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Chongzhen Emperor Zhu Youjian -- Tragic and Unlucky Last Monarch of the Ming Dynasty in the History of China

Zhu Youjian (1611 -- 1644), also respected as Chongzhen Emperor or Ming Si Zong, was the last emperor of the Ming Dynasty in the history of China as a unified regime.


He was not an excellent monarch, like pioneers or super heroes who could make a big change and save his kingdom, however, he shouldn’t have been the one who perished his empire with his own hands. 


Sad Childhood of Unappreciated Prince Zhu Youjian

Zhu Youjian and the carpenter emperor Zhu Youjiao had the same father who was disliked by their grandfather; but Zhu Youjian was even sadder, since his own mother was disliked by his father and then was sentenced to death when he was only four years old.


Then Zhu Youjian was raised by two different imperial concubines.


As an ordinary prince who was disliked by his father and grandfather, Youjian was never taught how to be an emperor or had any support from politicians. 


Reluctantly Took Over the Throne

When he was 16 years old, his brother, the carpenter emperor Zhu Youjiao, passed away and gave him the throne.


Zhu Youjian didn’t want to be the emperor at the beginning, but his brother and the current queen told him that if he didn’t take over the kingdom, then the Eunuch Wei would find a baby as a puppet monarch and actually govern the empire.


Then Zhu Youjian, the 16-year old boy, agreed and promised his older brother that he would try his best to do a good job. 

Vigilant Emperor Who Prepared His Own Food

At that time, the most powerful person was the Eunuch Wei, who wanted a baby to be the emperor, instead of Zhu Youjian who was much older and hard to manipulate.


When Youjian agreed to wear the crown, Eunuch Wei had been already in actual charge of Ming Empire's spy agencies, many central armies and flattering officials.


Zhu Youjian, now the Chongzhen Emperor, however, only had support from the empress dowager and a few loyal ministers who hated Wei. 


The first few days after Chongzhen Emperor moved into the Forbidden City, he brought food on his own and always stayed with large numbers of people, trying not to be assassinated.

Then he pretended to be polite, submissive, and respected Wei, just like his brother did.


Soon, he used one month to gain Wei’s trust, while testing other ministers’ loyalty.


Eliminating of Powerful Eunuch Group

Three months later, Zhu Youjian eliminated Wei’s entire party decisively and smartly: Wei committed suicide and all his properties were confiscated; his lover, an evil woman who killed many of the late emperor's babies, was sentenced to death; over 260 officials who were serving Wei were executed or expelled.


Till then, the most powerful and evil political party of the Ming Empire was finally and completely perished, by this teenager Chongzhen Emperor. ​

The Empire Full of Crisis 

After Chongzhen Emperor got power back and started to concentrate on governance, he found that his grandfather and brother left him an empire full of chaos and crisis, which included a corrupted and inefficient political system, intense and destructive partial conflicting, incapable and unfaithful generals, many peasant uprising armies, and a powerful nomadic enemy Manchu.


As a newly enthroned emperor, he then worked very hard every day and tried his best to right all the wrongs. 


Inspiring Promise Given by An Excellent General 

Chongzhen Emperor immediately promoted General Yuan, the apprentice of the exceptional marshal Sun Chengzong.


Yuan was very excited about the new powerful position and the great trust that the new emperor gave him, so he promised Zhu Youjian that he would defeat the Manchu army and recover all the lost cities within five years.


Chongzhen Emperor was extremely satisfied with Yuan’s determination and ability; he tried to provide Yuan everything that he asked for, even when Yuan illegally murdered an important and loyal general, Zhu Youjian still didn’t blame him and let go. 

Capital City Being Attacked and Intense Defending War

However, the next year, the Manchu army steered clear of the strong Line of Defense that Sun Chengzong built, and marched toward Beijing.


Chongzhen Emperor had to summon Marshal Sun Chengzong back to protect the capital city.


General Yuan also led his army came back, but he didn’t follow Sun’s command.


Yuan followed the Manchu army marching around in the northern China, and they arrived outside of Beijing on the same day. Then, Yuan requested to lead his army came inside of the Beijing city. 


All of Yuan's activities made him look like a traitor who didn’t try to fight with the enemy, instead, he led them to come outside the capital, and wanted his own army to come inside so he could have the emperor under control. 


Many people suspected Yuan’s intentions; Chongzhen Emperor was also quite furious and didn’t let Yuan came into Beijng. He commanded Yuan to fight against Manchu outside the city. 


Yuan and other brave generals defeated the Manchu army, but Manchu then occupied four cities nearby, as their strongholds, surrounding Beijing.


Controversial Execution to General Yuan

Many people blamed General Yuan for this big failure, and then brought up his other crimes, so Chongzhen Emperor sentenced him to death.


This execution was then widely criticized in the history of China, because Yuan was a very exceptional and brave general who was able to protect his own country.


Honestly speaking, General Yuan didn’t have reason to betray his country, since he was a powerful chief commander of the Ming Empire, while Manchu was only a poor nomadic regime with a small territory at that time.


But from Chongzhen Emperor’s perspective, Yuan’s loyalty was very doubtful; he trusted Yuan with everything he could, but Yuan killed a loyal and contributive general without asking, and then let the enemy marched outside of the capital city.


Luckily, Chongzhen Emperor still have the great marshal Sun Chengzong to expel the Manchu army back and defend his kingdom. 


Endless Dilemmas of Emperor Chongzhen

Since Chongzhen Emperor ascended to the throne, some big natural disasters happened in the Ming Empire every year, including severe drought, big flood, extensive plague; literally, every single year.


These large scale disasters made large numbers of people suffered from starving and losing of homes and jobs, which then caused more uprisings.


Zhu Youjian himself kept working 14 to 16 hours each day, he and his queen always needed to wear old clothes, and had donated their money to relief supplies to refugees. 


However, Chongzhen Emperor needed money to fight with the Manchu, to suppress uprising armies, and to help victims of those natural disasters.


If he collected less tax, he had no money to defend the border; if he collected more, civilians would suffer more and then rebel.


Soon, many professional soldiers in those natural disaster affected areas also joined rebel armies, because they didn’t get paid. 


Zhu Youjian kept fighting in these dilemmas as long as he was the monarch.


There were many exceptional and loyal generals kept serving the country, most of them, in the end, sacrificed epically in battlefields with Manchu or rebel armies, while few of them surrendered.


For countless times, Chongzhen Emperor was firstly full of hope, then other things happened and disappointed him. 


Many loyal and exceptional generals he trusted and sent to the battlefield were sacrificed and could never come back; then he had to immediately select other capable people to fill in, before he even had time to grieve.


In the meanwhile, he also needed to deal with partial conflicting, political conspiracies, corrupted and surrendered officers, etc.


During his ruling period, natural disaster, the Manchu invasion and refugees’ uprisings had never stopped. 

Chongzhen Emperor's "Never Sign Treaty" Policy

At that time, Manchu was still a nomadic regime with smaller territory, who kept invading the Ming Empire only for robbing; they wanted to make a treaty as long as Ming could provide them with enough money.


So, if Ming Empire called a truce with Manchu, and then use some time to deal with refugees uprising inside their kingdom first, many things might be different.


But Chongzhen Emperor and most of his officials never planned to negotiate with Manchu; they kept fighting, as a tradition, since all of his ancestors, throughout the entire Ming Dynasty, only fought with dignity. 


No matter what happened, even when their emperor was captured, they still kept fighting and never tried to sign any pacts. 


An Important Marshal's Betrayal and the Huge Loss to Ming

When the Lord of Manchu led his main force invaded Ming Empire again, Chongzhen Emperor had to send equal numbers of his first class soldiers to fight against them.


This time, Ming’s chief commander Hong Chengchou fought bravely, but was captured after intensive battles. 


Then he complied, and played an important role in helping the Manchu army to fight with Ming.


General Hong was extraordinarily contributive in establishing of the Qing Dynasty (the new empire that was built by Manchu), and the generalization of Confucianism among Qing's nomadic ruling class. 


Ironically, however, Qing’s following emperors, who highly respected Confucianism ideology, considered Hong disloyal and unfaithful as well.


Hong’s mother, brother, and other members of his clan all stopped talking with him and never stepped into his fancy houses; instead, they left Qing’s land and lived on a boat until they all passed away. 


Epic Sacrifice of Emperor Chongzhen

Hong’s surrender caused huge loss to the Ming Empire in the history of China.


Moreover, at the same time, an uprising army, which was made of poverty peasants and refugees, kept expanding because of another bigger natural disaster. They marched outside of the Beijing city and tried to negotiate or blackmail the emperor. 


Again, Chongzhen Emperor refused to negotiate with this rebellion army. He commanded all of his officials to donate money to recruit more warriors to defend the city; however, he only collected very few treasures from his loyal and powerful ministers. 


The second day of this unsuccessful donation, some traitors opened the gate for the uprising army. 


Chongzhen Emperor didn’t escape to another city nor surrender nor abdicate his throne, he commanded his queen and an imperial concubine to commit suicide, killed his two daughters on his own, asked his sons to escape separately, and hanged himself on the top of the mountain behind the Forbidden City.


His last will was that he couldn’t face his ancestors, so he put all his hair in front to cover his face; the invaders could do anything to his dead body, in exchange for not to hurt his civilians. 

Chongzhen Emperor Zhu Youjian lost his mother as a toddler and was always disliked by his father; he took over the huge empire when he was 16, and sacrificed when he was 33.


He worked diligently, never stopped fighting, as a brave monarch with dignity.


He probably made some wrong decisions and was not an exceptional emperor who could save the kingdom and change the history of China, but he shouldn’t take much blame for the Ming Empire’s perish either. 


Anyway, he continued the tradition that his ancestors left to him.


During the entire Ming Dynasty, they never paid tribute or ceded territory, never escaped or surrendered,and never gave up fighting. Also, he had the courage and will to sacrifice for his people.


