Birthday: October 21, 1328
Died At Age: 69
Sun Sign: Libra
Also Known As: The Hongwu Emperor, Zhu Yuanzhang
Born Country: China
Born in: Haozhou, Henan Jiangbei province, Yuan dynasty (present-day Fengyang, Anhui)
Famous as: Emperor of China
Emperors & Kings
Spouse/Ex-: Beauty Lady Choi, Beauty Lady Zhang, concubine, Consort Hui, Consort Jiang, Consort N, Consort Zhao Jing Chong, Consort Zhuang Jing An Rong Hui, Li Jiehao, Noble Consort Cheng Mu
father: Zhu Shizhen
mother: Chen Erniang
children: Mu Ying, Prince of Qin, Yongle Emperor, Zhu Biao, Zhu Quan, Zhu Shuang
Died on: June 24, 1398
place of death: Jingshi, Ming dynasty (present-day Nanjing, Jiangsu)
Who was Hongwu Emperor?
The Hongwu Emperor, personal name Zhu Yuanzhang, was a Chinese monarch who ruled from 1368 to 1398. He established the Ming dynasty and became its first emperor. Zhu Yuanzhang’s ascent happened in the 14th century when China was being ravaged by famine, plagues, and peasant revolts. He brought China under his control and deposed the Mongol-led Yuan dynasty, compelling them to fall back to the Eurasian Steppe. Hongwu only extended his trust to the members of his family, and the way he distributed power among his sons turned them into powerful feudal princes along the northern marches and the Yangtze valley. One of the most important features of his reign was ground breaking political reforms. The emperor promoted agriculture by reducing taxes, encouraging the cultivation of new lands, and creating laws that safeguarded the property of peasants. He also outlawed private slavery and seized lands controlled by large estates. He forbade free movements in the empire and designated hereditary occupational categories to households. With these actions, Hongwu ultimately established a rigid society with self-efficient farming communities.
Childhood & Early Life
Born in an extremely impoverished family on October 21, 1328, in Haozhou, Henan Jiangbei province, Yuan dynasty (present-day Fengyang, Anhui), Zhu Yuanzhang was the son of Zhu Shizhen and Chen Erniang. His parents had seven older children, some of whom were “given away”, as the family did not have enough resources to sustain all of them. At the age of 16, he lost almost all of his family to famine.
Completely broke, Zhu stayed at the Huangjue Temple, a local Buddhist monastery, as a novice monk. However, he was compelled to leave after the monastery ran out of funds. He spent the next three years as a wandering beggar. He then went back to the monastery and resided there until he turned 24. During this period, he became literate.
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After the Huangjue Temple was demolished during a local rebellion, Zhu began taking part in violent insurgencies against the Mongol-led Yuan dynasty. Quickly ascending through the ranks, he was appointed a commander. His forces exponentially expanded in the next few years, and he became the leader of the rebel forces fighting to depose the Yuan dynasty.
In 1356, Zhu’s forces took control of Nanjing, which served as his base of operations and later became the Ming capital while he was the emperor. Due to his highly competent administration, people fleeing from other regions for various reasons began coming to Nanjing. During this period, the Yuan government’s power and prominence were rapidly decreasing, and Zhu was appointed the duke of Wu.
A charismatic leader, he was able to attract several talented individuals to look after various aspects of administration. Some of his most trusted advisors were politician Zhu Sheng, artillery expert Jiao Yu, and advisor and author Liu Bowen.
In the 1360s, Zhu won successive victories against a number of his powerful enemies, including Chen Youliang and Zhang Shicheng's Kingdom of Dazhou.
On January 20, 1368, Zhu declared himself the Emperor of the Ming dynasty in Nanjing and chose "Hongwu" (literal translation "vastly martial") as his era name. After the fall of the last Yuan-controlled province of Yunnan in 1381, China became a unified empire under Hongwu.
