Yung-lo (1360-1424) was the third emperor of the Ming dynasty of China, and in his reign the dynasty reached the height of its power owing to his military prowess and civil reforms.

Afavorite son of Hung-wu, Chu Ti, whose reign title was Yung-lo, was made the prince of Yen in 1370, at the age of 10, and received the fief of Peking in 1380. Growing up to be a brave and intelligent campaigner, he was given command of expeditions against the Mongols. Ambitious and self-willed, he was rather disappointed that when Hung-wu's eldest son, Chu Piao, died in 1392, the Emperor named his grandson Chu Yu-wen as the heir designate. Chu Ti began to plot to usurp the throne.

Chu Ti allied himself with the imperial officials in the North and the court eunuchs and began his rebellion shortly after the ascension of his nephew in June 1398. After some hard fighting during which sections of the North were devastated, Chu Ti captured Nanking, the capital, in July 1403 and declared himself emperor in August. The deposed emperor is said to have burnt himself alive, but report also had it that he fled the capital in disguise.

During his 20 years of rule, Yung-lo brought the Ming dynasty to the zenith of its power. He initiated several institutional innovations designed to strengthen his authority. The major change was the transfer of the imperial seat to Peking, which formally became the capital in 1421. The government agencies in Nanking were not abolished but were made subordinate to those in Peking. He also inaugurated the rule of allowing Hanlin scholars to participate in the deliberation of state affairs, but he had them counterchecked by the eunuchs, who began to rise in political importance.

Several construction works were undertaken during Yung-lo's rule, the most important ones being the dredging of the Grand Canal (1411) and the rebuilding of Peking (1417-1420). The compilation of the Yung-lo tatien (1403-1408) under imperial order marked a monumental literary undertaking. Its 22,937 chapters in 11,915 volumes contained excerpts and entire works pertaining to all subjects; about 800 chapters have survived.

In foreign affairs, Yung-lo pursued a vigorous policy. He renewed offensive operations against the Mongol tribes, who had retreated from China, and took personal command of five expeditions. Annam was made a Chinese province in 1407. Japan under Ashikaga Yoshimitsu paid tribute. Several embassies were sent to central Asia with satisfactory results. For a while China regained control of the caravan route into Sinkiang, and Sultan Shahrukh Bahadur, Tamerlane's fourth son, who ruled at Herat in central Asia, sent an embassy to the Ming court.

Beginning in 1405, Yung-lo commanded the eunuch Cheng Ho to head several expeditions to the South Seas, visiting as far off as Aden and the Somali coast of Africa. Under Yung-lo, China reasserted its claim to universal sovereignty over the neighboring states and reestablished the traditional tributary system. The Emperor died at Yü-much'uan, in southern Jehol, returning from an expedition against a Mongol tribe, on Aug. 2, 1424, and was succeeded by his son Chu Kao-chih (Emperor Hunghsi, 1424-1425).

Further Reading on Yung-lo

There is no book-length biography of Yung-lo in a Western language. A translation of his biography in the Chinese official history of the Ming dynasty, Ming-shih, is included in Lewis C. Arlington and William Lewisohn, In Search of Old Peking (1935), which also contains useful information on Yung-lo's rule. Recommended for general historical background are K. S. Latourette, The Chinese: Their History and Culture (1934; 4th ed. rev. 1964); L. Carrington Goodrich, A Short History of the Chinese People (1943; rev. ed. 1959); and Edwin O. Reischauer and John K. Fairbank, A History of East Asian Civilization, vol. 1: East Asia: The Great Tradition (1958).