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The Most Interesting Emperor in the Ming Dynasty

Popularity 4Viewed 7185 times 2016-5-25 01:19 |Personal category:history|System category:Others| Ming Dynasty, Zhu Houzhao

Speaking of ancient Chinese emperors or monarchs, you will routinely fall into the thinking snare that they are serous, violent, bad-tempered, cunning or bloody, but the emperor I am telling you today is one full of human nature and with great fun. 

Who is he? He is nobody than Zhu Houzhao (朱厚照), an emperor who didn’t like being a ruler of the Ming Dynasty. According to historical records, he was a man who had interest in “play” more than anything else and finally died of this activity.

He was the 10th emperor of the Ming Dynasty, founded by Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang (朱元璋) whom many people think a butcher, since he slaughtered thousands upon thousands of his own followers and innocent people for his own political purposes. In contrast, Zhu Houzhao appeared good-natured and even friendly, for he treated many people as his friends although they relied on his imperial power to make profits for themselves. 

His father was named Zhu Youtang (朱佑樘), one of the most outstanding and good-natured emperors in the Ming Dynasty. From my humble view, perhaps inheriting his father’s gene, Mr. Zhu Youtang had a relatively good character. However, since his father had a terrible childhood, his father loved Zhu Houzhao so much that he even allowed him to do anything he wanted. 

Before he enthroned, he played with his servants, a few eunuchs who searched for different kinds of ways to help him “play”. They brought eagles, dogs, sexy beauties, wrestlers and even big cats (leopards) to him to play with. History says that he built his own House of Leopards and even tried to entertain or anger the beast to make great fun. Apart from playing with animals, he also loved beauties after he had learned how to. He often soaked himself into the arms of beautiful ladies.

However, when he was 15, his father died of hard work and passed his own throne to him, who might thought he could do everything he wanted being an emperor. After being an emperor for four months, he began venturing out of the Forbidden City at night to seek the pleasure of being together with women from the nearby brothels. 

In ancient China, each ruler of a country should listen to the reports of his courtiers and discuss important event such as worship of gods, national financial policies, famine, floods and so on in the imperial court every morning. However, he seemed to have little interest in great decision making and gradually postponed or even abandoned the routine court morning report and spared more time to play with others. For example, he ordered some of his eunuch friends or subordinates to act as shop owners and average citizens, and he himself disguised as a wealthy businessman, making fun in the game.

But he is not a man of nothing. He loved fighting in the battle and seemed to be very professional at this hobby. Some are born prodigies, and he was born a good marshal. The most typical example of his fighting interest was proved by the renowned Ying Zhou Da Jie (应州大捷: Victory in Yingzhou). 

Before he went to battle, his courtiers and senior officials persuaded him not to do that, since the young emperor was inexperienced and their enemies (the Mongolians from the north) were very strong and skilled at fighting with knives riding on horseback. Disappointing them all, the emperor went to battle and directed the Ming army to fight. The Mongolians escaped and he won. According to what he said, he killed one soldier of his counterpart. 

Later, when Prince Ning (宁王), one of his relatives from Jiangxi province rebelled against his ruling, he became exhilarated and led his army to Jiangxi. To his disappointment, Wang Shouren (王守仁), one of his devoted and extremely smart officials, cracked down upon the rebelling and took Prince Ning to him, who was hoping to release and catch his captive again by himself. This terrified all his officials and he finally had to castrate this plan. 

His final days came after he fell into water in fishing and weakened day by day. He died at 31.

Mixed remarks about him: 

One side says this man was smart and outstanding in making important decisions and dealing with state affairs; and he was an excellent general in the battle. 

The other side says this man was a completely incompetent ruler, for he only focused on “play” during his period of ruling and discarded too much business an emperor really needs to do. 

After reading the book Things of the Ming Dynasty (明朝那些事儿: a novel-like history book written by Shi Yue [石悦]), I basically agree to the idea the author holds: Zhu Houzhao was not a competent emperor or a good man but a person who was born in the wrong time and in the wrong family but hoped to seek his own freedom of living. That’s why I think he was the most interesting emperor in the Ming Dynasty. In fact, I prefer to believe he is the most interesting emperor in the entire course of Chinese history. You may disagree.

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)




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Comment Comment (8 comments)

Reply Report voice_cd 2016-5-25 08:36
Thank you very much!!! we have highlighted your blog.
Reply Report ampraxu123 2016-5-25 21:46
voice_cd: Thank you very much!!! we have highlighted your blog.
thanks very much
Reply Report SEARU 2016-5-25 22:55
YOUR topic is fresh. Many kids and adults enjoy listening to history stories through which they could draw some experience or lessons!
Reply Report 财神 2016-5-27 18:03
Nice to read the Chinese monarchy, keep it up.
Reply Report AndrewCraven 2016-5-27 19:02
Interesting man,  The book is interesting too.
Reply Report ampraxu123 2016-5-28 23:10
SEARU: YOUR topic is fresh. Many kids and adults enjoy listening to history stories through which they could draw some experience or lessons!
Thanks for praising me. I am so happy, happy to introduce something people like.
Reply Report ampraxu123 2016-5-28 23:11
财神: Nice to read the Chinese monarchy, keep it up.
Glad to hear you say so.  
Reply Report ampraxu123 2016-5-28 23:15
AndrewCraven: Interesting man,  The book is interesting too.
He was. The book series Thing of the Ming Dynasty is one of my favorites and I listened to the audio version of the 7 books three times. I learned the emperor mostly from these books. But when writing this article, I also referred to his biography on Baidu Encyclopedia.

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Recent comments

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    I was in Zhejiang when I saw a street opera like this. It was very interesting to see a Chinese opera on the street for free. There was a pretty big crowd there, but I could still see the play. It was days like this that made the Chinese culture so interesting to me. Unfortunately I didn't get to share it with anyone, this was before I used Wechat. I liked how you could enjoy special treats for only 1 or 2 yuan, and even gamble a little bit.

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    Inevitable loss of economic development

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