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Zhengtong Emperor Zhu Qizhen -- Captive of both Nomadic Enemy and His Own Brother

Very few dynasties could keep progressing and flourishing continuously in the history of China, this also applied to the Ming Dynasty.

 

There was an emperor, he put the Ming Empire in a life-and-death crisis, which almost perished this flourishing kingdom.

 

His reckless behavior also changed many people’s fates. 

Toddler Zhengtong Emperor with Brilliant Regents 

Zhu Qizhen (1427 -- 1464), the Zhengtong Emperor, ascended to the throne when he was 8 years old, after his father Emperor Zhu Zhanji passed away at a young age.

 

Fortunately, Zhu Qizhen’s intelligent grandmother and some outstanding ministers his father left to him assisted him very well, which made sure the society was prosperous and stable.

 

During this period, his respectful grandmother and an insightful politician were in actual charge; under their governance, only loyal and righteous offcials were trusted with political power. 

 

About 10 years later, these talented, experienced regents and his grandmother all passed away, Zhu Qizhen then was fully in charge of his empire, and started to make all decisions by himself. 

 

Zhengtong Emperor's Absurd Trusts to Eunuch Wang Zhen

Zhu Qizhen, also honored as Zhengtong Emperor or Ming Ying Zong, trusted eunuchs who closely served him, instead of intelligent offcials who were strictly selected by the Imperial Examination.

 

His favorite eunuch was named Wang Zhen, who knew how to read and write, and had been taken care of Zhu Qizhen for a long time. So, even as the emperor, he always respected Wang as his teacher, and fully believed in him.

 

When Zhu Qizhen’s grandmother was alive, she was always very strict with eunuchs, especially Wang; she had warned Wang for several times to stay away from politics.

 

However, after Zhengtong Emperor Zhu Qizhen was in charge on his own, Wang started to gain more and more power, through manipulating political decisions and collecting countless bribes; many honest offcials were framed or demoted by Wang as well. 

 

Reckless Northern Expedition War with Stupid Commands 

Few years later, a separated regime of the former Mongol Empire had a new and ambitious lord, who unified many of other small clans and built a big troop; soon he started to invade the Ming Empire, under the reason of insufficient award from Ming.

 

Then Wang was very happy, he persuaded the Zhengtong Emperor to lead the army to fight back and nominate him as the general. 

 

When other insightful and talented offcials and marshals were all strongly disagreed with this reckless decision, Zhengtong Emperor Zhu Qizhen, however, listened to his teacher Wang, and led around 250,000 of Ming Empire’s first class warriors marched northward.

As an heir who had been living in the fancy royal palace, Zhu Qizhen wanted to be a monarch with outstanding military achievements, like his ancestors Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang and Zhu Di

Zhengtong Emperor also had many talented marshals and offcials with him, however, he only listened to Wang. 

 

Wang Zhen, a literate eunuch who was only good at serving the emperor and conspiracies, who had no military experiences or adequate knowledge from Imperial Examinations, was now commanding such a large army.

 

In the end, those poor soldiers, led by Wang’s ridiculous orders, kept marching without any reasons or a proper direction.

 

When Ming’s soldiers were exhausted and had limited food and water, but still had to keep marching, they encountered the well prepared nomadic cavalry army’s large-scale slaughter. 

 

Catastrophic Loss of the Ming Empire

Many intelligent civil ministers were slaughtered in this battle, many excellent warriors sacrificed their lives protecting their emperor who had never listened to them. 

 

About 60,000 to 70,000 good soldiers were massacred there, most of whom even didn’t have a chance to fight back.

 

Ming Empire’s crack force, the troop his great grandfather Emperor Zhu Di established and had won nomad army for decades constantly, along with some loyal and talented marshals, were all perished in this battle.

 

The best marshal at that time, who had won many large scale wars, expanded Ming’s territory, and used to be invincible, this time, sacrificed for his young emperor who had never listened to his correct advices.

 

These tragedies were all because of Zhengtong Emperor Zhu Qizhen and Eunuch Wang Zhen’s stupid, horrible commands. 

 

Captured Emperor and Failed Blackmails

The Eunuch Wang was killed by a general of Ming Empire in chaos, Emperor Zhu Qizhen himself was captured by the nomad enemy.

 

This was the Tumu Fortress Crisis, a turning point of the Ming Dynasty in the history of China, when Ming Empire lost one of their most powerful crack forces, and changed into defense mode in the northern borders. 

 

Government of the Ming Empire didn’t want to be threatened by the nomadic regime, so Zhu Qizhen’s brother was supported to be the new emperor.

