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Yongle Emperor Zhu Di -- Snatcher of Imperial Throne and Creator of Cabinet and Forbidden City

Zhu Di (1360 -- 1424), also respected as Yongle Emperor or Ming Cheng Zu, was the third monarch of the Ming Dynasty in the history of China.

Prince Zhu Di and His Exceptional Military Successes

Zhu Di was the fourth son of Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang, the founder of the Ming Dynasty. 


In Zhu Yuanzhang’s last years, he executed most of the contributive and exceptional marshals like Lan Yu, to eliminate the potentiality of rebellion over the throne that he passed to his beloved grandson Zhu Yunwen.


However, the Ming Empire also needed a great commander to defend on the northern border; therefore, prince Zhu Di was assigned to do this job.


Zhu Di was an excellent marshal with remarkable military successes, a faithful son to his father Zhu Yuanzhang, a well behaved and kind brother to his older brother, the late crown prince Zhu Biao.


However, to the new emperor Zhu Yunwen, his nephew whom he barely met before, Zhu Di wasn’t quite kind.  


After Zhu Di was born, he spent most of his time in the army, since his father Zhu Yuanzhang was busing fighting with other regimes. 


When Zhu Di was 20, he was assigned as the Lord of Beijing City to defend Ming Empire from nomadic regimes.


He had participated in many battles in the history of China, and had learnt a lot through cooperating with marvelous generals of Empire Ming.


When Zhu Di and his other brothers were staying in their fiefs and defending the empire, their oldest brother, the crown prince Zhu Biao, was living with Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang and assisting him to run the country. 


From A Potential Heir to An Excluded Lord

However, the prefect heir of the Empire Ming, his big brother Zhu Biao passed away young.


This made Zhu Di became the biggest alive son of the Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang. Plus his exceptional military achievements, Zhu Di once believed that he was very likely to become the next heir.


But soon Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang decided to nominate his grandson Zhu Yunwen as the next heir, and he warned Zhu Di to be loyal, supportive and respectful to his nephew. 


After Zhu Di’s 21 years old nephew emperor Zhu Yunwen ascended to the throne and abrogated five of Zhu Yuanzhang’s sons within a year, Zhu Di realized that he would be removed from power as well.


Then, he acted like a psycho that fooled other people, while kept sending spies to his nephew emperor and secretly preparing for his rebellion.


Initiating of the Rebel War

Soon, Zhi Di allied his another brave brother, initiated a rebel war against his nephew Emperor Zhu Yunwen.


Zhu Di had participated in many battles before with his father, he also joined and led the seventh and eighth Northern Expedition, the wars that his father initiated against the former Mongolia regime; so his army was very experienced and aggressive. 


On the contrary, his nephew emperor Zhu Yunwen was very young, and never had any military experience before. Moreover, most of the remarkable marshals of the central government of the Empire Ming were departed, because of sickness, or had been executed by his grandfather Zhu Yuanzhang.


Emperor Zhu Yunwen also wrongly gave his large, brave troops to an incapable general who kept losing in the battlefields and then surrendered to Zhu Di.


Consequently, after four years of intense wars, Zhu Di arrived the capital city of the Empire Ming.


When Zhu Yunwen and large numbers of his loyal soldiers were determined to fight back and wait for his reinforcements, another prince and a coward general allied together and opened the gate for Zhu Di.


Led by these traitors, Zhu Di easily got in and occupied the capital.


To his surprise, his nephew emperor didn’t surrender or suicide or tried to negotiate. 


Snatching of the Throne From His Missing Nephew Emperor

His nephew, the Emperor Zhu Yunwen or honored as Jian Wen Di, the second emperor of the Ming Dynasty, the legal heir that was chosen by Emperor Zhu Yanzhang, a very nice and benevolent monarch, burnt down the royal palace and disappeared.


Some said that he died in the fire, but no one found his body; others said that he escaped, and became a Taoist or a monk in different temples.


Either way, this emperor’s ending is still a secret in the history of China.


Most of the official documents about Emperor Zhu Yunwen, along with himself, then were disappeared as well. 


Many of Zhu Yunwen’s loyal offcials committed suicide, after hearing he failed.


Others who didn't got the time to suicide and refused to surrender, such as famous scholar Fang Xiaoru, were all executed cruelly; tens of thousands of loyal and intelligent people were slaughtered.


