Born on May 2, 1360, Zhu Di was the fourth son of a monk named Zhu Yuanzhang. Many hypothesized that Zhu Di's mother was of Mongolian descent, as historical records have not provided any information on this matter. As a child, he was noted to be very determined and well educated.
When he reached Beijing, then called Ta-tu, he discovered that the people were not only devastated by famine, but were also under a constant threat from the attacking Mongols. Although of young age, Zhu Di helped his father-in-law, General Xu Da, secure the nothern borders. Zhu Yuanzhang immediately made himself the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty. He was impressed by his young son's knowledge. Unfortunately, Zhu Di was not the crown prince. (oldest prince) His older and less successful brother Zhu Biao, the "Prince of Jin", was. (Usually, the crown prince had more privileges.)
On June 24, 1398, Zhu Yuanzhang died after a reign of 30 years at the age of 69. He gave his crown to Zhu Yunwen, Zhu Di's nephew, who was Zhu Biao's son. Zhu Di and Yunwen were rivals, and therefore, the new emperor Yunwen sentenced Zhu Di to execution. Zhu Di escaped along with a few men, including Ma He, whose name was changed to Zheng He after having become a eunuch. Yunwen sent out almost half a million men to find his uncle, as well as to eradicate other princes he was rivals with. This battle was known as the Battle of Jingnan. With the help of Zheng He, Zhu Di gathered eight hundred men to counter the emperor's army. They were soon able to conscript a larger group of men (an estimated 80 000), but were still no match to the Imperial Army.
Much to the surprise of both Yunwen and Zhu Di, Zhu Di's army claimed victory. This can be explained by the fact that Zhu Yunwen had sent his army out of nothern Nanjing, which was China's previous capital, when it was summer. The troops were in summer uniforms, but when they got halfway, it was winter. The army subsequently froze to death. Also, in the Battle of Zheng Cun Ba, despite the fact that Zhu Di's army was outnumbered, Ma He led a hundred horsemen in a surprise attack and defeated their opponents. Soon, with the entire Imperial Army falling apart, a frightened Yunwen fled the palace. Rumor has it that he was in fact disguised as a monk on Zheng He's voyages. Others say that he hung himself in a nearby village. From then on, Zhu Di successfully became the third Ming emperor, after his father and his nephew.
Zhu Di was a thoughtful and intelligent emperor. He made Zheng He a Grand Eunuch and put him in charge of many plans for the Middle Kingdom. Together, they brought peace to the country. Here is a list of contributions that Zhu Di and Zheng He made: