Restoration of Zhengtong Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Zhengtong (first reign name) or Tianshun (second reign name), also known by his temple name, Yingzong, was emperor of China twice: After being captured and imprisoned by the Mongols, on his release he was returned to the throne. His second reign was marked by the early rise to power of the eunuch class.

Summary of Event

The emperor whose temple name was Yingzong was born in 1427 and became emperor at age eight as Zhengtong, during the period in China’s history now known as the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) Ming Dynasty (1368-1644);Emperor Yingzong’s reign . As a youth, Yingzong was precocious and well educated. Under the regency of his grandmother (the grand empress dowager), three able grand secretaries, and three eunuchs, his people enjoyed good government. Yingzong Esen Taiji Wang Zhen Xu Youzhen Jingtai Yu Qian Esen Taiji Wang Zhen Xu Youzhen Yu Qian Jingtai Cao Jixiang Cao Qin Yingzong

A turning point in Yingzong’s life came with the Tumubao (T’u-mu) debacle Tumubao debacle (1449) . In July of 1449, the Mongol Mongol Empire leader Esen Taiji invaded China. One of the eunuchs Eunuchs, Chinese , Wang Zhen, persuaded the emperor, by then in his early twenties, to lead his army personally in a reckless expedition against Esen’s forces. Leaving his half brother Zhu Qiyu behind as regent, Yingzong set out on August 4 with an army said to contain half a million men.





The disastrous expedition was ill equipped and ill planned, hindered by heavy rains and disorganized leadership. On August 31, the Chinese army camped at Tumubao instead of seeking refuge in a nearby city. The Mongols surrounded the army and attacked; the Chinese panicked and most of the army, generals, and nobles, as well as Wang Zhen, were massacred; the emperor was captured. The Mongol Esen was so surprised at his sudden and easy victory that instead of marching on to the undefended capital Beijing, he plundered the battlefield and returned north with the Chinese emperor. The Chinese were able to recover firearms and armor from the battlefield, and they returned to their capital.

The news of the emperor’s capture at Tumubao threw the capital into confusion. Xu Youzhen advised evacuating southward, but he was opposed by the war minister Yu Qian, who urged the Chinese to keep their government in Beijing and defend it. He said those who advocated retreating were cowards and should be executed. The court decided to remain, and the ministers fortified the capital. The Chinese needed an emperor, and Yingzong’s younger brother was put on the throne in his place as emperor. He reigned as Jingtai (reign name, meaning “bright exhalation”) from 1449 to 1457.

Esen invaded China again but was beaten back. Realizing that he would not be able to get much treasure from Jingtai as ransom for his brother, he released Yingzong from captivity after a year. In September of 1450, Yingzong returned to China and renounced all claims to the throne. His brother, still reigning as emperor, prohibited any welcome, and the returning former emperor was met with only one sedan chair and two horses. When he returned to the palace, Jingtai treated him coolly and at once escorted him and Yingzong’s wife to a compound in the Southern Palace, where they were kept isolated for six and one-half years, guarded by soliders. Even on Yingzong’s birthday, officials were forbidden to congratulate him.

Jingtai’s reign as emperor was supposed to be temporary, but he stayed firmly in power and declared his own son the heir-apparent. Some palace officials who still spoke on behalf of Yingzong were imprisoned and some were killed—arousing dissatisfaction and opposition to Jingtai, who lost popularity and prestige. As a result, the court split into factions and conspiracies.

When Jingtai fell ill in 1457, Yingzong’s supporters, including Xu Youzhen, saw their chance. On February 11, 1457, they gathered up about four hundred imperial bodyguards, stormed the Southern Palace, freed Yingzong, and carried him to the throne room. Yingzong started his second reign as Tianshun (meaning “obedient to heaven”). The night on which this occurred came to be known as duo men Duo men (1457) (to-men), meaning “the forcing of the palace gate.” The deposed emperor died shortly afterward, by some accounts strangled by one of the palace eunuchs. His crowning as Emperor Jingtai while Yingzong was held captive by the Mongols had been considered an act of necessity, because China needed an emperor. The duo men, therefore, was a crude grab for power.

After years in confinement, Yingzong was suspicious and eager for revenge. He used the palace eunuchs and the secret police to purge the palace officials of the previous reign. Many were stripped of office, sent to the frontier, or executed. He even killed leaders of the coup who returned him to the throne. Those whom the war minister Yu Qian had accused in 1449 of being cowards because they had wanted to abandon the imperial capital were the ones who had restored Yingzong. In revenge, they falsely accused Yu Qian of treason, and he was executed five days after Yingzong’s restoration. These executions made the first year of Yingzong’s second reign unpopular; he appointed some popular secretaries, but he still used the police and secret service to suppress criticism and maintain security.

