Fun Facts about Chinese Culture and History

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Hongzhi Emperor Zhu Youcheng -- The Only Monogamous Monarch in the History of China

Zhu Youcheng (1470 -- 1505), also respected as Hongzhi Emperor or Ming Xiao Zong, was one of the most excellent monarchs in the Ming Dynasty.

 

He was the first and only monogamous emperor in the history of China.

A Prince Who Was Secretly Raised by Servants 

Zhu Youcheng’s mother, a beautiful and nice girl, was a warehouse keeper in the Forbidden City.

 

The current emperor Zhu Jianshen one day met her, and was impressed by her beauty and personality, so they slept together once.

 

Later she found that she was pregnant, but everyone around has been telling her to keep quiet. Because the emperor’s favorite concubine Wan Zhener was jealous and powerful; she wouldn't allow any other woman to have a baby for the emperor. 

 

Somehow, Wan heard about this girl and the baby, so she sent a maid to force the girl to abort; but this nice maid told Wan that the girl was just sick and was definitely not pregnant.

 

Soon, after the girl gave birth to a baby boy, Wan was angry and killed that nice maid who lied to her before, and then sent another eunuch to kill the baby.

 

But this eunuch secretly hid this baby and asked other kind servants to take care of him, then reported to Wan that the baby was murdered already. 

 

After that, those servants, and a former queen who was abolished because of having displeased Wan, together, helped the young mother raised up this boy. 

 

This prince grew up in a backyard of servants' rooms, until he was 6 years old.

 

These nice people kept the secret carefully, so Wan never heard about Youcheng’s existence during that six years.

 

No one knew when the truth would be revealed and what will happen to them in the future, but they tried their best to protect this polite, innocent little prince.

 

Losing of Beloved Mother and Ascending to the Throne

One day, his father, the Emperor Jianshen felt sad about having no heir to his big empire, as he was getting old.

 

Then the eunuch who lied to Wan to save that baby boy told the emperor about that little prince living in the servants' place.

 

Soon, Zhu Youcheng was taken to his father’s palace, and officially awarded his prince’s title, after having proved by many brave people. 

 

His grandmother, the empress dowager, knew about Wan’s evilness; so she immediately welcomed Zhu Youcheng to her palace, and carefully looked after him. 

 

Under his powerful grandmother’s protection, Zhu Youcheng got to grow up safely.

 

However, Wan felt outraged; so she murdered Youcheng’s birth mother, and the eunuch who saved Youcheng and introduced him to the emperor. 

 

Soon, Zhu Youcheng started his education as a crown prince, and lived carefully, until his father passed away and he ascended to the throne.

 

In the next few years, he sent many people to look for his mother’s birthplace and other relatives, trying to find more connections, but they failed.

 

His mother came from a clan which lost to Ming in a war, who was sent to the royal palace because of her beauty; now, no one knew her other relatives or her real name. 

 

Hongzhi Emperor and His Remarkable Governance 

When Zhu Youcheng was the crown prince, Wan successfully persuaded his father to abrogate him, because Wan was afraid that he would seek for revenge. 

 

But then, an earthquake happened in the Mount Tai, a place with great political meaning in Chinese culture. So his father considered this as a warning not to change the heir.

 

Zhu Youcheng, now the Hongzhi Emperor, didn’t fail this magical earthquake and those people who sacrificed their lives to keep him alive. He was quite a good monarch and a nice person, though his childhood was not pleasant, and had barely enjoyed paternal love. 

 

Youcheng's father and Wan left him a chaotic government, which was filled with obsequious, incapable officials.

 

After Hongzhi Emperor ascended to the throne, he, decisively and immediately, expelled those bad ones and nominated many talented officials. He then invented an efficient system to select good ministers, with whom he worked diligently, from day to night.

 

However, when many officials suggested him to perish Wan’s clan and let them pay for their sins, Hongzhi Emperor chose the path of forgiveness and let go; he believed Wan, who already passed away, did those horrible things all by herself.

 

For people who had helped him before, on the contrary, he was very grateful and showed his gratitude to all of them in proper ways. 

 

Hongzhi Emperor was very nice, polite and open-minded to his officials, but strictly restricted eunuchs from politics.

 

Under his governance, officials and eunuchs all worked hard and served the country properly; none of them tried to cross the line or manipulate others.

 

He lowered taxes and constructed some irrigation systems; agriculture and economy increased steadily under his ruling.

 

Unlike his forefathers, he never initiated any wars or tried to extend territory; but for invaders, he always could fight back and protect his empire well.

 

Moreover, he was good at poetry, painting and music. As an intelligent person, he also invented the toothbrush. 

 

A Perfect Person and A Flawless Emperor 

Hongzhi Emperor lost his mother when he was still a kid; his father didn’t quite love him, and even tried to abolish him as crown prince. The only relative he was close to was his grandmother.

 

In the first part of his life, he barely enjoyed love from his parents or a warm home; instead, he always needed to stay careful and humble.

 

Therefore, after he married to the girl that he met and fell in love, he loved his wife deeply, and strictly followed monogamy, which was very rare as an emperor in the history of China. 

 

They always lived together as an ordinary couple; together, they raised up a very special boy named Zhu Houzhao, another deviant and controversial emperor in the history of China.

 

Hongzhi Emperor Zhu Youcheng was not a very epic emperor throughout the history of China, but indeed he selected and nominated great officers, flourished his empire, and brought his people wealthy and peaceful lives. He truly dedicated his life to developing his kingdom, and to recover his empire from his father’s incapable ruling.

 

He was a person who played all of his roles well, as an emperor, a son, a husband, and a father.

 

Moreover, he barely took any advantages from being a monarch, since he was always diligent and frugal. 

 

He passed away when he was only 35 years old, because of heavy works and sickness.

 

He left to his beloved 14-year-old son a flourishing empire, and some loyal and intelligent ministers.