The Xuande Emperor (16 March 1399 – 31 January 1435), personal name Zhu Zhanji (朱瞻基), was the fifth Emperor of the Ming dynasty, reigned from 1425 to 1435. His era name “Xuande” means “proclamation of virtue”.
Zhu Zhanji was the eldest son of the Hongxi Emperor and Empress Chengxiaozhao. He was described as a crown prince who was endowed with the quality of an excellent monarch in a section of his biography surrounded by superstition. His grandfather, the Yongle Emperor, had high hopes that he might play an important part to assist his father.
He was fond of poetry and literature. Although he continued to refer to Beijing as the secondary capital on all official documents, he maintained it as his residence and continued to rule there in the style of his grandfather, the Yongle Emperor. He permitted Zheng He to lead the seventh and last of his maritime expeditions.
In 1428, the Xuande Emperor granted King Hashi of Chūzan the family name Shang (尚, Shō in Japanese), gave him the title of Liuqiu Wang (琉球王, Ryūkyū-Ō in Japanese, lit. ‘King of Ryūkyū’), and gifted him a red lacquered tablet with Chung Shan (中山, Chūzan in Japanese) inscribed in gold, which was then placed on the Chūzonmon gate near Shuri Castle.
The Xuande Emperor wanted to withdraw his troops from Việt Nam, but some of his advisors disagreed. After Ming garrisons suffered heavy casualties, the emperor sent Liu Sheng with an army. These were badly defeated by the Vietnamese. The Ming forces withdrew and the Xuande Emperor eventually recognized the independence of Việt Nam. In the north, the Xuande Emperor was inspecting the border with 3,000 cavalry troops in 1428 and was able to retaliate against a raid by the Mongols of the Northern Yuan. The Ming government let Arughtai’s Eastern Mongols battle with Toghon’s Oirat tribes of the west. The Ming imperial court received horses annually from Arughtai, but he was defeated by the Oirats in 1431 and was killed in 1434 when Toghon took over eastern Mongolia. The Ming government then maintained friendly relations with the Oirats. China’s diplomatic relations with Japan improved in 1432. Relations with Korea were generally good with the exception of the Koreans resenting having to send virgins occasionally to the Xuande Emperor’s imperial harem.
The Xuande Emperor died of illness in 1435 after ruling for ten years. He ruled over a remarkably peaceful period with no significant external or internal problems. Later historians have considered his reign to be the height of the Ming dynasty’s golden age.
Xuande’s reign is among the famous peaceful times in China’s history and also witnessed the peak time of the development of the royal kilns in the Ming Dynasty. According to the archaeological discoveries, a large quantities of kiln furnaces were built at this time, which resulted to the sharp increase of the porcelain output. According to the Collected Statutes of the Ming Dynasty, only in the eighth year under Xuande’s reign, the royal kilns were ordered to produce 443,500 pieces of porcelains. Xuande’s imperial porcelains were famous for its simply design, jade-like glaze and colorful decorations, but the Emperor Xuande seemed to like the blue-and-white style better, therefore, the blue-and-white porcelains made in this period had the largest output and best quality. Besides, many new forms and decorations were created and the inscription system for the porcelains gradually became matured and was inherited by later generations.