The duo men was the result of a successful conspiracy, and Yingzong’s supporters expected, and received, offices, titles, and rewards. The result was a flood of greed, corruption, and scandal. The leader of the of the coup, Xu Youzhen, was appointed head of the grand secretariat and minister of war, but he so abused his power that after four months, he was arrested and exiled. Shi Heng (Shih Heng), the leading general, whose extravagant luxuries became a public scandal, was arrested and died in prison. Others guilty of corruption were executed.

Those in the court began to feel threated. Cao Jixiang (Ts’ao Chi-hsiang) and Cao Qin (Ts’ao Ch’in), who controlled all the garrison troops, planned a rebellion in August, 1461. They were betrayed to loyal generals; the rebellion failed, and the two leaders were killed or committed suicide. With the collapse of this coup, all the leaders of the 1457 coup themselves were now dead.

According to contemporary witnesses, Yingzong rose early and attended diligently to affairs of state. He was a man of compassion. Before his death, he decreed that the emperor’s concubines no longer had to commit suicide so they could accompany their masters in death. He honored Daoism, and during his reign, the reprinting of many Buddhist and Daoist texts was completed. A great book on ethics, the Wu-lun shu, was completed and printed in 1443.

In 1443, he wrote, or had someone write for him, a new preface to a classic work on acupuncture that dated to the Song Dynasty, the Tongren shuxue zhenjiu tu Tongren shuxue zhenjiu tu (Yingzong) , which consisted of a bronze model of the human body, illustrations engraved on stone, and a written text. The new preface reveals that Yingzong had ordered a new stone inscription and new bronze model. He forbade wearing Mongolian dress and speaking the Mongolian language in Beijing; he also ordered that all images of Confucius dressed in Mongolian style (with buttons on the left side) be changed to Chinese style (with buttons on the right).

Finally, during Yingzong’s reign, the empire had a monopoly on the manufacture of the fine porcelain Porcelain, Ming Dynasty now popularly called china. Yingzong forbade the private sale of the precious blue-and-white porcelain, and later this ban was extended to the private sale of all other colors as well. As a result, there is today a great scarcity of porcelain from this period.


Revenge and purges were a hallmark of the early part of Yingzong’s second reign. At first, he purged the officials of the preceding reign of his brother, installing in their place those who had engineered his coup and return to the throne. When these officials overreached and became corrupt, they in turn were replaced. Thereafter, his government functioned smoothly.

Yingzong’s reigns marked a turning point in the period of China’s history. Wang Zhen was one of the first eunuchs in a series of these court officials who would gain great influence over the emperors during the Ming Dynasty. They used their power to rule the empire, sell offices, gain vast wealth, run secret police offices, and even depose emperors. Wang Zhen’s incompetence and egomania, however, led to great disasters for Yingzong. The disastrous battle at Tumubao marked the end of the Ming emperors’ superiority over the Mongols.

Further Reading
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    Dictionary of Ming Biography. 2 vols. New York: Columbia University Press, 1976. Full biographies of emperors and other important figures of the Ming Dynasty.
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    xlink:type="simple">Hook, Brian, and Denis Twitchett, eds. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of China. 2d ed. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1991. Brief account of Yingzong, but extensive coverage on the artistic and social culture of the period.
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    xlink:type="simple">Mote, Frederick W. Imperial China, 900-1800. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999. Good coverage of Yingzong’s reign.
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    xlink:type="simple">Mote, Frederick W., and Denis Twitchett, eds. The Ming Dynasty, 1368-1644, Part 1. Vol. 7 in The Cambridge History of China. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1988. Thorough and detailed history of the Ming Dynasty; mostly political history.
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    xlink:type="simple">Paludan, Ann. Chronicle of the Chinese Emperors: The Reign-by-Reign Record of the Rulers of Imperial China. London: Thames and Hudson, 1998. As the title suggests, concise accounts of the emperors; lavishly illustrated with maps and photographs, many in color.

1465-1487: Reign of Xianzong

1474: Great Wall of China Is Built

1488-1505: Reign of Xiaozong

16th cent.: China’s Population Boom

16th cent.: Rise of the Shenshi

1505-1521: Reign of Zhengde and Liu Jin

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