In the early years of Emperor Hongwu’s reign, he substituted Mongol and other foreign bureaucrats with Han Chinese officials. The emperor first brought back, then outlawed, and finally re-instituted the Confucian civil service imperial examination system.
The Ming legal system implemented by Hongwu allowed several types of execution, including flaying and slow slicing. Several massacres, including one in Nanjing, were committed for various reasons by the Ming forces throughout his tenure as the emperor.
Hailing from a peasant family, Hongwu knew of the atrocities performed on the peasants by scholar-bureaucrats and the wealthy. To counter such oppression, he introduced two systems: Yellow Records and Fish Scale Records. They not only ensured that the administration would have a regular income through land taxes but also reasserted that the peasants’ lands would not be taken away from them.
Hongwu introduced the lijia system, in which rural China was restructured into communities of 110 households, with the seat of community chief circulating among the ten most populous households.
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The emperor kept the Yuan dynasty’s Zhuse Huji system, and the households were catalogued into various types. People were ordered to travel with a luyin, a permit that they could collect from the local government.
Emperor Hongwu knew that the Mongols were still a significant threat to the empire and chose to maintain a powerful military, which he restructured in accordance with the weisuo system. At the time of war, soldiers were gathered from all over the empire, and after the war, they were broken up into small groups and sent back to the regions where they were previously serving the local government.
As the Ming dynasty took control of China, they bestowed noble titles upon their military leaders, which were mostly symbolic. Hongwu ushered in drastic bureaucratic reforms and largely succeeded in establishing his absolute authority on all aspects of the government.
He got rid of the position of chancellor, curtailed the influence and power of the court eunuchs, and responded to corruption with draconian measures. He also set up the secret police organisation, the Embroidered Uniform Guard.
One of Hongwu’s most important achievements was the legal code introduced during his tenure. Named Da Ming Lü, the code enunciated the importance of family relations. It also contained laws that required better treatment of slaves. However, in later years, Da Ming Lü was revoked, and the stricter legal system documented in Da Gao was implemented.
While the emperor endorsed agriculture, he, following Confucian teachings, loathed traders and regarded them as parasites. Despite this, commerce in China flourished during his reign.
Emperor Hongwu believed that the emperors of China should not attack foreign lands or intervene in their internal matters unless the foreign forces were aggressors. Then the emperors could defend their country by any means necessary.
Marriage & Issue
The Hongwu Emperor’s empress consort was Empress Ma, formally Empress Xiaocigao. Like her husband, she hailed from a poor family. Her father became acquainted with Guo Zixing, who created the Red Turban Army.
Zixing was both wealthy and powerful. He adopted her and provided her with education after her father’s death. In 1352, he arranged her marriage with Zhu, who was serving as an officer under him at the time.
After Zhu became the founding emperor of the Ming dynasty, he bestowed upon his wife the title of the empress. Kind, humble, and politically intuitive, she proved to be the perfect consort of the emperor. They had numerous children, including Zhu Biao, Crown Prince Yiwen; Zhu Shuang, Prince Min of Qin; Zhu Di, the Yongle Emperor; and Princess Ning. Hongwu also had a number of concubines, through whom he had several children.
Death & Succession
On June 24, 1398, the Hongwu Emperor passed away after ruling over a vast territory for about three decades. He was 69 years old at the time. Following his death, his physicians were punished. He was laid to rest at the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum on the Purple Mountain, in the east of Nanjing. The mass sacrifice of concubines, which the Chinese dynasts had stopped practising for centuries, was brought back by the emperor. About 38 concubines were murdered during Hongwu's funeral human sacrifice.
The Hongwu Emperor lived longer than his oldest son and heir, Zhu Biao. He subsequently made Zhu Biao’s son his heir. Upon Hongwu’s death, his grandson through Zhu Biao ascended the throne as the Jianwen Emperor in 1398. However, his reign was short, and he was deposed by one of his uncles, Zhu Di or the Yongle Emperor, in 1402.