It was hard to tell if Chongzhen Emperor's "never give up fighting" spirit was right.


His self-sacrifice, however, didn’t get the result that he had expected. 


Tragic Encounters After Chongzhen Emperor's Death

After the refugee army came into the Beijing city, they occupied the royal palace, put Chongzhen Emperor and his queen’s body in front of the public to show off, and then started to rob and slaughter.


Thousands of Chongzhen Emperor’s officials and their family members committed suicide after hearing his death. 


Ironically, after the king of the refugee army plundered all of those people whom were rich, they found that Zhu Youjian, the Chongzhen Emperor of Ming, was indeed in poverty, which showed that he did donate everything he had to save his country.


However, those officials who claimed themselves to be poor and white-handed when Emperor Zhu Youjian asked for donation, turned out were extremely rich and obsessed over 300 times as much money as their poor emperor had. 


Ending of Chongzhen Emperor's Sons 

Three of Zhu Youjian’s sons disappeared from public forever, there were no official records in regard to where did they end up in the history of China; it was very possible that they were safe and protected by loyal officials of the Ming Empire. 


Another son of him successfully got escaped, with the help of some loyal officers of Ming; he buried his past and lived as a teacher and built his own family. He stayed careful and alert and kept moving around many places in China.


When he was old, he accidentally told a friend about his identity after he was drunk.


This secret spread quickly; two years later, he was tricked and captured by Qing’s emperor. His wife and daughters committed suicide after he got caught; Qing’s emperor Xuan Ye sentenced his sons and grandsons to death.


This former prince of the Ming Empire, after having witnessed his kingdom being perished and everyone in his family was cruelly murdered, was then killed through dismembering after thousands of cuts, when he was already 75 years old.


Destructive, Incapable Refugee Army

It was understandable when people were desperate and then decided to fight; lots of wars in the history of China were not easy to be defined as absolute justice or evil.


However, an important aspect to make wars righteous, was the winner's ability to bring better lives to people living in the lands that they occupied.


That refugee king and his army obviously were unable to do that; therefore, theirs showing up was only connected to overthrow of the Ming Empire and large scale destruction.  


Opening the Gate for the Manchu Army

At that time, the Manchu army still didn’t break the Line of Defense that Marshal Sun Chengzong built before.


Ming’s chief commander of the Line of Defense Wu Sangui, after hearing the Emperor Zhu Youjian’s death, opened the gate for the Manchu army and let them in.


Ironically, the great marshal Sun Chengzong probably never had expected that the strong defense line that he worked so hard to construct, in the end was opened from inside. 


Manchu allied Wu Sangui’s troop, under the name of revenging for Chongzhen Emperor, had an intensive war with the refugee army and won.


Then the Manchu troop kept marching and expanding, and put more places in China under their control, while Ming’s people kept fighting against them. 

Heroic Wars, Cruel Massacres and Buried History

Many officials and generals supported another king from Ming Empire's royal clan and organized another Ming Empire in the southern China, and kept fighting with the Manchu regime, now named the Qing. 


Large numbers of civilians volunteered and sacrificed in intense battles, or had been massacred by the Qing’s army.

The next year after Chongzhen Emperor’s death, the Qing’s army defeated and occupied city Yangzhou, where they encountered huge resistance. 


After Ming’s commander and his warriors all sacrificed or committed suicide, Qing’s troop turned this wealthy and prosperous city into hell.


Over 800,000 bodies were stocked in the city after Qing’s army left; a book that detailedly documented this cruel massacre was then banned by Qing’s government.


Until the Qing Empire perished in three hundred years later, people started to know those explicit truths, as well as other of Qing’s cruel slaughters.


Those cruel and inhuman massacres sometimes were hid or denied by butchers who wanted to fool the world; the truth, however, will always come and clear in the end.


Good reputation among public should be gained through honesty, contribution, decency or integrity, not denial or burial of naked truth.


After this tragedy, the next king of Ming was assassinated as well.


Then some other princes of the Ming Empire’s royal family were supported to establish other regimes named Ming, but they were all defeated, committed suicide or were assassinated.


End of the Ming Dynasty

Until 39 years after Chongzhen Emperor's death, the last king of Ming failed and committed suicide; then the Qing Dynasty finally unified the whole of the nation. ​

Those wars and Qing’s cruel carnages and natural disasters led to loss of around 30 to 40 million population in the history of China, including people who fought intensely with Qing, and those refused to shave their head to have the braid hairstyle that Qing stipulated. 


They were just like their emperor Zhu Youjian, even though they already knew the tragic ending, even they realized that they were not heroes who were capable to make a huge change and save the country, they still fought bravely till the last minute.


There were large numbers of epic stories about loyalty, courage, combat, solidity, belief, insistence, etc., but they were all miserably ended up with sacrifices or massacres.   


Chongzhen Emperor Zhu Youjian, though he tried everything he could and dedicated his entire life, in the end, he still failed to protect his people, his family nor his own empire.