Jiajing Emperor

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Jiajing Emperor
Portrait assis de l'empereur Jiajing.jpg
Palace portrait on a hanging scroll, kept in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
12th Emperor of the Ming dynasty
Reign27 May 1521 – 23 January 1567
Enthronement27 May 1521
Predecessor Zhengde Emperor
Successor Longqing Emperor
Prince of Xing (興王)
Tenure15 April 1521 – 27 May 1521
Predecessor Zhu Youyuan, Prince Xian
SuccessorCrowned as the emperor
Born16 September 1507
正德二年 八月 初十日
(Zhengde 2, 10th day of the 8th month)
Anluzhou, Huguang Province
Died23 January 1567(1567-01-23) (aged 59)
嘉靖四十五年 十二月 十四日
(Jiajing 45, 14th day of the 12th month)
Palace of Heavenly Purity, Forbidden City
Yongling Mausoleum, Ming tombs, Beijing
  • Zhu Zaiji, Crown Prince Aichong
  • Zhu Zairui, Crown Prince Zhuangjing
  • Longqing Emperor
  • Zhu Zaizhen, Prince Gong of Jing
  • Zhu Zaishang, Prince Shang of Ying
  • Zhu Zai?, Prince Huai of Qi
  • Zhu Zaikui, Prince Ai of Ji
  • Zhu Zaifeng, Prince Si of Jun
  • Princess Chang'an
  • Princess Sirou
  • Princess Ning'an
  • Princess Guishan
  • Princess Jiashan
Zhu Houcong (Chu Hou-tsung)
Era name and dates
Jiajing (Chia-ching; 嘉靖): 28 January 1522 – 8 February 1567
Posthumous name
Emperor Qintian Lüdao Yingyi Shengshen Xuanwen Guangwu Hongren Daxiao Su
Temple name
House House of Zhu
Dynasty Ming dynasty
Father Zhu Youyuan
MotherEmpress Cixiaoxian

The Jiajing Emperor (Chinese :嘉靖帝; pinyin :Jiājìng Dì; Wade–Giles :Chia-ching Ti; 16 September 1507 23 January 1567) was the 12th Emperor of the Ming dynasty, reigning from 1521 to 1567. Born Zhu Houcong, he was the former Zhengde Emperor's cousin. His father, Zhu Youyuan (1476–1519), Prince of Xing, was the fourth son of the Chenghua Emperor (reigned from 1464 to 1487) and the eldest son of three sons born to the emperor's concubine, Lady Shao. The Jiajing Emperor's regnal name, "Jiajing", means "admirable tranquility".


Early years

Born as heir apparent of a vassal prince, Zhu Houcong was not brought up to succeed to the throne. However, the throne became vacant in 1521 after the sudden death of the Hongzhi Emperor's son, the Zhengde Emperor, who did not leave an heir. Prior to the Zhengde Emperor's death, the line of succession was as follows:

The 13-year-old Zhu Houcong, then heir presumptive, succeeded to the throne, and so relocated from his father's princedom (near present-day Zhongxiang, Hubei) to the capital, Beijing. As the Jiajing Emperor, Zhu Houcong had his parents posthumously elevated to an "honorary" imperial rank, and had an imperial-style Xianling Mausoleum built for them near Zhongxiang. [1]

Reign as emperor

Portrait of the Jiajing Emperor Ming Shi Zong Xiang .jpg
Portrait of the Jiajing Emperor
Yellow glazed pot and cover with hidden streak designs from the official kiln. Jiajing era. Excavated from Dadao tomb, Huangzhou. Yellow glazed pot and cover with hidden streak designs.jpg
Yellow glazed pot and cover with hidden streak designs from the official kiln. Jiajing era. Excavated from Dadao tomb, Huangzhou.

Custom dictated that an emperor who was not an immediate descendant of the previous one should be adopted by the previous one, to maintain an unbroken line. Such a posthumous adoption of Zhu Houcong by the Hongzhi Emperor was proposed, but he resisted, preferring instead to have his father declared emperor posthumously. This conflict is known as the "Great Rites Controversy." The Jiajing Emperor prevailed and hundreds of his opponents were banished, flogged in the imperial court (廷杖), or executed. Among the banished was the poet Yang Shen. [2]

The Jiajing Emperor was known to be intelligent and efficient; whilst later he went on strike, and choose not to attend any state meetings, he did not neglect the paperwork and other governmental matters. The Jiajing Emperor was also known to be a cruel and self-aggrandizing emperor and he also chose to reside outside of the Forbidden City in Beijing so he could live in isolation. Ignoring state affairs, the Jiajing Emperor relied on Zhang Cong and Yan Song to handle affairs of state. In time, Yan Song and his son Yan Shifan – who gained power only as a result of his father's political influence – came to dominate the whole government even being called the "First and Second Prime Minister". Ministers such as Hai Rui and Yang Jisheng challenged and even chastised Yan Song and his son but were thoroughly ignored by the emperor. Hai Rui and many ministers were eventually dismissed or executed. The Jiajing Emperor also abandoned the practice of seeing his ministers altogether from 1539 onwards, and for a period of almost 25 years refused to give official audiences, choosing instead to relay his wishes through eunuchs and officials. Only Yan Song, a few handful of eunuchs and Daoist priests ever saw the emperor. This eventually led to corruption at all levels of the Ming government. However, the Jiajing Emperor was intelligent and managed to control the court. [3]