Many of those faithful and knowledgeable offcials' daughters were sent to brothels. 

Yongle Emperor and His Similar Policy

Then, Zhu Di became the third emperor of the Ming Dynasty in the history of China, the Yongle Emperor.


He moved the capital of the Empire Ming to Beijing city, built the Forbidden Palace, and re-established all policies of his father (because his nephew changed some), no matter whether they were good or bad.


He reestablished his father's military spy agency, and established a monitoring system. 


Unlike his father Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang, who built that agency to fight against corrupted offcials, Zhu Di used it to kill people who were against his throne. 

Zhu Di initiated the rebel war against his nephew, because Emperor Zhu Yunwen wanted to remove power from him.


Therefore, after Zhu Di got the throne and became Yongle Emperor, he firstly gave honorable titles and power back to all the kings who were also his brothers and nephews. 


However, right after his reign was stable, he abolished power and noble titles from all of them, most of whom were demoted to a civilian. Except for the Princess Zhu Changning, who disrespceted Zhu Di all the time, but stayed honorable for her entire life. 

In the end, he and his nephew emperor were the same, they all wanted the centralized power, and needed to deprive power from those half-independent lords who were seen as potential threatens. 


The only difference was that Emperor Zhu Di was more capable and decisive, and he succeeded in the end. 

Yongle Emperor and His Remarkable Governance 


Nevertheless, Zhu Di, now the Yongle Emperor, was an outstanding monarch in history of China, though the way he achieved the throne was illegal and cruel.


He invented the Cabinet System, which only included intelligent offcials who were selected from the Imperial Examination; this agency soon became the most powerful authority in the Ming Dynasty.


Yongle Emperor also encouraged agriculture, and constructed many canal rivers.


Moreover, the biggest encyclopedia named Yong Le Da Dian, which includes about 8,000 valuable books and over 370 million words, were edited and published.


He also sent Zheng He on the Treasure Voyage for six times, which greatly contributed to the communication among different cultures in the history of China. 


Yongle Emperor's military achievements were extraordinary as well. He initiated some wars which largely extended his realm, and then he held a big military parade (including around 100,000 soldiers) which were visited by many foreign monarchs.

Yongle Emperor in the Battlefields 

Besides many wars that Zhu Di had participated when his father was the emperor, after he got the throne, he led his army marched northward to desert, and attacked the remaining Mongolia forces for five times by himself. 


As an emperor, having participated in wars in person for so many times was quite rare in the history of China. Once, he even brought his beloved grandson Zhu Zhanji to the battle front, trying to teach him how to command the army and fight. 


In the first three Northern Expedition Wars, Yongle Emperor achieved big successes and further perished enemies’ effective strengths.


Then the nomad armies kept hiding in huge desert when Zhu Di marched there for the fourth and fifth times, so he didn’t achieve the military goals as he had planned.


Emperor Zhu Di passed away on his way home, after the fifth Northern Expedition War. 


Controversial Birth Mother of Yongle Emperor

Zhu Di, the Yongle Emperor, was sometimes criticized for his cruel behaviors to his nephew emperor Zhu Yunwen and other brothers, as well as to people who were against his throne.


His legality of being the emperor was questioned frequently, not only because that he robbed it from his nephew who was the legal heir that his father assigned, but also for suspicion if he was a birth son of the honorable Empress Ma Xiuying, the love of Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang's life.


Zhu Di himself claimed that he was the biological son of Empress Ma Xiuying, the only honorable queen of Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang; therefore, him being the emperor was still reasonable.


But there are valid evidences showing that Zhu Di’s birth mother was only a concubine of Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang, this was why Zhu Yuanzhang passed the throne to his young grandson Zhu Yunwen, instead of brave and mature Zhu Di.


However, after he got the throne, Zhu Di erased everything about his birth mother, and tried his best to show the public that he was the son of saint Queen Ma Xiuying. 


Anyway, undoubtedly, Yongle Emperor​ Zhu Di was an excellent monarch with outstanding military and governance skills in the history of China.


He flourished and expanded his empire, and brought prosperity and stability to his civilians.


Like his father, he also had one and only beloved queen, whom he met and fell in love when he was very young. Together they had three sons; the first boy, another good emperor, ascended to the throne after Yongle Emperor departed.