 

In the meanwhile, Ming Empire refused to pay ransom money, to negotiate, or move the capital to a safer city in the south, like the Song Dynasty did before; they chose to fight.

 

Therefore, when the nomad lord took the former Zhengtong Emperor Zhu Qizhen to many of the Ming’s cities in border and asked Ming’s generals to pay money or to open gates of the city walls, none of these Ming’s generals complied. 

 

Successful Defeating of Large Scale Invasion

 

The nomadic lord became quite angry, so he led his best cavalry troop marched toward the capital city Beijing. 

Since Zhengtong Emperor Zhu Qizhen already took away and buried Ming Empire’s best marshals and soldiers in that shameful war, they nomad troop arrived Beijing easily. 

 

Ming’s entire royal family and government were enclosed inside of the Beijing city, by the aggressive nomadic troop.

 

This was a very severe situation, a life-and-death moment of the Ming Dynasty. If they failed, the dynasty would be ended, and the whole of the nation would fall into seperation and chaos again. 

 

Fortunately, a remarkable offcial named Yu Qian led the remaining third class soldiers of Ming Empire successfully protected the capital city and defeated the nomads for several times.

 

The nomadic lord couldn’t defeat Ming Empire nor get more money, so he went back to his realm. 

 

How Zhengtong Emperor Made Friends in Captivity 

Unlike emperors Zhao Ji and Zhao Huan of the Song Dynasty who were also captured and humiliated by nomadic army, Zhu Qizhen tried his best to stay calm and maintained his decency.

 

He never surrendered to the nomadic lords or begged for his life; instead, he was always cool and composed. He didn’t have his ancestors’ exceptional military skills, but he inherited the dignity.

 

Surprisingly, Emperor Zhu Qizhen didn’t get many humiliations; soon, his nomadic guards even would love to serve him and sincerely respected him.

 

In addition, he even became close friend with the lord’s brother, the second most powerful person in that regime, who then protected Zhu Qizhen and respected him as both a dear friend and a monarch.

 

Got Released and Sent Back to Empire Ming

One year after being captured, Zhu Qizhen was sent back to Beijing by his nomadic friends.

 

One reason was the nomadic lord couldn’t conquer nor get anything money from Ming Empire, so it was pointless to keep a former emperor.

 

Another important reason was Zhu Qizhen's new friend, who was also the nomadic lord’s dear brother, had tried his best to persuade the lord to send Zhu Qizhen back home; he even wanted to lead his army to help Zhu Qizhen get the throne back. 

 

Anyway, Ming Empire ’s strong attitude and excellent achievement in the battlefield, plus Zhu Qizhen’s great personality, allowed him to go back to his kingdom.

 

Seven Years of Being Grounded by His Own Brother

However, the new emperor of Ming, Zhu Qizhen’s former caring, loving younger brother, didn’t want to give back the throne, after having enjoyed the taste of real power.

 

So, the former Zhengtong Emperor Zhu Qizhen was grounded in another place, along with his wife.

 

During his captive life, they were strictly monitored and poorly provided; Zhu Qizhen’s wife, the former honorable queen, needed to sell her embroidery works in exchange for money.

 

Seven years later, his brother emperor was sick; then some officers started a coup and helped Zhu Qizhen take the throne back.

 

Afterwards, Zhu Qizhen, in return, put his brother in prison till death. 

 

Zhengtong Emperor's Second Chance

After that big military failure and eight years of captivity, this time, Zhu Qizhen started to try to be a good emperor.

 

He nominated some talented ministers, diligently worked with them, and made the kingdom stable again. Moreover, he abolished the system in which all imperial concubines without children should be buried alive together with their emperors who had passed away.  

 

Not everyone could get a second chance, but Zhengtong Emperor Zhu Qizhen gained it.

 

For the first time being an emperor, he was frequently criticized for his big military failure and huge destructions that put the empire in great danger. Also, he was responsible for the tens of thousands of people’s death.

 

Another unforgivable mistake that he made was having sentenced the great savior of Ming Dynasty, the loyal and exceptional minister Yu Qian, to death.

 

These two huge tragedies happened under Zhu Qizhen’s ruling period made him a widely criticized monarch throughout the history of China.

For the second time wearing the crown, however, Zhengtong Emperor was a diligent and normal monarch who tried to make up for the huge loss that he caused before.

 

Nevertheless, the abolishment of the Imperial “Bury Alive” system was a very nice and important gesture for a large numbers of women in the royal palace.

 

Probably, he didn't fail his second chance.