Chinese Emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties

Marks that contain the reign name of Chinese emperors or a dynasty (reign or dynastic marks) may sometimes hint to the period of production, but this is actually quite unreliable due to the frequent use of non-period marks, that is marks of an earlier reign or period in which an item was made.

A  reign name was assumed when a new emperor ascended the throne. This was not his family or clan name. For example the emperors of the Ming dynasty had the family name 'Zhu', but each emperor had a different name. The first one was the Hongwu emperor, who assumed this name upon becoming emperor. Year counting started anew when an emperor ascended the throne.

It is known that some reign names of earlier Ming emperors can be found on marks of late Ming dynasty porcelain.
Even porcelain of the early Qing dynasty frequently shows reign marks bearing the name of Ming emperors. In the late Qing dynasty and republican era the reign marks of earlier Qing emperors often were added with the intention to increase the perceived value of the porcelain.

An overall judgement of the porcelain piece is always necessary to verify if its real age and the period mark fit together. Dating based on a mark alone is mostly impossible with Chinese ceramics.

In the table below the reign name is listed and the duration is shown in western years. In reality, with imperial year notation the year count started again with year 'one', each time a new emperor was enthroned.

Ming Dynasty

Qing Dynasty
Reign name
Reign name
Hongwu 1368 ~1398
Jianwen 1399 ~1402
Yongle 1403 ~1424
Hongxi 1425 ~1425
Shunzhi 1644 ~1661
Xuande 1426 ~1435
Kangxi 1662 ~1722
Zhengtong 1436 ~1449
Yongzheng 1723 ~1735
Jingtai 1450 ~1457
Qianlong 1736 ~1795
Tianshun 1457 ~1464
Jiaqing 1796 ~1820
Chenghua 1465 ~1487
Daoguang 1821 ~1850
Hongzhi 1488 ~1505
Xianfeng 1851 ~1861
Zhengde 1506 ~1521
Tongzhi 1862 ~1874
Jiajing 1522 ~1566
Guangxu 1875 ~1908
Longjing 1567 ~1572
Xuantong 1909 ~1911
Wanli 1573 ~1620

Taichang 1620 ~1620

Tianqi 1621 ~1627

Chongzhen 1628 ~1644

No guarantee is given for accuracy of content.

For comparing the Chinese characters used in the marks of ceramics, the emperors' reign names for the Ming and Qing dynasties are given in Chinese on the following page: Chinese emperors' reign names (in Chinese)

Please note that the imperial year notation which uses the reign name of the emperor in combination with the year during which something happened, was the most common way of recording events, history, etc. in ancient China.
This was not limited to ceramics and their marks.

Go to Chinese History Timeline

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