; he became rather indecisive and was prone to stuttering. He died at the age of 40 after ruling for 22 years.
The empire was however fortunate by being in capable hands in his early years. A council of 12 regents set out to amend the wounds of Chenghua's father's waging war, leaving suffering peasants to fend for themselves and, later, purging over 1.5 million alleged opponents and their families.
The council rehabilitated those that had been unjustly punished and provided ample relief to draught stricken areas. The military was completely reorganized and celebrated successful campaigns against the Mongols and the Jurchen from Manchuria.
The Great Wall in the north was rebuilt and reinforced and by 1479 it defended the empire for a length of well over 5,000 kilometers.
But all was not well back in the palace.
Chenghua never became comfortable around women. His former nurse and now principal concubine, Wan Guifei, had given birth to a son who died early. She took out her sorrow on all the other imperial concubines by arranging the death of their offspring.
Along with her favorite eunuch, Liang Fang, and aided by the evil eunuch and chief of police, Wang Zhi, Wan Guifei also sat out to plunder the empire. They amassed enormous wealth and sold titles to other officials so that they in turn could also enrich themselves at the expense of the common people.
All this took place with the emperor's silent consent. He was unable to muster the necessary authority to put an end to this massive embezzlement which gradually led to a decline in prosperity and growth.
Peasant uprisings became more frequent as a result of the exploitation and the Ming gradually began to rely upon military power to rule the country.
When one of Chenghua's concubines, surnamed Ji, became pregnant the first empress hid her and managed to conceal the birth of what was to become a future Ming emperor.
The boy was entrusted to the palace gatekeeper and when the heir was five years old, he was brought in front of emperor Chenghua who was moved and happy to have an heir.
Concubine Wan Guifei however took a gruesome revenge by immediately having the gatekeeper and the young heir's mother, concubine Ji, murdered.
Concubine Ji was later rehabilitated. When her son ascended the throne he gave her the posthumous title of Empress Ji and had her reburied with the rank of an imperial empress in Maoling, the tomb of his father, emperor Chenghua. She still rests with him there today.