Jianwen Emperor

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  • Died: 1402
  • Reign: 1398-1402
  • Chinese/Japanese: 建文帝 (Jiànwén dì / Kenbun tei)

The Jianwen Emperor was the second emperor of China's Ming Dynasty. He succeeded his grandfather, the founder of the Ming, the Hongwu Emperor, following Hongwu's death in 1398, but was overthrown and possibly killed by his uncle, Zhu Di, who then named himself the Yongle Emperor in 1402.

As a teenager, he was named Hongwu's successor following the death of the Crown Prince in 1392. Jianwen then took the throne in 1398. In 1401, he received a formal envoy from the Ashikaga shogunate, sending a mission back to Kyoto the following year, officially naming the shogun "King of Japan," and thus becoming the first Chinese Emperor to enter into formal tribute trade / tally trade relations with Japan.

Jianwen's reign did not last long, however, as his uncle, Zhu Di, attacked the palace at Nanjing, setting it aflame, in 1402. Zhu Di then named himself emperor, taking the name Yongle and going on to become one of the more prominent and significant emperors of the entire dynasty.

Jianwen is believed to have died in the fire, but rumors circulated for some time after the attack that he might have survived and escaped. As a result, the Yongle Emperor periodically sent missions to seek out the Jianwen Emperor and have him killed; some scholars have suggested this as a partial or ulterior motive for Yongle dispatching the great admiral Zheng He to distant parts of the hemisphere in the early decades of the 15th century.

Preceded by
Hongwu Emperor
Emperor of Ming
Succeeded by
Yongle Emperor


  • Valerie Hansen, The Open Empire, New York: W.W. Norton & Company (2000), 376.