The Ming dynasty had enjoyed a long period of peace, but in 1542 the Mongol leader Altan Khan began to harass China along the northern border. In 1550, he even reached the suburbs of Beijing. Eventually the Ming government appeased him by granting special trading rights. The Ming government also had to deal with wokou pirates attacking the southeastern coastline. [4] Starting in 1550, Beijing was enlarged by the addition of the outer city. [5]

Palace plot of Renyin year

Due to the Jiajing Emperor's cruelty and promiscuous lifestyle, his concubines and palace maids plotted to assassinate him in October 1542 by strangling him while he slept. His pursuit of eternal life led him to believe that one of the elixirs of extending his life was to force virgin palace maids to collect menstrual blood for his consumption. These arduous tasks were performed non-stop even when the palace maids were taken ill and any unwilling participants were executed on the Emperor's whim. A group of palace maids who had had enough of the emperor's cruelty decided to band together to murder him in an event known as the Palace plot of Renyin year (壬寅宮變). The lead palace maid tried to strangle the emperor with ribbons from her hair while the others held down the emperor's arms and legs but made a fatal mistake by tying a knot around the emperor's neck which would not tighten. Meanwhile, some of the young palace maids involved began to panic and one (Zhang Jinlian) ran to the empress. The plot was exposed and on the orders of the empress and some officials, all of the palace maids involved, including the emperor's favourite concubine (Consort Duan) and another concubine (Consort Ning, née Wang), were ordered to be executed by slow slicing and their families were killed. [6] [7] [8] The Jiajing Emperor later determined that Consort Duan had been innocent, [9] and dictated that their daughter, Luzheng, be raised by Imperial Noble Consort Shen. [10]

The Jiajing Emperor on his state barge, from a scroll painted in 1538 by unknown court artists Jiajing Emperor on his state barge.jpg
The Jiajing Emperor on his state barge, from a scroll painted in 1538 by unknown court artists
A porcelain vase with glazed fish designs, from the Jiajing era. Porcelaine chinoise Guimet 261101.jpg
A porcelain vase with glazed fish designs, from the Jiajing era.

Taoist pursuits

The Jiajing Emperor was a devoted follower of Taoism and attempted to suppress Buddhism. After the assassination attempt in 1542, the emperor moved out of the imperial palace, and lived with a small, thin, 13-year-old girl who was able to satisfy his sexual appetite (Lady Shan). The Jiajing Emperor began to pay excessive attention to his Taoist pursuits while ignoring his imperial duties. He built three Taoist temples: Temple of the Sun, Temple of the Earth and Temple of the Moon, and extended the Temple of Heaven by adding the Earthly Mount. Over the years, the emperor's devotion to Taoism was to become a heavy financial burden for the Ming government and create dissent across the country.

Particularly during his later years, the Jiajing Emperor was known for spending a great deal of time on alchemy in hopes of finding medicines to prolong his life. He would forcibly recruit young women in their early teens and engage in sexual activities in the hope of empowering himself, along with the consumption of potent elixirs. He employed Taoist priests to collect rare minerals from all over the country to create elixirs, including elixirs containing mercury, which inevitably posed health problems at high doses.

Legacy and death

After 45 years on the throne (the second longest reign in the Ming dynasty), the Jiajing Emperor died in 1567 – possibly due to mercury overdose from Chinese alchemical elixir poisoning – and was succeeded by his son, the Longqing Emperor. Though his long rule gave the dynasty an era of stability, the Jiajing Emperor's neglect of his official duties resulted in the decline of the dynasty at the end of the 16th century. His style of governance, or the lack thereof, would be emulated by his grandson later in the century.

The time when the Jiajing Emperor was buried was very close to the time of completion of the manuscript copy of the lost Yongle Encyclopedia. The Jiajing Emperor died in December 1566, but was buried three months later, in March 1567. [11] One possibility is that they were waiting for the manuscript to be completed.

Portrayal in art

The Jiajing Emperor was portrayed in contemporary court portrait paintings, as well as in other works of art. For example, in this panoramic painting below, the Jiajing Emperor can be seen in the right half riding a black steed and wearing a plumed helmet. He is distinguished from his entourage of bodyguards as an abnormally tall figure.

Departure Herald-Ming Dynasty.jpg
Original – A panoramic painting showing the Jiajing Emperor travelling to the Ming tombs with a huge cavalry escort and an elephant-drawn carriage.


Ming breech loading cannon created during the Jiajing era, 1545 Ming Composite Gun (9872833824).jpg
Ming breech loading cannon created during the Jiajing era, 1545

Consorts and Issue:


Xuande Emperor (1399–1435)
Emperor Yingzong of Ming (1427–1464)
Empress Xiaogongzhang (1399–1462)
Chenghua Emperor (1447–1487)
Zhou Neng
Empress Xiaosu (1430–1504)
Lady Zhen
Zhu Youyuan (1476–1519)
Shao Yi
Shao Lin
Lady Peng
Empress Xiaohui (d. 1522)
Lady Yang
Jiajing Emperor (1507–1567)
Jiang Sheng
Jiang Xing
Jiang Xiao
Empress Cixiaoxian (d. 1538)
Lady Wu

See also

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  2. "Invasion of the Great Green Algae Monster Archived 2009-06-28 at the Wayback Machine . Salon. 25 Jun 2007.
  3. 一本书读懂大明史
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  6. 端妃曹氏与嘉靖宫变
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  8. 萬曆野獲編, vol.18
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Further reading

Jiajing Emperor
Born: 16 September 1507 Died: 23 January 1567
Chinese royalty
Preceded by Prince of Xing
Merged into the Crown
Regnal titles
Preceded by Emperor of the Ming dynasty
Emperor of China

Succeeded by